Burlington, Vermont
Early 20th-century Postcard Views

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

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Grasse Mount

This postcard of Grasse Mount is circa 1900-1923. The image was taken from southeast of Grasse Mount. The image shows the surrounding trees, wires, and even a fence that once surrounded Grasse Mount. This image of Grasse Mount was taken from the southeast corner of the structure. Phot by author, 2012.
This postcard was circa 1900-1923. The image was taken from the southwest corner of Grasse Mount and shows the numerous trees that surrounded the property during that time. This image was taken from the southwest area of Grasse Mount. Photo by author, 2012.

Grasse Mount is located at the corner of Main Street and Summit Street. These two postcard views show the structure from two different angles. The top postcard of Grasse Mount shows the structure as seen from the northwest (standing towards Lake Champlain). While the bottom postcard was taken looking southwest at Grasse Mount (standing in area towards Main Street and Wheeler House). In both views, besides the building, the surround landscape is also shown which has changed in comparison to the photographs taken recently.

Grasse Mount was constructed in 1804 for Thaddeus Tuttle, though after financial misfortune, Tuttle had to sell the home in 1824 to Cornelius Van Ness.(1) Van Ness was a well accomplished man, when he moved to New York he was admitted to the bar. He eventually moved back to St. Albans and then to Burlington. During his lifetime he served in many different public offices: he was appointed as a U.S. district attorney by President Madison, a collector of customs in Burlington, a representative of Burlington in Legislature, a chief justice of the state, governor of Vermont, and finally U.S. minister to Spain, appointed by President Jackson.(2)

The name Grasse Mount came about during the ownership of the home by Van Ness. When he was appointed U.S. minister to Spain, he allowed Heman Allen to stay in home. Allen was the nephew of Ira Allen and came up with the name Grasse Mount. Grasse was the name of a French officer in the American Revolutionary War, who prevented the British fleet from aiding the British General Cornwallis at Yorktown, which led to the colonies victory and the surrender of the British at Yorktown. Grasse supposedly was a friend of the Marquise de La Fayette, another French general supporting the colonists' efforts for independence.(3)

The 1830 Burlington map shows in the Grasse Mount area a collection of structures. There is the main house, which is square with an elongated ell to the south, east of this building is a smaller square structure. South of these two buildings is another structure consisting of four connected buildings creating an "L" shape.(4) The 1853 Burlington map labels Grasse Mount with the name, H. Leavenworth and besides the buildings on the lot, there also is a driveway going to Main Street.(5) Henry Leavenworth bought the home in 1845 for $14,000 and owned the home until 1853. Since he owned the home during this time, he most likely added the cupola that was added around 1850.(6)

Leavenworth eventually sold Grasse Mount to Capt. Charles B. Marvin around 1853. Marvin was listed as an occupant of the building located at the corner of Main and Summit Streets in the Burlington City Directory of 1865.(7) Under the ownership of Marvin, the home was fitted for a gas illuminator system and the interior was decorated in trompe l'oeil paintings, which were rediscovered in the mid 1980s during renovations.(8)

A year later, in 1866, Lawrence Barnes and his family moved into Grasse Mount and remained there until 1893, when Lucinda Barnes, the widow of Lawrence, passed away in November of that year.(9) On the 1869 Burlington city map, Lawrence Barnes first appears as owner of Grasse Mount. The most noticeable change is that there are now two driveways to the house. One driveway enters onto Main Street and the other driveway enters onto Summit Street.(10) During the home's occupancy by the Barnes family, Grasse Mount doubled in size when Mr. Barnes had the conservatory added to the original structure.(11) Barnes also had the trompe l'oeil covered over with stencils (designs of fleur de-lys, stripes, and other Victorian Age motifs). The Barnes family also added indoor plumbing and a coal-burning fireplace.(12)

The building's history between 1893 and 1902 remain unclear from both the Sanborn insurance maps and the Burlington city directories until 1902 when Grasse Mount was listed under the ownership of the University of Vermont. The University used Grasse Mount from 1902 until 1974 as a woman's dormitory.(13) After that use ended, Grasse Mount was the home of the department of Continuing Education. Then in 1977 Grasse Mount was used for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.(14) Today Grasse Mount is used for the offices of the Development and Alumni Relations.(15)

Looking at the sets of images, the immediate changes are the vegetation and the lack of a white fence in the present day photos. Beginning with the fence, it is seen in the top postcard circa, 1900-1923., though the image used to create the postcard could be older. Leslie H. Allen in "The Story of Grasse Mount mentions the white fence in 1905" in the August 1905 edition of the Vermonter. Allen describes the fence as being white with large balls at the ends of the fence.(16) This same fence is seen in a photo the University of Vermont's Special Collections has that is dated to the 1930s.(17) After this date though, what happened to the fence is uncertain.

On a similar note though, the Grasse Mount yard was used, at least during the early 19th century, to be a stage for the University's English Department. During 1904, 1905, and 1907, the St. Alban's Daily Messenger, reported that the English Department would perform a Shakespeare play for the June Commencement. The plays for those years were The Tempest, As You Like It, and A Mid-Summer Night's Dream.(18)

The foliage around the Grasse Mount yard includes a number of species including elms, spruce trees, and even lilac trees, all of which are visible in the postcard views. The elms during the 1930s and 40s were affected by the Dutch elm disease, which spread throughout America from infected elm logs imported from Europe. In 1949, Vermont's governor at the time, Ernest W. Gibson, discussed the tree disease in his inaugural speech. Gibson said about the disease, "…left unchecked there is every reason to expect this to spread rapidly and damage our trees. I believe provision should be made for inspections by out department of Agriculture to determine the spread of this disease and that steps be taken to encourage community effort in carrying out clean up and control measures."(19) Efforts were made throughout the state to save the elms but it had no effect and most of the elms, especially on campus, were felled during the 1960s and 70s.(20) The other trees seen in the postcard images, spruces and lilacs, have continued to remain a part of Grasse Mount's landscape without changing drastically like the elms have.

Lastly, in the bottom postcard view of Grasse Mount can be seen a driveway leading to the house. This driveway appears to be circular and would have been used by horse-drawn vehicles. This driveway first appears in the 1869 Burlington city map, when Lawrence Barnes owned Grasse Mount. The map showed two different driveways leading up to the house, one from Main Street and the other from Summit Street.(21) Today the same driveway leading to the house from Summit Street still exists (see the current image of the building) and is used for motorized vehicles.

Text by Courtney Doyle

1. John Gittelsohn, "Grasse Mount Restoration," Burlington Free Press, August 14, 1985.
2. Leslie Allen, "The Story of Grasse Mount," The Vermonter, Vol. XI, No. 1, (August 1905): 218-220.
3. "Glamorous Grassemount," Vermont Alumni Weekly, 20 Nov. 1936, 7. John Gittelsohn, "Grasse Mount Restoration," Burlington Free Press, August 14, 1985.
4. A. B. Young, Map of Burlington, Vermont, (New York: Lith. Of. Pedletor, 1830).
5. Presdee & Edwards, Map of Burlington Vermont, 1853.
6. Chester H. Liebs, National Register Nomination: Grasse Mount, 1972, 8-9. Accessed from http://www.burlingtonvt.gov/PZ/Historic-Preservation/; John Gittelsohn, "Grasse Mount Restoration," Burlington Free Press, August 14, 1985.
7. Burlington City Directory and Business Advertiser, (Burlington: The Free Press Association, 1865), 56.
8. John Gittelsohn, "Grasse Mount Restoration," Burlington Free Press, August 14, 1985.
9. Burlington City Directory and Business Advertiser (Burlington: The Free Press Association), years: 1866-1893. Burlington City Directory and Business Advertiser (Burlington: The Free Press Association), 1893, 77.
10. Sanborn Insurance Map, Burlington Vermont, June 1869, New York: Sanborn Map & Publishing Co., 1869, Sheet 15.
11. Leslie Allen, "The Story of Grasse Mount," The Vermonter, Vol. XI, No. 1, (August 1905):218-220.
12. John Gittelsohn, "Grasse Mount Restoration," Burlington Free Press, August 14, 1985.
13. Burlington City Directory, (Massachusetts: H.A. Manning Co., 1971/72), 387.
14. Burlington City Directory, (Massachusetts: H.A. Manning Co., 1971/72), 434.
15. Campus Treasures: Grasse Mount, UVM, 1999. http://www.uvm.edu/~campus/grassemount/grassemounthistory.html
16. Leslie Allen, "The Story of Grasse Mount," The Vermonter, Vol. XI, No. 1, (August 1905): 218-220.
17. H. W. Congdon, "Grasse Mount," 1930s photo image located at University of Vermont Special Collections.
18. "Close of UVM Centennial," St. Alban's Daily Messenger, July 14, 1904. Untitled Article, St. Alban's Daily Messenger, May 23, 1905. "College Alumni Day," St. Alban's Daily Messenger, June 27, 1907.
19. Ernest W. Gibson, Inaugural Address, Journal of the Joint Assembly, Biennial Session, 1949. State of Vermont Archives, http://www.vermont-archives.org/govhistory. Defenders of Wildlife, Invasive Species in Vermont, http://www.defenders.org/publications/vermont.pdf.
20. University of Vermont Trees, "UVM Tree History,"accessed at www.uvm.edu/~uvmtrees/?Page=meet/treetour.html&SM=meet/submeet.html.
21.Sanborn Insurance Map, Burlington Vermont, June 1869, New York: Sanborn Map & Publishing Co.,1869, Sheet 14.