The Village Tour: Main Street and College Street

46 Ilsley Library Across the Green and Main Street from the museum is the Ilsley Library, a gift to the town by Col. Silas A. Ilsley in 1923. Here is another and later example of the City Beautiful1 urge to construct public buildings in the classical style, though as with banks the traditional association of libraries with temples in this country dates back to our early days (e.g. the 18th-century Redwood Library, Newport, R.I., or Jefferson’s early 19th-century library at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville). Here the tradition continues with a marble temple set apart, its fine oak interior housing a heavily-used and continuously updated collection. Previous to the 1920s the community had been served since the 1860s by the Ladies’ Library Association on the second floor of the old bank building north of the inn and then (from 1912) by the Middlebury Free Library. The library has undergone multiple expansions since 1923, designed to preserve the identity of the original Ilsley building.

Ilsley Library in 1979. Source

47 Town Offices This, the original site of Osborne House (relocated to 4 Cross Street), is the fourth home of the Middlebury town offices. From 1829 to 1882 they resided in the lower floor of the old Addison County Courthouse. Then they moved into the ground floor of the Town Hall/Opera House, where they remained until the town acquired and renovated the remains of the fire-damaged high school. That building exhibiting insoluble problems, the town entered into a complex real-estate swap with Middlebury College that transferred this property and much of the municipal parking lot behind it to community ownership. The new town offices were designed and constructed by the Breadloaf Corporation 2014–2016.

Roads West of the Bridge The complex intersection of Main St., Park St., College St., and South St. was the important hub of the western side of Middlebury. Main Street led to the bridge; Park Street to the mills; College Street (formerly Academy Street) was the original main road to Cornwall; South Street connected the village to farms along the creek and ran to what was known as Three Mile Bridge (burned in 1952) near the junction of the Middlebury River and the creek; and South Main Street was laid out as the Troy Turnpike in 1803, though it was not completed until 1811. The present configuration of the intersection is the result of more than half a century of community discussion, debate, and planning. Middlebury had long recognized the need for a second in-town bridge and an improved traffic pattern to correct the choke-point that was the Battell Bridge and the complexity of the multi-angled intersection leading into it as well as the necessity of offering alternative routes for emergency vehicles. A state study in 1955 proposing a bridge at this location triggered years of examination of possible bridge corridors. Beginning in the 1970s town-appointed committees studied both siting and potential designs, working with the Agency of Transportation and engineering firms. The lion’s share of the cost of constructing the bridge and rebuilding the intersection was expected to come from state and federal funds. However, this project was low on the state-wide priority list, promising to postpone work for decades.

Acknowledging the importance of the project for both the college and the community, Middlebury College entered into a financial partnership with the town, combining bonding and local option taxes to come up with the $16 million needed to proceed without state support. The final plans for a bridge essentially on the alignment of the old ford across Otter Creek were arrived at by VHB Pioneer (Boston engineers and traffic planners), Geo Design, Inc., Kubricky Construction, and Middlebury’s J. P. Carrara concrete company. This first major design-build transportation project in Vermont resulted in the longest precast spliced girder bridge (with a 240 ft. central span) undertaken to date in New England. Construction began in April of 2009, and the Cross Street Bridge and the adjacent roundabout that rationalized the now six-way intersection opened to community celebration in October of 2010.

Spared the fires that raged up and down most of commercial Main Street, the area around the roundabout presents (if one can think away later intrusions) something of the residential-commercial mix that must once have typified the northern end of Main Street as well.

48 86 Main Street Built as a store for Edwin Vallette in 1863, this mercantile structure drew heavily on the Italian Renaissance for inspiration. The cubic mass, heavy cornice, quoins, and regular window rhythm all invoke the palace tradition that was so popular in the 1850s and 1860s for stores in such centers as New York. The ground floor was equally up-to-date, for it originally had large windows framed by fine cast-iron Corinthian columns.2 Beginning in 1901 this building housed Joseph Battell’s Middlebury Register.

Vallette Block at 86 Main Street. Source

49 88 Main Street Built by John Warren, clothier and developer of the cotton mill in the Hollow, in about 1804–1805. This was one of the most pretentious and urbane early houses in Middlebury. It was of brick (its end walls, of a particularly elaborate Flemish bond, suggest an itinerant mason from New York’s Hudson Valley) atop a dressed stone basement and detailed with marble from Eben Judd’s mill (e.g. the shaped plaques and the turned columns of the Palladian window) and fine woodwork (note the brackets supporting the entry hood and the modillions of the cornice). The elegant Palladian window has the star-shaped center which was typical of a number of the finer early 19th-century buildings in town. The detailing seems to suggest that the builder was looking to carpenters’ handbooks (and particularly to Asher Benjamin) and playing with motifs of the then-popular Federal Style. The handsome interior is arranged symmetrically about a stairhall with curving staircase and molded plaster ceiling. Each major room has a different fireplace design. The basement, above grade to the rear, housed the kitchen; and a sub-cellar, constructed below frost level for vegetable storage, is reputed by a tenacious local tradition (without supporting evidence) to have served as a stop on the Underground Railroad during the Civil War. The house’s restoration by Townsend Anderson in the early 1980s won a national award from the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Since 2006 it has been home to the Vermont Folklife Center.

John Warren House in 1860. Source

50 14 College Street One of Middlebury’s earliest gasoline filling stations, built around 1920 in Colonial Revival style of brick with a gable roof. It has been altered for retail use by a number of renovations and additions.

14 College Street as Emilio’s Delicatessen in 1979. Source

51 30 College Street Two doors away from the Warren house is another notable early brick structure. It was built in 1815 by Jonathan Hagar for stores and a warehouse. Hagar began as a cobbler, specializing in the manufacture of dyed “Morocco” leather and selling his shoes in New York City, Troy, Boston and Montreal. He expanded into an export-import business with London at one point, building and running the ship “Mentor” in 1806–1807. The War of 1812 found him becoming more local in his interests, pursuing among other roles those of bookseller, selectman, and Vermont assemblyman. His building presents an excellent example of early 19th-century commercial architecture. Except for its size, it is essentially domestic in scale and character, with plain walls and simple, regularly-spaced windows. It harks back to the Georgian buildings of Boston and Philadelphia, to a style of simplicity and dignity. Old photos show the building with a cupola on top. In the 1960s the structure was renovated for use as apartments by Middlebury College.

30 College Street as apartments in 1979. Source

52 40 College Street This house was built by William Goodrich on the site of a store opened in 1798 by Anthony Rhodes. Goodrich arrived in Middlebury in 1787 and for a while tended Painter’s sawmill and lived in the mill house. He served as town clerk from 1797 to his death in 1812. In the early years of the century and before 1812, he built this brick house in which his wife taught one of the early elementary schools in town. With its fine basement, Flemish bond brickwork, and marble string course, it is akin to (if also simpler than) the contemporary Warren House. It was renovated and remodeled by Middlebury College in 1965, at which time the doorway was considerably altered. Subsequently known as the Deanery, it now houses the Max Kade Center for German Studies.

53 54 College Street This may well be the oldest store still standing in Middlebury. Originally at 86 Main Street, it served as Jonathan Hagar’s place of business from 1812–1815. In 1863 it was moved to make way for the grander Vallette Block. Aspects of the building have obviously been changed, but the basic structure remains evident. Here again can be seen the domestic character of Middlebury’s early commercial buildings. There was no radical contrast in building types, and thus the shops could mix easily and naturally with homes such as those to be found on the easterly side of the Main Street hub, a series of particularly fine residences.

54 College Street when occupied by Lyons Place in 1979. Source

54 89 Main Street This is one of the most noteworthy houses in Middlebury. It was begun in 1813 for Thomas Hagar and subsequently owned by Judge Samuel S. Phelps and his family. Born in Litchfield, Connecticut in 1793 and graduating from Yale in 1811, Phelps came to Middlebury and entered the Seymour law office in 1814. He served with the state legislature, as a justice in the Vermont Supreme Court (1831–1838), and as U.S. Senator (1838–1851). His son and for a time his law partner, Edward J. Phelps, was to serve as U.S. Minister to the Court of St. James in 1885.

The house was as distinguished as its tenants. A document of 1814–1815 permits its attribution to Lavius Fillmore (architect of the Congregational Church) and serves as a key for associating Fillmore with many of the finer early homes in town. The great frame block is enlivened by the arched doorway, the Palladian window, and the fine frieze which runs all the way around the building. Later owners have replaced the small panes of glass in the windows (altering the character of the doorway), but the remaining woodwork details (rope moldings, dentils, elliptical sunbursts, etc.) bespeak the original quality of this home. Within the front door a great pilastered arch with sunbursts opened onto a graceful curved staircase (removed in 1880). The kitchen was in the basement, and the symmetrically arranged upper floors given over to a series of large parlors and chambers, each with its own elaborate (and very inventive) carved fireplace. Paneled window embrasures with rope moldings, carved chair rails, and fine keystone arches between rooms mark this as one of the town’s most lavishly and lovingly detailed buildings.

55 93 Main Street (Storrs-Turner House) Here is a worthy neighbor for the Phelps House. This fine brick structure was built in 1832 by Seth Storrs and his son-in-law, Prof. Edward Turner. From Mansfield, CT, Storrs was a Yale graduate, had been associated for a while with Timothy Dwight at the public seminary in Northampton, MA, and then had begun a law practice in Vermont, moving to Addison in 1787, where he was appointed the first State’s Attorney in Addison County. With the establishment of the county seat in Middlebury, Storrs moved to town, buying a large farm adjacent to the Foot land on the west side of Otter Creek in 1794. He lived there in a gambrel-roofed house built by John Foot until 1801–1802, when he erected a large frame house on the site. Here he led the life of a leading citizen and philanthropist, selling house lots for what is now much of the western part of the village, participating in the founding of both the grammar school and the college, and donating large tracts of land to both these and the town.

In 1831 Storrs’ frame house burned, and the next year he and his son-in-law replaced it with the present brick structure. The plan follows that of previous grand Federal Style houses in Middlebury (basement kitchen, symmetrical parlors, apsidal3 stairhall) and so do some of the details (delicate curving staircase, eaves balustrade4). In little more than a decade, however, master builder James Lamb was documented to be at work remodeling the house in a more Greek Revival style. He lengthened the first floor windows, framing them inside with Greek woodwork. He also may have provided the handsome detailing for the front door. This last has subsequently been twice remodeled, but it retains its original Ionic columns, palmette pilasters, meander-decorated encasement, and leaded sidelights. Its use of Greek details associated the house with the trend then sweeping the country for an architecture with connotations of democracy and culture, an association carried even to the elegant cast iron and wooden fence around the front yard.

Storrs-Turner House in 1950. Source
  1. a tradition of classical public architecture and formal landscape in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, coming as a response to the Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893
  2. Corinthian order: the most ornate of the major Greek systems of architectural proportioning and decoration, its capitals are characteristically bell-shaped and enveloped in outward curling Acanthus leaves
  3. terminating with a curved (usually semicircular) wall
  4. a row of short pillars topped by a rail
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