Our History & Mission
When the Merryall Community Center was incorporated on Jan. 7, 1952, the corporate documents indicated it was to “establish a community center for social, educational and cultural exchange, and to sponsor such activities as will improve the educational, cultural and social life of Merryall.”
New Milford natives remember a private, club-like gathering place for Merryall residents, many of them weekenders. Times sure have changed. New Milford has grown from a sleepy rural community in 1952 to a central Litchfield County hub. The population has grown and the organization, now commonly known as the Merryall Center for the Arts, reaches out far beyond the Merryall district.
But the mission remains the same.
Originally, 10 inspired families purchased the building, and another 25 families joined in to clean-up, make over, and put the run-down structure to use as a simple but functional community center. By the time it opened, membership had risen to 80 families. In 1951, one purpose was to eliminate the barrier between week-end and full-time residents through gatherings to keep alive the community spirit.
On July 5 and 6, 1952, the Center was dedicated with a ceremony theme of "hospitality and democratic living;” 16 U.N. delegates and families were guests for both days. Highlights of the ceremony, attended by 250 people, were a reading of the Declaration of Independence by actor and Merryall resident Fredric March and singing "The Star-Spangled Banner" by legendary contralto Marian Anderson.
From 1953 to 1961, monthly events included garden tours, student programs, cook-outs, art exhibits, lectures, and panel discussions. The heating and plumbing systems were improved and lavatories, a terrace, and kitchen installed. In 1961, a stage was added. In the 1990s and early 2000s, additional building improvements were.
Since 1962, programming and membership have changed. Membership is open, with programs offered from May through October. Today’s primary focus is on performing arts.
In its history, the stage has hosted noted writers, politicians, scientists, dancers, and musicians, including Dr. Charles Atkins, Bill Baird, Adam Battelstein, Van Wyck Brooks, Joel Brown, Chris Brubeck, Stuart Chase, Norman Cousins, Malcolm Cowley, Bill Crofut, Skitch Henderson, Eartha Kitt, Gayle Martin-Henry, Margaret Mead, Greg Mertl, Nigel Mumford, Marlene Sanders, Rex Stout, William and Rose Styron, Dr. Warren Weaver, Peter Schickele (P.D.Q. Bach), Dr. William Sloane-Coffin, Isaac Stern, Liz Smith, Dr. Jeffrey Toobin, the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet, the Bershire Big Band and the Berkshire String Quartet.
In 2008, it became apparent the summertime use of the building, winter occupancy by wild critters, and passage of time had taken a toll. Spurred by a $25,000 challenge grant from Bob Kostes, the Center raised $75,000. Gov. M. Jodi Rell, impressed by this effort, nominated the Center for a $150,000 grant, enabling a total rehabilitation of the building, which had achieved historic status through the efforts of Pat and Larry Greenspan.