For months, motorists traveling Route 2 in Hermon watched the construction of the Morgan Hill Event Center speculating whether the grandiose building was pegged to become an enormous temple of worship or gigantic New England stable.
Situated just off the beaten path of the busy road, the event center sits in the middle of a grassy 20 acres and is built to resemble a rustic, but elegant barn. The paved driveway winds to the simply painted building, and the structure’s white color scheme is only interrupted by a crimson X painted on the hayloft door.
Despite the deceptively plain exterior, members of the community who attended the grand opening Thursday night said they were dazzled by the majestic interior of the structure.
“Oh, it’s real nice,” John Keith of Levant said while standing upstairs in the mezzanine looking down on the catered food and flocking people. “It really fits the character of the surroundings. There are a lot of farms around, even just up the road, and it has that finished barn feeling.”
The large banquet hall has a barn ambiance because it was designed that way, Paul Hilchey-Chandler, general manager of the facility, said. Although inside, the center looks like a beautifully renovated and polished old stable, some were shocked to hear the facility was built from the ground up within the past year, Hilchey-Chandler said.
In fact, the post-and-beam constructed building was made entirely with pine, while the elegant fireplace was built using locally quarried granite.
A towering barn in the landscape is nothing new for the Hermon property, which had been the home of Morgan horses for 40 years, beginning in 1949. Jackie Tapley, one of the owners of the event center, raises Morgan horses at the Special Acres Morgan Farm just up the road in Hermon.
Her parents, Robbie and Bee Robinson, raised horses on the event center property, and a bronze statue of the family’s New England Champion, “Ethan,” made by Forest Hart, will welcome patrons once completed. Tapley said she hoped the bronze statue would be finished before Christmas.
As curious locals poured through the doors Thursday night, they were met with the smell of fresh pine, the sound of an enchanting harp and the public unveiling of the family’s $2.5-$3 million dream. The open granite fireplace dominated the brightly lit foyer, drawing visitors into the main room where pine beams shoot upward from the 100-foot-by-25-foot hardwood floor to support an upstairs level, where many flocked to catch a bird’s-eye glimpse of the festivities. The upstairs level resembles a traditional Maine hayloft, minus the hay. The ensemble left many attendees raving about the building’s versatility.
“This is a rural place and the roots here are farming and lumber,” Daryne Rockett said, while playing the harp in the foyer. “This can give off an informal hunting feel or can be dressed up for a very formal event.”
The grand opening ceremonies, which combined homey New England charm with elegant trappings of a gala event, only came after years of perseverance by a local family of business professionals. Years ago, Jackie Tapley, her children Lani and Morita, daughter-in-law Tracy, and granddaughter Melody Hammond, hatched the idea of the event center.
But it has been a long time coming.
“It must have been 10 years ago I was watching the movie ‘Holiday Inn’ with my granddaughter,” Jackie Tapley said recently. “When Bing Crosby sang ‘White Christmas’ I looked over to her and said, ‘Someday, Melody, we are going to have a building just like that.'”
The Tapleys faced a decade’s worth of obstacles, but perhaps none more paralyzing than finding a financial institution that would fund their dream. The Tapleys pitched their business as a performing arts, food science and cultural center for the community. The plans called not only for the large banquet hall, but also included extensive landscaping and the construction of 14 three-bedroom homes around the edge of the event center’s property line. The homes are to be designed and sold like condos to support a leisure-lifestyle community for senior citizens, Jackie Tapley said.
Behind the expansive main building, a small pond marks the spot of the grounds’ future gardens. Tapley said she hopes to put a “waltzing water” fountain in the center of the pond, which will spray and shoot water into the air to appear as if it is dancing.
Between the pond and the rear of the facility, there are plans for another family business, Tapley Pools Inc., to install a 40-foot swimming pool. The Tapley family hopes to offer swimming lessons at the facility, while also providing a fun place for people to lounge poolside in the summer.
The creation and maintenance of walking trails, which will be groomed during the winter for cross-country skiing, adds a different dimension to the business and makes it a destination for all seasons, Jackie Tapley said.
In the main building, the family will rent three rooms for special events. The “Morgan Room” is a banquet room that will seat 75-100 people on the ground floor, near the catering kitchen. The large ballroom, also known as “Ethan Room,” holds a capacity of more than 400, while the upstairs board meeting room, or “Robinson Room,” can hold up to 30 business professionals.
But the center will be much more than the three high-profile rooms. The entire downstairs will house numerous businesses. Morita’s School of Dance, owned by Morita Tapley, will relocate to the building, where there will be two studio dance rooms, locker rooms and restrooms for the dancers and families. A local chiropractor will move his business to the center, while the Tapley family intends to run a bakery shop, complete with an old-fashioned soda fountain. Cooking classes are expected to be taught in the catering kitchen.
A small classroom where residents can be tutored in foreign languages and other disciplines is also downstairs, accompanied by additional space for either a hair and nail salon or fitness facility. Tapley Pools Inc. will also have an office in the building.
Although the Tapley family felt the versatility of their business was an attraction, financial organizations found the project risky because of a lack of central focus and it became a nightmare to fund.
“The building is so diversified that nobody wanted to fund it,” Jackie Tapley said.
In the end, after years of perseverance, the family secured funding out of state, which many in-state organizations may live to regret, Jackie Tapley said.
“We want to become the premier event center north of Portland,” Hilchey-Chandler said. “We can get into the market where everyone can afford us and come and enjoy the events here.”
The facility is well on its way to making that benchmark. Hampden Academy has already scheduled its 2007 prom at the facility, and brides-to-be have booked weddings well into 2008, Hilchey-Chandler said. In just one hour on a recent Wednesday, three brides, followed by their troops of bridesmaids, toured the center in hopes of reserving the perfect date for their memorable occasion.
“This is great for Hermon,” Councilor Donald Shepley said Thursday night. “This shows where Hermon is headed in economic development, especially with our hopes to develop the village area.”
Hilchey-Chandler and Sandy Nute, conference and events manager, both left jobs to manage Morgan Hill. Yet, despite the lack of faith local banks had in the project, both said they did not feel like they took a gamble professionally.
“I don’t think we’re taking a risk at all,” Nute said. “I think we are here long term.”