The Socialist Labor Party Hall, a two story flat roofed brick building with a gambrel-roofed single story rear hall, was constructed in 1900 by volunteers of the Italian community in Barre, Vermont as a meeting hall for the Socialist Labor Party, a political group dedicated to social and labor reform. From 1900 to 1936 the Hall served the community as a location to hold union meetings, political rallies, dances and sporting events. With the opening of the Co-Operative store in the basement of the Hall in 1901, the building also served as the source of food and merchandise for the community. The direct association of this property with the labor movement, community and the immigration of Italians, make's it one of the most important remaining architectural artifacts from the turn of the twentieth century in Barre.
In 1875 a spur of the Central Vermont Railroad opened linking Barre to Montpelier. With this connection, Barre was now accessible by major railroads cutting through Vermont to cities such as Montreal, Burlington, Boston, and points between. With this new accessibility and ability to import and export goods, the granite industry in Barre became the cities primary enterprise. In the years to follow, Barre became world renowned for the quality and quantity of its granite. By 1902, 68 granite quarries were in production with an output of 1.5 million tons to be sold. Supporting this industry was a wave of immigration from European countries. In 1880 the population of Barre was approximately 2,060. This number swelled to over 10,700 by 1910. A large number of these immigrants were from Italy. Trained as skilled stone carvers, Italians relocated to Barre to work in the granite sheds. Along with their skills and tools, these people brought with them political ideas that were circulating throughout their homelands. These beliefs focused on the welfare and protection of the working class through social reform.
The rise of factory-based industry in America created a distinct division into two ranks of society, the wealthy and the working class. The wealthy reaped the profits of the sales of their merchandise that was generated by the workers through long workdays, low wages, and tight controls over the actions of their employees. As a result of these hardships labor organizations began to develop whose goals were to protect the working classes and provide support in times of need. Throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, the organizing of industrial workers, spurred by speeches and writings by Samuel Gompers, Eugene Debs, Mother Jones, and Ann Burlack created a turbulent era in this nation. Labor strikes were common, often ending in deaths on both sides of the lines and factory owners successfully breaking the strikes.
During the beginning of the twentieth century, Barre prospered from a healthy economy based on the granite industry. Driving this industry was a huge work force largely made up of a diverse ethnic population including Italians, Scottish, Canadians, French Canadians, Irish, Swedes, and Swiss. These people worked in all facets of the granite industry; quarrying, transporting, cutting, polishing, and carving the stone. In 1900 more than 90% of Barre's workers belonged to one of fifteen local unions.
The Barre Labor Hall represents the Italian work force and the contributions these workers made towards the history of Barre, as a city and the industry it fueled. Italian volunteers of the Socialist Labor Party, a political group that believed in public reforms benefiting the working class, built the Labor Hall. The basis of the Socialist labor movement involved some fundamental beliefs, including reduced hours and increased wages for workers, education of all children up to the age of 18, equal civil and political rights for all men and women, and workmen's compensation and insurance in case of an accident, sickness, old age or unemployment. These beliefs in conjunction with the solidarity of other workers, like miners, textile workers, and organizations such as the Industrial Workers of the World, formed the philosophy behind the Italian Socialist Circle. From 1900 to 1936, the Labor Hall served as the location for union meetings, the stage for speakers, a hall for entertainment and a Co-Operative grocery for the neighborhood.
The main use of the Labor Hall was to provide a meeting place for the Italian community. In the December 8, 1900, issue of the Italian weekly paper Il Proletario, published in New York City, Camillo Cianfarra described his visit to Barre from New York City and his impressions of the Labor Hall. He writes:
As the comrades from other countries know, the Italian Socialist Section of Barre has built a Hall for the grand sum of 7,000 dollars, most of which has already been paid. That which at first would have seemed impossible has been accomplished, and the Hall stands now on Granite Street, a superb synthesis and demonstration of the collective effort of the workers joined and guided by the light of an idea like oursÖ. but when I saw the devotion with which our comrades were working there, I became convinced that for many years the Hall would have significance as the fruit of the judicious activity of our comrades, and that in the Hall many would awaken from the long hibernation in which they have lain, and many consciences will be revolutionized.
The construction is very beautiful. The facade, with a large flight of steps, is all of stone and red brick, with a large and majestic entrance, over which in the near future will be installed the great symbol of the S.L.P, the work of comrade Egidio Dunghi. The Hall is vast [sic] illuminated by electric light, with a vast stage, wide and completely adjustable, for theatrical events, with all the necessary amenities to make the place attractive and comfortable.
In the years to follow, the Labor Hall would be the location for a number of events contributing to Barre's social history. The most common affair were community meetings and gatherings. These were held by a variety of groups and covered subjects from benefit dances to local politics to union meetings. Historical documents from the Labor Hall illustrate some of the events from the 1901 records:
February, 11 - "Mass meeting to see about putting up candidates for municipal office. Socialist Labor Party Mayoral candidate, John Anderson"
March, 5 - " Mass meeting with Philip Halvosa speaking on "Class Conscience: United International Action by the Workers of the World."
June, 9 - "Over a hundred members of the Italian colony attend ball and dramatic entertainment."
August, 16 - "Dance raised money for benefit of "the families of the strikers at Berra, Italy"
The Barre branch of the Granite Cutters International Association (GCIA), formed in 1886 (then as the Granite Cutters National Union), housed their offices in the Hall until 1936. Throughout the union's occupancy in the building, local newspapers report on the happenings and events of the union. The GCIA played a strong roll in the labor strikes that occurred in Barre during the early twentieth century.
One occurrence that demonstrated the unpredictable nature of the political groups of this period took place on the night of October 4, 1903, at the Labor Hall. During a political gathering to hear a Socialist speaker, an argument broke out between Socialists and Anarchists, ending in the fatal shooting of Elia Corti, a prominent stone carver responsible for the panels on the Robert Burns Memorial statue (1899) in Barre.
Perhaps the greatest example of the Hall's national involvement in labor events occurred in 1912, when it served as the receiving station of 35 children of striking mill workers in Lawrence, Massachusetts. During this strike approximately 50,000 textile workers were out of work protesting wage cuts. In this act of worker solidarity, a number of Italian families housed and cared for these children protecting them from the violent conditions that were taking place in Lawrence.
Throughout the period of labor unrest, a group of people became known as prominent voices in support of the workers. These men and women would travel throughout the country and address groups of workers to promote the ideas of labor reform and worker solidarity. The city of Barre hosted a number of these speakers, including Samuel Gompers, Eugene Debs, Mother Jones, and Norman Thomas. Two labor speakers can be directly attributed to visiting the Labor Hall, Arturo Giovannitti and Ann Burlak.
On February 1, 1913 Arturo Giovannitti, a prominent figure in the Lawrence, Massachusetts, mill strikes attended a masquerade ball held at the Hall. During this appearance he conveyed the thanks of the workers of Lawrence for the support generated by the sympathizers in Barre. On November 8, 1934, Ann Burlak, known as the "The Red Flame" for her dramatic speeches in support of communism, spoke to a crowd of more than 200 at the Labor Hall. An article in the November 9, 1934, Barre Daily Times describes her speech:
She urged working men to refuse any form of arbitration in strikes, pointing out to them that the arbitration boards were merely capitalistic organizations designed for the purpose of seducing so called union representatives into calling off strikes and gaining the workers nothing. She urged large labor delegations to appear before bosses with their demands rather than to trust single or small groups of supposed union leaders who play for positions rather than the welfare of the workers they are suppose to represent.
In November of 1901, the Union Co-Operative Store opened in the basement of the Labor Hall. Much of this area still exists in fair condition. The store was managed by Antonio Giachino and provided the community with a resource for "produce, merchandise, goods, and commodities." Three months later documents show that the store was enlarged. Over time the store included a bottling works, bakery, and distribution center for coal and wine to the community.
During the Great Depression records show events arranged to help families in need of food, clothes, and money. A December 13, 1930, article in the Barre Evening Telegram describes a dance organized to support the G.C.I.A. Christmas fund:
A crowd estimated in the vicinity of 600 persons gathered last evening at the Granite Street Hall for a Dance and Bazaar conducted by the Granite Cutters International Organization for the benefit of needy unemployed members of the organization. With huge advance ticket sales and money taken in from sales of articles in the hall it was expected that about $1,000 would be realized for the Christmas fund of the organizationÖ The tremendous crowd in the Hall made dancing almost impossible. Several auction sales were held and many prizes given away on various plansÖ With the heavy advance of tickets, orders for shoes, clothing and food were put in by the G.C.I.A. committee and distribution to members families where there is a lack of employment will be started at once. It is expected that the distribution will do much to help make the holiday a happier one for a great many families.
In the 1920's and 1930's a number of advertisements show up in the local papers promoting sporting events at the Hall. These events appear to be limited to boxing and wrestling matches. One advertisement from the Barre Daily Times is for a wrestling bout. It reads:
Granite Street Hall, Barre
Friday Evening, March 28
Of Barre and Boston
Of Gardner, Massachusetts
TWO GOOD PRELIMINARIES
Best two out of three falls
Admission, $1.10, .77, .55
The Labor Hall and Co-Operative store operated until 1936 when the building was sold. The property was purchased by The Washington Fruit Company and converted into a produce warehouse. It was later acquired by the Vermont Pak Tomato company and occupied by them until bankruptcy forced them to close in 1994. In July of 1995 the Barre Historical Society in partnership with the City of Barre, State and Local organizations, private individuals, and businesspersons helped purchased the Old Labor Hall. The structure is now under the process of restoration to again serve the community of Barre as a meeting hall and social club.