Mechanics Institute/School of Arts, the library, a house, and accommodation. The imposing building at the corner of Perry and Gladstone streets, Mudgee, has been many things to many people over its 150-plus year history.
Only several decades after Mudgee was settled, the push began to build a Mechanics Institute - also known as a School of Arts - a kind-of forerunner to TAFE that aimed to provide education to working people.
After a number of temporary sites, including a Short Street cottage and what is now Robertson Park, the Perry and Gladstone streets location was dedicated for a specifically designed facility. The building was penned by Sydney-based architect Thomas Rowe and the tender was won by James Atkinson.
The foundation stone was laid on October 8, 1861, and it was officially opened just under a year later. It would serve as the Mechanics Institute for the next 90 years, while also providing a venue for events such as dances, meetings, performances and more.
READ MORE LOCAL HISTORY HERE:
In the 1950s, Mudgee Municipal Council assumed control of the building and for a time it served as the library until it was moved to its current location in the former Town Hall in 1979.
During that period it was also used by the adjacent Mudgee Public School when works were being carried out on some of their classrooms and to ease overcrowding. And - fittingly - it was used to teach some trades classes in the early days of the local technical college (now TAFE).
Plans in the 1970s to restore and re-purpose the building wouldn't come to fruition and Council sold it in the 1980s. Although it took two auctions to offload, after initially only getting one bid of $50,000.
Eventually it would sell in 1986 and spend the next two decades in private hands.
Following its 2008 sale, the former Mechanics Institute underwent an extensive refurbishment and conversion into a boutique hotel. It opened as De Russie Suites in 2012.
In the 1970s, when its future was uncertain, articles and Letters to the Editor in the Mudgee Guardian captured a real passion to preserve the building.
And for good reason, an impressive and grandiose part of the local skyline still today, it's even more remarkable to think that it was built in the 1860s.
Upon its opening, the Western Post reported, "Mudgee may well be proud of its new Mechanics Institute and the committee excused for the elation they feel at the opening of their new hall. The event marked the conclusion of a great work in which very many have enthusiastically assisted, and which has for its aim, the moral and intellectual advancement of the people".
- This article was produced from the archives of the Mudgee Historical Society and the Mudgee Guardian/The Weekly.
Full of character; strong, robust; magnificent portico; dominates townscape; very good vernacular timber staircase with canopy.National Trust's Historical Buildings Committee, after members visited in 1967