The Dandenong townsfolk built their first Mechanics Institute in 1863, a small timber building, on the corner of Lonsdale and Walker Streets, which included a library. A more elaborate structure was needed and in 1876, a new brick building was added in front. This contained the Institute and Library (with 500 volumes), as well as providing a space for Council meetings and a venue for many functions.
This in turn, after many battles, gave way to the grand new town hall complex, built in 1890. The Institute was granted the use of one whole floor in the new building. This included space for a reading room and library, which continued in that location until the 1970s.
In the late 1880s the Shire Councillors debated the question of acquiring their own civic offices. At that time there were only 647 ratepayers. Amidst bitter opposition and a ratepayers’ poll, there emerged a plan which would utilize the Mechanics Institute site, demolish their building, erect a new Town Hall, house the law courts, and provide one upper floor for the activities of the Mechanics Institute.
John Keys, shire secretary and also a local member of parliament, led the group supporting the proposal for a new town hall. The majority of ratepayers voted for the Council’s proposal to take out a loan of £4,000. The Victorian Government assisted with a contribution of £2,000, in return for including a Court Room in the plans. The builders, McCulloch and McAlpine, constructed the building at a cost of £9,269.
On the ground floor were municipal chambers, public hall, court house and caretaker’s residence. On the upper floor were public library, reading room, billiard room and club rooms. For the next 78 years the Town Hall was the home of the municipality of Dandenong. It was also the legal centre for the area, since the law court sessions continued to be held there until 1939.
In 1934 the clock was provided for the tower as an outcome of the Dandenong Jubilee celebrations held in 1933. In October 1939, the tender of Leith and Bartlett was accepted for alterations to the town hall complex, costing £10,000.
That year, law court sessions were transferred permanently to another local building, and over the next two years the complex underwent a major internal reconstruction, plus a large extension at the rear. Before the alterations, the complex ran parallel to Lonsdale Street.
Some years later,in 1968, the City of Dandenong’s municipal offices were transferred to new buildings in Clow Street. The Town Hall was again redeveloped, this time as a venue for community festivals and entertainment and a portion was used to house the Council’s historic archives.