Burlington, Vermont
Early 20th-century Postcard Views

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

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Church Street, Burlington, Vermont looking north from Main Street. Date stamped 1906 on reverse. Image courtesy of Special Collections at UVM Bailey-Howe Library Church St. at Main St. looking north, October 18, 2012 . Photographed by Suzanne Mantegna.
Main Street at Church Street circa 1906 was, in essence, not that different than today. It was the home of Burlington's City Hall among other governmental buildings and a main business street. The building on the left was the city hall that was built in 1853.(1) It was a two-story brick building with a slate roof and basement built in the Renaissance Revival style. There are brick pilasters visible above the stone-faced basement level and there are arch windows around this level. Although not visible from this angle, there was a wood framed circular cupola in the center of the roof. The Sanborn Insurance maps of 1894 shows the cupola in addition to the main entrance, not on Church Street (as it is today), but off of City Hall Park. Early histories of Burlington state that previously there was a pond on the site of City Hall.(2) City Hall was the home to city offices, including the Police Department, Liquor Department, Mayor's Office, and the top floor was a large audience room for meetings.(3)
To the right of City Hall on the postcard, the Ethan Allen Fire House, and the original location of Burlington's Y.M.C.A. are visible and in the distance the First Unitarian Universalist Church can be seen at the top of Church Street.
The building on the far right at 150-156 Church Street was known as the Exchange Building. It was built in 1877 in three sections by three different business entities.(4) According to the Sanborn Insurance maps of 1894, it was a three-story brick building with a slate roof in the Italianate style. There were iron Italianate hoods above the second- and third-story windows on both the Church Street and Main Street sides. Its bracketed cornice wraps the corner at Church Street and Main Street. Additionally, there was a terra cotta ornament in the middle of the roof and cloth awnings on the street level and several upper level windows.
The tracks for the Burlington Traction Company streetcar line ran up the center of Church Street. The Burlington Traction Company was formed under the name of Winooski and Burlington Horse Railroad Company in 1872. It was the first street railroad in the state. The first tracks were laid in 1885 and eventually the line stretched north to Rock Point, east to Winooski, and south to Queen City Park.(5) In 1929, a bus company bought Burlington Traction, renamed the company Burlington Rapid Transit System and started to phase out streetcars. The last streetcar ran on August 4, 1929.(6) There is even a postcard in Special Collections at UVM's Bailey-Howe Library that shows the deliberate burning of the last streetcar.
The first change that is visible is the new City Hall. In 1925, the original City Hall along with the building directly to its north, the former Fletcher Free Library, were razed to make way for the building that we see today. The new Colonial Revival style two-story brick building was designed by the architecture firm of McKim, Mead & White and opened on May 12, 1928. The orientation of the building has changed. There are now entrances on both Church Street and City Hall Park, with the main entrance being on Church Street. There is a wood framed cupola with a clock facing Church Street and City Hall Park and a bell that rings Tone E, concert pitch.(7) The new building houses city offices in addition to an auditorium for 360 people.
The wall and tower of the former firehouse, now home to Burlington City Arts and the Firehouse Gallery, is visible beyond City Hall. The spire of the Unitarian Universalist Church is still visible at the top of Church Street.
The Exchange Building at 150-156 Church Street has also experienced change over the years. Early in the morning on May 27, 1962 a fire broke out in a night club and damaged the top floor at 154 Church Street.(8) The building standing on the corner at 156 Church Street, now home to Church and Main Restaurant, is all that remains of the third floor and cornice of the Exchange Building with its entire Italianate splendor. The second floors of 150-154 Church Street still retain their Italianate window hoods.
Although the streetcars trains no longer run there, the heart of Burlington is still Church Street. In 1975, the City of Burlington unveiled plans to make eight blocks of Church Street, from Main Street to Pearl Street, a pedestrian/transit mall.(9) This plan implemented in phases since 1980 also included the idea of covered glass walkway on the sides to give some protection for pedestrians from the elements. Today that plan is a reality and Church Street is an eight-block pedestrian open-air mall.


1. City of Burlington, Annual Report for the City of Burlington, Vermont for the year ending Feb. 1, 1868 (Burlington, Vermont: Free Press Steambook and Job Printing House, 1868).
2. Peter Carlough, Bygone Burlington: A Bicentennial Barrage of Battles, Boats, Buildings and Beings (Burlington, Vermont: Committee for July Fourth 1976).
3. Charles E. Allen, About Burlington Vermont (Burlington, VT: Hobart J. Shanley & Co., 1905), 87.
4. David J. Blow, Historic Guide to Burlington Neighborhoods, vol. 1, (Burlington, VT: Chittenden County Historical Society, 1991), 163.
5. Charles E. Allen, About Burlington Vermont (Burlington, VT: Hobart J. Shanley & Co., 1905), 112.
6. David J. Blow, Historic Guide to Burlington Neighborhoods, vol. 3, (Burlington, VT: Chittenden County Historical Society, 1991), 37.
7. Ibid, vol. 1, 164.
8. "City Night Club Damaged," Burlington Free Press (Burlington, VT), May 28, 1962.
9. City of Burlington, One Hundred and Eleventh Annual Report of the City of Burlington, Vermont for the year ending June 30, 1976, (Burlington, VT: Free Press Association, 1976), 22-52.

Researched by Suzanne Mantegna  
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