Burlington, Vermont
Early 20th-century Postcard Views

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

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Billings Library

This postcard of Billings Library is postmarked 1907. The image shows the Billings Library, which had been completed in 1889, so it was still a fairly new building when this image was taken. To the north of Billings Library can be seen the President's House, which remained there until 1924. This image would have been taken south of Billings looking north. This photo of Billings Library shows the library and part of the Ira Allen Chapel (completed in 1927). This image was taken by standing southwest of Billings Library looking northeast. Photo by author, 2012.

The history of the Billings Library begins with the death of George P. Marsh, appointed U.S. minister to Italy by President Lincoln. Marsh died in Vallambross, Italy in 1882 after having lived an eventful life in both Burlington and abroad.(1) Marsh was born in 1801 in Woodstock, Vermont; he attended Dartmouth College then traveled to Burlington to work as a lawyer. George P. Marsh was previously the minister to Turkey appointed by President Jackson, a trustee of the University of Vermont, a representative in Congress, and had been married two times; his first wife was Harriett Buell and later on, he married Caroline Crane.(2) Frederick Billings planned to purchase the library and donate it to the University of Vermont. Billings had been a graduate of the school in 1844 and had worked as a lawyer most of his life.(3)

The Special Collections of the University of Vermont has letters written between Mrs. Caroline Marsh and Frederick Billings discussing the transportation of the library and the fact that the library would be given to the University, which is what George P. Marsh wanted.(4) Frederick Billings bought the library of Marsh which included 12,000 volumes and had them shipped from Italy (Rome and Florence) where they had been located.(5) The books finally arrived in New York in 1883 and were shipped immediately to Burlington. It was for the occasion that Billings announced to the University's President and Trustees that he would be also giving $75,000 towards the construction of a fire proof library building.(6)

Billings Library replaced the home used by the University of Vermont's President Marsh. This home was different than the other President's House, which was known as the "Yellow House," President Marsh's home was known as the "White House." After the home was used by Marsh, the building was used as a boarding house for students.(7) The "White House" was demolished to make way for Billings Library in 1885, when construction for Billings began. Though the "White House" can be seen on the 1869 map of Burlington; by 1885 Billings Library is present on the Sanborn insurance maps.(8)

Henry Hobson Richardson was employed to design the new library and construction lasted from 1883 to 1885. Frederick Billings specifically picked Richardson to be the architect behind the library, not only did Billings request Richardson but he also requested the Richardson's Winn Library at Woburn be used as inspiration for the design.(9) Billings' ideas for the library consisted of a fireproof buildings with a parallelogram for the main library on the left, Marsh Library on the right, and an interior space consisting of an open fireplace and room for portraits.(10)

The Library was dedicated at the June 1885 Commencement and had the capacity to hold 100,000 volumes, was spacious, and most importantly fireproof. The gift from Frederick Billings had increased from the original $75,000 to $100,000 because of cost increases.(11) Though the new library could hold 100,000 volumes it was decided in 1886 that the library needed additional reading rooms and a reference room. The plans were accepted in 1887 and Frederick Billings planned to finance the additions.(12) Eventually the building was enlarged by the architectural firm of Shepley, Rutan, and Coolidge from 1886 to 1889.(13) These additions resulted in the new Marsh reading room and an extension of the book room, which created the current layout of Billings.(14)

The building remained the University's library until 1961, at which time the new Guy W. Bailey library was completed. Billings Library was closed in 1961 for renovations and a conversion to become the new student center on campus. The renovations were completed by the University's architects, Barr, Linde, and Hubbard. The renovations consisted of: woodwork refinishing (plus wood was saved and recycled in the construction), the walls were restored, the apse was given Richardson furniture, downstairs to the basement were created, a new coffee bar, school offices, and a coatroom was created.(15) The Student Center opened in 1963 and remained the Student Center until the Dudley L. Davis Center was completed in 2007.(16) From the mid 1980's until 2008, the Billings Library has gone through numerous renovations and repairs. Some of those include connecting the Ira Allen Chapel to Billings Library in 1984, hooking up kitchen equipment in 1997 (remodeled in 2007) and repairing brick and stone work in 2007.(17)

The building to the north of the Library in the circa 1907 postcard was the President's Home and at one point it was the professor's headquarters.(18) This building was constructed in 1869 in the Mansard architectural style. It most likely replaced the old President's home, known as "The Old Yellow House," which had been built in the late 18th century. This house had served as the President's home, classroom space, and then as a tenement house but it burned down in 1844.(19) The new President's home was shown in its location from the 1869 Burlington Sanborn insurance map until the 1926 Sanborn insurance map. In 1924 the President's House was removed to make way for the Ira Allen Chapel.(20)

Ira Allen Chapel was donated by James B. Wilbur (he also financed the Ira Allen Statue located on the Campus Green); while the architectural firm, McKim, Mead, and White were employed to design the Chapel. The Chapel was dedicated in 1927 on the 150th Anniversary of Vermont's Declaration of Independence. An addition to Billings and the Ira Allen Chapel was designed by the architectural firm of Shepley, Bulfinch, Richardson, and Abbott and the design was also coordinated with the Preservation Partnership; this was completed in 1986.(21) As part of this expansion for the student center, the Ira Allen Chapel was connected to Billings through a subterranean connector. The connector included offices and a dining area to the rear of both buildings. The buildings today are still connected and are used for special events and programs sponsored by the University.

Lastly, seen in the right side of the current view of Billings Library is a bus stop sign. It is a sign for the University of Vermont's Campus Area Transportation System (CATS). The shuttle system began in 1990 and has a total of eight buses that are fare-free for University students, staff, and faculty. The shuttle system is owned by the University and operated by the Department of Transportation and Parking Services.(22)

Text by Courtney Doyle

1. "George P. Marsh Obituary," St. Albans Daily Messenger, July 25, 1882.
2. "George P. Marsh Obituary," St. Albans Daily Messenger, July 25, 1882.
3. "The University's Latest Gift," St. Albans Daily Messenger, October 3, 1882. Richard Janson, The Billings Library (University of Vermont: UVM Voyager, 1963-1987), 1.
4. Letter from Caroline Crane Marsh to Frederick Billings, October 8, 1882. University of Vermont, Special Collections, accessed November 14, 2012.
5. "The University's Latest Gift," St. Albans Daily Messenger, October 3, 1882.
6. "Library of George P. Marsh Purchased by Frederick Billings," St. Albans Daily Messenger, March 20, 1883.
7. Junior Class ed., Ariel, Vol. 18, (Burlington, Vt: University of Vermont, 1905).
8. Sanborn Insurance Map, Burlington Vermont, June 1885, New York: Sanborn Map & Publishing Co., 1885, Sheet 15. Sanborn Insurance Map, Burlington Vermont, June 1869, New York: Sanborn Map & Publishing Co 1869, Sheet 13.
9. Jeffery Hail Ochsner, H.H. Richardson: Complete Architectural Works, 6th ed. (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1996), 300.
10. Department of Printing and Graphic Arts, Harvard College Library, Selected Drawings: H.H. Richardson & his Office: A Centennial of his Move to Boston, 1874 (Boston: President and Fellow of Harvard College, 1974), 162.
11. Untitled, Argus and Patriot, January 28, 1885.
12. Untitled, St. Albans Daily Messenger, February 17, 1887. Untitled, Argus and Patriot, December 15, 1886.
13. Richard Jansen, The Billings Library, (Burlington, Vt: University of Vermont, 1987), 1.
14. Ibid, 2.
15. Richard Jansen, "Mr. Billings' Richardson Library," University of Vermont's Alumni Magazine, (Burlington, VT, UVM), 1963, 1-3.
16. Thomas Visser, The Billings Library, 1999, http://www.uvm.edu/~campus/billings/billingshistory.html. In Celebration of the Centennial Year of the Billings Library and the Diamond Jubilee of the Ira Allen Chapel; Dedication Ceremonies of the Billings-Ira Allen Campus Center, (Burlington, Vt: Queen City Printers), 1986.
17. City of Burlington Assessor's Office, Permit History: 48 University Place, reported as of: 11/13/2012. http://gis.ci.burlington.vt.us/GeneratedReports/11142012120004PM61.pdf
18. Sanborn Insurance Map, Burlington, Vermont, June 1869, New York: Sanborn Map & Publishing Co., 1869, Sheet 13. Sanborn Insurance Map, Burlington Vermont, June 1885, New York: Sanborn Map & Publishing Co., 1885, Sheet 15.
19. E.F. Walbridge, "Historical Sketch of the University," Ariel, (Burlington, VT: University of Vermont: Junior Class, ed., 1917), 418-438.
20. Sanborn Insurance Map, Burlington Vermont, June 1919, New York: Sanborn Map & Publishing Co., 1919, Sheet 34. Sanborn Insurance Map, Burlington Vermont, June 1926, New York: Sanborn Map & Publishing Co., 1926, Sheet 33.
21. In Celebration of the Centennial Year of the Billings Library and the Diamond Jubilee of the Ira Allen Chapel; Dedication Ceremonies of the Billings-Ira Allen Campus Center, (Burlington, Vt: Queen City Printers), 1986.
22. UVM Reslife, "Frequently Asked Questions," www.reslife.uvm.edu/?Page=about_us/faq/index.php&9=shuttle, website viewed December 3, 2012. John Reidee, "The Good Times Roll," University Communications, April 2, 2003.