Monroe looks to its past to speak its future


From left, Kevin Reid, Masuk High Principal Joseph Kobza, Al Cascella, and Kevin Daly, board historian for the Monroe Historical Society, with the new podium, created by Reid and Cascella using wood from the town’s original Town Hall. — Brian Gioiele photo

From now on, special events at Masuk High — from awards ceremonies to incoming freshman orientation to graduation — will be done with a historical flair, all thanks to two residents who put their expert carpentry skills to use for all to see.

The original Monroe townhouse. — Photo courtesy of Monroe Historical Society

Kevin Reid, a woodworking pro who’s better known lately as a town councilman, joined forces with Al Cascella of A. Cascella Renovations to create a beautifully designed podium for the high school. This is not just any podium. Sure, it will be used in the usual way, for teachers, parents and students to stand behind and speak to the masses. But this podium is more than that — it is truly a piece of Monroe history.

The podium was created using wood from the original Monroe townhouse — what people today would call a town hall. The wood, when first nailed together in 1799, was home to the town’s first Masonic temple as well as the location where local government meetings took place, as well as even some lessons, since the structure also housed a school for a period.

“It just came to me,” said Reid. “I have a kid in the school system, and I just thought, What a great way to give something back to the schools while doing something with this wood from the original Town Hall. This is a great piece of history, and what better place to have it stay, with Masuk High School. It’s a beautiful podium and something rich in Monroe history that will live forever now.”

“I jumped at the chance,” said Cascella, who also has children in Monroe schools, about working with Reid on the project. “The chance to create something for the school was a big part of my decision. But it was also the wood we’d be using, to keep this history within Monroe; it was just a great idea.”

The idea first sprang up, according to Reid, some two years ago from two separate conversations — one with Marven Moss, the other with Masuk High Principal Joseph Kobza. Moss talked to Reid — who once had his own carpentry business but now simply enjoys his woodworking hobby at his woodshop on Spring Hill Road — about what could be done with the piles of wood and beams that were once the old Monroe townhouse.

It was while Reid contemplated that question that he received a call from Kobza, who asked if he could create a podium to replace the current deteriorating dais.

“The (Masuk High) Class of 2015 donated money for a podium,” said Kobza, “so I began to see what was available. Everything I found was extremely expensive, crummy material. I was familiar with Kevin’s work, so I went to him.”

As a history buff himself, the soon-to-be assistant superintendent of schools was excited to hear that Reid would create a new podium using materials from what was the original town hall.

“This is a piece of Monroe history,” said Kobza as he looked over the podium, which will be stored at the high school and brought out for some special moments, including senior graduation. “I just love the ties to our history that this (podium) represents. This is bringing the past to today for all ages to see.”

Kevin Daly, a local historian who co-authored the two editions of “Monroe Through Time” along with fellow residents Moss and John Babina, said the wood comes from the structure built in 1799. The building was originally a Masonic temple but was also used for town government activities, since in those days the two were “intertwined.” The structure even housed a school, until the second town hall was built in the northwest corner of what is now the Monroe green. Once a new home was built for the Masonic temple, the old townhouse, as it was called, fell into disrepair. The former Masonic Temple and Town Hall formerly stood next to the Mustard Seed Shop and was moved in 1908 just up the hill to the property of Albert Wheeler at 777 Monroe Turnpike.  

In 1977, the structure, which had not been used for years, was taken apart by the historical society, said Daly, with the intent of reassembling it sometime in the future. That, however, never happened, and the piles of deteriorating wood were simply sitting in storage until earlier this year. It was then that Reid conceived the idea and went to his friend Cascella to bring the podium to life.

Reid said he went to Cascella knowing that, individually, it would have been a difficult project. Both men had both worked on complex projects in the past, but this podium, using wood that was more than 200 years old, was new for the two.

“It was really trial and error, nothing was standard A, B, C with this,” said Reid. “The wood was all different. There was a lot of looking and seeing what matched best, what worked better. We ended up with a good blend of old soul and new soul.”

The pair said they used a couple of posts and beams and three of the 14- to 15-inch-wide to 12-foot-long beams, as well as locally sourced black walnut. Reid said they tried to use larger fir pieces, but they were not solid enough, but the chestnut was solid.

From the moment they stripped the first nail to completion, and some 80 hours combined later, it was about three weeks — then off to the high school. Since then, the pair has been thanked by parents and students and was even honored by the Board of Education on Feb. 26 for the gift of the handcrafted dais.

“There were times we were just standing there looking at the wood and just wondering how we were going to do this,” said Cascella. “We came up with some good ideas … the top comes off, the arch in the front, and other details, like having the letters stand out. It’s a great piece, put together with a lot of love, a lot of thought.”

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