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The History of Gates Hall

(Formerly Union Church & Union Hall)


Gates Hall (originally the Union Church) is today the oldest, continuously active small community theatre in the United States. It was originally built as a sacred place of worship, a community meeting place, and lecture hall, and it became a community theatre and entertainment venue 1867.


On December 27, 1825, a group of early settlers gathered to frame a church constitution that would serve as the foundation of first the religious, and then the cultural growth in the area for the next almost 200 years. Originally known as the “Union Church,” this landmark structure became the first non-denominational sacred place of worship for the hamlet of Pultneyville and surrounding communities. It was used primarily by two main bodies—the Methodists and Presbyterians—and later a third body known as Spiritualists.


Erecting the building was a community effort led by Andrew and Ansel Cornwall, prominent early landowners in the hamlet. With cash being scarce, most citizens paid with goods and labor, including lumber and grain, one barrel of cider, boots and shoes, cut stone, one barrel of prime pork, and 3,000 feet of hemlock boards that still form the eye-catching ceiling. When Union Church was completed, a balance of $3.06 was left in the treasury, reflecting the careful budgeting of our early settlers.


The cornerstone of the Union Church was laid by members of the Pultneyville Masonic Lodge #201 which today is #159 whose Lodge is just 4 doors west of Gates Hall. Together, the community did it—they built a church!


Two decades later, community came together again to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the building, working on needed repairs and the installation of additional pews. The church eventually split into two churches, and the last church service in Gates Hall was held in 1875.

Gates Hall didn’t originally have a stage as it does today, but it had galleries on each side and in the back of the building. It has hosted many lectures and meetings by local residents and others from afar on social, moral and religious issues of the day and the evils of alcohol and slavery. Notable Speakers Through the Years

Theatrical Performances Begin

In June 1867, a new organization was founded within Union Church, and the first adult group began stage entertainments and charged admission. In order to create a stage for the exhibitions and entertainments in the Hall, planks were laid across the pews and pulpit, and a pole was stretched across the side wings to suspend a large stage curtain. This was the beginning of adult theatre groups from Pultneyville, and other traveling groups of players, performing at the Hall—a tradition that proudly continues today!  

Take a Walk Through the Years

The Renaming to Gates Hall

In 1892, with increasing community use of the Hall, the building was silently decaying, and the steeple bell had ceased to ring and was beginning to lean. Union Hall Trustees recognized that the building needed extensive work to make it over into a public building, so the local citizenry attended a meeting with a view toward creating a “Village Hall,” and a public solicitation was immediately undertaken.


In February 1893, those who had pledged their money, volunteered their time or donated materials, met to establish an organization to oversee the work. It was at that time that Miss Mary Gates of Sodus, NY, pledged $1,000 toward the building fund; however, there was a stipulation attached to her gift—The building must be raised and a basement constructed beneath! It was done . . . shoring up the building for future generations.


At a special meeting on April 18, 1894, the Hall was dedicated and by raising a vote, a resolution was unanimously accepted to recognize the outstanding contributor by naming the new Village Hall in her honor— GATES HALL. Now devoid of the creaking steeple and rickety side galleries, Gates Hall sported a strong new foundation and basement, the sheathing, its hemlock ceiling, a new floor, and for the first time in the history of the Hall, in the 18-foot northern extension, a permanent stage. No more planks across the pews!


Gates Hall Performance Groups through the Years

Since its humble beginnings, many church, community and civic groups have concurrently used Gates Hall for dramatic presentations, plays, musicals, dance recitals, minstrel shows, exhibitions, educational forums, a variety of benefit fundraising performances. and more.


In 1867, the first play group was known as the “Pultneyville Lyceum,” which was the same name adopted by an earlier school debating society. Proceeds from the evening went towards improvement of the walks in the hamlet—a need, along with many others, that continues to exist today!


Other groups and activities through the years include, but are not limited to:

  • District #1 School (cobblestone across the street)

  • The Pultneyville Lyceum

  • The Koetsville (Cootsville) School

  • Pultneyville Dramatics Club (PDC)

  • The Pultneyville Glee Club

  • The Pultneyville Select School

  • Pultneyville Reformed Church

  • Pultneyville Methodist Church

  • Pultneyville Fire Company

  • The Girls Entertainment Club

  • American Relief Fund Variety Shows

  • Memorial Day exercises

  • Pultneyville Players (PP) – started in 1947 at which time it was stipulated that the group must pay for coal, water, the janitor, fire and liability insurance, and obtain specific approval from the Association for each use. This very popular group was made up of local actress and actors.

  • Pultneyville Civic Light Opera Company, which was dedicated to the production of Gilbert & Sullivan operettas


And most recently . . .

  • Youth Theatre

  • The Gatesinger Co. Ltd. who were Artists in Residence

  • The Sandy Stramonine Dance Company

  • The Williamson-Pultneyville Historical Society Play Group

  • Pultneyville Home and Historic Site Tour

  • Local Writers Reading Group

  • Pultneyville Holiday Illumination

  • The Williamson Central School District

  • The Lake Ontario Proposed Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council

  • The Wayne County Bicentennial Committee

  • The ROC City Ringers

  • “A Christmas Carol” . . . a one man, two act play

  • The C. A. Palmer Fife and Drum Corps

  • Raise A Glass Foundation Premium Wine Fundraiser

  • Garage Sale and Craft Beer Fundraiser

  • I ❤️ NY Path Through History Tour Site

  • Wayne County Bicentennial Celebration - A Civil War Tribute

  • Total Solar Eclipse 2024 Experience


Gates Hall Today

Today, almost, 200 years later, the Williamson-Pultneyville Historical Society (W-PHS)—an all-volunteer 501(c)3—is the owner and sole steward of Gates Hall, and the community continues to come together to sustain the maintenance and make improvements to the building as needed to preserve its structural and architectural integrity.


In 2006, a plan was formulated to stabilize the building using a ‘bottom-up and top-down’ approach—from the bottom-up with $100,000 worth of work done in the basement and during COVID in 2021, another $125,000 was spent for the top-down to further stabilize the building, concentrating on much needed structural remediation between the ceiling and the roof and a full roof replacement.


Gates Hall resides on the State and National Registers of Historic Places. Originally, 35 structures in Pultneyville were placed on the State and National Registers in 1985, and Gates Hall and the Pultneyville Public Square (Centennial Park) were added in 2000 as a separate structure outside the historic Pultneyville district, but still in the historic hamlet. While there were originally 35 structures, several have since been lost through the years to fire or general decline due to neglect and lack of preservation.


Gates Hall remains to this day, the only large public building of its kind in this rural, agricultural region hosting cultural and theatrical events. In addition to its continual use as a theatre, the building is multi-functional as a lecture hall, community meeting place, and a venue for a variety of community events sponsored by the W-PHS and other community groups. We are so pleased that with the support of community and friends, Gates Hall has, and continues to keep its prominent place in history.

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