DOT’S BEAT: Montpelier Buildings On The Move

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by Dot Helling

You’ve probably heard of Montpelier Alive. It’s our downtown organization that networks to build business relationships, and keeps folks moving with festive and community-minded activities. Well, in Montpelier, it’s not only the residents who move. So do our buildings. In 2009 historian Paul Carnahan wrote about some of the buildings that have moved, expanded and been duplicated. You can archive his article on The Bridge website.

In 1950 the Boutwell House was moved from Main Street to what is now 14–22 Franklin St. The house was built by Roger Hubbard and his son Erastus Hubbard lived there in the 1800s. It transferred to the Boutwell family in 1900. James Boutwell was a former mayor of Montpelier. The house was the focus of elm-lined Main Street, located by the roundabout where the Montpelier Health Center, and previously the Masonic Temple, sits now. Original residents could sit on the front porch between pillars and see a broadband view down Main Street to the downtown. Now the house sits on a quiet residential street with its own riverwalk and gardens along the North Branch. Current owners, Lewis and Maudean Neill, are known for their gardens and neighborhood gatherings. When the Masons took ownership of the property, they wanted to tear it down and build a brick building. Lewis’s father, Bernard Neill, a Mason, bought it, moved it to Franklin Street and turned it into apartments.

The old Huntsman building at 4–6 Langdon Street now houses Sweet Melissa’s. In 1890 this building was moved in anticipation of the construction of the Langdon Block. It previously sat on Main Street at the bottom of Langdon. How it was moved across the river is a bit of a mystery. It would not have fit across the Langdon Street Bridge. According to Carnahan, other such buildings have been moved across rivers by being carefully slid across the water on sizable and dense cribbing.

The 28 School St. Manghi’s Bakery building was relocated from the Kellogg Hubbard Library site in the early 1890s. The Prentiss House was the home of a prominent attorney who became Chief Justice of the Vermont Supreme Court, then a Federal judge, and, in 1842, a U.S. Senator. Samuel Prentiss and his wife raised 10 sons who all became lawyers. The house originally faced Main Street and was of Federal architecture, later modernized by the addition of Greek Revival features. Before it was moved, it served as a boarding house.

Main Street Middle School was the high school which first issued diplomas in 1914. When the new high school was built across town, Main Street turned into the Middle School. When built, the original high school replaced the Old School which originally served as the Washington County Grammar School. The Old School was moved to 37 St. Paul Street. It’s a red two-story Greek Revival converted into apartments.

Long ago Vermont College of Fine Arts at the top of East State Street was the Montpelier Fairgrounds. In 1864, during the Civil War, Vermont’s third military hospital was built on these grounds. Sloan General Hospital, “the hospital that became a college,” was a 12-ward hospital complex where up to 400 wounded soldiers came to convalesce. Part of the hospital’s base included a cluster of small houses. When the war ended, the buildings were dismantled or moved. Two of the small houses now sit side by side on the eastern side of Emmons Street. The hospital site became Vermont College, then Norwich University and later Union Institute before becoming Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Not only have buildings physically moved, many buildings and their sites have undergone major metamorphoses, others torn down. Take for example the building that houses First in Fitness behind City Hall. I’m told that over a century ago, City Hall was the Haymarket and behind it was the site of the Golden Fleece Dance Hall. The Pavilion building on State Street is a reconstruction of the exterior of the Pavilion Hotel of 1876. The Hotel replaced the original pavilion building in 1807. The City Center building housing Skinny Pancake and Artisans Hand was the Cody Block, a large wooden mixed use building which included the Childrens’ Store and the State of Vermont Liquor Store. A major fire destroyed it in 1980.

One of the biggest travesties, according to architect Sandy Vitzthum, was the tearing down of our Romanesque Post Office building on State Street to build the modern Federal Building, which exists today. The first post office building was owned by James French and located at the east corner of State and Elm. It was moved in the late 1800s and is the office building located behind the firehouse and next to the police department on Pitkin Court.

Other buildings have moved and/or undergone changes over the decades, some due to fire and floods, others to keep up with code regulations and newer designs. The original Thrush Tavern, now Capital Pho, was pushed back from its State Street frontage to build a gas station. Several buildings, like the Kelley building that once housed the Vogue Shop, were covered in hideous aluminum siding to look more modern. It was later removed thanks to the influence of historians and preservationists. My house was covered all over with aluminum and vinyl siding, yellow corrugated trailer skirting, dropped ceilings with fluorescent lighting, cheap vinyl flooring, carpeting and pine paneling, and had a tarred driveway with cellar window wells, all things that were hot items sold by traveling salesmen in the 1950s. Underneath it I found original preserved wooden clapboards, a hidden window, solid wood floors and high ceilings.

Ever heard of the “kit” houses available in the 1900’s? There are several of these kit houses on the streets of Montpelier, including the Tudor revival set back from the street at 31 Loomis St. This kit was called the “Lynnhaven” and was one of the most popular, offering payments as low as $50–65 per month. There’s another kit house in the Pembroke Heights area and one behind Redstone off Clarendon. Perhaps the most distinctive colonial kit was the Lexington, price tag $3,588. See if you can find these kit houses around town. If you decide you want to do one these days it won’t be as inexpensive, but you can do so through Connor Homes of Middlebury.

Wherever you or your house may have traveled to or from, home is where the heart is. The heart of Montpelier is its people and its distinctive history, all a part of the story represented by the heart and history of our architecture and our older homes, no matter where they now sit.

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