Academy Park and College Street

The separation of this tour into sections on town and gown, which seems advisable on the basis of shoeleather, is really a rather artificial one. Since 1800 Middlebury and its college have led closely intermeshed lives. One has only to skim back over the descriptions of the buildings in the core of the village for confirmation of this fact. There is Sam Miller’s (Charter) House, where on September 30, 1798, Timothy Dwight of Yale and the trustees of the Addison County Grammar School discussed the founding of a college. There is Court Square, where stood the 1796 courthouse. When petitions to the legislatures of 1798 (Vergennes) and 1799 (Windsor) for a charter were tabled because of the opposition of the supporters of the chartered but still inoperative University of Vermont in Burlington, the legislature was invited to meet in Middlebury’s courthouse in 1800 and, once there, soon bowed to the town’s will. A charter was granted November first, and on the fifth the first class was admitted and the College was under way. For a president the new institution took the master of the grammar school, twenty-seven-year-old Yale alumnus Jeremiah Atwater, a protégé of Timothy Dwight. For a home it shared with the Grammar School the Academy Building at the southwest end of Main Street. Other buildings about town as well were tied to the early years of the college: the church and the courthouse, as locations for orations and ceremonies; the homes of presidents, corporation officers, and professors; and the homes of numerous citizens where the students of the growing institution boarded.

Beginning with seven students (and a first graduating class of one—Aaron Petty, 1802), by 1811 the College had 110 students, a president, three professors, a tutor, a library approaching one thousand volumes, and scientific equipment including an air pump, an electric machine, two artificial globes, large and small telescopes, a quadrant, a theodolite, a camera lucides, two thermometers, a galvanic pile, a hydrostatic apparatus, a prism, mirrors, etc. It needed more space. It needed buildings of its own in addition to the Academy. The trustees turned to the State for assistance and, receiving none, turned back to the town that had given the college birth. The town came through.

Thus at the westerly edge of the village one enters a world that was begun by the town specifically for the college. Although the college was already housed in the Academy Building, it did not follow that the town would agree to an expanded campus built on the west side of the creek. When the corporation of the college decided in 1810 to build an additional structure, they found themselves replaying an old Middlebury story — the site tug-of-war. Seth Storrs had deeded additional land, but some in town preferred to see the new campus placed on Chipman Hill east of the creek. The canny Gamaliel Painter not only solved but played upon the problem to the college’s advantage. He pitted one side of the town against the other in fund raising, declaring that the group who raised the most in lumber, nails, labor, glass, stone, etc. should have the college. The drive ran for four years. In the end the west side won, and Painter the diplomat then convinced most of the east side benefactors to be good sports and maintain their pledges anyhow. As a result the college campus was built on the Storrs donated hill west of Academy Park.

63 Academy (Storrs) Park This land, donated by Seth Storrs and his neighbors as part of a site for the Academy, has long served as the gateway from town to campus.

It was not at first a focus for elegant building as was the village green. Rather, with a few notable exceptions, it was surrounded by the more modest homes of tradesmen and workers in the mills. Many of these, especially along College Street, were built by John Atwater and still exist — here with added Greek Revival details, there with a Victorian bay window. An early exception to the scale of the area is 2 Franklin Street 63a, built as a tavern in 1800 by Amasa Stowell and boasting a full two stories, end chimneys, a square-headed Palladian window like that originally used on the Painter House, and the same hipped roof and Doric frieze that could be found on its elegant contemporary at 15 South Pleasant Street 63b. Other exceptions to the rule, though from later in the century, can be found on the north side of the park at the foot of the residentially prominent Weybridge Street. Here in 1867 College President Kitchel built a grand house (15 College Street) 63c in the Italianate style of the graded school rising across the street. It is a great frame block enlivened by a pedimented entry pavilion, bracket-borne eyebrows and cornice, and a capping belvedere1 with round-arched windows. In 1891 the college utilized the house as Battell Hall, its first women’s dormitory.

15 College Street (Kitchel House). Source

64 Weybridge House Across from the Kitchel House, Weybridge House is French rather than Italian in taste. It was built in 1873 for A. P. Tupper in the then-fashionable Second Empire style with bay windows and brackets carrying a dormered mansard roof. It is presently a college living unit.

65 St. Mary’s Church (Roman Catholic) The present St. Mary’s replaced what was reputedly the earliest Roman Catholic church building in the Burlington diocese. This was an 1837 brick structure with round-headed windows and a pyramidally capped square belfry built by a parish of fewer than fifty members at the southwest corner of Weybridge and Shannon Streets. As the parish grew, largely with the arrival of workers in the town’s mills, the membership acquired thirteen acres of land adjacent to College Street and began planning for a larger building. They ultimately sold the old church to Middlebury College for use as a playhouse (it burned in 1953).

Their new marble edifice at College and Shannon Streets was begun in 1895 according to the 1892 designs of George Guernsey, when a handsome blue marble cornerstone, donated by Smith & Brainerd Marble Company of nearby Beldens Falls, was laid in the presence of a crowd estimated at 1000–1200. Work on the project soon ceased, however, for lack of funds. The building stood for almost twenty years with rough foundations and fifteen foot high walls. In 1902, due to the active fund-raising efforts of a popular new priest, J. D. Shannon, construction resumed, with plans updated by Hopkins and Casey of Troy, New York, and was completed by 1907. It is a handsome structure of rusticated Brandon marble with round-arched windows, beautifully patterned masonry, and, within, a sanctuary for 700 roofed by a grand suspended barrel vault. Its design is rather Italian in flavor, mixing motifs from the Gothic and Early Renaissance periods. Much of the work on the finely detailed building, and particularly the carving of the altar rail and the original multi-stage, domed altar of Rutland white statuary marble, was reputedly by local marble masons and largely donated. 1909 saw the installation of windows of American opalescent drapery glass that utilizes layers of opalescent glass for shading. The 1860s Esty reed organ brought from the old church was complemented in 1910 with an Esty tubular pneumatic pipe organ of ten ranks (expanded in 1984 into an instrument of 28 ranks by Dutch émigré organ master John Wessel, and again by the Walker Technical Company and Alan Stemer of Stemer Organs into an instrument of 60 ranks). In 1972 the sanctuary was redecorated and, in keeping with new interpretations of the liturgy, the high altar dismantled and remodeled. The elements of that rather remarkable creation can be seen reused in the baptistery and in the base of the present altar table.

St. Mary’s Church around 1900. Source
  1. a small look-out tower on the roof of a house, inspired by Italian villas
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