Upperville Restores a once-swinging landmark.
Buchanan Hall, in Upperville, has a storied past. Named after U.S. Army Brig. Gen. James A. Buchanan (1843 to 1926), who made his home in Upperville, it opened as a community center in the 1920s, became a not-for-profit corporation in the 1930s, and by all accounts was a swinging place in the post-World War II years. Historically, Buchanan Hall was “both famous and infamous,” Upperville resident Meg Mullery said in a recent message. “It played host to rather wild jazz and dance parties in the 1950s and 1960s,” she noted, adding, “A gentleman named Chauncy Brown performed at Buchanan Hall. Chauncy’s wife, Georgia Brown, served as inspiration for the song ‘Sweet Georgia Brown.’”
Bob deButts, an Upperville resident and former board member for the community center, said in a recent video about Buchanan Hall, “There was nothing fancy about [the place], but the dust did get to rising a little bit if the dancing was heavy.”
By the turn of this century, however, the center was ready for the wrecking ball. According to architect and Buchanan Hall board member William Ridge, the heating system didn’t work, the plumbing leaked and the building had essentially become “unusable”—not fit to be rented. Other locals called the center “seedy.”
In 2000, a group of Upperville community activists met at the local volunteer firehouse to talk about how the landmark could be saved. Months of discussion led to a business plan to expand and renovate Buchanan Hall—one requiring $900,000 to make good. And the Upperville community came through, raising $600,000 itself—“a mix of major donations and a lot of small donations,” says Ridge, who served as the project’s architect—and taking out a roughly $300,000 mortgage. In 2006, after three years of work, the new Buchanan Hall was unveiled, significantly larger than the original, with a new commercial kitchen, new restrooms, offices and backstage dressing rooms, among other improvements.
Nowadays, a decade after the first restoration meeting, Buchanan Hall is more sedate than in its heyday—the alcohol-fueled bashes of yesteryear have given way to low-key events such as anniversary parties, youth dances, and community theater—but Upperville has got its own place again. Says Ridge, “Since we opened … the income from events is paying all the expenses, and we still get contributions [to help] pay down the mortgage. It’s working as a viable entity, which is very satisfying.”
Interestingly, nearly 50 years ago, at a time when Buchanan Hall was going strong, a young writer named John Updike visited Upperville, and in 1961 wrote a witty poem (light verse, to be exact) about it that first appeared in the New Yorker in 1961 and later was published in Updike’s Telephone Poles and Other Poems (Knopf, 1963) and in John Updike’s Collected Poems 1953-1993 (Knopf, 1993). There is no mistaking the cheeky intellect of Updike, who wrote a lot of poetry (about many places, including Richmond) and later of course became a renowned novelist. He died last year at age 76.
Upon Learning That a Town Exists in Virginia Called Upperville
By John Updike (1961)
In Upperville, the upper crust
say “Bottoms Up!” from dawn to dusk
and “Ups-a-daisy, dear!” at will
I want to live in Upperville.
One-upmanship is there the rule,
and children learn, at school,
“The Rise of Silas Lapham” and
why gravitation has been banned.
High hamlet, but my mind’s eye sees
Thy ruddy uplands, lofty trees,
Upsurging streams, and towering dogs,
There are no valleys, dumps or bogs.
Depression never dares intrude
upon their sweet upswinging mood;
Downcast, long-fallen, let me go
to where the cattle never low.
I’ve always known there was a town
just right for me; I’ll settle down
and be uplifted all day long —
Fair Upperville, accept my song.