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Burlington City


Burlington City Hall is located at 149 Church Street, Burlington VT 05401; phone: 802-865-7000.

Ethan Allen Homestead in Burlington, Vermont
Photo: Ethan Allen Homestead, ca. 1787, Burlington, Vermont, listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986; photograph by user:MWills, 2009, (own work) [cc-by-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons, accessed September, 2012.

A Multiple Property nomination, Historic and Architectural Resources of Burlington Vermont, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2000. Portions of the text below were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [1] Adaptation copyright © 2010, The Gombach Group.

Historic and Architectural Resources

The geographic location of Burlington, Vermont on Lake Champlain historically positioned it as a natural point of transport between interior regions and water shipping routes. Periods of prosperity associated with innovations in transportation and industry created a new pattern of residential development to house the growing labor force. Within these new neighborhoods, often with distinct ethnic characteristics, a new building type was popularized — the neighborhood store. These neighborhood stores, most closely associated with family operated grocery stores, served as commercial ventures for immigrants, family residences, neighborhood parlors and physical anchors to the street and urban landscape.

Historic Context: Neighborhood Stores in Burlington, Vermont, 1790-1940

Settlement patterns and growth in Burlington have reflected the importance of its location on Lake Champlain since New Hampshire Governor, Benning Wentworth, granted the town charter in 1763. Its positioning on Lake Champlain made it a natural point of transportation between interior regions and water transportation routes. Its location would prove pivotal throughout phases in prosperity and industrial growth. Burlington's growing prosperity at the turn of the nineteenth century was temporarily halted by the Embargo Act of 1807 which halted lucrative trade with Canada. Smuggling became a source of local commercial activity to sustain the city until the War of 1812, when it became the base for the Northern U. S. Army and experienced a growth in prosperity.

By 1823, expansion of trade increased due to the opening of the Champlain Canal which provided the Champlain Valley with a continuous water route to New York City and points west along the Erie Canal. During this era, a steamboat yard and dry-dock opened in Shelburne Bay and Burlington became the Customs District of Vermont. Collectively, these developments, combined with a new lighthouse in 1826, helped secure Burlington's Canal Era prosperity.

With the opening of the Burlington Mill Company at the Winooski Falls in 1835, more houses were built for workers to the north and east of the central business district. By 1840 Burlington had grown to be the largest town in the state with a population of 4,271. French-Canadians composed a large percentage of the growing mill labor force. During this period canals were augmented and ultimately superseded by railroads. The establishment of the Burlington and Rutland Railroad in 1849 was the catalyst for Burlington's next period of industrial growth and prosperity related to the growth in commerce. Its location between New York City, Boston, the Great Lakes and eastern Canada combined with the established rail, lake and canal corridors enabled Burlington to become one of the three most important ports on the eastern seaboards.

At the time railroads were established in Burlington, the lumber industry in Vermont had changed roles because most of the regional forests had been severely diminished. Burlington was in the auspicious position to serve as the middleman for Canadian lumber that was transported into the United States via Burlington for processing. By 1852, Pioneer Mills was operating along the Burlington waterfront and a planing mill was established by 1857. The lumber industry and the wood manufacturing businesses symbiotically grew together and created one of the greatest periods of prosperity in Burlington.

Much of the growth in the timber industry was a result of the relaxation of the trade regulations on undressed lumber from Canada. With the opening of the Charnbly Canal linking Lake Champlain with the St. Lawrence River, greater quantities of lumber could be imported to Burlington where milling and manufacturing operations increased in number and size. The lumber boom continued on through the 1850s, the Civil War and the rest of the century. By 1870, Burlington was the nation's third largest lumber port with the population nearly doubling between 1860 and 1870 to 13,596.

During this period of industrial and commercial growth along the waterfront, the woolen industry was as well expanding and capitalizing on new production methods. The Winooski Woolen Company, established in 1837 and positioned below the lower falls, reorganized with the mill on the upper falls and operated as the Burlington Woolen Company in 1888. New water systems and steam power technologies allowed the textile industry to expand and attract more workers, largely of French Canadian or Irish descent. Through the 1880s and 1890s the Burlington Woolen Company added more complexes to the company and was eventually purchased by the American Woolen Company in 1902 to become one of the most modern woolen operations in the country. In 1912, the Champlain Mill was constructed to further increase the company's capacity and by 1920 was one of the states largest employers. The decades of growth in the textile industry resulted in the expansion of worker housing up hill from the river and north of Burlington's central commerce area. As these neighborhoods for worker housing were established, they reflected the waves of ethnic immigration joining Burlington's growing industrial workforce.

During this era of industrial expansion some companies in Burlington developed housing and complete neighborhoods to attract and maintain the much needed labor force. Very early in the industrial development along the waterfront, the Champlain Glass Company, established in 1827, created a new neighborhood north of Pearl Street. A number of small brick houses were built by the company to allow employees to be near their work. Although the Champlain Glass Company became inactive by 1850 due to a fuel shortage with the increase in the value of lumber, precedent was set for the development of 'working-class' neighborhoods outside of the central commercial area. This pattern continued when the Queen City Company was established in 1894 and created the Lakeside Development, which functioned as a self-sufficient neighborhood with company-operated stores, billiard halls, a nursery school and other amenities. By 1920 the Queen City Cotton Company was one of the largest employers in Burlington and primarily employed newly recruited immigrants from Canada and the ports of New York and Boston.

By 1921 Burlington, Vermont was unmistakably an industrial city. A study undertaken by the Burlington Junior High School in 1921 investigated the common misconception that Burlington was a residential city primarily comprised of stately homes, charming drives and scenic vistas. The observations recorded in Burlington, VT: A Brief Sketch in its History, Educational Facilities and Industrial Life, point out the diversity and growth of establishments under the factory system in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Some of the industries observed and recorded were the Crystal Confectionery Company, established in 1891; the Baldwin Refrigerator Company, established in 1881; the G. S. Blodgett Company, established in 1904; the J. R. Booth Lumber Company, established 1871; the Spool and Bobbin Company, established in 1905; the Coon Ice Cream Company, established in 1917; the National Biscuit Company branch, established 1898; the Queen City Cotton Mill, the largest in the state, established in 1894; the Vermont Milk Chocolate Factory, established in 1917; the Hoag Toy Factory, established in 1911 ;and the successful Wells&Richardson Company, established in 1872, which produced patent medicines and employed several hundred people.

The industries above represent a portion of the established industries that attracted immigrant workers and created an increased need for worker housing. As the concentration of worker housing expanded in the late 19th and early 20th centuries by both company investment and private enterprise, neighborhoods increasingly reflected the ethnic heritage of their settlers. The largest of these neighborhoods, the Old North End, was composed of a variety of ethnic groups including Germans, Polish, Syrian, Irish, Italian, Russian and French Canadians. From the period of 1880 to 1910, Burlington experienced a large influx of German, Russian and Polish Jews.

The relatively dense pattern of development in these neighborhoods, best exemplified by the Old North End area of Burlington, supported a new building type — the neighborhood store. The neighborhood store is similar to the village store, a traditional type of business, dating from the closing decades of the 18th century when entrepreneurs opened general merchandise stores in small industrial or mill villages. While the selection of goods changed during the 19th century, the social role of these businesses remained constant. They provided a social gathering place, a place to do business, exchange news, as well as pick up a few groceries. The neighborhood stores of industrialized Burlington reflected characteristics different than the traditional village store. As neighborhoods developed a distinct ethnic identity, these neighborhood stores were developed to cater to the needs of the various ethnic populations and often were built by entrepreneurial immigrants. Beyond serving as a grocery store and expanding upon the role of the older village store, these neighborhood stores served, and continue to serve as commercial ventures, neighborhood parlors and often as physical anchors to the street.

The term "neighborhood store" applies to a variety of buildings in both appearance and retail activity, but it is most closely identified with grocery stores situated in residential neighborhoods and often situated on street corners. The arrangement of these neighborhood stores reflects an economic and social system where retail activity depends upon small-scale family enterprises. Prior to the proliferation of the refrigerator and automobile, the neighborhood store was essential to the pattern of everyday life in the developing neighborhoods. Daily trips to the store were commonplace, so close proximity to customers was important. Therefore by the end of the 19th century there were dozens of these neighborhood stores throughout the city, with the greatest concentration in the Old North End section of town. These small-scale ventures located in the outlying neighborhoods beyond the primary business district were entrepreneurial opportunities that enabled many immigrant families to establish businesses with a convenient residence and rental units usually located above the store.

The combination of commercial and residential components were integral to the feasibility of these business ventures because such a system enabled an almost constant presence to operate the store while caring for a family. These stores were often shared ventures between entrepreneurial family members or collaborations between successful tradespeople looking for an opportunity to establish a business, create inexpensive housing for their families and possibly generate additional income from rental property on the upper floors. Over time many of the store owners moved out of the store building into separate dwellings and were able to use the additional space as a rental property investment to house the growing industrial labor force.

By the 1920's a number of factors collided to change the previous hospitable climate for neighborhood stores in Burlington. Advances in refrigeration improved methods for shipping produce and meat, as well as processing, storing and packaging both at the market and at home. This meant that fewer trips to the grocery store were necessary and the convenience of neighborhood store location became less important. The proliferation of the automobile afforded greater mobility and the development of supermarkets changed the way Americans shopped and the architecture of the trade. It was no longer as important that the grocer live above the store with this increased mobility.

In addition, the industrial climate in Vermont and Burlington was changing unfavorably due to national circumstances such as the Great Depression that resulted in a great decline in manufacturing plants from 1929 to 1938. By the end of this period, 41 of the city's 91 manufacturing plants were forced to close. Competition in the lumber and textile industry caused the city's traditional economic base to shift towards tourism and other service industries. Other natural disasters, such as the great flood of 1927, decimated many of the dams and mill buildings, including the American Woolen Company complex. The company never fully recovered and eventually operations were closed in 1954.

The decline in commerce and industry combined with technological advances and changing social patterns after World War II challenged the feasibility of the neighborhood stores in Burlington. Although many survived and continue to do so because they offer convenience and cater to their clientele, many disappeared.

As the economy of Burlington has rebounded throughout the second half of the 20th century and the housing market has experienced increased pressure, the neighborhoods that contain historic neighborhood stores have once again increased in population density. A number of the neighborhood stores of the 19th century are located in newer enterprise zones within Burlington and stimulated investment is once again finding innovative and practical uses for this unique architectural building type that offers commercial and residential opportunities. Although the location of these neighborhoods and their stores are no longer considered on the periphery, many of the stores still in operation offer the same opportunities as when originally established — a ritualistic stop for goods and conversation for local patrons and an opportunity for independence and prosperity for business entrepreneurs.

Description

Neighborhood store buildings in Burlington, Vermont are historically vernacular, wood frame buildings constructed in styles that are consistent with the era and neighborhood in which they were built. Distinct from the larger commercial buildings of Burlington's central commercial core, the simply constructed buildings were developed to house both the neighborhood store and residential dwellings. They borrowed many of the stylistic components of their neighboring residences, enabling them to nestle into the neighborhood setting. The majority of neighborhood store buildings that served as commercial spaces and dwelling units were built towards the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century and reflect the popular architectural styles of the time — French Second Empire, Italianate, and Queen Anne.Their location on the street varied; however, they most frequently were located on corner lots for maximum visibility and convenience.

Although variation in form, size and details exist in these vernacular commercial and domestic buildings, neighborhood store buildings typically were two to three story buildings, rectangular in plan, and street facades were flush with the sidewalk. Those which are located on corner lots usually have corner entrances either with a single opening on a chamfered corner or openings on either side of the corner. Entrance to the residential portion of the building is usually at the rear or side of the building. Although often slightly larger than the other neighborhood buildings, their mass is usually moved to the sidewalk line and the size and massing of these buildings is complementary to the neighboring domestic buildings. In addition, windows and secondary door openings generally resemble those on neighboring residential buildings with the common distinction of larger storefront-glass windows on the first level.

The floor plan in these building types shows some variation, but they typically have a division between the commercial and residential portion of the building. The first floor serves as the primary commercial space and often contains some space dedicated to family or residential use. The upper floors are planned for residential use, either by the owner's family or tenants. The commercial area is defined by one large open room, storage space is incorporated into the main area or placed in an addition. The connecting staircase to the upper floors is typically hidden from view within the main store area and is usually along one of the sideyard walls with its own separate entrance.

The floor plan of the upper floors varies depending upon the size of the building. Buildings occupied by the owner's family have a room that accommodates the staircase. Larger buildings with multiple units often have a center hall in the upper floors with doorways leading into separate apartments. Other buildings have a narrow hall that runs the length of the building, with multiple rooms or apartments on each side of the hall.

As indicated, the details applied to these buildings are simpler than their commercial core counterparts, but still reflect the stylistic choices of the era and importantly, of the surrounding residential buildings.

French Second Empire:
Popular in Vermont from the 1860s to 1880s, the French Second Empire style was utilized for a variety of building types, including large civic buildings, commercial buildings, and village merchants. All French Second Empire structures are crowned with steeply pitched Mansard roofs, which provide an additional floor of living space. Typically, these structures are two or more stories in height and contain retail space on the lower level and living space on the upper floors. This style shares many of the characteristics of the Italianate style, including its cubical form, prominent eaves supported by ornate brackets, verandas, and pavilions. Later buildings may have Queen Anne elements including, turned porch elements and cast-iron styled storefronts.

The French Second Empire buildings constructed as neighborhood stores use the typical rectangular form with Mansard roof. Porches and pavilions may appear on the upper residential floors. The storefront typically contains a central, recessed entrance, flanked by large, plate glass windows. Ornamental details, including the porch, cornice and eave elements are typically simplified on neighborhood stores and of wood construction. Storefront facades may contain cast-iron columns. The first-level, store section of the buildings commonly contain elaborate pressed-tin ceilings.

Italianate:
The Italianate style, influenced by the architecture of the Italian countryside homes, was first brought to Vermont after the coming of the railroad in the mid 1800s, and became popular after the Civil War. The style was used primarily for houses, commercial blocks and outbuildings. While wealthy merchants built large high style homes and commercial buildings, those of modest means adopted the style with simplified versions using Italianate style details. Brackets are the most common feature of Italianate style houses, and are found ornamenting eave lines, bay windows, door hoods and porches. Windows, usually with two panes in each sash, are often paired and have round or arched tops often with heavily molded pediments. Commercial buildings, built in the second half of the 19th century are characterized by heavy, bracketed cornices of wood, pressed metal or stone and storefronts with large plate glass windows.

The vernacular frame buildings that typically employ these details in neighborhood stores do so more modestly — the brackets are typically wooden, smaller and less in number. Window sizes are smaller than the high style commercial buildings and the cornice moldings tend to be smaller and constructed of wood most commonly, although examples of metal cornices exist.

Queen Anne:
Popular in Vermont from 1885-1905, the Queen Anne style of building was popular in churches, public buildings, commercial blocks and particularly for houses. The style is distinctive for its asymmetrical building forms, rich wall textures, multicolored schemes, unpredictable window spacing, towers, bays and elaborate porches. Upon receiving exposure at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, pattern books and mass produced architectural elements popularized the style that was extensively used in public buildings, mansions and middle-class neighborhoods. Vernacular designs in Burlington's neighborhoods used Queen Anne details in many of the larger apartment buildings and multiple unit-dwelling houses. As vernacular frame buildings within these neighborhoods were built for commercial and domestic use, they as well employed simplified Queen Anne details and building forms.

Queen Anne elements are typically simplified on vernacular, wood framed neighborhood stores. The most distinctive Queen Anne element used on neighborhood stores, particularly corner stores, is a corner oriel or tourelle. These conical elements typically protrude from the primary wall plane and frame the storefront entrance. The corner tourelles are typically cantilevered over the entrance to create a covered, recessed entrance. Richly textured surface materials are common and include pressed-tin panels and shingles, pressed tin cornice and frieze elements, and cast iron columns flanking the entrance and storefront.

Significance

The historic neighborhood stores of Burlington, Vermont are significant on in the areas of Industry, Commerce, Ethnic Heritage and Architecture. The properties include buildings dating from Burlington's periods of industrial development and population growth during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The geographic location of Burlington, Vermont on Lake Champlain historically positioned it as a natural point of transport between interior regions and water shipping routes. Periods of prosperity associated with innovations in transportation and industry created a new pattern of residential development to house the growing labor force. Within these new neighborhoods, often with distinct ethnic characteristics, a new building type was popularized — the neighborhood store. These neighborhood stores, most closely associated with family operated grocery stores, served as commercial ventures for immigrants, family residences, neighborhood parlors and physical anchors to the street and urban landscape.

The neighborhood store buildings in Burlington, Vermont are significant at the state level for their association with the growth of industry and commerce in Vermont during the period from 1790-1940 and their role in providing entrepreneurial opportunities for Burlington's immigrant labor force population. They are physical anchors to neighborhoods that were developed as a result of Burlington's industrial growth and influx of European immigrants. As neighborhoods such as the Old North End became more densely populated, areas developed ethnic identities. These neighborhood stores provided goods and services to people in the immediate vicinity and could cater to the needs of the various ethnic populations.

Architecturally, these buildings are representative examples of the stylistic era in which they were built, while simultaneously reflecting the frugality of their enterprising owners. Although details and ornament are distilled versions of the high-style commercial buildings, they successfully and tactfully blend in with the architectural context of their surrounding neighborhoods.

The shear number of these stores at the beginning of the 20th century emphasizes the importance they have in providing basic needs such as grocery supplies and housing within the densely populated 'working-class' neighborhoods. Although dozens originally existed, few remain; however, a distinguishable pattern regarding their social, economic and architectural importance can still be observed.

Within a small area of the Old North End many examples of this building type still exist, such as at 59-63 North Champlain Street, an Italianate style grocery and dwelling built in 1887 for William Fitzgerald. Although no longer a grocery, the commercial characteristics remain. Other Italianate style neighborhood store examples include the following: 33 LaFountain Street, built in 1885 for Michael Hamlin as a grocery and family dwelling. The building retains it original form and feeling with office space on the lower retail level with upper-level apartments. The flatiron shaped building on the corner of 156 North Winooski, built circa 1870 for Louis Germain as a grocery and family dwelling that remained in the family for two generations. It retains its original mixed commercial and residential characteristics. The three-story apartment and grocery building at 2 North Winooski was built in 1889. The Saltus Grocery Store, also known as Jim's Corner Store, originally a grocery and family dwelling with ancillary commercial spaces in the Jewish neighborhood, built and owned by Frank Saltus in 1897 retains much of its original form and characteristics. It served a mixture of commercial purposes for nearly a century, including a grocery store, luncheonette, and confectionery shop, always with living quarters on the second-level.

Other neighborhoods contain neighborhood stores, slightly larger in scale and exhibiting the influence of Queen Anne styling such as the grocery and apartment building on the corner of 250 North Street, built in 1898 for Dennis Bourne and the three-story French Second Empire/Queen Anne styled grocery with family dwellings for the owning partners and additional apartments at 29-31 North Champlain Street. This building exemplifies the opportunities and upward mobility associated with Burlington's industrialization. Three skilled craftsmen and residents of the neighborhood since 1850 pooled capital resources, trade and labor and built this vernacular commercial and dwelling building.

References

Collections of Documents:

Historic Preservation Certification Application - Jim's Corner Store, Burlington, Vermont. Recorded by Emily Wadhams and on file at Vermont Division for Historic Preservation, Montpelier, Vermont. 1997.

Historic Sites and Structures Survey Reports of Burlington, Vermont. Conducted in 1978 by C. R. Morsbach and supervised by the Vermont Division for Historic Preservation, Montpelier, Vermont.

National Register of Historic Places-Nomination Form: Lakeside Historic District, Burlington, Vermont. Recorded and on file at Vermont Division for Historic Preservation, Montpelier, Vermont. 1982.

National Register of Historic Places - Nomination Form: South Willard Street Historic District, Burlington, Vermont. Recorded and on file at Vermont Division for Historic Preservation, Montpelier, Vermont. 1988.

National Register of Historic Places-Nomination Form: Winooski Falls Mill Historic District, Burlington, Vermont. Recorded and on file at Vermont Division for Historic Preservation, Montpelier, Vermont. 1978.

Published Documents:

Beasley, Ellen. The Corner Store. Washington D. C.: National Building Museum, 1999.

Burlington Vermont: A Brief Sketch of its History, Educational Facilities and Industrial Life. Burlington Junior High School project, 1920-21.

Gilbertson, Elsa. The Historic Architecture of Vermont: Guide to Vermont Architecture. Montpelier, Vermont: Vermont Division for Historic Preservation. 1992.

Vermont Historic Preservation Plan: Industry and Commerce Theme. Montpelier, Vermont: Vermont Division for Historic Preservation. 1989.

Books:

Allen, Charles. About Burlington Vermont. Burlington: Hobart J. Stanley&Co., 1905.

Anderson, Elin. We Americans: A Study of Cleavage in an American City. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1937.

Auld, Joseph. Picturesque Burlington: A Handbook of Burlington, Vermont and Lake Champlain. Burlington: Free Press Association, 1894.

Blow, David. Historic Guide to Burlington Neighborhoods - Volume I. Burlington: Chittenden County Historical Society, 1991.

Blow, David. Historic Guide to Burlington Neighborhoods - Volume II. Burlington: Chittenden County Historical Society, 1997.

Carlisle, William Baker. Look Around Chittenden County, Vermont. Chittenden County Historical Society, 1976.

McAlester, Virginia and Lee McAlester. A Field Guide to American Houses. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1986.

Meeks, Harold A. Time and Change in Vermont: A Human Geography. Connecticut: The Globe Pequot Press, 1986.

  1. Quinn, Christopher K., Historic and Architectural Resources of Burlington Vermont / Neighborhood Stores in Burlington Vermont 1790-1940, nomination document, 2000, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.
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