The site of the Hunt Memorial Building has a long heritage, beginning when Ellenville was called "Fairchild City," or just "The City." Alpheus Fairchild, who bought most of today's village in 1798, had a dwelling erected on part of the site where the Hunt Building stands today. Nathan and Maria Hoornbeek bought the dwelling and enlarged it, converting it to an inn. The Hoornbeek Tavern was a gathering place for the citizens and many important decisions about the community were made at meetings held there. Indeed, the decision to change the name of the community to "Ellenville" was proposed at the Hoornbeek Tavern.
Charles Hartshorn came to "The City" to try a case in the Hoornbeek Tavern in 1823, and liked the community so much that he decided to stay. He was young, energetic, and forceful. He opened the first store in 1823, led the drive to choose a "real" name for the community and applied to the federal government for approval of a post office (He was named the first postmaster in 1823). He erected a home for his family on the former site of the Hoornbeek Tavern and was elected first President of the newly incorporated village of Ellenville in 1856.
After his death in 1883, his daughter and son-in-law, Maria and Joseph Tuthill, continued to live in the house which Maria later bequeathed to her daughters, Rose H. Eaton and Anna H. Saxton. They transferred ownership to the Ulster County Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) of Ellenville, New York in 1916.
The George and John R. Hunt Memorial Building was erected 1915-1917 by the Women's Christian Temperance Union at the bequest of John R. Hunt, a local businessman and community leader who was a supporter of the Union.
When Mr. Hunt died in 1915, he left a substantial portion of his estate to the Women's Christian Temperance Union of Ulster County, N.Y., "to be used in the purchase of a lot and erection of a suitable building for the society to hold their meetings, with a room for lectures, etc." (The Temperance Union expanded on Mr. Hunt's statement to make the building available to the community and, for many years after its opening in 1918, the Hunt Memorial Building was the location of a wide variety of civic events, from the lectures and meetings stipulated, to theatrical productions, debutante parties, balls, receptions, and civic gatherings. The portico facing Liberty Square was the location of many concerts by Clayton's Military Band and other area musical groups.)
The bequest included specific guidance: the gift would be used for the construction of the building, and that a portion of the building would be used for rental/business income to help financially sustain the structure.
The architect for the building was Frank E. Estabrook of Newburgh and the design included space for the public library (the exterior bears the words "Public Library" in blocks over the Canal Street door), WCTU meetings, lectures, and community events, as well as rental space.
The laying of the cornerstone, reported in the Ellenville Journal of May 24, 1915, included the placement of a box in the cornerstone which would contain various WCTU documents, newspapers, a picture of John R. Hunt and a copy of his will, as well as a list of building committee members, the architect, and contractors. The George and John R. Hunt Memorial Building was dedicated and ceremoniously opened on the evening of January 31, 1918.
The public library trustees did not agree to move the library to the space provided in the Hunt Building at its opening, so the Home National Bank rented that space for about 10 years. The Ellenville Public Library actually made Hunt Memorial its home in 1928 when the WCTU deeded a section to them until the premises "cease to be used for such library purposes."
As more of the building was rented, less interior space was available for community use, but the grounds continued to provide space for various activities through the years. The Library remained there until 1975 when they moved to their current new building at 40 Center Street, almost twice the size of Hunt Memorial.
Lacking the stability of the Library's presence as co-owner and major tenant (and long-term tenants vacated their offices), the WCTU was no longer able to support the expenses of the building, and it began to deteriorate. The local Union turned the building over to the state Union which sold it to a private owner, who then sold it, and so on.
Meanwhile, outdoor events continued to use the grounds and portico, such as summer concerts, the annual Run Like the Wind 10K race, the annual Harvest Festival, patriotic celebrations, etc. The Ellenville/Wawarsing Chamber of Commerce now offers Saturday evening concerts during July, with the musicians performing on the porch. Outdoor art shows, such as Art in the Square, filled the adjoining lawn and Liberty Square, with presentations made from the portico.
In 1982, the WCTU sold Hunt Memorial to Seymour Friend, who removed the Hunt Memorial name from the Liberty Square entrance, changing it to Friend Center. Friend sold to Howard Hellman in 1987 and Hellman to the Village of Ellenville in 1999.
Toward the end of 2002, a group of private citizens, concerned about the future of the Hunt Memorial Building, formed a preservation organization and began negotiations with the Village of Ellenville to acquire the building, restore it to its original magnificence, and continue its service to the community.
Effective 2005, the Hunt Memorial Building on Liberty Square became the first Ellenville building to receive national status as an Historic Landmark.
The Hunt Memorial Building continues to be owned by the Village of Ellenville. Verbal assurances between the HMPC and the Village of Ellenville were exchanged in public meetings and negotiations resulted in a long-term written agreement which will ensure that the rights and responsibilities of both the Village and the HMPC are clearly stipulated and understood. The HMPC has completed the first year of a ten-year agreement with the Village of Ellenville, during which time, the HMPC will act as a steward to the building even though the Village remains the property owner. Among the first new tenants to move into the building is the Ellenville/Wawarsing Chamber of Commerce, which opened its new office there in early 2008.