Burlington, Vermont
Early 20th-century Postcard Views

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

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Converse Hall, postcard, post date Jan. 6, 1907.
Photo & text by Jessica Goerold, 2012.

Converse Hall is located at 75 Colchester Avenue, on the eastern side of the University of Vermont campus. The building hasn't ever undergone major changes and looks almost exactly the same as it did when it was built. Its surroundings have become much more claustrophobic, however.

Converse Hall was erected in 1895, at roughly the same time that Williams Science Hall was under construction to the west. Both were dedicated in a ceremony on June 23, 1896.(1) Wilson Bros., an architecture and engineering firm in Philadelphia, designed both buildings.(2) Unlike today, the only thing standing between the two was a wide expanse of field.(3) During wartime in the early 20th century, this field was used for drilling troops; over the years it was slowly developed and now makes up the majority of the university campus.

It is named after the man who commissioned it, Hon. John Heman Converse (class of 1861) of Philadelphia, whose generous financial contributions to the university were manifold. He served on the Board of Trustees, established both a scholarship and a prize for Excellency in Public Debate, and tended to make liberal gifts to the university as needed.(4) He was a major contributor to the expansion that happened in the so-called "Building Years" (1866-1940).(5)

The total cost of Converse Hall was about $125,000, an impressive price tag for the time befitting its dramatic stature; it was built of rock-faced Rutland marble in the popular collegiate Gothic style.(6) There was a tree-lined path leading from the college buildings to Converse Hall and it towered over the sparse hillside. The College of Agriculture's Experimental Farm and the buildings of Mary Fletcher Hospital were the only structures within walking distance.(7)

Converse has always served as a dormitory for students. It was much-loved, inspiring a wide variety of tributes in the UVM yearbook, Ariel. Poems and anecdotes showed the immense regard the students had for their temporary home.

(1) Charles Edwin Allen, About Burlington Vermont (Burlington: Hobart J. Shanley & Company, 1905), 44.
(2) "Converse Hall," UVM Buildings, University of Vermont, http://www.uvm.edu/~campus/converse/converse.html.
(3) City of Burlington and Village of Winooski. Map. (Burlington: L. P. Waite & Co., 1899). From Library of Congress, Map Collections. http://www.old-maps.com/vermont/vt_towns/ChittendenCo/Burlington_LC/images/fullsize/Burlington_1909waite_lcPhot.jpg.JPG.JPG.
(4) UVM Ariel 1893 (Rutland: Tuttle Co., 1893), 9.
(5) Frank Smallwood, The University of Vermont Presidents (Burlington: University of Vermont, 1997), 31.
(6) Allen, 44.
(7) Map of Burlington, (Burlington, VT: Sanborn Insurance Co., January 1900), from University of Vermont Bailey/Howe Library, Special Collections.