Statement of Significance
Detail of front door composition, showing louvered fanlight.
The Paris Fletcher House in Bridport, Vermont, built c. 1815 and 1826, is an excellent example of late Federal-period vernacular architecture in rural Vermont. It is representative of the rather naive interpretation by rural craftsmen of high-style pattern-book design, as the treatment of the front facade suggests that the builder had never seen a classical portico and assumed from available engravings that porticoes were flush and did not project. The building also survives with a high degree of integrity. From a historical perspective, the Paris Fletcher house is significant for its association with early nineteenth century Vermont commerce.
Bridport, Vermont, was chartered in 1761 and consisted of 25,000 acres along "Wood Creek", which was the name at that time for the southern neck of Lake Champlain. It was granted to Ebeneezer Wiswall and sixty-three other proprietors, most of whom were from Worcester County, Massachusetts. Bridport was not settled until after the Revolutionary War, when a large influx of settlers began to arrive, primarily from Massachusetts and New Jersey. After the Revolution the region was more politically stable and the threat of hostile Indians was greatly reduced.
Since its earliest days, Bridport has been an agricultural community. During the first few decades of settlement, when a great deal of wood was being burned in order to clear the land, wood ash was plentiful. Potash was shipped to Albany, Troy, and sometimes Quebec. When the land was cleared, wheat was the first general crop that was produced. It was also shipped to Albany, Troy, and sometimes Quebec, and was usually exchanged for goods rather than cash. In 1823, the same year that the Champlain Canal opened, sheep, cattle, and horse husbandry was brought to Bridport. As the land had been sufficiently cleared for grazing, sheep farming had become the primary agricultural industry in Vermont by 1820. Paris Fletcher had a small number of Leicester sheep in 1845 which were descended from a herd in Greenwich, New York. As Greenwich, N.Y., also had access to the Champlain Canal, it is possible that such livestock was transported via the canal system.
Prior to the introduction of the railroad in Addison County in the late 1840s, both Lake Champlain and present-day Route 22a, which was the stage route between Burlington and Whitehall, New York, were the major commercial routes between the northern markets of Burlington and Quebec, and Albany, Troy and New York City to the south. The period between 1810 and 1830 was a time of considerable commercial growth in Bridport. Three ferry liscenses were issued in 1820 alone. The center of commecial activity was located at "the Corners", the present intersection of VT Route 22a and Middle Road, which is presumably where goods brought by canal boat to Bridport were distributed. Commercial buildings like Paris Fletcher's general store sprang up at this intersection. Other businesses that were in close proximity to the Corners between 1825 and 1830 were Mather Noble's tannery, three blacksmith's shops which were operated by Orville Howe, Albert and Henry Foster, and John Burwell, Charles Eager's carriage and wagon shop, Lemuel Derby's cabinet shop, hatter John Brainerd, and tailor Norman Allen.
Paris Fletcher was born in Woodstock, Vermont, on 24 March, 1794. At age 16, he came to Bridport to join his brother James, who had been there for two years, in the saddle and harness-making trade. In 1817, he married Anna Miner (). A life of speculation seems to have appealed to Paris Fletcher. Though trained as a saddle and harness maker, he began in Bridport as a shop boy, and by the end of his life he had been a general merchant, one of the original directors of the Rutland and Burlington Railroad, and had been both the president and director of the Middlebury Bank at different times for a total of fifty years. Fletcher was elected to the board of directors for the Bank of Vergennes in 1827. His wife Anna died in 1854. Fletcher finally resigned from the Bank of Middlebury in 1877 because of the effects of old age, and died in 1880.
This building, which now houses the Bridport Historical Society on Route 22a in Bridport, is historically the most closely associated with Paris Fletcher and his activities. The rear ell, which is the oldest portion of the building, was constructed about 1813-15 by Ephraim Gray. The gable end faced Route 22a and the south facade was the front of the building. In 1819 the property was sold to Paris Fletcher, who built the west addition, probably around 1826. This formal, two-room gable-front addition with the main stair hall facing Route 22a became the front of the building. In 1826 Paris Fletcher built the brick store immediately to the south of the house. In 1831 he went into partnership with Daniel Miner, who died in 1839. Paris Fletcher's son, F.C. Fletcher, took over the store at that time. He appears on the 1871 Beers Atlas as the owner of the store and the house. Nathan S. Bennett bought the house and store from F.C. Fletcher on October 23, 1875. However, Paris Fletcher's grandson Thomas W. Fletcher occupied the house in 1888. Successive owners through the twentieth century have been Kenneth Myrick, Frank Rother, and Philip Gerbode, who sold the building to the Bridport Historical Society for one dollar in December of 1974.
The historical association between the house and store is significant for early nineteenth century Champlain Valley trade patterns. The buildings both lie along VT Route 22a, which historically was an arterial trade route along Lake Champlain from Albany and Troy, New York and are within the boundaries of the Bridport Historic District, which is listed on the Vermont State Register of Historic Places. While much commerce took place on Lake Champlain, goods were distributed on land. Commercial centers such as the Corners at Bridport served the inland communities.
Architecturally, the Paris Fletcher House is significant both for its architectural treatments and how they relate to local trends. The rear kitchen ell was the first structure on the site. It is significant that this portion of the house faces south with its gable end facing east toward the road (VT Route 22a). Modest houses which were built with such orientation with the intention of adding a formal section that faced the road was common trend in the Champlain Valley. In this respect, the Paris Fletcher house can be compared to Rokeby in Ferrisburgh, Vermont. This building consists of a modest c. 1790 kitchen ell which faces south with its gable end oriented toward the road, to which the formal front gable end section was added, facing east toward VT Route 22a, about 1814. This portion of the building survives with a high degree of architectural integrity.
The present front section is a sidehall plan house. The main facade is an excellent example of late Federal-period design, and is an important statement of the transmission of architectural style from urban to rural areas. The details of the front facade and the profiles of many interior moldings show similarities to several plates in Asher Benjamin's Country Builder's Assistant, which was first published in 1797 and went through several editions by 1806. This patternbook had a profound effect on rural architecture by bringing the rudiments of high style to outlying areas within a very short period of time. The temple-front form is important for its association with wealth and prosperity in the Champlain Valley in the early nineteenth century. In this respect, the Paris Fletcher house can be compared to the c. 1823 Potwin-Winterbotham house on the corner of Main Street and Willard street in Burlington, Vermont. This building has a fully articulated, projecting Ionic portico, but no pediment.
The treatment of the portico on the Paris Fletcher house, which only projects about one inch from the facade, is strikingly similar to another example on the 1811 Baptist Church in Monkton, Vermont. A c. 1818 tavern, within the Bridport historic district, which is listed on the Vermont state Register of Historic Places, has a nearly identical entablature treatment. This building is # 86 on the map of Bridport in The Historic Architecture of Addison County. A c. 1810 house (#37 in The Historic Architecture of Addison County), which lies outside of the Bridport historic district, also has related exterior architectural woodwork. The woodwork on these three buildings may indicate the work of a single carpenter who was working in the region in the first three decades of the nineteenth century.
The interior treatment of the building is significantly less lavish than the exterior facade, which is an indicator of the values of the homeowner. Paris Fletcher may have been more concerned with his public image than personal or private enrichment. The main staircase and the front parlor mantelpiece are simplified verions of examples in Plates 12 and 20 of Asher Benjamin's Country Builder's Assistant.
Both the ell and front sections were framed in the traditional New England braced-frame manner. One hallmark of this style is protruding cornerposts which are visible in the interior living space. However, in the formal front section of the Paris Fletcher house, the interior planes of the exterior walls are brought inward so that the corner posts do not protrude into the living space. The first-floor framing is constructed of whole pine logs, most of which survive with their bark. Many of the first-floor framing members in both sections of the building have random mortises and other cut-outs that seem to suggest that the building materials were recycled from an earlier structure. In the cellar below the rear ell, in front of the kitchen chimney cribbing, is a large, round stone cistern with an early board-and-batten lid. This is significant because due to the low-lying terrain and lack of many underground springs, the water in Bridport has historically been of poor quality, and has a rather brackish or salty taste. Therefore, cisterns were used to collect rainwater for household use.
The Paris Fletcher house is an excellent resource of the study of architecture, social values, and commerce in early nineteenth-century Vermont. Its design illustrates the transmission of high-style design into outlying areas and is an important statement of rural peoples' desire for, and understanding of urban culture. The building is also significant for its connection with commercial trade in the Champlain Valley before the introduction of the railroad, being historically associated with the brick store next to it. It also survives with a high degree of architectural integrity both on the interior and exterior.