The History of The Community House

Samuel Mandell

In 1921, George and Emily Mandell of Hamilton decided to build a community center in memory of their son, Samuel Mandel, and seven other local men who died during World War I. They were inspired by a national movement to develop spaces that would bring people together after the hardship of war.

The Mandells commissioned renowned architect and landscape designer Guy Lowell to design our building. They then gave The Community House in trust for the use of the residents of Hamilton and Wenham.

For the first 22 years, Emily Proctor Mandell self-funded the needs and maintenance of the building. After her passing in 1943, the organization faced financial hardships but remained resilient in its mission.

During the 1980s, TCH met the needs of the community with new programs, including after-school care for children, social enrichment for adults with disabilities, and large community-wide celebrations. The organization also raised funds to make critical repairs to its historic building. In the 1990s, TCH launched a program to provide social events for adults with disabilities. That program, which has been running continuously for three decades, is now called the Friends Club.

In 2006, Melissa Elmer joined TCH as Executive Director, and her vision was transformative. In 2008, TCH expanded its arts programming with Stage 284, an in-house theater company. In 2016, TCH hired its first Director of Development. Flagship programs hit new milestones, and the organization grew to almost 30 employees. In 2019 The Community House launched The Kids Community @ 284 (TKC), a new childcare program, with an initial enrollment of 98 children.

In 2020, TCH redesigned its flagship programs to unite our community during the COVID-19 pandemic. TKC provides safe childcare that matches the quickly evolving needs of families in the HW School District. Stage 284 creates new content and shares it widely through digital channels. And, of course, we continue to offer special events that bring our community together.

TCH remains a thriving non-profit, 501c3 charitable organization dedicated to promoting the arts, enrichment and civic unity.  In 2021 and 2022, The Community House will launch its centennial anniversary celebrations.

To learn more download the history of the Community House through the year 2003 here.

Much of this information was gathered from the text of a speech given by former Community House President and Mandell family grandson, C.G. Rice. The speech was given April 25, 1985 to the Hamilton Historical Association. Marie Saunders, Executive Director, and her staff gathered other material from The Community House records in 1983-85. Finally, Ann Chivakos, Administrative Assistant and Margo Druschel, Executive Director, made a cursory search of the files, and interviewed board members and residents as well.

*(The history is provided in portable document files (pdf) and is readable and printable through Adobe Acrobat Reader. If you do not have Adobe Acrobat Reader you can download it free, by clicking here.)

Learn more about the history of The Community House:

View ‘Remembering the Heroic Men of Hamilton & Wenham’ November 10, 2018 Presentation HERE

Download World War I: Remembering the Heroic Men of Hamilton and Wenham HERE
Hardcopies are available at The Community House with a suggested donation of $5.00.

Read Memorial of Lieutenant Samuel Pierce Mandell II HERE

Read about Samuel Pierce Mandell II’s Great War experience HERE
Excerpt from Saint Mark’s School in the War Against Germany
Edited by Albert Emerson Benson

View Samuel Mandell 20th Aero Squadron HERE
Excerpt from Harvard Observed: An Illustrated History of the University in the Twentieth By John T. Bethell

History of The Community House
Article by Jack Hauck, February 2023

Centennial Celebration Event Video:
Interview with Lily Rice Hsia, great-granddaughter of the Mandell’s:

History of Stage 284 at The Community House

Celebrating 10 years of performing arts at The Community House!
The Stage 284 Story

Published March 2018

As we celebrate the 10th anniversary of theater arts at The Community House, no one could have envisioned the passion, interest, and support that would grow for this program. Until 2008, The Community House stage was only modestly active, with programs like The Libby Fireside Concerts, brown bag lunches, after school programs, and middle school dances. After becoming Executive Director in 2006, I would often daydream about a community arts program that would bring more life and vibrancy to our stage and organization. As a young person myself, I found participating in theatre provided a creative outlet where I could be thoroughly engaged, challenged, and accepted. I envisioned The Community House becoming a place where people could enjoy a similar experience – with a quality performing arts enrichment program that would impact community members of all ages! The possibilities seemed endless and bright. With the talented and ambitious Hannah Mell, The Community House launched Cape Ann Community Theater in 2008. We set out to offer a place where people of all ages and skill levels could work with a diverse group of Directors whose goal was to inspire and develop skills in actors, singers, and dancers. Although our purpose has since been refined, our initial vision remains.

With the help of our Board of Directors and Advisory Committee, we rebranded to Community House Theater in 2010, and in 2015, we arrived at the latest iteration of a name: Stage 284. (For those of you wondering about the significance of the numbers “284;” it reflects the street number of The Community House.) We wanted a name that was creative and linked the importance of the theater program to The Community House – the new name achieves this perfectly. In an era where many theaters struggle to keep their doors open, our program is fortunate to have a home within a strong
organization that is committed to the arts. Stage 284 is a valued and critical program of The Community House. Ten years later and still going strong, we wish to extend our gratitude to Hannah Mell for having the courage and energy to launch a theater company with us. She thrust immeasurable amounts of energy and time into the early productions, and despite having few resources, no staff and zero budget: she always created a warm and exceptional community experience for all. In addition, we extend special thanks to Cat Stramer and Greg Warwick, who have been actively
involved since the early years, and to all the volunteers who have helped shape Stage 284 along the way. Under the leadership of our first Artistic Director, Jay Pension, we grew our small operation into a full season program with four main stage productions and educational workshops for kids. Katie Clarke, our new Managing Director, has quickly won over the hearts of many through her new program, Stage 284’s Youth Company, and her mesmerizing ability to engage children. Our youth programming attendance is often at capacity – a testament to the need in our community
and the quality we deliver.

It takes a village to bring theater to life, and there are countless wonderful people who have helped us along the way. I would like to recognize The Community House Staff and Board of Directors for their daily support in maintaining and supporting our vision and operations. Our staff, Board, and volunteers along with our actors, their families and our audiences are all part of our “theater family”. Because of you, our stage has come ALIVE with artistry and camaraderie that is beyond description.

It is an incredible honor and privilege, to witness the development of our actors, community, and the incredible works of art created every day at The Community House. We look forward to bringing the arts to you for many more decades ahead!

With Gratitude,
Melissa Elmer, Executive Director