Burlington, Vermont
Early 20th-century Postcard Views

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

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Church St. looking north from Bank St.
Postmarked: Sept. 18, 1916

Church Street
From Bank Street to Pearl Street

The postcard above depicts Church Street looking north from Bank Street in downtown Burlington. At the time this postcard was sent, Church Street was lined with mostly wood-framed brick building blocks ranging from one- to- seven stories. (1) A car in the image background hints at changing technology; pavement and motor vehicles replace the dirt streets once full of horses, carriages and streetcars seen on postcards from only ten years prior. This unobstructed view reveals a variety of storefronts along wide sidewalks lined with granite curbstones (2) on both the east and west side of the street. With one exception, all of the storefront awnings are up. An American flag flies on top of the Sherwood Hotel while the spire of the Unitarian Church oversees the activity of Burlington's downtown shopping area. The Church celebrated its centennial anniversary in 1916, the year this postcard was mailed. From bicycle shops to drug stores, a performance hall and a hotel, Church Street played an instrumental role in developing Burlington's small business economy and public life.

In the foreground of the postcard, on the westerly side of the street, is the three-story Central Block building. (3) The Union Block immediately to the north, built in the same Italianate style, follows. (4) The next building with a white façade is also three stories high. After this is another three-story Italianate brick building, dating from 1906. (5) Further north, on the next block, the Sherwood Hotel stands at the corner of Church Street and Cherry Street towering at seven stories high. Beyond that a row of three-story buildings that date to the 1880s, with the exception of one that was built before 1853, meets with the head of the block. (6) Situated at Number One Church Street, the five-and-one-half-story Masonic Temple, circa 1897, marks the northwesterly corner of Church Street and Pearl Street. Then, at the head of the street is the iconic two-story Unitarian Church with its ninety-foot spire, at 152 Pearl Street. (7)

Next, continuing to the south down the east side of Church Street, the roofline of the Richardson Building can just be made out on the northeasterly corner of the street, across from the Masonic Temple. (8) At the time of this postcard the Richardson Building was home to a department store and apartments. To the south of the Richardson Building are two wood-frame residential structures. (9) On the next block to the south is Payne's Block, a three-story Italianate-style building, followed by Nelson's Block. Once home to the Boston Store along with other retailers, and apartments, these neighboring buildings were erected in 1865. (10) Finally, a four-story brick building seen in the foreground on the right side of the postcard completes the view; no longer standing, it is unknown when, exactly, it was constructed.

The buildings seen down each side of Church Street in this postcard range from one to four stories in height, most are brick construction, with a few wood-frame structures intermixed. They housed a multitude of businesses around the turn of the century including jewelers, tailors, and a sporting goods store. (11) Noticeably absent from the postcard are the telephone and electric wires, poles, and street lamps on the easterly side of the street seen in other photographs from the period. There are also no wires on the poles spanning the westerly side of the street; perhaps this photograph was taken in the midst of their installation. It is also possible that the printer chose to omit them in order to save ink and clean up the cluttered effect that wires would give the image.

Many original buildings on Church Street have remained part of the streetscape, though their character, appearance, and use have changed with time. Other buildings have seen little change to their use and appearance. Some have been replaced or drastically altered by factors such as fires, urban renewal projects and simple style updates. (12) Property owners on Church Street remodeled, rebuilt and adaptively reused many buildings including the Sherwood Hotel and the Sherman Building (to be discussed later.) The current building to the north of the Union-Central building, blocked in the view below by trees, replaced the historic structure located on this plot at the turn of the twentieth century. Designed by the Office of Mies van der Rohe in 1976, to serve as the entrance to the Burlington Square Mall, this building now extends to the east forming the largest structure in the Church Street Historic District. (13) The building was remodeled again in 2003 and its steel and glass entryways from the 1970s were removed. (14)

Compared with recent photographs, early twentieth century images reveal that recent construction, painting, and landscaping projects have altered the appearance of the street. Short trees block the view of building facades, once readily apparent, and modern signs, awnings and windowpanes also contribute to the changed character of the street. The Unitarian Church remains, unwavering at the helm of the street, one of the only buildings fully visible looking north from Bank Street, as seen in the photo below. Regardless of its changing appearance however, Church Street has been a hub for Burlington throughout the city's history.

Church St. looking north from Bank St.
Oct. 23, 2012, 7:30 a.m.

The photograph (above) taken in October of 2012 shows how the streetscape has evolved and changed over the years. The building in the foreground on the right was built in the 1970s (15) to replace the historic structure evidenced in the early-twentieth century postcards. Changes in building height and style have altered the character of the street view giving it a more modern feel. While the building appearances, names and occupants have changed with time, the general use of Church Street as a commercial shopping center has remained the same. Another noticeable transformation is seen in the sidewalk and curb observed in the postcard but not in the current photograph. An article from the Burlington Free Press helps to explain: "the two middle blocks of the street were closed to traffic in 1981 with the creation of the Church Street Marketplace." (16)

The firm of Carr & Lynch from New York City designed the section of Church Street that was converted to a pedestrian mall in the early 1980s. (17) Today, Church Street is a pedestrian way from Main Street all the way north to Pearl Street, an area that spans four city blocks. The addition of locust and pear trees, along with benches, help to emphasize the intended pedestrian use of the space. Bricking over the street to create a walkway and moving all of the power and utility lines underground further adds visual integrity of the streetscape. This photograph indicates that although upper Church Street has been designated as a pedestrian way, vehicles are still permitted to drive and park there when making early morning business deliveries and doing street maintenance.

1. Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps, Burlington, VT, 1906.
2. Church Street Historic District, National Register of Historic Places Nomination, National Park Service, Washington, DC, 2009, 7; accessed at www.burlingtonvt.gov/PZ/Historic-Preservation/National-Register-of-Historic-Places/
3. Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps, Burlington, VT, 1889.
4. Church Street Historic District, National Register Nomination, 2009, 106.
5. Ibid., 117.
6. Ibid., 120-124.
7. Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps, Burlington, VT, 1885.
8. Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps, Burlington, VT, 1906.
9. Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps, Burlington, VT, 1906.
10. Church Street Historic District, National Register Nomination, 2009, 27.
11. Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps, Burlington, VT, 1906.
12. Church Street Historic District, National Register Nomination, 2009.
13. Ibid., 111-112.
14. Ibid., 112.
15. Church Street Historic District, National Register Nomination, 2009, 29.
16., "Remembering Church Street," Burlington Free Press, November 14, 1999, 1.
17. Church Street Historic District, National Register Nomination, 2009, 6.