Once upon a time, when Melrose was a booming little railroad town, the Farmers State Bank on the town’s main street was a grocery store. Then early in the 1900s, the brick façade was replaced by the current, more regal looking sandstone front, proclaiming it a place to store and borrow money. But all of that came to a screeching halt on Black Friday of 1929, when the bank failed to open and investors lost everything, which officially began the Great Depression for the citizens of Melrose.
The bank became the town’s post office, then a number of businesses filed through it, then it was abandoned and decay nearly sent it to its grave. But the people of Melrose rallied around it more than a dozen years ago when they launched a Melrose Main Street Renovation, cleaning the ceiling off the floor and securing the building with untold hours of backbreaking work. In 2011, four years of state grants helped complete the process of restoring the bank to more than its former glory. However, in the fall of 2018 the building went empty again and things started to look grim for its future.
That is until Kris Sarver asked the city if she could rent it, clean it, paint it and make it into “The Gathering Place of Melrose.” She just thought it would be nice to have a place where people could go and have a free cup of coffee, tea, or hot chocolate and a cookie and watch the traffic on Shamrock Street go by, while at the same time providing artisans with Melrose roots a place to sell their wares. She is cooperating with The Shamrock Shoppe, located next door, which is filled not only with several rooms full of charming gifts, but also much of Melrose’s history. All profits from The Gathering Place go to the city of Melrose to pay the bills to keep it open, while the profits from the Shamrock Shoppe go to the town’s Community Betterment Program, which uses its funds to spruce up the town in a million different ways.
The Gathering Place is really the fruit of an inspiration that started when Kris lived in a small town in Nebraska. An old bank there sat on a corner of the main street and she repeatedly told her husband she would like to rent it and make it into a gathering place for local residents, but she never followed through with the idea. When she moved to Melrose four years ago, she and Evelyn Tierney, author of the book which tells the story of Melrose’s history, But of Course They Were Irish, became fast friends. Evelyn happened to mention the name of the park located across the street from Melrose’s Community Center, Tolendol, means “gathering place” in Gaelic.
As the old bank across the street from the park began to fade from lack of use, Kris felt the Holy Spirit pushing her forward to make The Gathering Place a reality. She is hoping in the future to make it available for small family celebrations during non-operating hours and art lessons or music on the occasional evening to raise funds to maintain the parks and buildings of Melrose. And her pastor, Father Timothy Ambruster, has said he will consider hosting a Scripture Study with her in the cozy atmosphere of the old bank – and that will complete the dream for Kris.
The Gathering Place of Melrose is open Tuesday through Saturday from 2-5 p.m. If The Shamrock Shoppe doesn’t happen to be open during those hours, Kris will open it so you have two places to buy wonderful gifts in Melrose. hen you can wander up the block and have a marvelous lunch or dinner at Feehan’s Pub and make it a truly Irish day. The town and its artisans would be more than thankful for your fellowship and your business.