University Green Area Heritage Study

Historic Burlington Research Project - HP 206


Torrey Hall

27 Colchester Avenue

Torrey Hall has seen distinguished service as a library, a museum, and an art building. Originally, this structure was a two-story brick block measuring 40 feet by 60 feet. As the University’s library and second major liberal arts building, it was given a prominent location facing the Green on University Place when it was erected in 1862. UVM President Joseph Torrey presided over its dedication that year. (1)

The Rev. Joseph Torrey was elected to the chair of Greek and Latin at UVM in 1827, became Professor of Intellectual and Moral Philosophy in 1842, and the ninth President of the University from 1862 to 1866, presiding over the dedication of the building as a library in 1863. (2) The library was furnished with works he had gathered in Europe in 1834 and 1835. (3) According to the Burlington Daily Times, the library numbered some thirteen thousand volumes, and was particularly complete in the topics of English literature and natural history. (4) It was during Torrey’s tenure as president that U.S. President Abraham Lincoln signed the Land Grant Bill. Under this bill, the University developed the Vermont Agricultural College, thus becoming the Land Grant University for the State of Vermont. (5)

One moment of building’s dedication ceremony is noteworthy.  President Torrey confessed the new building was not “absolutely fireproof,” nor of “sufficient dimensions to afford room for as many more volume as have been added within the last thirty years.” He then added, “All we have to say in the way of apology is that we had not the $16,000 necessary to carry out fully the plan as originally conceived.” (6)

At first a two-story square box in 1862. The museum was on the first level and the library was on the second level. In 1874, Hon. T.W. Park added the third floor and mansard roof to provide space for his gift of an art collection. (7) The Billings Library relieved the original building of its books, making possible the expansion of the museum onto the second floor. In 1895 the structure was moved northeast several hundred yards to its present location so that Williams Science Hall could be constructed on its site. (8) In the move, the building was rotated ninety degrees so that it now faces south rather than west. A few years later a two-story wing was added to the east side and a year later Henry LeGrand Cannon had the single story wing added to the west wall to house the fine Oriental collection he was donating to the University museum. In 1942, when the building became the studio art center, skylights were installed in the roof. The structure retained its fine cast iron hoodmolds. (9)

In 1974, the building underwent renovation to continue its use by the University of Vermont. The work on Torrey Hall resulted in new heating, power and lighting systems, new floor plans for each story and significant exterior modifications. Following the renovations, an elevator provided access to all floors and the central staircase occupied considerably less space. In addition, asphalt shingles replaced the slate which previously covered the roofs, a fire escape was removed from the north façade, a chimney was removed from the north elevation of the east wing, the single flight of stairs on the south façade was enlarged and concealed behind a brick wall and the roof edge on the main block was extended. (10)

On October 4, 1975, the old Art Building was re-dedicated to honor Joseph Torrey. (11) Descendents of the former UVM President from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Massachusetts also attended the dedication. (12) After the 1975 dedication, Torrey Hall would house the Pringle Herbarium and its distinguished collection of herbaria and botanical specimens. Dedicated to systematic collections and classrooms, facilities at Torrey Hall include space for the collections, work and study space for staff, students, and visiting scientists. It also at that time housed the textile design and weaving programs of the School of Home Economics. (13) Presently, the building is home to two classrooms as well as the Thompson Natural History Collection and the Churchill Library.

Torrey Hall - 1896.jpg
Torrey Hall, 1896. Courtesy of UVM Special Collections.

Torrey Hall, 2011. Photo by Andrew Evick. Note the change of decorative brickwork on western wing.

Torrey Hall - 1950s.jpg
 View of Torrey Hall and Ira Allen Chapel, looking northwest, c. 1950s. Taken
 before construction of Cook Common buildings. UVM Special Collections.

Text by Andrew Evick

(1) “New Library Building.” Burlington Daily Times, 29 Nov. 1862, 3.

(2) Joseph Auld, Picturesque Burlington: A Handbook of Burlington, VT and Lake Champlain (Burlington, VT: Free Press Association, 1893), 120.

(3) Jeffrey D.Marshall, Universitas Viridis Montis: An Exhibition of Documents and Artifacts
Telling the Story of The University of Vermont (Burlington, VT: University of Vermont, 1991), 28.

(4) “New Library Building,” Burlington Daily Times, 29 Nov. 1862, 3.

(5) Auld, 121.

(6) “Torrey Hall Dedication is a Family Affair,” University of Vermont This Week, 13 Oct. 1975, 2.

(7) Charles E. Allen, About Burlington, Vermont (Burlington, VT: Hobart J. Shanley & Co., 1905), 40.

(8) Marshall, 44.

(9) “UVM Building Renamed After President Torrey.” Burlington Free Press, 6 Oct. 1975, 4.

(10) “UVM Building Renamed After President Torrey.” Burlington Free Press, 6 Oct. 1975, 4.

(11) “UVM Building Renamed After President Torrey.” Burlington Free Press, 6 Oct. 1975, 4.

(12) Personal Letter. Larry Van Benthuysen, Director of Public Relations, to Anne Torrey Frueh. 23 Dec. 1974.

(13) “Torrey Hall Dedication is a Family Affair.” University of Vermont This Week, 13 Oct. 1975, 2.