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Parramatta’s historic Town Hall

Dive into the history of the Parramatta Town Hall, a salmon-coloured building on the edge of Centenary Square located in the centre of Parramatta’s business district.

In 1861, Parramatta had its own mayor and council, but no town hall building in which they could meet. For two decades, the council’s operations, as well as civic events – such as concerts and community meetings – took place in a series of rented premises. Elder’s House (where the Woolpack Hotel now stands), on the south-east corner of George and Marsden streets, was the site of council operations between 1862 and 1872. By 1878, the population of Parramatta was more than 7000, but the council was still just renting a room in Church Street.

Mayor C. J. Byrnes campaigned for a dedicated town hall building, and the Parramatta Town Hall Act was passed in 1879. Council then took over a former market site, which had also been the location of the Aboriginal and European Annual Meeting Day or Annual Feast of Aboriginal Tribes between 1814 and the 1830s.

The building was designed by Sydney architectural firm Mansfield Brothers in the Victorian Free Classical style, which was commonly used for civic buildings, banks and theatres around Australia at the time. The style demonstrates architectural elements borrowed from various European countries and time periods. Plans were drawn for two buildings – a Town Hall and a Chambers – but the council could not afford to build them both at once, proceeding with the Chambers building first.

The building was completed by local builders Hart and Lavors, and was officially opened in 1881. The Town Hall was completed one year later, and officially opened in 1883 with a performance by the Parramatta Glee Club of Haydn’s oratorio, ‘The Creation’. This first public event at the Town Hall revealed the aspirations of the city to be seen as a place of high culture.

In 1911, Mayor Walter Jago called for a museum to be built alongside the Town Hall to commemorate Parramatta Municipal Council’s 50th anniversary. There was much discussion about who would fund the museum and whether there was enough material to fill it, and a ‘supper hall’ was opened in July 1913 instead of a museum. A jubilee celebration was held at the Town Hall in 1911.

Parramatta grew rapidly after World War II, amalgamating with the councils of Dundas, Granville, Ermington and Rydalmere, and plans for more office buildings were drawn. A new four-level office building designed by Buckland and Druce was constructed behind the Town Hall, on the site of the clerk’s home. It was opened in 1958 and continues to host council meetings today.

To read more about the historic Parramatta Town Hall, check out edition 16 of Traces, available now!

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