By Michael Johnson
The Old Mill appropriately stands as a feature of University of Vermont architecture on University Place. The original building was Constructed in 1825, it is one of the oldest standing buildings on the UVM campus and is representative of university history. Changes in the buildings exterior facades and interior floor plans and uses nearly serve as a chronological symbol of university events and trends.
Originally, the Old Mill was designed by John Johnson and partially constructed of timber cleared from the university green. The building was a rectangular brick structure, four stories tall with a hipped roof. The interior was divided into a two-story chapel, recitation rooms, library, museum, medical hall, chemical lab, and forty-six student dormitory rooms. From 1813 to 1814 this building served as an arsenal and barracks to the United States military during the war with Britain. Aside from these two years, the Old Mill was "the University" until 1824 when it was destroyed by fire.
The University immediately replaced this structure with two brick structures, North and South Colleges, in 1825. In 1829, Middle College was built between them with an eight-foot space between for fire protection. The plan of the North, South and Middle Colleges are depicted on the 1830 Ami B. Young Plan of the Village of Burlington. This larger, gold-domed building was also designed and built by John Johnson in the Federal style, which was popular during the period. These buildings continued service as the University, and were similar in function to the original. The three buildings were joined in 1846 and formed what may have been the largest building in Vermont at the time. Its external appearance was similar to that of a grist and textile mill, so it was dubbed "the Mill" and later aged to the "Old Mill."
The Old Mill retained its federal style appearance until 1881 when John Purple Howard donated sixty-five thousand dollars to have the buildings façade changed to the more fashionable Victorian Gothic style. This was accomplished by entirely rebuilding the front and side facades and included adding a fourth floor with dormers. The interior result was more dormitory space and higher ceilings, which helped to counter public negativity generated by the removal of the popular gold dome.
In 1918, South College's roof and fourth floor took the brunt of the damage when lightning instigated a fire. Dorm space in the Old Mill was no longer needed as fraternities had become popular and Converse Hall had been completed. Thus, the fourth floor was closed off, dormers were removed and third floor dorm space was converted for academic uses.
Need for classrooms due to increased enrollment, and issues of fire safety led to the construction of Lafayette Hall, and its connection to the Old Mill by enclosed bridge in 1957. Changes to the interior of the Old Mill opened up the first floor for lecture halls as the north and south entrances were blocked off in 1958. In addition, long corridors connected all the room s on each floor for the first time, and offices, fireproof stairs and restrooms were added.
In 1975, the Old Mill was listed on the National Register of Historic Places as an important member of the University Green Historic District. The building was also depicted on a 1991 post card issued by the United States Post Office to commemorate the university's two hundredth anniversary.
From 1995 to 1997 the Old Mill interior was updated and linked to Lafayette Hall by the Old Mill Annex. In addition, the exterior has been restored to its 1882 appearance with replicas of former dormers and chimneys on the roof and the original paint scheme on the tower and trim. This was accomplished through joint efforts by the architectural firms of Smith Alvarez Sienkiewycz, Northern Architects and the UVM Historic Preservation Program, and generously funded by the people of the State of Vermont, gifts of alumni, parents, and friends of UVM.
Today, the Old Mill stands as a great tribute to, and symbol of the University of Vermont. Standing on its original 1802 location, it is truly a landmark of state and local history.
Blow, David J. Historic Guide to Burlington Neighborhoods. Burlington, Vermont: Hobart J. Shantley and Company, 1905, 75.
Visser, Prof. Thomas; UVM Historic Preservation Program. Old Mill. 1999. Online. http://www.uvm.edu/~campus/oldmill/oldmillhistory.html.
Young, Ammi B. Plan of Burlington Village 1830.
Return To University Place Directory
Introduction | 1830 Young map | 1830-1988 overlay maps | Street index | Surviving 1830 buildings | UVM Historic Preservation Program