A National Register of Historic Places structure (1), the College Street Congregational Church has dominated the corner of College and South Union Streets in Burlington, Vermont since 1863. Constructed of distinctive yellow sandstone quarried from Willard's Ledge on Shelburne Road in Burlington with blue limestone quoins and trim from Isle La Motte (2), the exterior of this gothic church has changed little over the years. Two asymmetric towers flank the gable front entrance, the easterly one capped with an octagonal spire reaching 114 feet into the air. Little evidence of the great ravine that ran through Burlington and along the west side of the College Street Congregational Church remains today, but when the church was first built, members had to cross a bridge to reach it. The Vermont Central Railroad passed through the ravine until 1860 and the gully was largely filled by 1869, as indicated on the 1869 Beers Atlas map. According to David Blow, the congregation purchased the land, described as the "town lot" on December 13, 1862 for $300 (3). An 1862 Burlington Free Press article notes this as well, adding that the roughly one acre lot was provided by Levi Underwood, partly by sale and partly by his donation (4).
Begun in 1863 and completed in 1866, this load-bearing stone church was designed in the "pointed arch style of architecture " by Boston architect J.D. Towle. William Crooker was the mason while Elmore Johnson was the master builder and joiner and responsible for the spire and the design of the pulpit, organ screen, and ornamental work. Both of these men were from Burlington (5). Originally costing between $40,000 and 50,000, it was constructed "without debt, mortgage or encumbrance" because the congregational society was able to raise the funds to cover the expenses outright (6). The congregation itself formed in 1860 after some forty-five or so members became disillusioned with the First Congregational Church; and they worshiped in the basement of the Burlington Court House until the church was completed (7). The slate roof is supported by chestnut rafters. Inside, portions of these rafters were left exposed, dividing the ceiling into twelve panels. These panels were plastered and painted blue, while the plaster walls were given a tint of umber. The stained glass windows were of "pale chocolate glass, stained in diamond and trefoil patterns." This main auditorium with balcony could seat up to 600 people, while the basement chapel could seat an additional 250 members. The pews were of chestnut with black walnut rails, arms and molding, and the cushions upholstered in green damask (8).
The three-lobed cloverleaf motif of the small roof dormers was included as a symbol of the trinity. A cross was located on the peak of the roof until 1901, when it became loose and was removed. The bell is from the foundry of Meneely and Kimberly of Troy New York and weighs 3, 200 pounds. The clock, with its five foot-four inch diameter face, was illuminated in April of 1878, and built by the Boston company of Howard and Co. The clock face was added in 1878, and was one of just a few such illuminated clocks in all of New England (9). Just twenty years after it was completed, further renovations to the church were made; and in 1951, the two-story parish house annex was added to the south elevation, designed by the firm of Freeman French Freeman. The stone chimneys that served the original heating system were removed in 1966 as they were no longer being used (10). More recently, on December 14, 1994, an arsonist set fire to the church, causing $134,000 in damage to the entryway, balcony, attic, and the interior of the steeple tower (11). The damage was quickly restored and the Congregational Church remains a striking feature of the Burlington skyline today.
On the left is one of the earliest known images of the Church, probably c. 1866, soon after construction finished, but before the gully that ran across town was completely filled. The image on the right likely dates to c. 1878, when the illuminated clock face was added. Both are undated and unidentified stereoviews from the University of Vermont Library, Special Collections.
(1) United States Department of the Interior, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places Nomination, Burlington, Vermont, "College Street Historic District," 1977.
(2) "The College Street Church," Burlington Daily Free Press, February 21, 1866, page 4, col. 1.
(3) Blow, David J., Historic Guide to Burlington Neighborhoods, Chittenden County Historical Society, Queen City Printers, 1992.
(4) "Site for a church," Burlington Daily Free Press, December 15, 1862, page 2, col. 2.
(5) "The College Street Church," Burlington Daily Free Press, February 21, 1866, page 4, col. 1.
(6) "The College Street Church," Burlington Daily Free Press, February 21, 1866, page 4, col. 1.
(7) Burlington Historic Sites and Structures Survey, Chittenden County, Vermont Division for Historic Preservation, 1977.
(8) "The College Street Church," Burlington Daily Free Press, February 21, 1866, page 4, col. 1.
(10) Blow, David J., Historic Guide to Burlington Neighborhoods, Chittenden County Historical Society, Queen City Printers, 1992.