John Henry Hopkins, the first Episcopal Bishop of Vermont, founded the Episcopal Institute at the Rock Point property in Burlington, Vermont in 1857 as a private religious school for boys. Hopkins funded the construction of the Episcopal Institute building, which was on the shore of Lake Champlain, mainly by subscription. There are reports of generous donors from across the state of Vermont as far south as Arlington and Bennington, as well as to out of state donors as far off as the cities of New York and Philadelphia. The foundation of the building was laid in the fall of 1857 and the construction of the building was reported by the Burlington Weekly Free Press to have "gone quietly but steadily forward" even following the financial panic of 1857. The Episcopal Institute building was fully completed by the summer of 1860.
This comprehensive early report of the building in the Burlington Weekly Free Press describes a "substantial" and "spacious" Gothic structure built with a cream colored sandstone on a property with "a beautiful view" of Lake Champlain, the Adirondacks, and the Green Mountains. Furthermore, the interior initially was built complete with reception and recitation rooms, as well as apartments for the principal and his family on the first story, a chapel, library, and rooms for students on the second story, and dormitories for students in the 3rd story or attic.
The Episcopal Institute was utilized as a boarding school for boys from 1860 until 1899 when financial difficulties led to the end of academic operations. Principal and theological professor Theodore A. Hopkins oversaw the school until 1881, when he retired due to poor health. The First Bishop Hopkins lived on the property until his death in 1868, and oversaw the school as head of religious operations of the Episcopal Diocese of Vermont. After Hopkins, Bishop Augustus Bissell became the head Episcopalian in Vermont, and more loosely oversaw the academy's operations until his death in 1893. After Bissell died in 1893 the Reverend Arthur C. A. Hall took over and remained president of the school until it closed in 1899. One of the best indications of the character of this school appears in an advertisement in the Vermont Phoenix from October 1892, which promoted the values of the Institute with such words as "prepares for college or business, military drill," "wholesome discipline," and "finest and most healthful location in this country".
However by the turn of the century, the institute was in need of funding and closed indefinitely, but with a clear intention to reopen in the near future. In that same year Bishop Hall did release a circular requesting donations to an endowment fund of $100,000 to continue academic operation at Rock Point. By 1903 only $61,000 of the necessary $100,000 funds had been acquired, and by 1906 that sum had only increased to $80,000. As goals were refocused throughout the decade academic operation would never return to the institute building.
By the time the photos were taken for these postcards the Episcopal Institute at Rock Point would have already been closed for some years. Stamped mailing dates on these cards range from 1914 to 1920 and it is certain at least that when these postcards were sent this building had been vacant for sometime, and church reports claim at this time it was falling into disrepair.
There are varying accounts of the fate of the Institute building some simply say it was repurposed for a conference center from the time after it closed as a school in 1899, others that it remained vacant for nearly thirty years from 1899 until Bishop Booth, committed to its continued use, decided to repurpose it as a diocesan wide conference center and place for religious retreats in the late 1920s. Multiple sources however confirm its use as a conference center for some years. A 1978 view of the footprint of the property shows no significant changes from the building we see in the photo postcards or a view of the footprint from 1889, however there was a road completely encircling the building at that time which is not as apparent in views of the 1889 site. The Institute building continued to be used in some capacity as a conference center until it burned down in 1979.
After the fire the diocese built a new conference center just down the road from the institute site and called it the Bishop Booth conference center. The building is of modern architectural design, and the chimneys inside were reportedly built with salvaged stone from the Episcopal institute.
Bishop Booth Conference Center
The area where the Episcopal Institute once stood today is completely different than what is seen in the photo postcard from over 100 years ago. The building is obviously gone, and the landscape is completely overgrown. The only remnants of the former building being an awkward dirt road that terminates at an overgrowth, a stone staircase seemingly illogically ascending to nowhere, and the cracks of old pavement encircling a seemingly unimportant clearing with a volleyball net and wooden benches used for Christian camps and functions in the summer. This pavement is quickly disappearing, it's being consumed by the grass beneath, and will most likely be gone within a few years.
The stairs of the former Episcopal Institute remain.
1. "Vermont Episcopal Institute," Burlington Weekly Free Press, June 8th, 1960. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84023127/1860-06-08/ed-1/seq-2/
2. "Vermont Episcopal Institute," Burlington Weekly Free Press, June 8th, 1860; "Vermont Episcopal Institute," Middlebury Register, October 21st, 1857. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83025667/1857-10-21/ed-1/seq-2/
3. Burlington Weekly Free Press, June 8th, 1860.
4. Burlington Weekly Free Press, June 8th, 1860.
5. Vermont Phoenix, "Minor Notes," February 16th, 1900. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn98060050/1900-02-16/ed-1/seq-1/; Allison, Elizabeth, Our Precious Heritage: An Introduction to the History of The Rock Point Property, April 2012, 14.
6. "Rev. Theodore A. Hopkins," Vermont Phoenix, April 19th, 1889, From Chronicling America: America's Historic Newspapers 1836 – 1922, http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn98060050/1889-04-19/ed-1/seq-3/
7. "The Death of Bishop Hopkins," Burlington Weekly Free Press, January 17th, 1868, From Chronicling American: America's Historic Newspapers 1836 – 1922, http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn86072143/1868-01-17/ed-1/seq-2/
8. Vermont Transcript, March 20th, 1868. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84023246/1868-03-20/ed-1/seq-2
9. Burlington City Directory for 1893, (L.P. Waite & Co., 1893), 28; Burlington City Directory for 1894, (L.P. Waite & Co.,1894 ), 27.
10. Vermont Phoenix, October 28th, 1892. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn98060050/1892-10-28/ed-1/seq-7/; Vermont Phoenix, February 16th, 1900.
11. Vermont Phoenix, February 2nd, 1906. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn98060050/1906-02-02/ed-1/seq-3/
12. "Episcopal Diocese Meets," Burlington Weekly Free Press, June 18th 1903. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn86072143/1903-06-18/ed-1/seq-1/; Vermont Phoenix, February 16th, 1900.
13. Allison, 29.
14. David J. Blow, Historic Guide to Burlington Neighborhoods, (Burlington, VT: Chittenden County Historical Society), 16.
15. Allison, 29.
16. Sanborn Co., Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps of Burlington, 1978; Sanborn Co., Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps of Burlington, 1889.
17. Blow, 16; Allison 32; Rock Point Episcopal Diocese of Vermont Information Sign on Site, (Vermont Historical Society, May 22, 2003).
18. Sign on site.