University Green Area Heritage Study

Historic Burlington Research Project - HP 206


Sigma Phi Fraternity
420 College Street, Burlington, VT

Established in 1845, Sigma Phi was the first national fraternity to open a chapter at the University of Vermont.(1) Continuing in this tradition, certain publications also claim that it was the first to build its own off-campus house in 1902.(2) According to one source, the lot was purchased by the fraternity on July 1, 1895. The first corner stone is said to have been laid June 14, 1902, completed in April of 1903 and finally dedicated on June 23, 1903. The final cost of construction came to $18,000.(3) Deeds from 1900 give credibility to these claims, referencing the lot in question as the one "belonging to the Sigma Phi Fraternity."(4) Maps dating from 1906 confirm the building's existence, although the specific year of completion remains debatable due to the conflicting information.(5)

An article from 1905 states that the original structure was 66 by 40 feet, with three stories and a large front portico complete with four columns.(6) The building as it stands today fits this description, and it is not readily apparent that the building has undergone any significant structural renovations.

Sigma Phi Fraternity, Burlington VT, 2011

Atop a marble foundation rests the three-story structure of brick, ornamented with marble quoins and stone portico supported by columns of the Corinthian order. Five bays wide and two bays deep, Sigma Phi is completed with a gambrel roof with marble modillions running underneath. The roof is interrupted by two dormers, one on each side of the pediment, and three chimneys, two on each end and a third beside the right-side dormer. The original interior plan of the building showed various bedrooms, lounges, restrooms and a large chapter room on the third floor.(7)

Sigma Phi Fraternity makes its first appearance in the Burlington City Directory in 1903 with the address simply listed as being "College c[orner] Williams."(8) This intersection goes unnumbered until 1930 when Sigma Phi is listed as being 420 College Street.(9)

In its history, Sigma Phi has been home to its members, as well as to others as it was needed. In 1918, the house, along with that of Sigma Nu, found itself being used as a hospital due to a flu outbreak. The opening of the university was postponed until October 23rd of that year due to the illness.(10) Today, it continues its original function as being a living space to the fraternity brothers.

Text and photo by Lucy Hamer

(1) Ariel 1903 (Burlington, VT: Junior Class of the University of Vermont, 1903), 84.
(2) Robert V. Daniels, The University of Vermont: The First Two Hundred Years (Hanover, NH: University Press, 1991), 235.
(3) Charles E Allen, About Burlington Vermont (Burlington, VT: Hobart J Shornley & Co., 1905), 51.
(4) Deed, College Street, Burlington, Vermont, 1900, Courtesy of City Hall of Burlington, Vermont.
(5) Insurance Map of Burlington, Vermont, March 1906, Sanborn Map Company, New York, Special Collections, University of Vermont Library.
(6) Allen, About Burlington Vermont, 51.
(7) Sigma Phi Fraternity Floor Plans, Microfilm Roll 81-2, Images 924-926, Courtesy of Campus Planning Services.
(8) Burlington City Directory 1903 (Burlington, VT: L.P. Waite and Co., 1903), 223.
(9) Burlington City Directory 1930 (Springfield, MA: H.A. Manning Co., 1930), 300.
(10) The University of Vermont in the Great War, 1924, War Service Committee of the University of Vermont, Special Collections, University of Vermont Library.