In early America there may not have been a better place to watch a sunset than Burlington, which was organized as a town in 1785. On the eastern shore of Lake Champlain one could sit on a wide sandy crescent and look across the water to the Adirondack Mountains. But these sylvan pleasures would surely be intruded on in short order.

After all the natural falls of the Winooski River were begging for mills to take advantage of the water power. And when the Champlain Canal opened in 1823 to access the Hudson River and then New York City and then the Atlantic Ocean by water, the die was cast for Burlington to become Vermont’s largest and most important city.

By the middle of the 1800s, when the railroads arrived in town, Burlington was the third largest lumber port in the United States. The waterfront was a beehive of wharves and railyards and the city energetically built up the shoreline with thousands upon thousands of cubic yards of fill from the surrounding hillsides.

Meanwhile the city grew on the plateaus above the waterfront and incorporated in 1865. The new buildings were not those seen in the typical New England towns. These were sophisticated structures built by big city architects and bankrolled by wealthy local citizens. The tonnage sent out onto Lake Champlain was growing more sophisticated as well - gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel were eventually shipped on barges to and from 83 above ground bulk storage tanks on the Burlington waterfront.

Those days seem a long way away today. The barges have stopped floating - the lake’s southern end has accumulated too much silt. The biggest employers in the city in the 21st century are the University of Vermont and the school’s medical center. Down on the waterfront the freight schooners have been replaced by pleasure craft and bicycles roll where passenger trains once rumbled. And those sunsets are still sublime. To see what vestiges of the history of the Queen City remain we will begin our explorations at... 
Waterfront Park
College Street at Lake Champlain

This bucolic greenspace is where Burlington gathers by the water for festivals or just watching the sailboats from the Community Boathouse and Lake Champlain Sailing Center against the sunset. A far cry from the town’s bustling early days as a port. There is 900 feet of lakeshore here and the Burlington Bike Path that leads out into the community. The ECHO Lake Aquarium and Science Center also adjoins the park.


Union Station
1 Main Street at Lake Street

Burlington’s first Union Depot was built back in today’s Waterfront Park in 1867, serving the Vermont Central and Vermont and Canada railroads. The sprawling Victorian brick structure was studded with towers and turrets. It was hauled down in favor of a less showy Union Station in 1916. The lines involved this time were the Central Vermont Railway and the Rutland Railroad. Alfred T. Fellheimer, who was the lead architect for Manhattan’s fabled Grand Central Terminal, drew up the plans for Beaux Arts-styled passenger depot, rendered in tan brick with limestone trim. The price tag was $200,000. The Rutland Railroad stopped picking up passengers in 1953 and Union Station was shuttered. The hundred-year old structure now does duty as office space. Look up to see winged monkeys crafted from steel on the roof. They were commissioned as advertising statues from local artist Steve Larrabee back in the 1970s but have survived here.


Woodbury Armory
101 Main Street at southeast corner of Pine Street

Governor Urban A. Woodbury directed the construction of this brick quarters for the Vermont National Guard on January 20, 1905. His son was the captain of the outfit at the time. Armories were places for troops to drill and also party. The building could hold well over 1,000 people and when not doing military service was converted into a skating rink. The Armory was used to stage the first car show in Vermont in 1911. After World War I the National Guard moved out and the building was subsequently adapted to serve alternately as an automobile dealership, paper factory and night club. A 2003 fire ravaged the interior of the armory, leaving only a hollowed out brick shell. After a ten-year vacancy the armory was reborn as the front lobby of a hotel and parking garage complex.

Wells & Richardson Printing Office
110 Main Street

This entire block was the stomping grounds of the Wells & Richardson Company beginning in the final decades of the 19th century. Edward Wells, A.E. Richardson and W.J. Van Patten went into the wholesale drug business in 1872 just as the demand for dubious potions known as “patent medicines” was cresting. Wells & Richardson had a hit with a milk-based baby food called “Lactated Food,” “Kidney-Wort” and others. But their breakout star was “Paine’s Celery Compound” (coca, from which cocaine is derived, and alcohol were big ingredients). The company opened branches overseas to satisfy eager buyers around the world. The key to the Wells & Richardson’s success was a barrage of print advertising produced in this Renaissance Revival brick building constructed in 1897. The presses here ran non-stop churning out pamphlets and labels for Wells & Richardson products. A death blow to the company was struck by the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 but the business trundled on for another three decades, buoyed by its Diamond Dyes coloring products. The five major buildings in the Wells & Richardson industrial-commercial complex have subsequently been repurposed.

Woodbury-Walker Block
139 St. Paul Street at the northwest corner of Main Street

Urban A. Woodbury was a New Hampshire man although his parents were both Vermont natives. He was born in 1838 and took a medical degree from the University of Vermont before serving in the Civil War, where he lost his right arm in the First Battle of Bull Run. He came home to Burlington and entered the lumber business. He also built the Van Ness House, the greatest of Burlington’s 19th century hotels, in 1870 on the opposite corner across Main Street. It burned in 1951. On this block Woodbury partnered with Kilburn B. Walker, who made his money in the marble trade, to build a home base for the Crystal Confectionary Company with office space and a retail apothecary. Next door, the Hotel Burlington was constructed by George Delaney in 1887. Both buildings were consumed by flames on January 8, 1910. Both were patched up and eventually sold to the Vermont Transit Company in 1948 which combined them into the 90-room Huntington Hotel. The buildings would be unrecognizable to their original owners but you can see a bit more 19th century detailing from Clellan Waldo Fisher’s design on the Woodbury-Walker building.
Vermont House
129-133 Main Street

Fire claimed the life of the prestigious American Hotel on this site in 1906 but the ashes were barely cooled when plans were made by Max L. Powell, lawyer-businessman turned state senator, to replace it with the Hotel Vermont. Powell was thinking big - the tallest building in Burlington and he staked $350,000 to the project. Powell hired George M. Bartlett, who had just gone out on his own from the offices of esteemed New York City architect Ernest Flagg, to design his dream hotel. Bartlett delivered a seven-story Colonial Revival confection complete with wrought iron balconies, brick corner quoining and a denticulated pressed metal cornice under a rooftop parapet. Formal ceremonies for 300 invited guests took place on June 22, 1911 as celebrants hailed “the state’s finest hostelry.” The Hotel Vermont even took a star turn in an early silent film, A Vermont Romance, in 1916. The venerable hotel closed in 1970 and managed to dodge the wrecking ball until a conversion to apartments occurred in the 1980s.

Flynn Theater
153 Main Street

John James Flynn was the son of Irish immigrants. born in Dorset, Vermont in 1854. He left school in his early teens to clerk in the Burlington Savings Bank and eventually worked in farming, provisions, timber and more. All the while Flynn poured whatever money he had left over into real estate. He founded the Burlington Traction Company that gave Burlington, Winooski, Colchester, Essex Junction, and Essex Town electric streetcar service. In 1930 Flynn was widowed and childless and took on the task of building Vermont’s best performing arts venue. The Flynn Theater cost $500,000 and was intended originally for the last troupes of vaudeville performers who were still touring. But with the advent of “talking pictures” the Flynn swiftly segued into its role as the city’s movie palace. As downtown movie theaters closed in droves in the 1970s the Flynn pivoted again and has emerged as a world class performing arts center with over 1,800 seats. 

Times Building
167 Main Street at southwest corner of Church Street

You can look closely at this corner building and still not see Burlington’s first Baptist church, which this structure was when it was raised in 1845. It was a Greek Revival-styled meetinghouse then with a belfry and the whole works. The Burlington Times bought the church after the Baptists relocated in 1866, The paper pulled down the belfry and outfitted the interior for printing presses. They also added the French Second Empire mansard roof, fashionable at the time. The Greek Revival styled pilasters are your only clue as to the building’s origins. George Bigelow started the Burlington Times in 1861 and sold out to the Burlington Free Press in 1869; after that the paper operated for many years as the Free Press and Times.

U.S. Post Office and Customs House
175 Main Street at the southeast corner of Church Street

Supervising architect of the United States Treasury, James Knox Taylor, gave Vermont one of its best Beaux Arts ornaments with this federal building in 1906. The grand U-shaped structure is dressed in native marble and granite. Paired Ionic columns frame the front facade windows on the second and third floors and a denticulated cornice and roofline balustrade crown the composition. The eye-catching bas-relief wood carvings in the pediments are the handiwork of master carver Albert H. Whittekind who was famous for his work on the New York Public Library. Whittekind came to Vermont to beautify the Billings Library on the University of Vermont campus in 1892 and never left. The heritage classic has assumed the role of Chittenden County Courthouse since its Victorian predecessor burned to the ground in 1982.


Exchange Block
150-156 Church Street at the northeast corner of Main Street

The Italianate style dominated American downtown business districts for much of the second half of the 19th century and Burlington was no different. You can still look up to see hallmarks of Italianate architecture on this corner building - narrow windows, decorative window hoods and an elaborate bracketed cornice. The retail grand level has been compromised over the years. William H. Townsend was the designer and builder for the Exchange Block that was completed in 1878. A 1962 fire crippled the third floors of the bays that stretch along Church Street and they were never rebuilt.

City Hall
149 Church Street

The first Burlington City Hall appeared on this site in 1854. It survived for three-quarters of a century before being torn down in 1928. The $475,000 budget was placed in the hands of William M. Kendall, who spent his entire 59-year career in the New York offices of McKim, Mead & White, the leading Beaux Arts architects of the early 20th century. Kendall blended Colonial Revival elements with a classical sensibility to create one of the city’s signature buildings. Everything used in its construction was sourced in Vermont - marble, granite, roof slates and bricks. City Hall boasts admirable proportions, a dual entranceway, Corinthian pilasters and a three-stage cupola.

Ethan Allen Engine Company #4
135 Church Street

Fire suppression in the 1800s was the job of private fire companies and this handsome red sandstone and brick building was constructed in 1887 to house the Ethan Allen Fire Company. The firehouse was outfitted with an 85-foot tower for drying hoses and an open belfry. Alfred Benjamin Fisher provided the Romanesque stylings for the firehouse, which took its last fire calls in 1927. The Burlington police department used the space for 40 years and wrecking crews began to go to work. A grass roots “Firehouse Preservation Fund” raised a last ditch $63,200 to spare the building which has gone on to house the Burlington City Arts Center. 

Chittenden County Trust Company
131 Church Street

Fire - no one knows the cause - erupted here on February 1, 1928 and destroyed most of the three-story brick-faced McAuliffe Building that stood on the corner for 40 years. The burned-out part of the building was replaced with this L-shaped structure in 1931 that wraps around the section that survived, resulting in another entrance on College Street and frontage on City Hall Park. A marble facade was used to accentuate the Classical Revival design contributed by the Boston architectural firm of Harper & West. The first tenant was the Chittenden County Trust Company which stayed until 1964.

McAuliffe Building
117 Church Street at southwest corner of College Street

There are a lot of dates and names carved into the chamfered corner entranceway of this heritage building. Let’s sort them out. “1837” indicates the founding of Samuel Huntingdon’s bookstore on this location which stayed for 50 years until falling to fire. “1888” was the date this building, designed by local architect Frank Austin, was raised. Austin borrowed elements in the then-popular Richardsonian Romananesque style playbook, pioneered by Boston genius Henry Hobson Richardson. He clad the lower part of the building in rough-faced redstone and used polished columnettes to frame the entrance. McAuliffe Paper Company was formed in 1912 and purchased the building in 1919; Burlington’s YMCA was on the upper floors. A conflagration in 1928 tore through much of the four-story structure. McAuliffe’s bankrolled the reconstruction of this part of the original building, staying here for almost another half-century.

Burlington Trust Company Building
118 Church Street at southeast corner of College Street

The Burlington Trust Company was founded in 1882, mostly as the private banking concern of the Wells family of patent medicine fame. James W. O’Connor, a New York City architect known for his pricey Georgian Revival mansions, was called upon in 1925 for this headquarters. His stylish classically-flavored vault under a hipped roof features expansive marble window lintels carved with images of flora and urns. The bank merged with Howard Bank across the street in 1952 and the stately building has done restaurant duty since 1981. 

Howard National Bank
114 Church Street at northeast corner of College Street

The Howard National Bank received its charter on June 16, 1870; at the time there were 40 national banks in Vermont. The bank moved into property on this corner in 1874, using the seven-year old building as its main branch. In 1902 the bank got its own building, this three-story Renaissance Revival showplace fashioned from prosperity-inspiring granite. The doorways sport decorative wreaths and the date stamp is contained inside a carved cartouche.

Abraham’s Block
111 Church Street

Although it hides it well, this is the oldest building surviving on the pedestrian mall. Hiram Abraham got things rolling with a retail store in 1830. The parapet rising above the roofline is a tip-off to its Federal style origins. In 1945 local architect Louis S. Newton gave the building an Art Deco makeover with enameled sheet metal and glass block windows. The most recent owners, with little reverence for history, removed Abraham’s name from the parapet and inserted their own.

Artemus Prouty’s Store
106-108 Church Street

This is considered one of the oldest buildings on Church Street, a simple gable-fronted, Greek Revival affair from the 1840s. Artemus Prouty made and sold boots and shoes here. There used to be three windows on the upper floor as well but the middle one has been bricked in. The faint disruption of the bricks just above indicates a window was also once in the gable.

Isham Block
100 Church Street

Arthur, Edward and Walter Isham did not build this mid-block Romanesque Revival commercial block. It was John Mason who erected the building in 1894 to house his carry-everything hardware emporium. Delighted Burlington browsers could find hot water and both gas and electric lights in Mason’s store. He sold the business to the Whitcomb family who in turn sold it to the Ishams, three brothers who worked in banks around town. The Ishams sold out to the Hagar family in 1922 who continued to sell hardware until the 1980s. The Hanson family became the fifth family to sell nails and tools here before getting out of the hardware business - one line of trade for almost 100 years in one location. 

Warner Block
98 Church Street

Here is another design from Maine architect William H. Townsend. The client was Mary Hockley Wheeler, the daughter of John Norton Pomeroy who was born in a log cabin off today’s Pearl Street in 1792. He became a lawyer and philanthropist. When Pomeroy died in 1881 he was the city’s oldest citizen. Wheeler’s uncle Charles F. Warner died the same year and she decided to name the Queen Anne-styled commercial block after him. Her $30,000 had purchased a brick and Willard redstone building hailed upon its opening in 1887 as “one of the handsomest business blocks in the city.”

Weller Block
86-88 Church Street

Here is another contribution to the Burlington streetscape from Clellan Wlado Fisher, a four-story commercial block that blends Romanesque and Queen Anne elements. Its most prominent feature is its large rounded bow window; Weller name bades bracket the window. Fisher was only 27 years old when he received this commission in 1889 from Mary H. Weller to replace a wooden structure on this site that she had purchased in 1871.

Howard Opera House
81-91 Church Street

John Howard was born in Providence, Rhode Island in 1769 but after his father was lost at sea he was put in the care of an uncle. Young Howard went to sea in his youth but found himself more at home on land in the mercantile and tavern business. He came to the banks of Lake Champlain to farm but in 1812 he swapped his crop land for a hotel in Burlington and stayed in the hospitality business for the next 35 years. His sons Daniel Dyer and John Purple took the lessons they learned under their father to New York City at the corner of Broadway and Maiden Lane and made a fortune with the well-patronized Howard House. John Purple Howard returned to Burlington and began investing his money. He bankrolled the creation of the city’s opera house for $120,000, hiring New York architect and native Vermonter Steven D. Hatch in 1878 to design an Italian Renaissance stage. Hatch also delivered a crisp Italianate design on the four-story brick building at 93 Church Street for drug store owner E.B. Burrett. The Howard Opera House could seat 1,165 and boasted a stage 25 yards wide by 10 yards deep. Howard died in 1885 at the age of 71 and his opera house, which occupied the upper floors, did not long survive him. After insurance costs soared in the early 1900s the entertainment space was converted to selling space, housing various retailers through the years.

Union Central Building Block
57-75 Church Street

This stretch of well-maintained Italianate business blocks comprise three separate buildings, constructed by three separate owners at three separate times - all acting in a spirit of cooperation. All were built between 1857 and 1863.

Montgomery Ward Building
52-54 Church Street

Montgomery Ward and Sears, Roebuck & Company first dueled as pioneering mail order catalog merchants in th elate 1800s. Then in the early 1900s the battle took to the streets of America’s downtowns. Sears specialized in large department stores and Montgomery Ward countered with quantity, opening many more smaller retail outlets. Burlington’s turn came on December 28, 1929 and it was the Chicago-based retailer’s 515th store. The two-story masonry building was crafted in a Classical Revival style. It remained open until 1961. Look up to see bas relief stone carvings and urns atop the pilasters.

Bacon’s Block
20-26 Church Street

Nelson Bacon was one of the busiest developers in Burlington in the middle of the 19th century. When this three-story block was finished in 1874 it was his 16th building constructed in 17 years in the city. The ground floor has been compromised but look up to see one of Burlington’s most exuberant facades. The wooden piers and brackets were originally painted to appear as more expensive stone; these days the finish mimics cast iron. Bacon may have been adept at fooling passersby with his buildings but he was also susceptible to flimflammery himself. In June of 1865, while in New York City, Bacon was the victim of two sharpers who relieved him of $95 with their street con.

Richardson Building
2 Church Street at southeast corner of Pearl Street

Albert E. Richardson and W.B. McKillip gave architect Walter Dickson specific marching orders when he was brought up to Burlington from Albany, New York in 1895 - build us the largest department store in the city. Dickson responded with what he called a “Scoto-French” style shopping palace, infusing the French Chateauesque style with elements of Scottish baronial architecture. With rounded towers topped by expressive finials separating the five bays and upper floor balconies on the Church Street elevation, nothing else looks like the Richardson Building in Burlington. McKillip sold his interest in the McKillip & Smith Company to H.W. Allen & Company in 1901. A decade later Frank D. Abernathy emerged from the Allen Company and opened Abernathy’s Department Store. The store became a Burlington institution into the 1980s. Abernathy even swapped the iron “Rs” on the balconies for “As” but the “Rs” are back in place now.

Grand Masonic Lodge
1 Church Street at southwest corner of Pearl Street

Burlington was chosen as the home base for the Grand Masonic Lodge of Vermont in 1868. If no one was aware of that fact they certainly were after 1898 when this massive landmark was completed at the head of Church Street. Architect John McArthur Harris tapped the Romanesque Revival style for the statement lodge but added a few eclectic twists of his own, most notably the massive hip roof flecked with gables, towers and dormers. On the Pearl Street elevation Harris designed a series of stair-step windows into the gabled center. The price tag was $80,000. Only the upper four floors were designed for use by the Masons, the ground level was always a harbor for retailers. The Masons, faced with declining membership, moved in 1970 and the lodge quarters received a three-million dollar makeover into office space.

Unitarian Church
152 Pearl Street

The church which gave the name to the pedestrian mall was one of the last projects by English-born architect and builder Peter Banner of Boston. A master carpenter, Banner often chipped in with the work on his buildings. This one was completed by local builders in 1816 but it is believed that Chalres Bulfinch, considered the first native-born American architect, was involved in supervising some of the work. The Federal-styled meeting house is graced by a two-tier octagonal spire atop a square tower. A Palladian window greets worshipers at the entrance. The parish house was added in 1868. With 200 years of services under its belt, this is Burlington’s oldest house of worship. 


First Congregational Church
38 South Winooski Avenue

In 1800, 32-year old Daniel Clarke Sanders, born in Sturbridge, Massachusetts and educated at Harvard, became the first president of the University of Vermont. Five years later he galvanized a small group of local men and women into forming the First Calvinist Society of Burlington. The Congregationalists raised a clapboard meeting house on this site known as the “White Church” that served until it burned down in 1841. Its replacement was modeled on the Monument of Lysicrates that was erected in Athens, Greece in 334 BC. The ancient Greek structure became a go-to inspiration for architects in the 18th and 19th centuries. The church, fronted by a colonnade of fluted Ionic columns, rises from a foundation of local Isle LaMotte limestone, quarried from the world’s oldest fossilized ocean reef. Today, the Fisk Quarry on the shores of Lake Champlain is a National Natural Landmark. Money was raised by selling pews. The parsonage on the grounds to the north became the Ronald McDonald House in 1984.

First Methodist Church
21 Buell Street at southeast corner of South Winooski Avenue

The quarries of the Isle La Motte also appear in the resume of this masonry church, as limestone trim to the main red sandstone. Burlington’s Methodists first gathered here in 1834. By 1868 the congregation was flush enough to afford the services of Massachusetts architect Alexander Rice Etsy, one of the leading cheerleaders for the Gothic Revival ecclesiastic style. Etsy delivered a standout design for the First Methodist Church but audibled to the Romanesque style on the entrances and windows, employing a round arch top. The large rose window is the handiwork of Boston manufacturer J.M. Cook and is the oldest and most elaborate in Burlington.

Carnegie Building of the Fletcher Free Library
235 College Street at southeast corner of South Winooski Avenue

As his career was winding down, steel magnate Andrew Carnegie was ready to sell off his empire. He sat with financier J.P. Morgan who asked the Scottish industrialist how much money he wanted. Carnegie wrote $400 million on a slip of paper and passed it across the table. Morgan glanced at it and said, “Congratulations, Mr. Carnegie. You are now the richest man in the world.” Carnegie then set about giving away as much of his fortune as possible. His pet project was public libraries and he funded over 2,500 across the world. Vermont received funds for four libraries with the $50,000 going to Burlington in 1901 nearly twice as much as the endowments of the other three. The Beaux Arts style library lent its first books on August 17, 1904. But a quarter-century before Andrew Carnegie got into the library funding business, Mary L. Peaslee Fletcher was already in the game. She and her husband, merchant Thaddeus Fletcher, were supporters of Burlington schools, the local orphanage and other causes. In 1873 Mary Fletcher gave the city of Burlington $20,000 to be spent on books and an endowment for the building that became the Fletcher Free Library. The Carnegie Building held the collection for nearly 70 years but its fate was doomed by the ground you are standing on. This was once a railroad cut for the Vermont Central Railroad in the 1800s. The ravine was filled in mostly with sawdust and the unstable earth resulted in structural problems for all the buildings constructed along its path.


Hall Block
210 College Street at northwest corner of South Winooski Street

George A. Hall’s furniture business was the most prominent tenant of this gateway block to College Street. Hall moved into an already seven-year old building in 1901. The Queen Anne-styled brick building with dueling conical towers at the corners was bankrolled by S.P. Saxe & Son. The towers are decorated with spandrel panels of pressed metal floral detailing. In addition to the pressed metal you can also see vestiges of Isle La Motte limestone, granite and terra cotta in the composition.

Leavenworth Block
207 College Street at southwest corner of South Winooski Street

This 12-bay commercial block was a speculative venture of Henry Leavenworth, a lawyer and former state attorney for Chittenden County, in 1847. Word was that the Vermont Central Railroad was going to build its passenger depot across the street where the library stands. Leavenworth made a $20,000 bet that would come to pass but the railroad built the depot down by the waterfront. Leavenworth sold the property at a steep loss and died in 1854 at the age of 55.

Elias Lyman Oil Building
206 College Street

This small commercial brick building from 1902 stands out with its pressed metal decorations above the transom and at the crowned parapet. The Elias Lyman Coal Company leased the space for 50 years before buying the building in 1952. Lyman Coal & Oil sold the property in 1968 and it has served many masters in the half-century since.

Beach’s Bakery
198 College Street

Socrates Beach was happily making his own yeast from potatoes in his bakery on Main Street when the building burned in 1867. The fire was believed to have broken out in one of the oven chimneys. When Beach moved here the next year a chunk of the $6,000 he spent on his new bakery was for thick brick walls to encase his oven chimneys. Aided by Alfred B. Fisher, Beach spent $3,500 on a new facade in 1885 that caused the Daily Free Press to gush that it was “the handsomest piece of brickwork of its size in Vermont.” In addition to his breads Beach also installed the first cracker-baking equipment in Vermont. Beach sold his business in 1896 to the New York Biscuit Company, the forerunner of the National Biscuit Company, Nabisco. Nabisco continued making crackers here for another quarter-century.

190-194 College Street
Baxter’s Block

This 1868 block was a real estate investment of Carlos Baxter, a local attorney. He is believed to have retained William Rudolph Otto Bergholz, a landscape designer from Munich who worked on Henry LeGrand Cannon’s Overlake estate in town, to help with the Italianate design, which may or may not be reflected in the current appearance. Burlington developer Antonio Pomerleau acquired the property in 1961 and is said to have based his restoration efforts on old postcards.

Burlington Free Press Complex
191 College Street

The Burlington Free Press traces its beginnings back to 1827 with a weekly edition. The paper became an evening daily paper in 1848. After the paper moved to this block in the 1920s it acquired surrounding heritage properties as it grew through the years, attempting to unify their appearance.

City Hall Park
College Street

Before the center of town shifted to Church Street, Courthouse Square was the place to be in Burlington. The courthouse was here, and the inns and the shops. It was roughly midway from the lake to the College Hill area when it was laid out in the late 18th century. And it was a circular park, not a square. The park you see today is a 1979 landscaping creation with paths radiating from a central fountain. The obelisk on the College Street side is a Civil War monument, erected in 1907.

Merchants Bank
164 College Street

Merchants Bank took its first deposits on November 10, 1849 on lower Battery Street where water and rail traffic congregated. The drivers of the new venture were Timothy Follett and John Bradley who operated the Merchants Lake Boat Line. The bank moved to College Street in 1857 and into this showplace designed by Sydney Greene in 1895. Greene plumbed his classical toolbox for the various materials and decorations. This was the only location for Merchants until 1963; since that time it has grown into Vermont’s largest home-based bank. 

Burlington Trust Company
162 College Street

When Barre native Alfred Benjamin Fisher returned from the Civil War he took up work as an architect and builder. In 1877 Fisher won the commission to build the mansion of General William Wells on South Willard Street so he came to Burlington and became the town’s busiest Victorian architect. His son Clellan Waldo Fisher joined the business which expanded to both sides of Lake Champlain. It was Clellan who adapted the Richardsonian Romanesque Revival style for the Burlington Trust Company in 1891. The hallmarks of the style include rough-faced redstone, roundheaded windows and distinctive checkerboard decoration.

Burlington Savings Bank
148 College Street at northeast corner of St. Paul Street

This splash of Flemish Revival architecture with soaring wall dormers and conical turret from 1900 would be right at home on the streets of Brussels or Antwerp. The corner entrance is framed with smooth-faced Ionic columns and look up to see the date stone in an ornate cartouche. The eclectic design, crafted in deep red brick and brownstone, came from the drawing board of local architect Walter Ross Baumes Willcox. This was the first important commission for Willcox in his hometown, obtained when he was 31 years old and struggling. After designing a couple dozen more buildings in Burlington he left Vermont for Seattle in 1907 and spent the last 40 years of his career on the West Coast. The bank was chartered in 1847.


First Baptist Church
81 St. Paul Street

Boston architect John Stevens gave Vermont one of its earliest examples of Italianate ecclesiastical architecture with this church building in 1864. Notice the narrow, elongated windows and bracketed cornice. The sanctuary is surmounted by a two-story copper steeple. The Baptist Society of Burlington had organized in 1830, meeting in rented space until 1845. 


Paul, Frank & Collins Building
135 College Street

This small brick building with eclectic fenestration is another project of Walter Willcox. He completed it as an office building in 1899 and moved in himself - this was his last office before departing for the West Coast in 1907. What is now a parking lot next door was once the site of one of Vermont’s most important heritage buildings - an abandoned gas station that was the site of Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield’s first Ben & Jerry’s Homemade scoop shop; it debuted on May 5, 1978. They didn’t even have the resources at the time to rent the entire building but shared the space with a local farmer peddling produce. A plaque in the sidewalk on the corner commemorates the launch of Vermont’s most famous consumer product.

Wells & Richardson Lab Building
127 College Street

This was the home of the main laboratories for the discoveries of new Wells & Richardson patent medicines. It was added to the company building complex on this block in 1883. The High Victorian Italianate facade is resplendent in elaborate brickwork, carved terra cotta and rock-faced granite lintels and window hoods. Granite finials appear above the pilasters.

Wells & Richardson Building
119-125 College Street

This Wells & Richardson building appeared a decade earlier and offers a somewhat more restrained High Victorian Italianate facade. Rodney Roby, from a family that settled in New Hampshire in 1639, drew up the plans for this block. His H. Roby & Brothers firm, which he ran with brother Hylas, took care of the construction, as they did for many buildings in Burlington for 54 years. The two sections each boasted four stories in the beginning but the eastern half grew two floors at a later date. It was a seamless addition as the fenestration and cornice are identical. The original Wells & Richardson store was at #125 and the upper floors were used as offices and sales rooms. The ground level has been completely compromised by later owners.

Pope, Berry and Hall Building
115 College Street

Again, look up past the ground level abomination to see an Italianate commercial block with exuberant window hoods of differing styles on each floor and a bold cornice. This was the headquarters, built in the 1870s, for George Franklin Pope, Michael C. Berry and William E. Hall, purveyors of spices, coffee, tea and tobacco products.

Woodbury Factory
101 College Street at southwest corner of Pine Street

Urban A. Woodbury had many business interests in his later years after leaving the governor’s office in 1896. In 1902, at the age of 64, he made a move to simplify his holdings. This building was intended to contain the offices and manufacturing facilities for both his Crystal Confectionary Company (candy and cigars) and his Mead Manufacturing Company (shirts, overalls and suspenders). This building betrays its use as a factory as opposed to many other four-story commercial office blocks in Burlington by its many windows which permitted needed light in the nascent days of electricity. The Woodbury factory has since been repurposed as apartments, whose residents are now blessed with that natural light.

Follett House
69 College Street

Many lay Burlington’s position as Vermont’s leading commercial center at the feet of shipping tycoon Timothy Louis Follett. Born in Bennington two years into Vermont’s statehood in 1793, Follett was the son of a silversmith. Rather than follow the path of a tradesman, Timothy entered the University of Vermont at the age of 13 and was a member of the Chittenden County bar at 21. From his seat on the county court bench a few years later Follett saw the potential in the new Champlain Canal that would link the great lake on Burlington’s doorstep with the Atlantic Ocean. He left his judgeship and bought into the South Wharf, trading in cargo and collecting landing fees. He also gained an interest in a lumber mill on the Winooski River to keep those schooners and canal boats stocked. 

In 1840, at the height of his success, Follett hired a young architect named Ammi Young to build a grand Greek Revival temple for his home overlooking his holdings on the shore of Lake Champlain. The beautifully proportioned home features an Ionic portico overlooking the brow of the hillside. Young would soon go on to become Supervising Architect for the United States Treasury. Follett was just settling in to his new mansion when he set his sights on railroads. He overextended himself to build the Burlington & Rutland Railroad where he met an equally ambitious rival, Henry Campbell of the Vermont Central Railroad. The Vermont Central ultimately won the duel by bridging a link to Great Lakes trains first. Follett not only lost his railroad but was forced to sell his house to the despised Campbell. Broken in wallet and spirit, Follett spent the final four years of his life in a sanitarium before dying in 1857.

The house remained a private residence but since the 1900s has served as a mission, a lodge and in 1978 was purchased by the Pomerleau Real Estate Agency. The company restored the crumbling property and uses it as their main office. But not everyone is convinced the tortured soul of Timothy Follett has left the premises - the house has been the subject of several paranormal investigations.