35 King Street
The Gideon King House
By Mary O'Neil
Probably among the best known of Burlington's historic homes, the Gideon King house sits at 35 King Street. Partnered with Job Boynton , Gideon King Jr. was active in shipping by 1790 at the age of sixteen. His father, Gideon King Sr., had purchased lot number 16 on the corner of Battery and King Streets and ran a very successful tavern there. Erastus Bostwick of Hinesburg tells in his diary of arriving in Burlington in the early 1790s. He could recall only three buildings in the village of Burlington at that time: All of them situated near Water Street. (1) One was Gideon King Sr.'s tavern, one was Job Boynton's wood frame house, and one was John Collins home on Water (Battery) Street, none of which now stand. (2) In 1798 Gideon King Jr. purchases this home from Job Boynton, and it offers a glimpse of a rare survivor from that period.
Gideon King Jr. is generally regarded as the most noteworthy of all ship boat captains of Burlington's early maritime history. He alone controlled most of the lake traffic between St. Johns, Quebec and Whitehall, N.Y. in the years 1790-1820. When everything that moved went by water, Lake Champlain was the superhighway between New York and Canada. Captain King was dubbed "Admiral of the Lake", and made a considerable fortune and reputation as controlling the merchant trade in and out of Burlington. At one time he owned or held mortgages on almost every vessel that plied the waters of Lake Champlain.(3) After the Embargo Act of1807, it was he who angered Jabez Penniman, the Collector of Customs, for his persistent trading with Canadian ports in stark defiance of the Federal order. (4) In a letter to Secretary of the Treasury Albert Gallatin, Penniman pointed out:
"that a large number of men on the Lake shore was [sic] deeply concerned in rafting timber for the Canadian Market" and that they would have the same exported unless the Government provided "an adequate force..to convey the law."(5)
As the battle heated up between Federal officials and the defiant merchant shipping industry of the lake, Penniman continues his tirade against illegal foreign trade and allegations that the government will desist from punishing those involved. After rumor spread about an armed force taking over a raft into Canada, Penniman tries to squelch the rumors and issues this declaration:
"You may consider three parts out of four of the reports in circulation are false...no man is killed--no man hurt--no boat is run away with. Gideon King has not drowned me yet."(6)
Gideon King's interests in the lake were not limited to its vessels. Not only the largest ship builder and sail boat owner in the Champlain Valley, he owned both the docks and the stores at the Burlington Wharf as well as in Whitehall, N.Y. When steamships became more popular (and provided competition for Captain King's vessels), the captains of these new boats seldom made shore landings, offering instead to disembark passengers and freight via smaller vessels to be dispatched to shore. Part of the reasoning might have been unreliable nautical charts, but the predominant reason was the fact that Gideon King owned the wharfs. (7) In 1821 a compromise was made between King and Steamship interests, and King trasferred his shipping interests to the steamboat company and received an interest in the company in return. Upon his death in 1826, he owned 160 shares of stock in the Lake Champlain Steamboat Company, valued at $10,000. (8)
David Blow indicates in his book that Gideon King Jr. purchased this house lot in 1798 "with a new brick house standing thereon".(9) The property included a barn, outbuildings, and a newly planted orchard. It has been widely reported that Gideon King Jr. died in the northwest bedroom of the house at 35 King Street in September of 1826.
The inventory of his real estate includes this property.
"The Homestead, house, barn, and shed" (10)
There is also an informative survey done of this property by John Johnson, on the occasion of the auction of Captain King's Real Estate in 1829, where the buildings have been penciled in within the property lines. (11) This becomes very significant. When examining the survey map done by Johnson, one year before the Ammi B. Young map was drawn, it becomes evident that the barn in the johnson survey is at the location of the present dwelling house on King Street. The original King house, as documented in 1829, would have sat in the location of what is presently the Good News Garage. If this information is considered, it would appear that the original Gideon King house no longer stands, and the structure at 35 King Street may have been built on or near the foundation of the original King barn, which indeed dates from 1798. This new information seriously challenges the belief that what is generally recognized as the Gideon King house at 35 King Street does survive from the 1830 Young map. In fact, physical evidence would suggest otherwise.
It would be easy to assume that the Gideon King house has indeed survived the past two hundred years nearly intact. Archival and circumstantial evidence almost demand it. But the physical evidence offers discrepancies. During the 1976 renovation, when walls were laid bare and timbers were exposed, evidence become apparent that this house may have been reconstructed at a date later than the 1798 deed would suggest. Although an early chimney and fireplace were uncovered in the basement, and some hand-wrought nails were present, they were in re-used timbers and boards. Plaster lath shows circular saw marks, clearly dating these members into the 1840s. Recycled materials, floorboards and beams with weathered surfaces indicate that they have been placed somewhere else before. A reasonable quess would place this structure's construction between 1830 and 1850.
When sold with five other quarter acre lots in 1829, the whole parcel only sold for a mere $1110.00. (The Real Estate Appraisal was $1800.00) (12)
Other notable businessmen lived at 35 King Street, but are often overshadowed by the notoriety of Captain King. Horatio Gates owned the property until his death in 1835, when the lot became subdivided to provide a dower to his widow (13) Morillo Noyes, the elder, lived here in the 1860s, while he was one of the first directors of the Pioneer Mechanics Shop. A brick building for this new industry which housed machinery and engines was erected in 1852 on the east side of Lake Street. Although the business burned down in April of 1858, its existence reflects the prevalence of industry in mid-nineteenth century Burlington. With the wharves active and the trains running, Burlington was a very busy place.
Noyes' name appears on the 1862 Wainright map at this location on King Street.
Happily the house was rescued in1976 after threatened by the growing urbanization and industrialization of the area. Whether the structure dates to the 1790s or the 1840s, 35 King Street still speaks to us of the dominance of industry and shipping in the early days of Burlington, Vermont.
1. Abby Maria Hemenway, The Vermont Historical Gazetteer: A Magazine Embracing A History Of Each Town. (Burlington: A.M. Hemenway,1867),1:494.
3. Ibid., 1:669.
4. H.N. Mullen, "Smuggling Into Canada: How the Champlain Valley Defied Jefferson's Embargo", Vermont History (Vermont Historical Society, 1970), 38:1:6.
5. Ibid., 38:1:7.
6. Ibid., 38:1:11.
7. David J. Blow, "Lake Champlain's First Steamboat", Vermont History (Vermont Historical Society, 1966), 34:2:119.
8. Estate of G. King, Vermont Probate Court, Chittenden County Circuit, Burlington, Vermont. 1826.
9. David Blow, A Historical Guide to Burlington Neighborhoods (Burlington:Chittenden County Historical Society, 1997), 100.
10. Estate of G. King, Real Estate Sale, Vermont Probate Court, Chittenden County Circuit, Burlington, Vermont 1829.
11. John Johnson survey, 1829. Bailey Howe Library, University of Vermont, Burlington, Vermont. Special Collections: Carton 5 Folder 114.
12. Estate of G. King, Real Estate Sale, Vermont Probate Court, Chittenden County Circuit, Burlington, Vermont. 1829.
13. Estate of Horatio Gates. Vermont Probate Court, Chittenden County Circuit, Burlington, Vermont. 1835.
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