Burlington, Vermont
Early 20th-century Postcard Views

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

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The postcard above, postmarked in 1907, was printed in Germany for the Hugh C. Leighton Publishing Company of Portland, Maine. The photo above was taken from the southeast across Allen Street in the Old North End on October 10th, 2012.
The real photo postcard above has an undivided back. The photo on the right was taken on at the corner of Peru Street and Elmwood Ave in the Old North End on October 10th, 2012.


St. Joseph's Church and Parish house have been a part of the Roman Catholic Diocese in Burlington for close to 130 years now. The church, now also referred to as a co-cathedral, is a monumental building in Burlington, but it is nestled in the North-End of town out of view of most of the tourists who visit the city.

According to St. Josephs official church history, in 1883, Bishop DeGosbriand, the first Roman Catholic bishop of the diocese of Burlington,[1] responded to the increased immigration of French-Canadians to Vermont by urging the building of the new St. Joseph's Church as the first national parish for non-English speaking Catholics. The first St. Joseph's church had been further down town on Prospect Street but it seems to have grown too small for its parishioners, and this new church would be primarily just for the French-Canadian community in the North End of Burlington. The design was reported to have been commissioned a self-taught French Canadian architect.[2]

By 1885 the massive stone building that would become St. Joseph's French Catholic Church was under construction and already had completed stonework, however it was not yet fully completed and the grand staircase rising to the gothic arched church doors had not yet been constructed.[3] It took four years to build, but on June 24th, 1887, St. John The Baptist Day, the new St. Joseph's Church was dedicated on with a great degree of fanfare. The archbishop of Montreal was in attendance and the celebration speculated at the time to have been one of the largest in the history of the state of Vermont. This day of celebration was then followed by a day of sports sponsored by French societies in Burlington.[4] The church history says the inauguration ceremony occurred on Easter Sunday, and this may be an inconsistency question for further investigation.[5] The church may have been dedicated unfinished, because it appears that in the early 1890s the church building itself went under a major change as the wooden bell tower and spire were clearly built after 1889.[6]

The first monsignor of St. Joseph's Church was Jerome M. Cloarec, and in the early 1890s his Sunday services would include mass at 8 and 9 am; high mass at 10:30 am vespers, benediction of the blessed sacrament at 3pm, and Catechism at 2 pm.[7] Throughout the early 20th century St. Joseph's Church would change addresses in the city directories a number of times, but around the turn of the century, in 1901, it was listed at 53 Allen Street.[8] By 1906 St. Joseph's Parish House at 85 Elmwood Avenue had been built just around the corner from St. Joseph's Church.[9] The Parish House would be the rectory for the reverends and clergy at St. Joseph's.

By mid-decade the church would expand its Sunday service to include a children's mass listed at 9 am on Sundays,[10] and by 1907 the building would change addresses again to 40 Allen Street. At this time 40 Allen Street was also the home address of George H. Lessor who is listed as a musician.[11] Though it is unclear if Mr. Lessor worked for the church, it is clear that his family had deep roots in membership at St. Joseph's. In fact, Lessor's parents were married at the old St. Joseph's church on Prospect Street in 1865, and the entire family celebrated the elder Mr. and Mrs. Lessor's 50th anniversary at the current St. Joseph's Church on Allen Street in 1915.[12] This demonstrates the strong sense of community and longevity this institution has had in the North End. Further demonstrating this theme, in 1908 Father Cloarec would celebrate 50 years in the priesthood, and his service was praised by Roman Catholics both French and English speaking from around Burlington.[13]

By the mid-1910s the building had changed addresses once again to 27 Allen street. In 1920, "the grand old man" as he was so well known, Monsignor Jarome Marie Cloarec, would die of pneumonia at age 86 after nearly fifty years of "faithful service with the French people of Burlington."[14] Reverend Norbet Proulx would follow the Reverend Cloreac living at the Parish House at 85 Elmwood, and preaching at St. Joseph's on Sundays.[15] In 1933, Proulx' last year as the head priest, St. Joseph's Church would change address one final time from 27 to 29 Allen Street.[16]

During the 1950s and 1960s, under the leadership of Reverend Charles T. Marcoux, a small library and a small bookshop were run out of the rear of St. Joseph's Church.[17] Moving through the decades, in the 1980s, subsidiaries of St. Joseph's Church were listed as tenants all over Allen Street, including 36 Allen, St. Josephs Intercommunity Church; and 20 Allen Street, St. Joseph's Elementary School, which still stands across the street from St. Josephs Church today.[18]

Lastly the church history mentions a large-scale restoration of the church building costing somewhere around $400,000 that took place in 2000 and 2001. Evergreen Studios of New York, a firm that has been reported to have experience with other Vermont restorations including the State Capitol in Montpelier, and the Flynn Theater in Burlington, took on this recent restoration of St. Joseph's.[19] As of November 2012, the tower of St. Joseph's Church is currently under renovation.


1. John J. Duffy, Samuel B. Hand and Ralph H. Orth, The Vermont Encyclopedia (Burlington,VT: University of Vermont Press, University Press of New England, 2003), 139.

2. St. Josephs Co-Cathedral, http://www.stjosephvermont.com/index.php?sid=5&pid=55; Duffy, 139.

3. Sanborn Fire Insurance Map of Burlington, Vermont, 1885.

4. "City And Vicinity," Burlington Weekly Free Press, May 13th, 1887, http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn86072143/1887-05-13/ed-1/seq-5/

5. St. Josephs Co-Cathedral, http://www.stjosephvermont.com/index.php?sid=5&pid=55

6. Sanborn Fire Insurance Map of Burlington, Vermont, 1889; Sanborn Fire Insurance Map of Burlington, Vermont, 1894.

7. Burlington City Directory for 1893 (L.P. Waite & Co., Publishers, Free Press Association, Printers, 1893), 37.

8. Burlington City Directory including Winooski for 1901 (L.P. Waite & Co., Publishers Free Press Association, Printers, 1901, 245.

9. Sanborn Fire Insurance Map of Burlington, Vermont, 1906.

10. Burlington City and Winooski Directory for 1907 (L.P. Waite & Co., Publishers, 1907), 28.

11. 1907 City Directory, 183.

12. "Married 50 Years," Burlington Free Press, May 27th. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn86072143/1915-05-27/ed-1/seq-16/

13. "Last Day of Jubilee," Burlington Free Press, July 2, 1908. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn86072143/1908-07-02/ed-1/seq-9/

14. "Monsignor Cloarec Venerated By All Dies in 87th Year," Burlington Weekly Free Press, February 12th, 1920. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn86072143/1920-02-12/ed-1/seq-9/

15. Burlington and Winooski Directory 1916 (Springfield Mass.: H.A. Manning Co., 1916), 425.

16. Manning's Burlington Winooski and Essex Junction Vermont Directory for 1932 (Springfield Mass.: H.A. Manning Co., 1932), 220; Manning's Burlington Winooski and Essex Junction Vermont Directory for 1933 (Springfield, Mass.: H.A. Manning Co., 1933), 201.

17. Sanborn Fire Insurance Map for Burlington, Vermont, 1960.

18. Manning's Burlington and South Burlington Essex Junction and Winooski Directory 1981 (Bellows Falls, VT: H. A. Manning Co., 1981), 421, 452.

19. St. Josephs Co-Cathedral, http://www.stjosephvermont.com/index.php?sid=5&pid=55

Text and photographs by Daniel Leckie