Burlington, Vermont
Early 20th-century Postcard Views

HP 206 Researching Historic Structures & Sites • 2012
Historic Preservation ProgramUniversity of Vermont

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Above left: Union Depot was built in the 1860s, north of lower College Street, where part of Waterfront Park, the Island Line Trail, and a parking lot are now. (Courtesy of Special Collections, Bailey/Howe Library, University of Vermont)

Below left: Union Station replaced the passenger depot in 1916, at the west end of Main Street. This photo was taken facing southeast toward the lower side of the station. (Courtesy of Special Collections, Bailey/Howe Library, University of Vermont)

Above right: The former site of Union Depot is now mostly a recreational area, near the lake shore north of lower College Street. (Photo by Barbara R. Bosworth)

Below right: The 1916 Union Station building is now owned by Main Street Landing Company, and houses offices and art studios. (Photo by Barbara R. Bosworth)

Click here for more postcards and photos.



Wonderfully Pretty:

Union Depot and Union Station of Burlington, Vermont

Early twentieth century Burlington, Vermont postcards showed off the city's two union railroad stations on the waterfront. The early Union Depot was built just after the Civil War, northwest of the College Street and Lake Street intersection, on land that wouldn't have been there without Burlington's steamboat transportation, railroads, and lumber industry. The depot was sited on filled land, at a spot that was still part of the lake when Ammi B. Young drew his plan of Burlington Village in 1830. (1)

In 1916 Union Station replaced the depot, by then nearly 50 years old. At the foot of Main Street, southeast of the old depot and east of the train tracks, it offered more modern accommodations and more space. Its western elevation approximately coincides with the original shore of Burlington Harbor, (2) but it is several hundred feet from the current shore.

The College Street depot had been eagerly anticipated. The Burlington Weekly Free Press announced in February 1866 that construction of the new Vermont Central and Vermont and Canada railroads' passenger depot was underway. For 12 or 15 years, the front page story said, passengers and officers of those railroads had had to put up with an inadequate setup, “a small dwelling house turned for the time being into a depot, and of late with an open shed, with the ticket offices and waiting room some distance off on the dock,” as the paper described it. “The day of such makeshifts, we are rejoiced to know, is almost ended.” (3)

Late in 1849 rail lines had reached Burlington from the south. In the 1850s, besides the improvised arrangements near the College Street steamboat dock, the city also had a Rutland and Burlington Rail Road freight depot on the southern waterfront, southwest of the intersection of Water and South streets, now Battery and Maple streets. A Central Vermont Rail Road depot was in the city center, at the block that is now surrounded by College, South Union, and Main streets, and South Winooski Avenue, where the Fletcher Free Library and the Central Fire Station now stand. (4)

While the new union depot was being built, Free Press staff had permission from the project's engineer, Daniel. C. Linsley, and Warren Thayer of Burlington, the architect, to look at the plans for the gracefully romantic and imposing building. The Weekly Free Press story described its footprint and some of its details. The brick structure, on a granite foundation, would be large: 204 feet long from south to north and 88 feet wide, straddling three north-south tracks. The 1 1/2-story central train shed would be open at the north and south ends, with walls 27 feet high, an arched roof, and tall, narrow, arched windows. Each of the four corners would feature a 2-story, 11-foot square tower, for storage and ornamentation. (5)

The building was to be dominated on the west side by its tallest section, intended for passengers and officers. This centerpiece of the depot, facing the lake, would be 102 feet long and 40 feet high, with rectangular towers on both sides, 23 feet wide, 34 feet deep, and 64 feet tall. The first floor of this section was designed to contain a 25-by-40-foot gentlemen's waiting room. The ladies' waiting room next to it would be 20 feet by 25 feet, “with proper closets and withdrawing room.” Ticket and telegraph offices were planned for that floor, too. The railroad offices would be on the floor above, “with water, gas, and every convenience.” The central mass of the building was intended only to house trains, on the three tracks. (6)

The Weekly Free Press was confident that the depot would be finished by the end of the following winter, and would be “pronounced a handsome public building, and an ornament to the city, as well as a much needed convenience.” (7) Its style was similar in some ways to its architect's later creation, a Second Empire stone mansion in Salisbury, Vermont: Shard Villa. Thayer drew the first set of plans for this early 1870s house. (8) The two buildings had narrow, hooded windows, brackets under the eaves, and some mansard roofs in common. The new depot's location was close to the small buildings, on and near the steamboat landing dock, that had been an improvised depot. (9)

Over the years the depot was modified to meet the needs of the railroads and the public. The Sanborn map of Burlington from 1885 shows a minor change; there was a lunch room at the southwestern section of the depot, at the base of one of the towers. (10)

The dock at the foot of College Street, near the depot, was called “the steamboat landing” on the 1877 bird's eye view map of Burlington. (11) By 1885 it had become “Central Wharf,” with both passenger and steamboat freight depots.(12) Between the publication of the 1889 and 1900 Sanborn maps, the depots on the dock had disappeared, and been replaced by the Lake Champlain Yacht Club (13), which was organized in May 1887. (14) The Shepard and Morse Lumber Company was still east of the train depot at that time. The long, narrow, wooden building to its west, on the left in the postcards, was a Central Vermont Railroad freight house. (15) It would have blocked the panoramic view of Lake Champlain and the Adirondack Mountains from the western side of the depot's first floor, where the waiting rooms were originally built.

Four postcards of the depot were printed from photographs taken between 1906 and 1916, from slightly different points, southeast of the train shed. (16) A Sanborn map shows that by 1900 the waiting room had moved from the west side of the main train shed to an addition on the east, visible in the postcards. (17) A 1916 article in the Burlington Daily Free Press said it had been moved in 1895. (18) The new waiting room was long and narrow, parallel to the main building, with a shallow-pitched roof, a restaurant at the north end, and a baggage room at the south end. The western section had become offices. Rectangular shelters projected to the north and south from the depot, along the track platforms on the east side, held up by iron posts. (19) On the 1906 map, the open shelters to the north and south along the tracks were gone. (20) This conforms to the images of the depot in the four postcards, so those photographs were probably taken sometime after the 1906 map was drawn. In the 1912 map, the depot has an almost identical layout. (21) By the 1919 map, Union Depot had been demolished and replaced with Union Station. (22)

Most of the depot postcards were published by the Hugh C. Leighton Company of Portland, Maine, and printed (lithographed) in Germany. One card was published by Valentine and Sons, New York and Boston, and the other did not list a publisher. In the Leighton and Valentine cards' photos, a streetcar ticket office was south of the southeast corner of the depot. The Hugh Leighton Company published postcards only between 1906 and 1909, which narrows the Leighton cards' possible publication dates. Valentine and Sons published cards between 1907 and 1909, and merged with Leighton. (23)

Union Depot was a transportation hub. Steamboats had stopped at the College Street wharf, out of view in these postcards. By the approximate date of these images, though, the Lake Champlain Yacht Club occupied the end of the wharf. All four of the postcards show horse-drawn conveyances waiting at the station, as well as trains. It is not quite possible to tell whether automobiles were at the depot too, because the postcard images are fuzzy.

Two f the cards show open-sided streetcars and the very small ticket office. The tiny office has a hipped roof topped by a finial, which resembles the finials on the depot's towers. This ticket booth is not represented in any of the Sanborn maps. The City of Burlington and Village of Winooski map, enclosed in the 1911 Burlington City Directory, shows the “Electric Rail Road,” owned by the Burlington Traction Company, running from the center of the city west to Lake Street, north one block to College Street, and west to the depot. (24) The streetcar system began running in 1885, pulled by horses. After it was electrified in 1896, the cars moved along at 25 to 30 miles per hour, and connected Burlington with the cities of Winooski and Essex Junction. (25)

The former site of Union Depot is now taken up by part of the lawn at waterfront park, the Island Line Trail for biking and walking, the current train track, the red-roofed information building for tourists, and part of a parking lot for Main Street Landing.

Burlington was already outgrowing its depot by the early years of the twentieth century, and this was reflected in many articles in Burlington's daily and weekly newspapers. A coalition of local business owners and other citizens presented a petition to the public service board in 1909 requesting a new station because they felt the 1867 depot “was not all that it should be for the convenience of the public.” (26) The depot was “in a particularly unsanitary condition.” Also, trains had become longer, and the depot was not large enough. (27)

In 1911 it was estimated that the new union station would cost about $315,000. The plan included not only constructing a new station and demolishing the old one, but also converting grade crossings to overpasses, moving tracks, removing Spaulding and Kimball Grocery Company and Burlington Grocery Company warehouses, and building a wall along the east side of the Shepard and Morse Lumber Company mill. (28)

The new station might have been ready before 1916, had it not been for ongoing controversy over plans. The Central Vermont Railroad was in favor of elevated crossings at intersections such as College Street and King Street, while the Rutland Railroad and representatives of the city opposed them. (29) The railroads, the city alderman, and others continued to debate the placement of the new station, tracks, expenses, and other issues in hearings during the fall of 1911. (30) Burlingtonians resisted the proposal of elevated tracks because they were concerned these structures would be obstacles on the way to the waterfront. (31)

Meanwhile, a blaze roared through the Shepard and Morse Lumber Company on February 19, 1913, “the most disastrous fire which has visited Burlington since 1898,” according to the Weekly Free Press. It caused $100,000 worth of damage and the loss of 125 jobs. But nearby Union Depot survived. (32)

Finally the new station was built in the mid 1910s, owned and operated by both railroads, with $15,000 of its funding from the city, and more than $125,000 from the railroads. The Burlington Daily Free Press called it “probably the finest railroad station in northern New England.” (33) The newspaper also said it would be “much more accessible” than the depot down the hill. The streetcars were set to start running to the station a few days after it opened. (34)

Forty-nine years earlier the depot had seemed like such an improvement, with its cavernous train shed, men's and women's waiting rooms, ticket, telegraph, and railroad offices. But the new station was cosmopolitan, with much more enclosed space. Sited on a slope down to the lake, it was two stories high on the east, and three stories on the west, with a 136-foot-long, north-south footprint, parallel to the four train tracks that passed the station. Its eastern facade was 200 feet west of Battery Street, at the foot of Main Street. The approach to the station was visually striking, as its grand main entrance could be seen from about two blocks up Main Street. (35)

The station was designed by Alfred Fellheimer of New York, who had been the head architect for Grand Central Terminal in New York City. Contrasting with the romantic, heavier-looking, darker brick depot, its style was fairly simple, very symmetrical Beaux Arts. The three-bay, central entry was topped by a low-pitched pediment, with five-bay wings on either side. Pilasters defined each bay. Union Station was built of tan-colored brick, and lighter limestone trim. The underlying structure was steel and reinforced concrete. Vermont marble was used extensively inside. (36)

From the street, passengers entered through the eastern doors directly into the 30-foot-by-75-foot main waiting room, with a ticket office in the center. This floor also contained the restaurant, men's and women's rest rooms, a telegraph office and other offices, a baggage and parcel check room, telephone booths, and a news stand. The floor at track-level had a baggage room, an express and mail room, another telegraph office, and offices and quarters for railroad staff. (37)

Retaining walls ran perpendicular to the station, projecting from the northeast and southeast corners. The building was heated by steam and lit by electricity. (38)

The tracks were on the west, at the first floor level. An enclosed bridge with a cement floor projected west from the building. From there, staircases led down to the tracks, so that passengers would not have to walk across them. Two long shelters supported by iron posts ran between the train tracks, over the platforms. (39)

The station opened at 9 a.m., January 23, 1916. “Any honor that may attach to the first train to use the station will belong to the crew of the train from Rutland due at 9:30 o'clock,” the Daily Free Press declared. (40)

A few months later, the Vermonter Magazine published an article praising the station. It was “one of the new marvels of construction in Vermont,” the article said, “which are now coming to the front so rapidly.” The magazine noted that the waiting room walls were made of Vermont marble, “of royal antique design,” from quarries in Pittsford, Vermont. “The markings of this stone are wonderfully pretty.” The floors were Riverside marble from the Proctor area. The plaster ceiling was decorated with rosettes. The electric ceiling lamps shedded “a soft glow upon the room.” The wooden trim on the first floor was “quartered white oak,” and on the second floor and ticket office, birch, “stained a tobacco brown.” (41)

The “resting rooms” for men and women, at the north end of the station, had marble wainscoting, plaster panels above that, and brown wooden trim. The women's room was provided with woven willow furniture with blue velvet upholstery, matching curtains, a full-length mirror, a couch, and an easy chair. The floor was compressed cork. (42)

For travelers arriving in Burlington, the new station would be an impressive gateway. As for Vermonters, they had become so well-traveled and well-read “that little short of the best suffices.” (43)

The Shepard and Morse Lumber Company yards, sheds, mills, and offices were north, west, and south of the new station.

Union Station served rail travelers for less than 40 years. On June 26, 1953, 650 “non-operating” Rutland Railway union employees walked off their jobs over wage issues, and the railroad stopped running for the first time in 105 years. Two hundred freight cars were stranded. The Rutland Daily Herald noted that the 300-mile, Class I railroad had “struggled, faltered but never quit before through floods, hurricanes, fires, financial losses and threats of strikes.” (Five hundred workers were simultaneously out on strike at the Howe Scale Company, another large Rutland employer, which depended on rail transportation.) (44) Union Station closed as a passenger station. In 1955 Green Mountain Power Corporation transformed the building into office space, and moved most of its administrative staff there in October. (45)

Sanborn insurance maps of Burlington show that the waterfront was constantly evolving. A time traveler who had passed through Union Depot, or Union Station in its early years, would have been hard pressed to recognize the waterfront of the mid-twentieth century. It is beyond the scope of this paper to detail the immense changes in that relatively short period, or those that occurred in the late twentieth century. But it is interesting to note that one structure related to the 1860s Union Depot was still there in 1970. In an aerial photo from the March 1970 cover of the magazine Chittenden, it is possible to spot the Central Vermont Railroad freight house, which was west of the depot in the 1906 - 1916 postcards. (46)

The long, narrow shed also shows in another aerial photo, used in an ad for the Chittenden Trust Company, in the previous month's issue. At Union Station, the elevated concourse that had led to the platforms was also still there. (47)

Currently, only part of a shelter that stood between two of the tracks remains.

Union Station is now owned by Main Street Landing, which describes itself as “an environmentally and socially conscious redevelopment company.” (48) Most of the large main waiting room on the Main Street level is divided into offices, rented by the state of Vermont Agency of Transportation, arts organizations and studios, the Christian Science Monitor, the Lake Champlain Land Trust, fitness clubs, the Vermont Association for Justice, and others.

Where Shepard and Morse Lumber Company used to be, there are now Main Street Landing and ECHO Lake Aquarium and Science Center parking lots to the north and west of the station, the Lake Champlain Transportation Company and its ferries to the south, and retail businesses and a restaurant close to the station in the buildings to the southeast and northeast. The Island Line Trail for bicyclists and pedestrians follows the former path of one of the railroad tracks.

Barbara R. Bosworth


(1) Ammi Burnham Young, “Plan for Burlington Village(New York: s.n., 1830). Burlington--Railroads, Burlington Postcard Files, Special Collections, University of Vermont Bailey/Howe Library.

(2) Ibid.
Burlington--Railroads, Burlington Postcard Files, Special Collections, University of Vermont Bailey/Howe Library.

(3) “The New Vt. And Canada Passenger Depot,” Burlington Weekly Free Press, February 16, 1866, 1.

(4) Presdee and Edwards Civil Engineers, Surveyors, and Map Publishers, “Map of Burlington, Vermont
1853” (New York: Presdee and Edwards Civil Engineers, Surveyors, and Map Publishers, 1853).

(5) “The New Vt. And Canada Passenger Depot.”

(6) Ibid.

(7) Ibid.

(8) Max Petersen and Alice Brainerd Nelson, In Pursuit of the Shard Fortune (Salisbury, Vermont: Dunmore House, 1990), 60.

(9)“The New Vt. and Canada Passenger Depot.”

(10) Sanborn Map and Publishing Company, “Burlington, Vermont” (New York: Sanborn Map and Publishing Company, 1885), map 10.

(11) J. J. Stoner, “Bird's Eye View of Burlington and Winooski, Vermont” (Madison, Wisconsin: J. J. Stoner, 1877).

(12)  Sanborn Map and Publishing Company, “Burlington, Vermont” (New York: Sanborn Map and Publishing Company, 1885), map 10.

(13) Sanborn Map and Publishing Company, “Burlington, Vermont” (New York: Sanborn Map and Publishing Company, 1889), map 10.
Sanborn-Perris Map and Publishing Company, “Burlington, Chittenden County, Vermont” (New York: Sanborn-Perris Map Company, 1900), map 19.

(14) “Our Yachting Interests, The Lake Champlain Yacht Club Successfuly [sic] Organized,” Burlington Weekly Free Press, May 20, 1887, 2.

(15) Sanborn-Perris Map and Publishing Company, “Burlington, Chittenden County, Vermont” (New York: Sanborn-Perris Map Company, 1900), map 19.

(16) Burlington--Railroads, Burlington Postcard Files, Special Collections, University of Vermont Bailey/Howe Library.

(17) Sanborn Map-Perris Company, “Burlington, Chittenden County, Vermont” (New York: Sanborn-Perris Map Company, 1900), map 19.

(18) “Burlington's New Passenger Station is Ready for Use---Open To-Morrow, Burlington Daily Free Press, January 22, 1916, 11.

(19) Sanborn-Perris Map Company, “Burlington, Chittenden County, Vermont” (New York: Sanborn- Perris Company, 1900), map 19.

(20) Sanborn Map Company, “Burlington, Chittenden County, Vermont” (New York: Sanborn Map Company, 1906), map 20.

(21) Sanborn Map Company, “Burlington, Chittenden County, Vermont” (New York: Sanborn Map Company, 1912), map 27.

(22) Sanborn Map Company, “Burlington, Chittenden County, Vermont” (New York: Sanborn Map Company, 1919), map 22.

(23) “Publishers,” Metropolitan Postcard Club of New York City, http://www.metropostcard.com/publishersl.html (accessed October 2012).

(24) “City of Burlington and Village of Winooski,” L. P. Waite and Company, Burlington, Vermont City Directory (Burlington, Vermont: L. P. Waite and Company, 1911).

(25) Burlington Traction Company Records, 1883-1929, MSA 523-527, Doc 600, XMSC 102, http://www.vermonthistory.org/documents/findaid/burlingtonTractionCo.pdf (accessed October 2012).

(26) “Union Station Discussed, Public Service Commission, Railroad and Business Men Met,” Burlington Daily Free Press, September 4, 1909, 5.

(27) “Burlington's New Passenger Station is Ready for Use---Open To-Morrow,” Burlington Daily Free Press, January 22, 1916, 11.

(28) “Central Vermont Plans for New Union Station, estimated Expense is $315,000, Exclusive of Rights of Way, of Which $75,000 is for the Building Itself,” Burlington Weekly Free Press, September 28, 1911, 9.

(29) “The Two Railroads Can Easily Get Together,” Burlington Daily Free Press, August 22, 1911, 4. “Alderman and the Station, Resolution Adopted and Then Referred to the Committee of 15,” Burlington Daily Free Press, September 6, 1911, 6. “Union Station Project, Conference Yesterday between Two Railroads and Commission,” Burlington Daily Free Press, September 7, 1911, 7.

(30) “New Plan for Station, Central Vermont Officials Will Submit One before Week is Over,” Burlington Daily Free Press, November 30, 1911, 9.

(31)“Time for Action Regarding a Union Passenger Station,” Burlington Daily Free Press, July 26, 1912, 4.
“Site for New Station, Committee Would Locate It near the Foot of Main Street,” Burlington Daily Free Press, August 7, 1912, 6.
“The Public Service Commission and the Union Station Project,” Burlington Daily Free Press, September 10, 1912, 4.

(32) “Burlington's Lake Front Visited by $100,000 Fire,” Burlington Weekly Free Press, February 20, 1913, 1.

(33) “Burlington's New Passenger Station is Ready for Use---Open To-Morrow.”

(34) “New Station Open, Handsome Structure Visited by Many Burlingtonians on First Day,” Burlington Weekly Free Press, January 24, 1916, 5.

(35) “Burlington's New Passenger Station is Ready for Use---Open To-Morrow.”

(36) Ibid.

(37) Ibid.

(38) Sanborn Map Company, “Burlington, Chittenden County, Vermont” (New York: Sanborn Map
Company, 1919), map 22.

(39) “Burlington's New Passenger Station is Ready for Use---Open To-Morrow.”

(40) Ibid.

(41) “A New Union Station,” The Vermonter, the State Magazine, vol. 21, no. 3, March 1916, 73.

(42) Ibid.

(43) Ibid.

(44) “650, Ties Up All Traffic on Line,” Rutland Daily Herald, June 27, 1953, 1.
“Rutland Railway Non-Operating Union Employees Set to Walk off Jobs at 7 A.M. Today,” Burlington Daily Free Press, June 26, 1953, 1.“Strike Halts Rutland RR Trains; 200 Freight Cars Are Stranded,” Burlington Daily Free Press, June 27, 1953, Section 2, 1.

(45) “GMP to Occupy Union Station By End of Oct.,” Burlington Daily Free Press, September 19, 1955, 1.

(46) cover photo, Chittenden, the Magazine for Chittenden County, March 1970, vol. 1, no. 7, cover.

(47) Chittenden Trust Company advertisement, Chittenden, the Magazine for Chittenden County, February 1970, vol. 1, no. 6, no page number.

(48) Main Street Landing, www.mainstreetlanding.com (accessed October 2012).