|A Walking History of Middlebury
by Glenn M. Andres, revised and edited by Greg Pahl
Since it was first published in 1975 by the Bicentennial Committee, A Walking History of Middlebury by Glenn M. Andres has been one of Middlebury's perennial favorites, providing local residents and visitors alike with a compact but informative guide to many of the significant districts and structures in town. Due to popular demand, the book was reprinted by Middlebury's Sheldon Museum in 1981, 1983, 1987, 1990, and 1994. By the tie supplies of the volume again began to run low in 1996, it had become painfully apparent that the numerous changes that had taken place in Middlebury since 1975 required a major revision of the text.
The Sheldon Museum assumed the considerable responsibility of publishing the new book, and in September 1996, a small but dedicated group of volunteers took on the many tasks associated with the project and pushed it through to a successful completion by early spring, 1997.
Wherever possible, the original text by Glenn Andres was left substantially unaltered, but some sections had to be revised or deleted due to changes in use or appearance of the structures involved. The section on the College received some of the heaviest editing. Numerous corrections or addition to many of the other entries were made where recent research or remodeling activities uncovered new information. Readers who are unfamiliar with the many architectural terms used in the text are encouraged to check the extensive glossary at the end of the book.
The editor is indebted to many people for the production of this revised book: to Robert and Anita Duclos, Marshall Hoagland, Salley Forbes and especially Glenn Andres and Robert Cushman for their assistance in gathering, updating and checking information; to Middlebury College student Carey Field and Professor Robert Churchill for their work on the map; to Rosemary Bottum and Nancy Rucker for their proofreading, and to Liz Fitzsimmons, director of the Sheldon Museum, for her proofreading, guidance, encouragement and support.
Every effort has been made to provide the most accurate and up-to-date guide that hopefully be useful and entertaining well into the 21st century, but no human endeavor is without failings, and I accept responsibilty for any that have occurred here.
Greg Pahl, editor
Middlebury, Vermont, 1997
What a sequence of delights! The church spire sharp and fresh above summer's lush green masses or matching the sparkle of winter's snows on the Green. The mellow old brick and glowing windows of the inn in early evening, exuding a sense of warmth and hospitality. The soldiers' monument rearing up its cool gray granite before Pleasant Street's blazing maples. The creek lazing its way between leafy banks past bridge and mill and tumbling over thunderous falls to compliment a warm summer's afternoon. The old stone row of the College seen through the yellow-green haze of the campus in spring bud. The vista from College Hill, back over trees and valley, housetop and spire, to the surrounding hills, and from the hills to the mountains, and from the mountains to the changing moods of clouds and sky. It is an environment, natural and manmade, prettier than a postcard. But Middlebury is much more than a boon to the snapshot industry. Always beautiful in its own ways, it has always also been a vital, throbbing, on-going community.
Almost from the year of its founding, Middlebury has been a town of significance in the state of Vermont—a leader in invention, manufacturing, agriculture, and education. The Vermont marble industry was born here, supplying markets from Quebec to Georgia. Here, too, were found the second set of power looms built in New England, the first nail and window sash factories in Vermont, and later, mills supplying Victorian wood detailing for much of the west central part of the state. Middlebury was the home of the first community-founded college in the United States, the first institution of higher learning for women, and the first chartered village museum. It was a center for the Merino sheep industry and later for the breeding of Morgan horses. As early as 1810 the booming village on the Otter inspired President Timothy Dwight of Yale to write: "On the whole Middlebury is one of the most prosperous and most virtuous towns in New England." By the 1830s it had the largest population in Vermont. However, about the time of the Civil War there was a leveling off in the local economy and a gradual slowing down in the town's development, as sister cities to the north and south moved ahead. Middlebury's horizons became narrower, her pace more sedate. Nevertheless, through her roles as seat of Addison County and home of Middlebury College, the town has never relinquished her central economic and cultural position in the immediate region nor her contact with the world beyond the Green Mountains and Lake Champlain.
Concentrated on the banks of Otter Creek around the focal falls and bridge, Middlebury has remained to a remarkable degree the village that the 18th and 19th centuries built. Homes of town fathers, churches, mills, inn, public buildings, stores—the buildings of the compact village core document its progression from frontier community to manufacturing center, to agricultural center, to local service center. Not merely of local historic interest, however, these structures from Middlebury's past are of such range and quality that they can be taken as representative as well of almost every major style of American building from the colonial period onward. They present a precious glimpse of days now gone, slower days when there were both the impulse and the call for craftsmanship, individuality, and ingenuity in plan, structure, and detail. These buildings merit examination at a pace similar to that for which they were intended—horseback, wagon, sleigh, or foot.
Main Street is no longer all that comfortable a place for horses, so we suggest instead a tour on foot. It is to such an end that this walking history has been compiled. Its two foci are on the core of the village and the college campus, neither presenting too wearying a walk. Distances are short, scenery is beautiful, and details are fascinating. Other points of interest, accessible by car (though also for the most part by foot, for the mildly energetic), have been noted as well at the end of the booklet.
The French and Indian War was over, and in 1761 the valleys of western Vermont were temporarily at peace. They seemed to offer promise of a new and good life to those tired of the more populous parts of New England and of a profitable investment to others who did not choose, themselves, to face the wooded wilds. Thus, with mixed motives, a group of citizens from Salisbury, Connecticut, applied to Governor Benning Wentworth of New Hampshire for land in the newly opened New Hampshire Grants. In November, 1761, they were granted charters for four towns—Salisbury and Middlebury on November second, New Haven and Cornwall on November third.
Middlebury, purportedly so-named because it was between Salisbury on the south and New Haven on the north, was approximately six miles square. To the east were the Green Mountains. To the west was Otter Creek. In its northwest corner were the falls on the creek and the prominence later to be known as Chipman Hill. In its southern portion the Middlebury River meandered from mountains to creek. And in the middle, in the neighborhood of the present Case, Munger, and Foote Streets, was a large, relatively level tract of land. It was here that the original one-hundred-acre homelots of the proprietors of the new town were plotted in two tiers running on a slight diagonal across the town from north to south. In the center of this area a one-hundred-acre church lot was set aside and an adjacent two-hundred-acre town plot was reserved, to be divided into one-acre house sites. This was the area originally intended for the development of the village. It was settled slowly and not precisely according to the original survey. Some one thousand acres of the land in the area would be claimed beginning in 1784 by the vigorous sixty-year-old Daniel Foot and his five grown sons and married daughter. Under Foot's determined leadership, it would remain an active contender until the turn of the century for the honor of being the town center, though in the end neither village nor church would be located near this geographic center of town.
A second area for early development within the town was on the Middlebury River, near its confluence with Otter Creek. Here in 1766 John Chipman had arrived by boat, built a lean-to, and cleared the first land in Middlebury. Here, as well, in 1773 Chipman, his brother-in-law Gamaliel Painter, and townsman Benjamin Smalley and their families began the first permanent settlement in town. They quickly cleared land, planted their first crops, and built log cabins and barns. Of these buildings, only Chipman's barn withstood the torches of raiding parties during the Revolution, its green logs refusing to catch fire. (It survived on the Seeley family farm until it was blown down in a storm in this century. A piece of the wood can be found in the Sheldon Museum.) The owners of the buildings were swept up in the war, and their families abandoned Middlebury for safer points south.
It was not until 1783 that the settlers began to return to and rebuild their abandoned farms and homes. The Painters and Chipmans were back in 1784. Chipman soon built a fine brick house (burned in the 1830's), which through his hospitality became a favorite local gathering place and the goal of the early town road along the east bank of the creek (known popularly in the nineteenth century as "Love Lane"). Painter's prospects in 1784 looked equally bright. His buildings were rebuilt, his farm prospering, and his standing in the community on the rise. However, his future would be tied ultimately to the other end of Love Lane. In 1784 a general re-survey of the towns along the creek uncovered errors in the plotting of the original town lines and moved that of Salisbury northward. In the process Painter's cabin and some one-hundred seventy of his two hundred acres proved actually to be on someone else's claim. One of Middlebury's leading citizens had become a mere squatter in Salisbury instead. The following April, Painter was given permission by his fellow townsmen to replace his lost land by claiming an equal area not previously assigned in Middlebury. However, the best farmland was already taken, the task of reclearing was too disheartening and Painter decided to change his course.
In 1774 on the east bank of Otter Creek at Middlebury Falls, Abisha Washburn (Chipman's father-in-law) had built a sawmill which was subsequently destroyed during the Revolution. Painter joined Washburn in rebuilding the mill in 1784 – 85 and claimed an adjoining fifty-acre mill lot for himself. When Washburn's new mill was swept away in the spring freshet of 1786, Painter took over the mill business altogether along with Washburn's fifty acres. He now owned one hundred acres adjacent to water power and at the convergence of area trails leading to the falls and the fording spot to Cornwall just upstream. Concurrently, in 1785 he was named a judge of the newly formed Addison County, and the next year became county sheriff. Agriculture now a thing of his past, Painter was ready to launch a new life as an industrialist, land speculator, and public figure and, in the process, to father Middlebury Village.
The Village Tour
The bridge places one at the very heart of Middlebury, its traffic jams, its history, its life forces. Here come together two of the major elements which assured success to Painter's unprepossessing rocky, tangled one hundred acres. First is the creek, longest waterway in the state of Vermont and a major transportation route through the virgin forests at the time of the settlement of Addison County. To the northwest of the bridge are Middlebury Falls, a dramatic source of water power for cutting the wood and milling the grain of frontier society. Here at the northern brink of the falls and safely away from its ice floes and floods, Painter built a sawmill in 1787 and a gristmill by 1788. At the southern brink Daniel Foot had claimed one hundred acres in Cornwall in 1786 and done the same. Two rival centers began to grow on Foot's and Painter's properties.
At first the only connection between the two sides was a short distance upstream (around the bend and near the present railroad trestle), where a ford and, briefly, Hop Johnson's ferry joined Middlebury and Cornwall. Here was the germ of the second major force in Middlebury's success—roads. The early trails in the area had focused on the falls and the ford. In 1787 they received a new focus. Foot, whose major landholdings were in Middlebury anyhow, built a bridge above the falls to link the towns and to enhance his potential mill business, successfully petitioning the legislature the next year for state compensation of his costs. It was a wooden bridge with log piers and abutments and a clear span of seventy feet. One approached it down muddy banks and crossed the springy, open-sided structure only twelve feet above the rushing water. Some must still have preferred the ford.
The present bridge, built in 1892 – 93, is the last of a long series of rebuildings after floods and fires. When the wooden structure was destroyed by the fire of 1891, the town determined to rebuild it in fireproof materials. However, only after lengthy debate, numerous town meetings, canceled contracts, and the offer of a substantial subsidy by Col. Joseph Battell, could the town decide to rebuild in stone rather than iron. Having bought a voice in the proceedings and desiring a structure suited to the beauty and importance of Middlebury, Mr. Battell proposed that the new construction be modeled on the Ponte Sant' Angelo in Rome, built across the Tiber River about 130 A.D. as access to the tomb of the Emperor Hadrian. The tomb later having been adapted for use as the papal fortress and renamed Castel Sant' Angelo, in the seventeenth century the great sculptor Bernini and his shop had embellished the bridge with a suitable flock of Baroque marble angels to make it the most elegant crossing place in Rome. The Middlebury bridge was spared the angels but received its model's great stone arches, in the process necessitating the raising of the road level of the bridge, and thus also of Main Street, by some ten feet.
In building the first bridge, Foot contributed to the ultimate failure of his dream to establish the town center on his family's Foote Street acreage. The bridge acted on regional roads as a magnet does on iron filings, serving as the focus for a radial network spreading outward from the falls across the town and county. With power and communication the falls were a natural place for the development of commerce and a population center. Two centers at first, the lands of the two rival squires, one on the Cornwall and one on the Middlebury bank of the creek, supported two growing communities that were so inextricably linked by the bridge and the falls that in 1796 the Cornwall side was annexed, and Middlebury began a politically unified development. The village and its surrounding region grew quickly, indeed too quickly for Foot. Already in 1793 a resident reported some sixty-two buildings, mostly log, at the falls (or Painter's Mills, as the village was informally known). By 1801 it was altogether too civilized, and the seventy-seven-year-old Foot determined to start over in a new wilderness. Dividing his land among his twelve children and leaving the town leadership to his rival, Painter, he set out for Canton, New York, where he died the same year.
(Leaving the bridge, walking northward to Merchants Row and the south side of the Green.)
The Green Gamaliel Painter is the third great force determining Middlebury's successful development. Much of the village northeast of the creek was built upon Painter's mill lot, and its early quality and character were due to his efforts and those of the men whom he cannily drew to Middlebury Falls. Painter had become sheriff of Addison County in 1786, and as sheriff it was his prerogative to establish the location of the stocks "in the most public place in each respective town"—the town center. Painter placed Middlebury's stocks and whipping post in the area adjacent to his mills, on what is now the village Green (which he formally deeded to the town in the 1790s). The primeval tangle was slashed down and in later, temperance times the penalty for backsliding was reputedly to dig up a stump on the Green. The location of the stocks has since been marked by a marble post. The Green now caters to pleasure instead of punishment, serving as a site for public events, for shady relaxation, and for listening to concerts and other entertainment. The bandstand, replacing a structure burned in the early 1940s, was erected in 1975 as a gift of the Rotary Club and dedicated in memory of beloved local author William Hazlett Upson, creator of the Alexander Botts stories in the Saturday Evening Post.
The Painter House (head of Merchants Row at South Pleasant Street) In 1787 Painter hired away Foot's mill foreman, Simeon Dudley, to help construct and look after his own milling operations. Dudley soon built himself a simple, one-story frame dwelling on the crest of the hill above the mills and developing Green, the first house in Painter's village. He did not occupy it for long, however, for having been named a judge, Painter decided to move to town and make the new house his own. He raised the roof to accomodate a low second story and perhaps added the lean-to to the rear and then on Christmas Day 1787 held what was for the region a memorably lavish house-warming. Here the Painters lived until 1802, when work was completed on their grand new mansion, further back on the property, and the Dudley House was moved out of the way to its present location at 7 Seymour Street.
The new Painter residence, still presiding over its dominant site, was an index of the rapidly increasing stature not only of its owner but also of his town. The finely proportioned two-story structure, traditionally attributed to joiner Samuel D. Coe (who reputedly was murdered shortly after its completion), had major rooms with handsome fireplaces on each floor surrounding a central hall with, originally, a curving staircase. There was a first-floor ballroom across its eastern side and a rare monitor that formed a partial third floor, surrounded by a rooftop walk. Early accounts and views attest to the fact that it was simple and dignified, embellished only by eaves balustrades and a square-headed Palladian window facing toward Merchants Row. However, it underwent several remodelings. In 1813, responding to the fact that the new Centre Turnpike (Court Street) now entered the town past its back door, Painter formalized that front of the house with a marble facing for the basement and a new fan-lighted door. It is likely at that time as well that the house received its elegant exterior embellishment—pilasters with rope mouldings, wooden string course, and frieze—very likely by the talented house joiner Lavius Fillmore (who also built the Congregational Church across the Green for Painter). The house's susbsequent owner, Rufus Wainwright, had all the windows enlarged and shifted in a remodeling of 1823. Subsequent generations of Wainwrights added the classically detailed doorway in a Greek Revival vocabulary (probably in the 1840s), rebuilt the staircase several times in a straightened format, subdivided the ballroom, and added the wing. In the 1980s the house was given to Middlebury College, which restored it and made it available as a home for such non-profit organizations as the Addison County Chamber of Commerce and the Vermont Folklife Center.
Painter could hardly had selected a better site for his house. Not oly did it dominate the mills and the Green, but it was also at the head of Love Lane (now South Pleasant Street), the first major entry to the village from the south.
South Pleasant Street At first perhaps the most important street in town, Pleasant Street retained a prestigious residential character throughout the 19th century. This fact is witnessed by the range of styles present in the high quality buildings built for merchants and professionals along the street between Painter House and Cross Street.
71 South Pleasant Street Built in 1803 on a lot purchased by the brilliant young lawyer Loyal Case, an ardent reformer and opponent of slavery. It was Victorianized with Italianate brackets and mansarded tower probably in the early 1880s.
Memorial Baptist Church Built in 1905 – 06 to the designs of Burlington architect W.R.B. Wilcox, this handsome building with its Romanesque-derived towers succeeded the smaller church (now the Grace Baptist Church) on Merchants Row, built for the congregation by Smith and Allen of Middlebury in 1882. The new $75,000 church, constructed with textured rusticated marble blocks from the Brandon quarries of the Brandon Italian Marble Company, was the gift of Col. Silas Ilsley as a memorial to his father. The marble-lined vestibule contains two large bronze tablets identifying the donor and the reason for the memorial gift. The ceiling of the main auditorium as well as the lower portion of the walls are finished in antique oak, while the pews, of the same material, are decorated with elaborate Gothic designs. The actual construction was accomplished under the close supervision of Rev. George R. Stair, describing the Middlebury Register as an "extremely practical preacher who is a builder of structures as well as a molder of men."
111 South Pleasant Street Built in 1801 for Josiah Fuller across the street from his creek-side tannery and on the site of a house built by William Sloan in 1788. Beginning in 1818 it served as the home of Middlebury College presidents Bates and Labaree. A handsomely solid structure, it is notable for the Doric frieze below its eaves and the elegant Federal Style fireplaces in its north parlors. Oft-remodeled, it has received from its numerous owners a Greek Revival doorway and a gabled slate roof (placed over the original hipped wood shingle roof that still exists in the attic), a Doric-style portico (1970) modeled after that of the jail at  Court Street, and two back wings. The wing at the rear was added in 1991 and was designed to replicate the style of the original house.
135 South Pleasant Street Built in the 1860s for James Negus (on the site of the 1795 house of Oliver Brewster), this house is generally known as that of Governor Weeks, whose family occupied it in the first half of this century. Its belvedere, mansards, polychromed slate roofs, and elaborate brackets are exemplary of the local interpretation of the Second Empire (or "General Grant") style, which became popular in the years following the Civil War. The etched cranberry-colored glass around the door is another feature typical of Middlebury's finer homes in the third quarter of the century.