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Country Builder's Assistant that for many years it was thought the Middlebury church was based on the Benjamin illustration. Many of the details of the Middlebury church bespeak its ultimate descent from the work of the English architect James Gibbs, who published designs for his most famous church (St. Martins-in-the-Fields, London) in his Book of Architecture, 1728. This last was a definite influence on the construction of John Brown's First Baptist Meeting House (1775) in Providence, R.I., which Fillmore might have known. Fillmore studied his sources and then adapted and combined elements from them with a sure sense of detail and proportion to arrive a building that was his own.
The remarkably sophisticated galleried sanctuary (seating 725) was derived by Fillmore from another Bulfinch prototype, the short-lived Hollis Street Church in Boston, built in turn under the direct inspiration of Christopher Wren's St. Stephen Wallbrook in London. Its basic rectangle has been skillfully manipulated through the use of groined vaults into a cross with a central dome carried on a series of ionic columns, each of which was cut from a single tree trunk in Court Square. Minor columns with Egyptian-derived lotus capitals carry the gallery. Originally there was a raised pulpit before the Palladian window, and the pews were arranged in a semicircular fashion. These last aspects and others were significantly altered in 1854, when the entire interior of the church except for the shell, ceiling, and columns was reworked, partly to permit the development of usable spaces in the basement. In 1925 the church was somewhat restored to its former character.
The product of controversy, sacrifice, and care, the church since 1806 has played a functionally as well as a physically central role in the life of the village. The frame and roofing were rushed to completion in time for the opening of the 1806 session of the state legislature in Middlebury, when townspeople and dignitaries alike sat on planks on kegs and shuffled their feet in the shavings. Since that date the church has served as a principal place for public meetings, dinners; and functions, including for many years the commencement exercises of the College and the annual Forefather's Day celebration (the oldest in the nation, instituted by Phillip Battell and the Middlebury Historical Society in 1842.)
Emma Willard Monument The small triangle of land between the church, the Green, and the Charter House was dedicated in 1941 to Emma Willard, pioneer in women's education. Middlebury, which had founded a male grammar school in 1797, decided in 1800 to do the same for females and invited Ida Strong to establish a female seminary in the courthouse. In 1803 a building was built for the new school with town contributions and on a Seymour Street site donated by Horatio Seymour. Miss Strong died in 1804; and in 1807 the town invited Miss Emma Hart from Berlin, Connecticut, to revive the enterprise. It was not an easy commission. Her first winter in town was so cold that she and the students spent a good deal of time contra-dancing to keep warm. In 1809 she married local doctor and man of affairs, John Willard, and retired from teaching to an impressive new house on South Main Street. However, the bank robbery of 1814 found the directors (including Dr. Willard) personally liable for the repayment of the $28,000 loss. The Willards were suddenly in financial straits, and Emma went back to teaching young ladies. This time the teaching was in her home and was directed not at a grammar school but rather at a collegiate level—the goal being to train teachers. The new curriculum, which Mrs. Willard published in 1818 as A Plan For Improving Female Education, included art (up to that time being taught in the United States only at West Point). The Willards moved from Middlebury, eventually establishing themselves and Emma's school in Troy, N.Y., where it became known as the first full-fledged normal school in America. The credit for the beginning of women's collegiate education, however, is Middlebury's (Middlebury's and the bank robbery's, that is).
Seymour Street To the southwest of the church begins Seymour Street, laid out in 1799 and incorporated in 1805 as the first leg of the Waltham Turnpike (another road-building venture in which Painter was involved). The turnpike ran down Seymour Street, across the picturesque Pulp Mill Bridge. Constructed possibly as early 1808, this historic bridge is one of only a handful of double covered bridges left in the United States and ranks as one of the oldest examples of the Burr Arch truss and as the oldest surviving covered bridge in Vermont. From here the turnpike made its way to Vergennes and was intended ultimately to serve as Middlebury's stage link to Montreal. Down this street can be found the 1891 shingle-style former railroad station and at number 7 the Dudley-Painter House, oldest extant house in Middlebury Village, moved from its original site on the Green in 1802.
3 Main Street At the corner of Seymour and Main Streets stands the house built for the Honorable Horatio Seymour in 1816 – 17. A Yale graduate of 1797, Seymour came to Middlebury in 1799 and opened his law practice the next year. Postmaster, director of the Vermont State Bank, member of the corporations of Middlebury College and the Addison County Grammer School, instigator and supporter of the female seminary, U.S. Senator from Vermont from 1821 – 1833, and recipient of an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Yale in 1847, he must be counted one of Middlebury's leading citizens.
His house was suitably elegant. Set atop a stone terrace with a fine old fence (the last survivor of a series of such fences that once defined house lots around the Green), and a handsome flight of brick steps. It is of brick (painted at an early date to seal its walls from the moisture-induced spalling experienced by many of Middlebury's first brick buildings), with marble-capped walls and chimneys carried above the roofline and joined across the front and back by fine eave balustrades. The ogival door hood is a unique survivor of several that once graced a series of grand Middlebury houses. The unusually-shaped pilasters that support it are a device to be found as well on a number of particularly interesting early-19th-century fireplaces in town. The interior is notable for many reasons. The attic boasts forty-foot hemlock beams. The original kitchen, in the basement but exposed to the south and west by the slope of its site, retains its four-foot-wide back door and large fireplace with bake oven and laundry vats. The first floor centers about an entry hall with a lovely curving staircase (and a curved door set into its back wall). There are ten fireplaces in the house, fitted with some of the most elaborately decorated mantles in Middlebury. Everywhere there are fine details, such as the paneled window embrasures, decorated door frames, rope mouldings, and cloisonné hardware (this last imported from Russia and added by Seymour's son-in-law, Philip Battell in the 1880s). The Battells also modernized the plumbing, adding a marble bathroom and a new (upstairs) kitchen. They replaced the small-paned windows with Victorian single sheets of glass and added the facing and brackets under the eaves. The house was then occupied by Philip Battell's son-in-law, Governor (and subsequently U.S. Senator) John W. Stewart and his family. The Governor's daughter, Mrs. Charles M. (Jessica Stewart) Swift, donated the house and its furnishings to the community in 1932, and it has since been open for community affairs.
In his History of Middlebury, Samuel Swift recorded: "While building his large and very expensive brick house… [Seymour] expressed to the writer of this notice his regret to lay out so great an expenditure on a house." It took him two years to pay for it. Through his great-granddaughter's generosity, Seymour's expense has become the community's great gain.
Post Office Utilizing the site of the 1837 Brewster commercial building and the village's 1856 fire house, the Post Office was built in 1932 – 33 using WPA funding and labor. Supervising architect was James A. Wetmore, one of the designers of the Grand Central terminal and office tower in New York City. The original cornerstore was installed during 1932, under a Republican administration, and identified Ogden L. Mills as Secretary of the Treasury. By the time the building was completed in 1933, power had shifted to the Democrats, and the original cornerstone was replaced by the present one identifying William H. Woodin as Treasury Secretary.
St. Stephen's Episcopal Church The Episcopal Society, first in Addison County, was founded in 1810, counting among its early members Horatio Seymour and Lavius Fillmore. Between 1810 and 1827 the Society met first in the courthouse, then in Seymour's house, and finally in Osborne House (77 Main Street). In 1825 the town voted to permit them to construct a church on the Green so long as it was to be of brick or stone (in accord with provisions of Painter's original deed for the land).
The stone Gothic-inspired building was constructed in 1826 – 27. The shell with its pointed windows and western tower was contracted out for $1,600. Its stone was brought from Weybridge, stored on the site of the inn, and wheeled down elevated ramps to the top of the rising walls. The finishing of the interior and the exterior window frames and woodwork appear to have been by Fillmore. Total insured value on completion was $6,000. The choice of the Gothic style for the building at this early date is quite remarkable. (While architects in England had added the style to their working vocabulary by then, it was not until the 1830s and 1840s that it achieved real popularity in the United States.) The original interior, however, was rather more Federal than Gothic, with light colored plaster and a shallowly coved ceiling. Stained glass windows were installed in 1853; in 1872 the roof and tower were restated; in 1876 the whale interior was remodeled with pseudo-structure supporting a false ceiling; and in 1879 the chapel was built. The crenellations that originally topped the tower were reconstructed in the 1980s after decades of absence, but the tower still bears Fillmore's wooden tracery about the door and still houses the Revere bell commissioned by the builders of the church.
(Crossing the railroad tracks on Main Street, one enters the mercantile and manufacturing area that gave early Middlebury its prosperty and vitality.)
Railroad The first train on the Rutland & Burlington Railroad puffed into town on September 1, 1849, followed by the first passenger train on September 19th and the first run to Boston in December. The line's name was changed to the Rutland Railroad in 1867. Initially, trains were served by a passenger and freight depot located at the end of the first Depot Street (now a driveway, just south of present day Cross Street) and the creek. A marble finishing shop (long gone) was nearby. This was also the location of the early ford and ferry across Otter Creek.
The freight depot burned down in 1871 and was rebuilt on a more spacious site along Seymour Street. The original passenger depot also burned down in 1889 and was replaced by a new one on the west side of the tracks adjacent to Seymour Street and the new freight depot in 1891. Prior to 1908, Elm Street was known as Depot Street (the second so named) in honor of the new passenger depot. In 1912, the station was jacked up and moved to a new foundation on the east side of the tracks to make way for the construction of the Seymour Street underpass that replaced the original grade crossing. The underpass was completely rebuilt in 1992. The passenger station and freight depot, originally separate structures, have been connected and considerably altered for retail use, but are still recognizable.
The railroad's man line crossed the heart of town in a deep cut beneath Merchants Row, through the Green, and under Main Street. This arrangement made the railroad less obstrusive and far safer for the townspeople, but it was not without its disadvantages, for there are numerous accounts of horses being frightened by the locomotive's whistle, often resulting in injury, or on some occasions, even death.
The arrangement with the sunken track caused additional problems for the town. Whenever larger equipment was introduced on the railroad, the Main Street and Merchants Row bridges had to be raised and street levels adjusted accordingly. The streets were regraded three times between 1849 and 1907, the last instance causing particular constroversy, since the town had just repaved the streets when the railroad announced that they would have to be raised again. Economically, too, the railroad proved to be a mixed blessing. Not only did it make distant markets more accessible to Middlebury's manufacturers, but it also acted as a conduit into Middlebury's home territory for the goods of cheaper competitors. In the end, Middlebury lost the contest, and her days as an important manufacturing center passed.
The Rutland Railroad discontinued passenger service during a strike in 1953, and all service in 1961 due to a series of bitter strikes. Much of the railroad was subsequently abandoned, and the Burlinton to Bennington section was bought by the State of Vermont in 1963 and leased to a new operator, the Vermont Railway, which continues to operate the line.
The Marble Works District Down the alley just beyond the railroad track can be seen a handsome stone warehouse-like structure now occupied by offices. This building, constructed as a gas works in 1836, is typical of the mill structures built in town in the first half of the 19th century. Its limestone and marble walls are from twenty-four to thirty inches thick and carry the great beams (some of them over eighteen inches thick) that support the floors and roof. Beyond it are a series of marble-walled industrial buildings constructed in 1898 – 1899 as sawing and finishing mills for the Brandon Italian Marble Company, whose previous mill in Brandon had burned down. The mills were powered by a series of long cables, supported by tall wooden towers with pulleys, that were driven by a huge 250-horse-power water turbine located in what was referred to as "the wheel house," located just below the falls (the "wheel house" was reconstructed from the remains of the old cotton mill, which had burned in the fire of 1891). The cables turned a series of shafts in the mills which in turn were connected to the machinery by leather belts that had a nasty habit of snagging the clothing of careless workers, occasionally dragging them to their deaths in the machinery. The company, which soon became the largest employer in town, was lured to Middlebury by both excellent water power and attractive tax incentives.
The complex of mill buildings was located conveniently near the railroad, and a new siding was constructed which facilitated the arrival of the huge blocks of marble from the quarries, most of which were now located out of town. The blocks were unloaded by a heavy overhead crane that operated between the siding and the sawing mills, where the blocks were cut up into slabs of different thicknesses. The slabs were then transformed into finished products in the finishing mill located on the north end of the complex. The finished marble products were then shipped to customers by mail. The Brandon Italian Marble Company was bought out by the Vermont Marble Company in 1909, which continued to operate theh plant until the depression caused its final closure in 1931. The mills, as well as other buildings constructed later, became known as the Cartmell Complex, and were converted to a variety of commercial uses. In 1987 the complex was purchased by the Marble Works Associates, who restored many of the structures to their earlier appearance and re-adapted them for a variety of commercial and retail uses.
Among the long-time tenants of this district is the Addison County Independent, a participant in Middlebury's long tradition of journalism and publication. The first printing offices in town opened for business in 1801 and over the next years published the Middlebury Mercury (1801), the Vermont Register (1802), and a number of books and pamphlets. Thereafter, both newspaper and book publishing and binding were to become significant industries for the town in the 19th century. From 1812 on Middlebury readers benefited from at least one and sometimes two and three local weekly papers, among them the: Vermont Mirror, Columbian Patriot, National Standard, Religious Reporter, Vermont American, Middlebury Free Press, Northern Argus, People's Press, Northern Galaxy, Middlebury Galaxy, Middlebury Register, Addison County Independent and Valley Voice. All are preserved in the Sheldon Museum—a treasured record of the tastes, and topics of Middlebury's past.
Commercial Main Street Main Street between the railroad tracks on the north and Cannon Green on the south is the most rebuilt stretch of real estate in Middlebury, if not in Addison County. Ravaged by a whole series of fires in the second half of the 19th century, the area has experienced two total changes of character as well as many individual replacements and remodelings. In the first half of the century the notoriously muddy street was lined with shops and mill fronts with residences upstairs. Early views from the area of the churches show the ranks of these tightly-packed two and three-story house-like buildings of wood, stone, and brick along Main and Merchants Row converging on the town watering trough at the bridgeward corner of the Green and then running down to the creek. Here, just before the bridge and virtually overhanging the falls was the site of the first store in the County. The lot was deeded in 1789 by Painter to Benjamin Gorton of New York, whose nephew, Jabez Rogers, built a store in 1790 and then developed in close proximity brewery and potash operations. The shops that grew around Rogers' store held hardware and hatters, tailors and tanners, saddlers and silversmiths, serving the entire region. Only two store buildings from this era remain, and those (3 and 6 College Street) being across the bridge, will be mentioned later.
In its second phase, after the fires of mid-century, Main Street looked much like a Western boom town—wooden sidewalks, quite uniform wooden store fronts with large show windows, awnings or porches, elaborate upstairs window frames, and more elaborate brackets supporting heavy cornices. Destroyed in the great fire of 1875 and rebuilt, they perished again in 1891.
By this time tastes had changed, as witnessed by the sole survivor of the 1891 fire north of the bridge, the Beckwith Block (22 – 26 Main Street). Here is post-Civil War commercialism changing the previously domestic scale and character of downtown Middlebury. This building is of an era in which commercial structures vied for and were accorded the prestige and attention formerly reserved for public buildings and churches. It is big, bold, attention-drawing. With its elaborate multi-color brickwork and insets of stone and terracotta, windows of varied shape and size (including stained glass), grander scale, and busy cornice line, this building of 1882 – 83 was considered by its contemporaries to be the finest store in the county if not in the state. Its impact was such that the architect and contractor, Smith and Allen, were commissioned to build the new town hall and courthouse on the Green in a similar, if slightly more controlled, style. In 1996 the Beckwith Block was purchased by the National Bank of Middlebury and was physically connected to the bank to serve as its offices and as an expanded customer service area.
Battell Block (Main Street and Merchants Row) Rich and interesting as the Beckwith Block was, the proliferation of such individualistic structures would eliminate any communal unity the core of the village enjoyed. Fortunately, by the rebuilding after the great fire of 1891 a compromise between the unity of the seventies and the vivacity of the eighties had been found. The theme for rebuilding was set by Joseph Battell and his architect (probably Clinton Smith) in the construction of the Battell Block.
By any standards Joseph Battell would have to be considered one of the most influential and interesting figures in the history of Middlebury. He was a publisher, author, authority on Morgan horses, conservationist, and the largest landholder in Vermont. Opinionated and idiosyncratic, he was motivated by his own strong sense of what was right and by a deep love for his town and state. The automobile was his bête noire. As publisher of the Middlebury Register, he pursued a single-handed campaign against the motor car, filling his pages with news of every bizarre and ghastly accident in the entire country in which the machines were involved. Balancing this great hatred was an equally consuming love for the mountains. He loved them as an escape from the bustle of town life and developed an inn near Bread Loaf Mountain up in Middlebury Gap for the relaxation of his friends and himself. Guests would often be met personally at the station in town and be taken up to the overgrowing mountain retreat behind a team of Morgans. To protect his refuge, Battell began buying all the land visible from the inn—as he put it, buying mountains the way his turn-of-the-century contemporaries bought artwork. He wanted to preserve the natural mountainscape for the enjoyment of future generations. In the end he owned some 30,000 acres, which he left to Middlebury College, giving it in essence the largest college campus in the world. Battell land now forms a significant part of the Green Mountain National Forest, though the College has retained ownership of its fine ski area, the Snow Bowl, and of the Bread Loaf Inn. The latter serves as home of the Middlebury summer Graduate School of English and The Bread Loaf Writers' Conference (in which Robert Frost participated for many years).
Battell was also a great, if somewhat difficult, benefactor of the town. He tied up town politics for a year in his desire for a stone Main Street bridge (which he felt would be suited to the quality of the town), and he ended up paying more than half the cost to get his own way. In the aftermath of the 1891 fire, he had a vision of a modern, unified rebuilt downtown and constructed his own huge block to set the style. To build it, Battell purchased the sites of five separate buildings and arranged to close an alley running from the Main Street-Merchants Row intersection down to the creek. The Merchants Row portion of the structure was built in 1892; the final bays along Main Street not until 1898. Here is a combination of unity, visual interest, and grand scale—marking Middlebury, as had the Beckwith Block, as a major commercial center. It is a "fireproof" structure, with stone piers, steel girders over broad show windows, and paneled brick upper floors. The basic structural theme unifies the building and permits for variations in rhythm and dimension and for such embellishments as the corner tower (originally with an arched additional story and a conical cap—removed after the hurricane of 1950), the elaborate brickwork of the cornice, and the charming bay windows along Merchants Row without disrupting an overall sense of unity.
This became the guiding theme for the other new construction along Main Street, whether by Battell or by others, whether one story or two. The street level construction followed Battell Block materials and scale, and upper floors were free to delight in individual window forms and cornice elaborations—unity and diversity. Another aspect shared by the Main Street stores and the Battell Block is that of basements exposed to the rear. Battell's new bridge had necessitated elevating Main Street ten feet above its pre-1891 level, and thus the rebuilt stores were entered at what had originally been their second floor level.
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