University of Vermont


Community Preservation Research Project

North Street Historic District
Burlington, Vermont

8. Narrative Statement of Significance


The North Street Historic District, an east-west corridor known as the "Downtown Main Street" in the Old North End of Burlington, Vermont is significant under Criterion A for its contribution to the social development of Burlington as a center for many European immigrant groups. It is also eligible for its contribution to Burlington's economic development for its role as an important commercial district serving the entire city. Immigrant labors working in the lumber and textile industries made up a large portion of the work force that allowed Burlington to be a prosperous industrial town. North Street is also eligible under Criterion C as an example of the city's only residential/commercial district as defined by the City of Burlington Department of Planning and Zoning. The buildings are unified by their physical arrangement and historic functions. North Street was unique within Burlington because it was the only commercial artery surrounded by a strictly residential area. The street and the businesses that were housed on North Street still, after 150 years, serve the residents of North Street and the rest of the Old North End neighborhood. Seventy-two contributing buildings ranging from three story Italianate commercial buildings to single family vernacular dwellings, line the street, shaping and defining the public space. Viewed together, the whole streetscape, anchored by corner commercial landmarks, conveys the significance and value in a rich ethnic heritage of a local trade, commerce and residential life in the second half of the nineteenth century and first half of the twentieth century.


North Street from North Avenue to North Winooski has long since been an important link in the chain of Burlington's history. As early as 1830, development along North Street began to take shape with a few scattered single family dwellings and grew to become a burgeoning commercial and residential center by 1900. A map from 1853 shows the footprint of a building (#204) that was listed as a grocery store in 1860, possibly the first commercial building on North Street. Today there are twenty-four commercial or mixed commercial/residential structures in the district. Aside from commercial structures, there were many single family dwellings, duplexes, apartment buildings and mixed use buildings. The mixed-use buildings consisted of a business on the first floor and a residence on the second floor. Architectural styles varied from the vernacular to Italianate, Queen Anne, Greek, Gothic and Colonial Revivals. The residents of North Street consisted mainly of laborers employed by the lumber and mill industries. After 1911, North Street saw very few new structures built, which reflects the decline of industry in the Burlington area and the expansion of the city limits. The development of Church Street in the downtown area was continually rising and it drew businesses into that area and out of places like North Street.

Historic Context - A Brief History of Burlington
The City of Burlington was chartered in 1763. Growth was slow, but the future importance of Burlington was affirmed when the University of Vermont was chartered in 1791. In 1798, a city planned grid system of streets was laid out, incorporating the few transportation routes that existed, including King, Pearl, Church and Battery Streets, with space reserved at the city's center for a park (now City Hall Park). Known at that time as Courthouse Square, the park became a new focal point for attracting hotels, taverns, and offices in the early 1800s. Church Street remained a primarily residential street, while the waterfront developed into the region's dominant commercial and industrial center. North Street, parallel and one block north of the main street from Burlington Bay to the textile mills in Winooski, became a neighborhood downtown. North Street, laid out on the city grid at the beginning of the 19th century and linking the main shoreline avenue running north of the city to the neighborhoods lying east of the lake. A map drawn by Ammi B. Young in 1830 illustrates just a handful of scattered buildings along North Street, one of which still stands today at number 150.

During the War of 1812, Burlington served as the base of operations for the Northern Army of the United States, which was stationed north of Pearl Street adjacent to Battery Park. On September 10, 1823, the Champlain Canal opened; in 1843 the Chambly Canal opened, and by 1849, the Vermont Central and Rutland Railroad had reached Burlington. The railroads linked Burlington with markets in Boston and Montreal and together, the canals allowed lumber to be transported south from Canada to Burlington, and on to Boston and New York. As a result, business with Montreal and New York boomed. Lumber, glass blowing and textiles were the primary goods produced in the factories of Burlington and neighboring Winooski. Burlington became one of the leading lumber ports in the United States. It was called the port of the west.

The city's growth brought along an increase in commercial traffic. As a result, Riverside Avenue was cut into the hillside above the Winooski River while Winooski Avenue was extended out to meet it. This new route to Winooski facilitated access from North Street to the Winooski Falls and woolen mills. Immigrants poured into Burlington from Canada, Ireland, Russia, Germany and other European countries, mainly between 1840 and 1910, to find work in the factories stationed at the falls and on Burlington's waterfront. These workers, many of who settled on North Street, would provide goods and services essential to the community.

History and Significance of North Street
North Street was the commercial center of Burlington's Old North End neighborhood. It contributed to the social development of Burlington, acting as a center for many European immigrant groups. It also contributed to Burlington's economic development for its role as an important commercial district serving the North End and the entire city. The North End remained sparsely populated and rural until the second half of the nineteenth century, while the rest of the city continually urbanized. The opening of the Champlain Canal in 1823 and later, the completion of two rail lines into the city in 1849 were a major stimulus for this growth. The railroads were successful in linking Burlington's markets with those of Boston and Montreal while the canal provided an artery for the flow of lumber south from Canada via Lake Champlain. At its height, Burlington was the world's third largest lumber port and by 1880, the lumber yards employed nearly 1,000 people, with sales running 115 million feet a year. As Burlington's industries began to flourish, the population grew accordingly.

These successful businesses provided new opportunities for employment, thus attracting eager workers. As a result, housing was built rapidly after the Civil War. Houses were built close together on small lots and were mostly vernacular, one and a half to two stories and constructed of wood. The high-style houses and buildings from the early developing period were generally Greek Revival and Gothic Revival in small numbers, and later, a greater number of Queen Anne and Italianate buildings were constructed. The North End soon became a close-knit working class neighborhood, reflecting the strong ethnic character of the immigrants who had come to Burlington in search of jobs.

The North Street neighborhood served as a common ground for many immigrant groups. Although the French Canadian, Irish, and Jewish communities existed as separate residential communities in the North End, their economic and social lives frequently touched while engaged in activity along North Street. The different communities comprising the North End practiced different traditions, mostly based on religious distinctions. One's ethnicity was the core of life as well as social activity.

The 1850 U.S. Census listed Burlington's population at 7,585, of whom 11.7% (890) were French Canadian, and 29.9% (2,249) were Irish. Between 1865 and 1870, the peak of French Canadian immigration into Burlington, the French Canadian (which then made up one-third of Burlington's population). Irish immigration into Burlington peaked between the 1840s and 1850s and by the 1890s, a strong Irish neighborhood was centered along North Street between North Avenue and North Champlain Street. Moving further east up North Street near Elmwood Avenue was the French Canadian sector. Along lower North Avenue, many Germans settled near the still existent Goethe Lodge on Crowley Street. Lithuanian Jews, who immigrated to Burlington in large numbers at the turn of the century, settled near the intersection of Hyde Street and Archibald Streets where the Ohavi Zedek Synagogue was built in 1887, (and was listed in the National Register on January 1, 1978).

The US. Census of 1910 listed Burlington's population as 20,468. More than half of these, 10,643, were first or second generation immigrants; 3,562 were French Canadian, 1,297 were Irish and 948 were Russian. These numbers represent a stable population of well established families, however the 1910 census gives us only a flat view of Burlington's dynamic immigration process. Not all of these immigrants were able to find employment in the lumber yards. Many worked at the textile mills in Winooski and others opened their own shops and businesses in and around the commercial center of North Street.

Early on, the neighborhoods surrounding North Street were poverty stricken. Many streets were lined with tenement houses that were difficult to live in due to over crowding and sanitation problems. As families acquired enough money to move out of the tenement houses, they bought houses south of Pearl Street and around the Champlain Valley.
Many stayed however, choosing to live in their old neighborhoods. They often built their own houses with the help of family and neighbors. Many were Polish and Russian Jews who built their own homes in the 1920s. Those who stayed in the North End eventually began to thrive when their great efforts began to pay off. North Street, as the North End's commercial district, also began to thrive in the 1920s.

Many immigrant shop owners contributed to the economic success of North Street during the 1920s and 1930s. During this period, North Street competed for consumers with Church Street, which continues to be the commercial center of the city. The area just west of Elmwood Avenue to North Avenue was particularly prosperous. Frank's Economy Store, owned by Barnett Frank and later by his son, Belmont Frank, was enlarged during this period on the south side of North Street. On the opposite side of the Street, Mazel's Department Store also expanded, reflecting their success. A pastry shop opened by the Gelineau family, a drug store on the corner, and a shoe store also operated on this block. Unfortunately, the Great Depression hurt many of these businesses, and some were never fully able to recover. Since this era, many of the businesses have disappeared. Those that did recover have relied on local residents for business for the most part, a few, like Mazel's, Frank's Economy, Hyman Bloomberg's Shoe Stores, attracting a large number of people from other parts of the city. Corner grocery stores and neighborhood bars help to fill many of the commercial spaces existing along the street, thus helping to characterize it.
Faced with a decade of hard economic times caused by the Great Depression and later by competition from suburban sprawl, the North Street area fell into decline. Ironically, it was the Sid and Lou Mazel, sons of Sidney Mazel, who brought Vermont's first inkling of suburban sprawl when they opened Gaynes Shoppers World on Williston Road in South Burlington.
The Irish were among the very first European immigrants in Burlington, but it was not until the Great Potato Famine of 1846 - 1849 that high numbers of Irish came to the United States. Those who came to this country dispersed broadly across the northeast. The Irish immigrants constituted almost thirty percent (2,249) of Burlington's population (7,585) by 1850. Between 1830 and 1850, the only section of Burlington available to the unskilled, thus, poorest Irish was close to Lake Champlain in the North End, near Battery Street. With the subsequent arrival of those Irish trying to escape the potato famine, their North End community became solidified, as the respective Jewish and French Canadian communities later did. Although the Irish slowly gained respect in Burlington's establishment following the Civil War, they remained a separate society within Burlington. Economic opportunities were closed to them, and Irish-Americans labored in the most difficult and lowest-paying occupations including laborers in lumber, marble and shipping industries. Living in the North End and on North Street gave Irish immigrants a place to call home that provided affordable housing and close proximity to job sites on the waterfront.
The biggest influx of French Canadians into Burlington occurred after the Civil War by those attracted to the post war boom in industry in Burlington, although a proud and long-lasting French Canadian movement into the Champlain Valley began as early as 1666 with Fort St. Anne in Isle La Motte and settlement in the Addison County area in the 1730s. By the 1860s, French Canadians in Burlington, who were mainly Roman Catholic, had established their own church, complete with a French speaking priest. These immigrants did not seek assimilation, but rather preservation of their customs and culture.

North Street, near the intersection of Elmwood Avenue, was an area of French Canadian immigration into Burlington. Immigrants from the Province of Quebec began to pour into this country in the middle of the nineteenth century, due in large part to Quebec's rapid population growth, which made it difficult young French Canadians to find decent land with on which to live. French Canadians, mostly young, moved into northern New York and New England to become farmers, lumbermen, and laborers in brick yards and textile mills. Burlington's lumber yards attracted French Canadian mill workers. Many of the French Canadian immigrants settled in the community surrounding North Street.

The French Canadian community surrounding North Street has seen a much greater continuity than that of other immigrant communities in the area. The 1910 U.S. Census listed Burlington's population as 20,468; 3,562 of who were French Canadian. The original base of the French Catholic Church in Burlington was St. Joseph's diocese, formerly located on the corner of Archibald and North Prospect Streets and Allen Street, roughly two blocks away from North Street. The church provided the French Canadian community with a wide range of social development fostering growth and spirit among its members. Schools, choirs, scouts, a Mothers' Club, men's clubs and Prayer Groups are a few of its many organizations. Their church associations were strong and they supported them by running the parish. Singing, dancing, and feasting were among some of the recreation activities. St. Joseph's church, one block south of North Street, remains a flourishing part of life for the French Canadian inhabitants of Burlington, and as more of them arrived in the area, they became more geographically concentrated. Though the native French language has nearly disappeared in the area, the people remain bound by the arms and influence of their church.

A Jewish population settled near North Street between 1880 and 1920. In 1880, the number of Lithuanian Jews who had arrived in the United States was about 5,000, and by 1882, this number had leaped to 81,000. The pace of emigration continued and by 1907, 260,000 Jews had emigrated most of whom were Russian and Polish. Most Jews stayed in New York City and other large cities, but Burlington received a high number as well. By 1887, enough Jews had settled in Burlington's North End, that they were able erect the Ohavi Zedek Synagogue at the intersection of Hyde and Archibald Streets, and soon after, in 1889, the Chi Adam Synagogue on Hyde Street and in 1908, the Ahavath Gerim Synagogue on Archibald Street. (Today, the Ohavi Zedek Synagogue building is the most symbolic reminder of the Jewish presence in the North End.) The 1890 census listed Burlington's population as 14,590, one percent (160) of whom were listed Jewish. The 1910 U.S. Census listed Burlington's population as 20,468, four percent (920) of whom were Russian Jews. As Eastern Europeans, these Jews were orthodox in their beliefs, as well as in their preservation of the Yiddish language. The assassination of Tsar Alexander in 1881 triggered a wave of anti-Jewish riots, which led to the notorious May Laws. The deplorable persecution of the Jews was reflected in their rate of arrival into the United States. Russian Jews emigrated to the United States in masses leaving behind severe conditions at home.

Burlington's immigrant Jewish population of store-owners and tailors played an important role in the social and economic development of North Street. In the 1920s, Colodny's, Frank's and Saiger's were all stores owned by Jews. Home ownership in the original immigrant neighborhood promoted stable residence patterns and resulted in the term 'little Jerusalem' to describe the neighborhood. Religious as well as secular practices paralleled intimate Eastern European Jewish village life. Due to the then rural nature of the North End, characterized by barns, cows and gardens, life in the Jewish community resembled Eastern European life. As a result, the Jews were able to integrate their old ways of community spirit into their new lives in the North End. Homes, stores, movie theaters and the Hebrew Free School of 1910, were centers for social gathering, but restricted to the neighborhood. By the 1920s and 1930s, as they assimilated, English was becoming increasingly intermingled with Yiddish. By 1940 many factors that had reinforced traditionalism were disappearing. Most Jewish children attended the H.O. Wheeler School on Archibald Street along with non-Jewish children. In 1906, of the 300 pupils reported, 126 were Jewish. The immigrant generation had passed away and the new generation was becoming wealthier, enabling them to buy larger houses outside south of Pearl Street. Intermarriage was more prevalent among Jews and non-Jews, creating further assimilation with American culture. By the Second World War, Jewish life in Burlington, no longer revolved around the North End neighborhood.

The following dates reflect peak immigration: Irish: between 1840 and 1850; French Canadian: between 1865 and 1870; Lithuanian Jews: between 1880 and 1900; Russian Jews: between 1904 and 1908. Each immigrant group in Burlington's North Street neighborhood lived in very close single-family homes, multi-family homes, or apartment houses, house numbers 19-21, 23, 29, 33, 42, 83,191-193, 216, and 242 are just a few examples. The immigrant groups had similar development; each group immigrated to Burlington in search of jobs, found comfort and support within their religion, which was the center for their social activities, and eventually became successful and moved out of the North End to other areas of Burlington. North Street was the binding agent that held these groups together to form the North End neighborhood.
Although the North End has changed in character from a community built on long family traditions to one that primarily consists of tenants, today a strong feeling of community still prevails. Whether it is visible in the weekly farmer's market on the Intervale, or the gardening club that plants flowers along the sidewalks, North Street remains an integral part of historic Burlington as well as offering possibilities and enthusiasm to the Burlington of the twenty-first century.

Architectural Trends

The architecture of North Street is characterized by a variety of styles, building materials and patterns of use. Functional trends have been similar over time, but the numbers of each use type shifts when social and economic changes occur.

There has been a dramatic increase in the number of multi-family dwellings, and a decrease in single-family units, (once the majority). Rental properties now make up the majority of building types on North Street. A few examples are numbers 24, 33, 152, 216, and 248-252 on North Street. This is a direct result of the neighborhood's economic decline.

The number of mixed use buildings has stayed nearly the same. Mixed use is defined as a commercial business on the ground floor and single or multi-family residence occupying the upper floor(s). Commercial use has changed from corner mom and pop stores, family restaurants, grocery stores and variety shops to used furniture stores, rental centers and an assortment of other businesses.

The number of vernacular structures along North Street exceeds other styles. The ascension of vernacular architecture occurred between 1870 and 1889, which saw the construction of twenty-two vernacular structures. After 1890, the number of buildings constructed dramatically decreased. High-style structures were prevalent throughout development, but in far fewer numbers. At its peak, six high-style buildings, and only three vernacular structures were constructed between 1860 and 1870. Then, consistently from 1871 through 1910, each ten year period saw the construction of approximately five high-style buildings.
Use and style patterns are related to the community's social and economic development. Certain themes have continued throughout the last 100 years. The following themes play a vital role in understanding North Street's development. The neighborhood:

The character of the people who have inhabited the area is reflected in the architecture. The great diversity of people is indicated in the range of architecture that exists; from poor renters to store-owners reflected in simple vernacular to Queen Anne. Cross-cultural unions are revealed in an abundance of vernacular architecture. Today, the many elderly residents represent a living history of the old buildings that make up the neighborhood and the number of young people is reflected by the continuous activity along North Street.

The antique street lights aligning the road help to define North Street as a commercial area. These lights can be seen on historic photographs dating back to at least 1930 and still serve the same function today. The lights installed on North Street around c. 1925 were steel standard types designed to be used on "thoroughfares" (Holden 1990). About twelve of the lights remain today, but have been stripped of their lanterns and re-equipped with high-intensity sodium-vapor luminaries. Photographs show the lamps on both sides of the street, but now only twelve remain and exist on the north side of the street.

Many of the original character defining architectural elements along North Street remain intact. Some good examples can be seen on the following buildings (listed by address): 19-21, 33, 64, 71, 83, 99-101, 165, 188, 216, 222, 230, 239-241, 245, 252-258 North Street, 141-143 N. Champlain Street and 156 North Winooski Avenue. Some of the defining characteristics have been obscured over time, sometimes rendering them hybrids of old and new, but with enough of the defining elements to make them contributing members of the district.

Buildings relate stories of life, people, culture, economy and history and while alterations have reconfigured some of the buildings along North Street, one must recognize change as part of the history. There are many aspects of North Street's character that continue to make North Street unique and valuable to the residents of the North End. The architecture relates a history of commercial and residential use including: the corner stores, buildings with canted entrances with corner orientations, the single and multi-family dwellings, the mixed-use buildings, the accessibility and proximity of the area to the waterfront reflecting the working class that has historically lived in the neighborhood, the number of vernacular structures and high-style structures that reflect the economic class of the residents and the development of the street. The district exudes a sense of the history and heritage of the neighborhood.

North Street is also eligible under Criterion C as an example of the city's only residential/commercial district as defined by the City of Burlington Department of Planning and Zoning. The buildings are unified by their physical arrangement and historic functions.
The physical features and characteristics that distinguish the district during its period of significance include:

North Street was unique within Burlington because it was the only commercial artery surrounded by a strictly residential area. The street and the businesses that were housed on North Street still, after 150 years, serve the residents of North Street and the rest of the Old North End neighborhood.

The period of significance associated with the district begins with the first construction of a house on North Street in 1830 and ends in 1949. More than half of the structures were built in the late nineteenth century between 1860 and 1910 and directly relate to the booming lumber and textile industries in Burlington. Between 1920 and 1949, the street lights that define North Street as a commercial district were erected and with commerce as a prevalent theme, another wave of construction took place.

The district conveys a sense of historic and architectural cohesiveness through its setting, materials and association. It is possible that any one or more of the lumber companies built or supplied lumber for the construction of many of the houses on North Street. With the exception of a few buildings, the primary original building material was wood which adds to the cohesiveness of the district. The architectural styles and elements within the district contribute to the feeling of time and place visually, and although many renovations have taken place, many of the character defining elements remain intact. The setting of the houses is cohesive visually as they are set back from the street the same distance and are all within the same proximity of one another reflecting the land values on a busy commercial street and the strong housing market in areas near the waterfront industries. The changes that have taken place along North Street reflect the neighborhood's history; people have made changes that make their lives easier, and as history shows, many of the past residents have not had enough money or time to make historically correct renovations.

North Street has always been an area with both residential and commercial structures. The following lists four different property types along North Street and the various examples of these types over the last 130 years.

General Store
Grocery Store
Lunch Room
Milk Depot
Paint store
Rental Center
Tobacco Store
Taxi service
Used furniture
Variety Store
Wine and spirits


Emergency Shelter

Commercial & Residential

30 Commercial
50 Residential
2 Institutional
2 Vacant

30 Commercial
69 Residential
2 Institutional
1 Vacant

34 Commercial
60 Residential
6 Mixed-use
2 Institutional
1 Vacant

37 Commercial
60 Residential
4 Mixed-use
2 Institutional

39 Commercial
61 Residential
4 Mixed-use
2 Institutional


39 Commercial
60 Residential
10 Mixed-use
2 Institutional
1 Vacant


41 Commercial
62 Residential
9 Mixed-use
2 Institutional

43 Commercial
50 Residential
2 Mixed-use
3 Institutional

16 Commercial
52 Residential
22 Mixed-use
3 Institutional

17 Commercial
50 Residential
7 Mixed-use
4 Institutional
6 Vacant

Return to North Street Table of Contents

©1996 UVM Historic Preservation Program
Revised 4/96 by Gabrielle Bourgerie