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 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, storesthe 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 in the sections Middlebury Village Continued, In the Town, and East Middlebury.