The Village Tour: South Street and College Park

56 1 South Street The classicism is more pervasive next door to Storrs’ house in that built for George W. Cutter about 1837. Here the broadside plan has been avoided in favor of the Federal townhouse type (e.g., Simmons House, 31 North Pleasant Street). In the latter the gable oriented toward the street permits something more akin to a temple-like mass for the house. Middlebury’s Greek Revival never went all the way with columnar temple porticoes but it can be seen embodied here in the elaborately designed doorway with its wooden pilasters and palmettes and its cast iron tracery. Later in the 19th century a large porch extended across the entire front of the house and around the south side as far as the bay windows. It was removed in the 1950s.

57 3 South Street (“The President’s House”) This house was built in 1854 by Jason Davenport, successor to the Wainwright foundry business. In order to locate his home as closely to the center of things as possible, Davenport moved the previous house on the site (that built in 1797 by Dr. Darius Matthews) to its present location at 13 South Street. The 1854 house is one of Middlebury’s few examples of Carpenter’s Gothic, a popularization of the Gothic Revival stressing pointed gables and inventively intricate wooden cut-out decoration for eaves and (as on the Davenport house) porches. Here the bargeboards under the eaves are recreations of ones that disappeared over time, but there are still the drip mouldings on the windows, and the porch is treated as a series of flattened pointed arches, reminiscent of Gothic arcades. Since 1918 this house has served as the home of the Middlebury College Presidents.

58 5 South Street The parade of 19th-century styles continues down South Street with number 5, built in 1870 and for a long time the Episcopal parsonage. Here one finds a classically-derived doorway, Gothic-derived sharply pitched roof and asymmetrical massing, Italianate eave brackets and a large Victorian piazza and bay window.

59 7 South Street Similarly eclectic, if also perhaps more high fashion, were the house and barn built just to the south by Governor Fairbanks, originally of St. Johnsbury, in 1867. A mix of French concave mansard roof and quoins with Italianate brackets and arcaded porch, it was one of the most elegant and dignified Victorian homes in Middlebury. It is now owned by Middlebury College.

7 South Street in 1901. Source

60 95 South Main Street A few steps back to the intersection of South and South Main Street bring one back to the early 19th century, with the Blinn House. A small house built around 1800 existed on the site when Blinn moved here in 1810. The new owner shifted the original house back to the southwest corner of the lot, where it is now at 97 South Main Street. He then built a far grander two-story house to replace the original. The rear ell was probably added by a later owner. The Blinn House is now owned by Middlebury College.

South Street looking south with Blinn House in the foreground, around 1900. Source

61 College Park The open triangle of land bounded by South Main, College, and Academy Streets belies a long and complex history as home to town educational and governmental institutions. It is the tip of a parcel extending westward to Shannon Street and including the present Storrs Park donated for educational uses by Seth Storrs in 1797 to the newly formed Addison County Grammar School Corporation. The corporation (one of the oldest extant corporations in Vermont) was organized to provide for secondary education to the young men of Addison County. The land over which the corporation has been a guardian for more than two centuries has subsequently been utilized for multiple school buildings, public recreation, and civic functions. Over time it has been the site of five buildings important to the educational history of Middlebury. In 1823 near Main Street but facing onto College Street was constructed the two-story brick District 4 schoolhouse where John Deere’s brother served as schoolmaster. When the town’s graded schools and academy (high school) merged in 1866 to be housed in the grand College Street School (1867–1869), the earlier building was sold in 1869 to Eli B. Parker for $335. Parker took it down, reserving the brick, stones, and bell for the School District, and probably using some of the timbers in the construction of his own house at 57 Seymour Street. The site remained open until 1910 when the town, having outgrown the College Street School, hired Frank Lyman Austin of Burlington, then at work on the National Bank, to design a new high school. Sited as a visual terminus for Main Street, Austin’s building (1910–1911) was a substantial two-story structure on a high basement. Constructed somewhat in the style of the great 19th-century architect H. H. Richardson, the brick building originally had round Romanesque arches over the entrance and the second floor windows and a powerful dormered roof pinned down by four massive chimneys. In 1938, with federal funding through the Public Works Administration, the town hired the Rutland firm of Webber, Healy, and Inman to remodel the high school and expand it with a gymnasium/town meeting hall addition. The new brick and marble structure was connected by a corridor to the old building but also boasted a classically monumental columnar public entrance toward College Street.

Middlebury High School on College Street in the 1920s. Source

Big changes came in 1954, when the town began construction of a new consolidated elementary school (Mary Hogan School) and, the same week as the groundbreaking, the high school caught fire. The gym was saved, but the school lost its roof and second floor. Emergency repairs to the lower floors were carried out, but the town began considering an all new high school on a different, more spacious site. The new high school opened in 1957. After heated debate, the town decided in 1959 to sell the old town hall on Merchants Row and to renovate the remains of the old high school and gym for municipal uses, moving in in 1960. The temporary repairs did not age well, and the building proved increasingly inefficient. A college offer to swap land and finance new town offices generated years of further debate but ultimately resulted in 2014-16 in the construction of a new municipal building facing the roundabout and the subsequent demolition of the remains of the old high school and the gym. In 2017 College Park was developed to the designs of Wagner Hodgson landscape architects as a community amenity but also a gateway to the college campus. It serves as a west side counterpart to the green that Painter had donated to the town east of Otter Creek. Set into the landscape as a reminder of the building the park replaced is the 1911 keystone that crowned the entrance of the old high school.

62 Twilight Hall Approximately on the site of the present Academy Street (opened to facilitate the traffic patterns generated by the new bridge and roundabout) was originally a structure as important to the life of Middlebury as was the church at the upper end of Main Street—the Academy. Middlebury’s children were given a rough and rudimentary education in “common schools” meeting around town, at first in people’s homes; but Painter and others wanted more, a school that would carry on beyond the fundamentals. With Storrs, who had experience in secondary education, Dr. Darius Matthews, and lawyers Daniel Chipman (founder of the first law school in Vermont) and Samuel Miller, Painter formed the Addison County Grammar School Corporation, chartered by the legislature in November of 1797. $4000 was raised by public subscription for the 1798 construction of the Academy building on the school lot and common that Storrs had donated.

Drawing of the Academy Building, with Old Stone Row in the background, in the 1860s. Source

The wooden building was forty by eighty feet and three stories high, the largest structure yet built in town. Similar to (if simpler than) Dartmouth Hall in Hanover, N. H., in character, it had an impressive number of windows (glass was very expensive), equally important front and rear entrances, and a crowning cupola. The first floor held classrooms, library, and laboratory; the second, dormitories (accommodating two to three students per room); and the third dormitories about a central chapel. Upon the founding of the College in 1800 the building housed both College and Grammar School until 1805, when the latter was moved into the then vacant building of the Female Seminary on Seymour Street. The Grammar School moved back in 1844 and in the 1850s merged with Middlebury School District no. 4. In 1867 the Academy Building was superseded by a new building located just slightly to the west, a fashionable Italianate structure designed by J. J. R. Randall of Rutland.

Of brick with brownstone details, the building had heavy, bracket-supported cornices, a gable centered on each facade, and an elaborate mansarded cupola. A fire on Easter in 1904 gutted the school, but it was rebuilt with only slight changes to the roofline (and the elimination of the cupola), and it long served the town as the College Street Graded School. When the school district decided that it no longer would use the building, the only possible uses as mandated in the Storrs donation were educational, civic, or recreational. Since the town and the school district didn’t need it, the only potential buyer was Middlebury College. In 1984 the College acquired and renovated the building, renaming it Twilight Hall in honor of Alexander Lucius Twilight of the Middlebury Class of 1823, the first African-American citizen to graduate from an American college, who went on to become a distinguished clergyman, educator and legislator in Brownington, Vt.

Students pose outside the Graded School in 1900. Source

Twilight Hall and the new park extending up to the roundabout mark where the two faces of Middlebury, town and gown, meet. Here the bustle of commercial Middlebury leaves off and the academic world that for so long as been Middlebury’s other half takes up.

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