Moonlit nights were a cause for anticipation for early settlers on the Key Peninsula, who used the light to find their way to local community halls for gatherings and other events where they could connect with fellow settlers.
The Vaughn Library Hall, one of the first community halls on the Key Peninsula, was the host of many community events beginning in 1889 and continuing through the 1950s.
The hall was built on land donated in 1889 by Alfred Van Slyke, a Vaughn homesteader who came to the area in 1887 and became the community’s second postmaster.
Located at 17816 Hall County Road KPN in Vaughn (near Vaughn Elementary School), the first construction on the property was a dance floor named “The Bowery” built in 1889 for a Fourth of July celebration. In 1893, the walls of the community hall were built and in 1926 an addition was constructed to add more room for the library association, which remained in the building until 1957 when it sold the building to Van Slyke’s son, Harmon.
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Donna Docken is the granddaughter of Harmon Van Slyke — and great-granddaughter of Alfred — and inherited the building from her brother, Jerry Wolniewicz, after his death in 2012.
If I kept it, it probably would have had to be torn down. I just didn’t want that to happen. I wanted the people in the community to have it and enjoy it.
Donna Docken, donor of the Vaughn Library Hall
“At the time I inherited (the building) it needed so much work done that I didn’t feel like I could take it on,” Docken, 75, said. “If I kept it, it probably would have had to be torn down. I just didn’t want that to happen. I wanted the people in the community to have it and enjoy it.”
The building had been passed down from Docken’s grandfather to his daughter, Docken’s mother, Helen Wolniewicz, in the 1970s. Jerry Wolniewicz inherited the building from his mother.
“It’s been in the family and passed back and forth,” Docken said. “It goes back a long ways.”
Interested in keeping local history alive in the community, Docken contacted the Key Peninsula Historical Society in August of 2015 about donating the hall to its care.
The conversation continued for several months, before the board voted at its March meeting to accept the donation, said Judy Mills, president of the society.
The Vaughn Library Hall was donated to the society on Oct. 13 and the clean-up and restoration process has begun.
“It’s just going to be a process as we go along,” Mills said. “It’s a long-term project. At this point we really don’t know how long it will take.”
The hall had been used as a private residence by Docken’s mother and brother, and break-ins from both humans and animals are apparent.
It’s just going to be a process as we go along. It’s a long-term project. At this point we really don’t know how long it will take.
Judy Mills, president of the Key Peninsula Historical Society
The cleanup crew is being led by KPHS board member Paul Michaels, who is working with a list of volunteers that includes an architect experienced in historical restoration.
“Our plan is to go back to the way (the building) looked in the 1920s,” Michaels said. “This is the last of the original community halls that’s still existing. That’s why we’re so excited about saving it.”
The clean-up has been slow and steady, with the workers keeping an eye out for historical artifacts that could go to the KPHS museum or other items for a rummage sale that might be hidden inside the building. More modern alterations to the building are also being slowly stripped away — such as interior walls and a lowered ceiling — to reveal original wainscoting and light fixtures hidden beneath.
“It’s nice to know that we have some original stuff there,” Mills said.
Along with bringing the hall back to use in the community for events, the KPHS will also be working toward getting the building placed on the historic register, aiming not only for the state level but the national level as well.
Like most of history, the Vaughn Library Hall and the people who gathered there have stories that have become legendary for local residents.
We’re interested in them to make sure we restore the building how they remember. We want to ask anybody who has any memories of this building to add to our project.
Paul Michaels, Key Peninsula Historical Society board member
“Legend says that the Horticultural Society said they could only have men on the board,” Michaels said. “So the women started the Library Association and said no men could be on that board.”
“In retaliation,” Mills added with a laugh.
While working to restore the building, the KPHS is looking for older residents in the community who may have memories or pictures of how the building looked during the 1920s to help with the restoration.
“We’re interested in them to make sure we restore the building how they remember,” Michaels said. “We want to ask anybody who has any memories of this building to add to our project.”
Docken is delighted to see the building being cared for and restored for the community, and also for her inclusion at the KPHS: both she and her husband, Gary, were made lifelong members of the organization, only the second such honor in the society’s history.
“I was really thrilled with that,” she said of her membership. “I love it out (on the Key Peninsula). It always feels like going home.”
Key Peninsula Historical Society
For more information on the KPHS or the Vaughn Library Hall, call 253-888-3246 or visit keypeninsulamuseum.org.