by Erin Hammerstedt
UVM Historic Preservation Program
Courtesy of UVM Special Collections, Baily Howe Library, Burlington, Vermont.
From I-89, take Exit
Both the name and the use of the building located at 601 Main Street in Burlington, Vermont have changed over time. Originally built as the United States Weather Bureau building, 601 Main Street was later purchased by the University of Vermont, and has since housed the Military Science Department, the Pringle Herbarium, and offices of the Department of Natural Resources. The exterior of 601 Main Street has survived these changes in use remarkably well, although the interior has been less well preserved. While several significant features survive, many details have been sacrificed in adapting the building to its new uses.
Overall 601 Main Street is quite an interesting building. Several significant individuals have worked in the building, and have both had an impact upon and been impacted by their surroundings. If walls could talk, amazing tales about the history of 601 Main Street would surely be told. Although walls have no voice, they are still capable of telling a story; the story of the building at 601 Main Street in Burlington, Vermont goes something like this:
On April 17, 1905 the
University of Vermont and State Agricultural College gave a plot
of land to the United States Government: "Starting at a
point in the south line of Main Street twenty feet eastwardly
from 589 Main Street then southerly at right angles to said south
line of Main Street two hundred feet, then eastwardly parallel
to said south line of said Main Street, then westerly in said
south line two hundred feet to the place of beginning, meaning
to convey hereby a block of land on the south side of Main Street
two hundred feet square." (1) The University agreed
to donate the land, provided that "this land is to be used
solely for Weather Bureau purposes, and in the event of the Weather
Bureau moving its station to any other point, any buildings that
it may erect there-on shall be owned by the Government and land
hereby deeded shall revert to the University of Vermont and State
Agricultural College." (2) With the land transfer complete, the
United States Government in 1905 hired Harding and Upman, Architects,
a firm from Washington, D.C., to design their new Weather Bureau
WEATHER BUREAU BUILDING--EXTERIOR
About four feet above ground level there is a subtle string course separating the basement level from the first floor. On the front facade, however, this foundation level and string course are masked by the porch. The importance of the first story is emphasized by the porch, as well as by the full-height windows. Second floor windows are aligned vertically with those below, but are shorter. Above them is a decorative string course which is separated from the thick detailed cornice and baluster by a approxamately one-and-a-half feet of flat brick surface .
The windows are set back into the sharply defined brick walls, with splayed lintels over both the windows and the doors. The brick lintels of the two upper levels are flush with the wall surface, and are about a foot in height. The lintels of the basement-level windows match those above in shape and dimension, but are incorporated into the wide string course, thus protruding slightly from the wall plane. The window sills are four-inch-thick slabs of marble, providing variety in material and color.
Also adding visual interest to the Weather Bureau Building is the front porch. Wooden steps between brick piers rise about four feet to the wooden surface of the porch, which is supported on masonry piers and is enclosed by a short, simple baluster. The most notable feature on the front porch is the massive portico in the Roman Doric order. The portico is the only portion of the front porch which is covered, its pediment extending up to the sill-level of the second story windows. A pair of columns on either side supports the front of the portico, while a single pilaster on each side of the front door serves the same purpose at the rear. The shafts of these supports are not fluted; each simple base stands on a plinth. There is no ornamentation on the architrave or frieze, but modillions decorate the cornice. The entire portico is made of wood and is painted white.
The top of the Weather Bureau building incorporates additional ornamentation. Above the second story windows is a corbeled string course comprised of three brick bands. The bottom band is a single course of stringers protruding slightly from the wall surface. Above that is another single strand of bricks which are placed on a angle, creating shadows and adding depth to the detail. Next is a band two-bricks thick, laid at the outer-most point of the angled courses below and thus hanging over the bottom strand. Immediately above this string course the common bond pattern resumes. The heavy cornice at the top of the main block of the building is interrupted only where the chimney breaks through. Large modillions project over the beaded board below. Above the modillions is a series of moldings, culminating in one large cyma reversa which extends out beyond any other detail on the building. The stark white ornamentation is in sharp contrast to the massive brick box below. Crowning the entire house is a baluster alternating in sections with brick piers. Both are capped by a wooden rail, unifying the pieces. The individual spindles of the baluster are turned; they are thicker in the middle than on the top or bottom. The baluster dresses up the flat roof, while adding interest to every facade.
The rear and side facades continue the horizontal banding of each story as established on the front: the raised half-story foundation is separated visually from the tall first story by a string course. The shorter second story is crowned by a decorative string course, cornice, and baluster. Windows on each facade are aligned vertically.
WEATHER BUREAU BUILDING--INTERIOR
While the front and rear facades are symmetrical, the side facades are more reflective of the original interior plan. Entrance through the front door leads to a vestibule, a division of the central hall. The central hall is seven feet eight inches wide with rooms fourteen feet six inches wide flanking it on either side. While these major divisions of space remain constant, the rooms within the flanking spaces has changed.
In the original plan the north room on the west side of the building was a parlor, with access to a large exhibition room through a wide arch to the south. At the rear of the exhibition room was a small toilet and closet. East of the central hall were two rooms which served as offices for the weather forecasters. Each of the main rooms on the first floor had a corner fireplace. The kitchen and pantry were accessed behind the main stair. Stairs to both the basement and second floor were located in the central hall. The basement was used primarily for storage, while the second floor served as private quarters for the forecasters working at the Weather Bureau building. At the top of the stairs was a bathroom. To the west were three sleeping chambers, and to the east was a parlor, a sleeping chamber, and a servant's room.
In addition to the interior spaces, the building's flat roof was significant to the functions of the Weather Bureau building. It was used for observation, and later for the landing and launching of weather balloons.
HISTORY OF THE WEATHER BUREAU
Originally functioning as part of the War department, the United States Weather Bureau was established in 1870. In 1891 the Weather Bureau was reassigned to the Department of Agriculture. The first forecaster for the U. S. Weather Bureau in Burlington was W. H. Alexander. By 1910 J. K. Hooper had taken over as head forecaster, and was replaced by Frank F. Hartwell in 1919. After retiring Hartwell wrote a book about his career with the U.S. Weather Bureau, providing insight into what was actually taking place inside the Weather Bureau building at 601 Main Street.
Hartwell explained how he came to be placed in Burlington: "I brought up the question of the location of the new pilot-balloon station, suggesting that Burlington was certainly in 'northern New England' and it would be an addition to the importance of the station." (3) He was sent to Burlington to investigate the possibility, and "proved [the Burlington station] to be ideal for the purpose, what with an accessible flat roof and no tall buildings or trees about, and soon arrangements were completed." (4) Hartwell was stationed at the Burlington Weather Bureau building from 1919 to 1930.
At the end of his first winter in Burlington, Hartwell began to research the general climate of the area. Hartwell sensed that "the impression throughout the rest of the country that Vermont is a segment of the Polar regions" was the result of "repetition of tall stories of extreme conditions which do happen elsewhere occasionally as well as here." (5) He concluded that comments such as "'there are only two seasons in Vermont--winter and July' are all a product of this cumulative effect of 'never spoiling a good story.'" (6) When Hartwell published his findings, he was criticized by prominent Vermonters who feared that the information would "cause a realignment of the population of Vermont," (7) by attracting those who had generally avoided Vermont because of its inclimate winters.
The purpose of the Weather Bureau was to provide services to the community. Townspeople frequently called the forecasters for weather-related advice, about which Hartwell wrote: "Occasionally it was irritating; but such is human nature in any walk." (8) Hartwell also commented on the tendency of individuals to offer suggestions as to the causes of natural phenomenon: "Many of the peculiarities noticed among the folks of an alien race in the tropics I have seen repeated on the streets of Burlington, Vermont. All which is a good lesson in toleration. Every community or race has its 'nuts.'" (9) Apparently Hartwell did not seriously consider many of the suggestions.
An agreement between the U. S. Weather Bureau and the University of Vermont required forecasters to give lectures and teach summer courses to college students. These students were rarely interested in the subject, Hartwell felt, but for the rare student who was, the Weather Bureau had the option of providing them with part-time employment. There was always plenty of work to be done, especially as the public became more interested: "As the years passed and the public became accustomed to making further and further demands on the Bureau for information, the scope of the information also broadened, until questions of every kind, from the time of day to the best route to take on a trans-continental trip would come to us. Bemis used to say, 'if we don't know we can find out,' and few questions of any kind went unanswered." (10)
Keeping up with the needs of the public in addition to the required research and experiments kept the meteorologists of the U.S. Weather Bureau very busy: "No job is more exacting as the time element than the routine of the Weather Bureau. Observations at precise intervals, definite reports scheduled for the wire at precise minutes, so that the whole picture will be in the hands of the chart maker at the district center with the least possible delay and interference. ... In the Weather Bureau, holidays and Sundays are but so many other days--the observations go on regardless of the name of the day of the week, or whether of not there is an 'executive order' granting special holidays." (11) With the tremendous demands on the time of the meteorologists it is no wonder that the building at 601 Main Street in Burlington was designed as a residence in combination with the office, research, and observation facilities.
Demands on the meteorologists of the U.S. Weather Bureau continued to expand. By 1943 the functions of the Weather Bureau had been relocated to the Burlington Airport to assist in safely navigating war-related planes into and out of the area: "Then with the development of airways, this observational work has had to keep pace until a twenty-four hour service is the rule rather than the exception." (12) Throughout the 1940's, meteorologists continued to live in the Weather Bureau building, but they were no longer performing Weather Bureau functions there.
UNIVERSITY OF VERMONT ACQUIRES WEATHER BUREAU BUILDING
By 1945, since 601 Main Street was no longer being used by the United States Government for Weather Bureau purposes, the University wanted to reclaim the property. UVM hired Louis Lisman, an attorney, who drafted a letter to remind the Government of the provisions of the original deed. Documentation of what happened immediately after the reminder was issued is scarce, but in October of 1951 the land reverted to the University and the building was purchased for a very small price,(13) illustrating that follow-up of some sort did indeed take place.
THE MILITARY SCIENCE BUILDING
Housing the new Air Force R.O.T.C. unit, the building at 601 Main Street operated as the Military Science Building until 1961. In order to provide office space and classrooms for the department, the Military studies program began to alter the interior of the building. They spent between $3000 and $5000 on renovations, including removing the wall on the first floor which originally separated the parlor from the exhibition room, as well as those separating the three sleeping chambers above. Each of these was transformed into a large classroom, with a third classroom on the same side of the building in the basement. The east side of the building served primarily as offices, and so remained relatively unchanged. The central hall also survived this first phase of renovations in-tact.
THE PRINGLE HERBARIUM
After ten years of occupation the military studies department vacated the building at 601 Main Street, and the Military Science Building became the Pringle Herbarium. An herbarium is defined as "a collection of dried and pressed specimens of plants, usually mounted or otherwise prepared for permanent preservation, and systematically arranged. Also the room, building, or institution in which the collection was kept."(14) The Pringle Herbarium is the name which has been assigned to the building housing the extensive collection of plant specimens gathered by Cyrus Guernsey Pringle.
Pringle, born in East Charlotte, Vermont in 1838, spent much of his life traveling and collecting plant species. He was not formally educated in botany, yet developed one of the largest and most significant collections of plants in the country: "Many plant collectors were just flower pullers. Pringle made sure he got roots, flowers, leaves, and all. He mounted them in such an artistic fashion, they can be told from others' work just by looking at them." (15) He was quite an interesting and passionate man, tortured for refusing to perform military duty during the Civil War because of his Quaker beliefs. Pringle survived the ordeal and later returned to UVM with his herbarium. The Pringle Herbarium was originally housed in the top floor of Williams Science Hall. Pringle moved into the building to tend to his collection at all times, living there from 1902 until his death in 1911. Since his death, the Pringle Herbarium has been maintained by other people.
In 1961, when the Air Force R.O.T.C. moved out of the building at 601 Main Street, the herbarium was moved in. Occupying an entire building at last, the Pringle Herbarium was able to expand. Serving as a "library of information which provided source material when needed,"(16) the herbarium greatly added to the value of the science curriculum and the University of Vermont. The former Weather Bureau and Military Science Building proved to be a wonderful location for the growing Pringle Herbarium: "The herbarium, itself, is housed in wooden cabinets. It is catalogued by type of plant and specimens are kept, mounted on cardboard, in folders."(17) Storage cabinets for the specimens were located in existing rooms throughout the building. An elevator was proposed for the southeast corner of the building, to occupy what had originally been the kitchen and servants quarters. The proposed rennovations were not made, and the structure remained unchanged during the occupation of the Herbarium. The large classrooms on the first and second floors which had been created during the Military Science occupation housed the plant collection. Downstairs the east side of the building was devoted to two offices and a small library, while upstairs the spaces were used as an office and a workshop.
Although the move to 601 Main Street provided for expansion of the Pringle Herbarium, by 1971 the herbarium was again looking for room to expand: "The [Ad Hoc Herbarium] Committee believes that one of the most immediate needs of the herbarium is additional space. It also feels that the present location of the herbarium building is too far removed from the other plant sciences to achieve optimal use of the herbarium. Ideally the University should look toward the incorporation of the herbarium into the existing Life Science complex."(18)The University eventually took this request into consideration, and after being located in the building at 601 Main Street for fourteen years, during the summer of 1975 the Pringle Herbarium was moved into the building which is now Torey Hall.
THE NATURAL RESOURCES EXTENSION
When the Pringle Herbarium moved out of 601 Main Street, a division of the Department of Natural Resources moved in. This transition marked the beginning of a period of numerous physical changes to the building. In May of 1975 the Building Inspector visited the building and required a number of adaptations to bring 601 Main Street into compliance with the fire codes. The changes included exchanging several of the original doors for fire rated doors, reversing the direction of swing of several doors and installing self-closing mechanisms on them. Also necessary were the removal of the homosote ceiling, changes to the furnace and boiler rooms, and more. (19)At this time the original door jambs were replaced by steel frames, however in order to maintain the building's original appearance, the original wooden door frames and trim were put back on. Fortunately for the sake of the building, the University was able to avoid enclosing the central stairway, installing lighted exit signs, and installing emergency lighting. The code did require, however, reconfiguration of the rear exit.
In 1977 the back porch was demolished, and an elevator tower with a fire escape from each floor and handicap accessible entrance was constructed in its place. The modern-looking massive brick addition has a steeply pitched roof and is connected to the building by a short passageway with a barrel-shaped top. With the addition of the external tower, the rear of the building was significantly affected.
Once plans for the renovation had been made, the School of Natural resources was able to occupy the building. Offices for the director of the Natural Resources program, the Natural Resources Extension, the Water Resources Research Center, and the Forestry Department were made in the building.
During the 1970's, the site around the building at 601 Main Street also changed. A tunnel under Main Street was constructed, its approach biting a corner out of the lot. Parking was increased around the building, currently occupying much of the two hundred square foot lot.
During 1983-84 the building changed hands yet again, reverting back to Military Science. Then in 1989 Military Science moved to Forth Ethan Allen, and offices within the Department of Natural Resources again occupied the building at 601 Main Street. At this point the large classrooms were reverted into smaller offices, retaining the location of all but two of the original doors off the central hall. Walls were reconstructed within the space defined by the central hall and exterior walls, taking into account placement of existing doors and windows. The walls were not, however, replaced in their original positions. For example, where there had been three sleeping quarters on the second floor of the Weather Bureau building, there are now four offices. The original parlor and exhibition room are now two offices, each divided into cubicles by temporary partitions. Also in 1989 the interior of the building was refreshed, including new paint, carpet, and other work.
Upon the relocation of Natural Resources to 601 Main Street in 1989, the name of the building was changed to what it is today: named in honor of Thurston Madison Adams, the Adams Building currently occupies the building at 601 Main Street. Adams, an Agricultural Economist, contributed to the University in a number of ways. He finished his dissertation at UVM in 1935, then worked at the University from 1943 until his death in 1961. During that time he "made significant contributions to his discipline of agricultural economics,...and...provided long and significant service to agriculture in the state of Vermont and in the New England region through his continuous efforts in the development of regional milk pricing." (20)
The function and name of the building have remained constant for the past ten years, and no significant changes are planned in the near future. However minor improvements continue to be made to the site. A result of current Main Street construction the utility pole located in front of the Adams building has recently been taken down. The garage at the rear of the site which has provided much-needed storage space for occupants of the building has also recently been removed to facilitate both the enlargement of the parking lot, and widening of the handicap access path from the parking lot to the elevator tower door. Despite the modifications, the overall feel of the Adams Building has been retained.
During the nearly ninety-five years in
which the parcel of land called 601 Main Street has been in active
use, the outward appearance of the building on it has changed
little. The only major change to the building's exterior has
been the addition of the elevator tower, which is centered on
the rear facade and is not visible from Main Street. Changes
necessary to facilitate the efficient functioning of the building's
interior have successfully avoided altering the character of
the central hall by maintaining location and materials of the
stairs and doors into surrounding rooms. Most importantly, features
significant to the original design of the Weather Bureau Building
are largely intact: the flat roof used for observation and work
with weather balloons is easily accessed by stairs in the central
hall. On the roof is a flagpole where the flag of the United
States was flown. The classical detailing of the Colonial Revival
building can be interpreted as an attempt to achieve respectability
for the Weather Bureau, an extension of the United States Government.
The site associated with the building at 601 Main Street has
been changed, but again, significant features remain in tact:
there are still no tall buildings around, and while the trees
have grown a bit, launching weather balloons from the roof is
probably still possible. Originally known as the U.S. Weather
Bureau, then called the Military Science Building, Pringle Herbarium,
Natural Resources, and currently known as the Adams Building,
the building at 601 Main Street survives to tell its life story.
1. Patricia Foster, Nomination to National Register of Historic Places for U. S. Weather Bureau Building, 1997, p. 6. (return to text)
2. Louis Lisman, Letter, 1945. (return to text)
3. Frank F. Hartwell, Forty Years of the Weather Bureau: The Transition Years, 1958, p. 62. (return to text)
4. Frank F. Hartwell, Forty Years of the Weather Bureau: The Transition Years, 1958, p. 63. (return to text)
5. Frank F. Hartwell, Forty Years of the Weather Bureau: The Transition Years, 1958, p. 63. (return to text)
6. Frank F. Hartwell, Forty Years of the Weather Bureau: The Transition Years, 1958, p. 64. (return to text)
7. Frank F. Hartwell, Forty Years of the Weather Bureau: The Transition Years, 1958, p. 65. (return to text)
8. Frank F. Hartwell, Forty Years of the Weather Bureau: The Transition Years, 1958, p. 55. (return to text)
9. Frank F. Hartwell, Forty Years of the Weather Bureau: The Transition Years, 1958, p. 54-55. (return to text)
10. Frank F. Hartwell, Forty Years of the Weather Bureau: The Transition Years, 1958, p. 73. (return to text)
11. Frank F. Hartwell, Forty Years of the Weather Bureau: The Transition Years, 1958, p. 79-80. (return to text)
12. Frank F. Hartwell, Forty Years of the Weather Bureau: The Transition Years, 1958, p. 79-80. (return to text)
13. UVM Notes, October 1951, p. 5. (return to text)
14. Leopold A. Charette, "The Prince of Botanical Collectors: Pringle and His Herbarium," UVM Alumni Magazine, April 1962. (return to text)
15. "Pringle Herbarium," The Vermont Cynic, October 21, 1961. (return to text)
16. Report of the Ad Hoc Herbarium Committee, 1971. (return to text)
17. "Pringle Herbarium," The Vermont Cynic, October 21, 1961. (return to text)
18. Report of the Ad Hoc Herbarium Committee, 1971. (return to text)
19. Raymond A. Wheel, Letter to Mr. Ray Ellis, May 23, 1975. (return to text)
Vermont Cooperative Council, Plaque, 1989. (return
This research paper was produced by graduate student Erin Hammerstedt for Historic Preservation 395, Researching Historic Structures and Sites course with Prof. Thomas Visser in December 1999.