By Jason Starr
The Essex Reporter
The Fort Ethan Allen gazebo — also known as the parade grounds bandstand that was the presumed speaking podium for two U.S. presidents — is no longer fit for use.
The Town of Essex and Town of Colchester parks and recreation departments share responsibility for maintenance of the parade grounds, which straddle the town line. The gazebo happens to sit on the Essex side of the park, and Essex Parks and Recreation Director Ally Vile has been researching rehabilitation options.
Parks personnel roped off the gazebo in the spring when wood rot was determined to be too severe for safe use.
The Fort was a U.S. Army base from the 1860s until it was decommissioned in the 1940s and was home to dozens of soldiers and officers. According to Vile, presidents William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt spoke at the parade grounds around the turn of the 20th century and the gazebo is the logical location where they would have delivered their speeches.
The gazebo was also where the fort’s band would set up for performances.
Residents of the Fort, including those in the condominiums of Officer’s Row and the St. Michael’s College and University of Vermont student apartments, use the gazebo as a shaded place to gain a higher vantage point on the 19-acre park. Neighborhood association board member Jon Hodgkin said Fort residents are disappointed the structure has not been maintained.
“This spring when we evaluated things, we noticed the steps are rotting and the boards on the floor aren’t stable enough to allow people to use it,” Vile said.
Ropes over the stairs are accompanied by signs that direct questions to the Essex Parks and Recreation Department at 878-1342.
Vile is seeking Vermont Commerce and Community Development grant funds to help with the rehabilitation. The rehabilitation could be an opportunity to add electricity to the gazebo, she said.
“We want to make it usable, safe and secure,” she said.