The Reading Town Hall in Reading, Vermont is an imposing shingle-clad, gambrel roof building which sits in the village of Felchville. The hall was built in 1911 as a gift to the citizens of Reading by Wallace F. Robinson. Wallace Robinson was born in Reading in 1832. He went to Boston as a young man and entered into the provisions (groceries) market, and became quite successful, expanding into the wholesale provisions business and meat packing. He was active in civic and business affairs of Boston, most notably as the President of the Boston Chamber of Commerce and as a State Representative in the Legislature for two terms. By around 1900, Robinson had retired and had taken up a life of philanthropy, spending much of his wealth on memorial buildings and to places that had a lasting impact on him, including Robinson Hall at Dartmouth College and renovations at UVM. The design for the Reading Town Hall is especially notable for the fact that it was designed to resemble historic gambrel roofed barns found in the state.
The Old Round Church in Richmond, Vermont, was built in 1812-13 under the direction of local craftsman William Rhodes to be the Town Meeting Hall and place of worship for members of five denominations in the area. While the church is known as the Old Round Church, it is actually a sixteen-sided polygon, but I think it is safe to say the Old Round Church sounds better than the Old Hexadecagon Church… Traditionally, 18th- and 19th-century meetinghouses were rectangular in form and many followed popular builders’ pattern books which standardized the rectangular Wren-Gibbs architectural type. Experimentation was generally limited to decorative detail, steeples, porches or the orientation of the entrance, and not to the form, which is why this building is so unique. Within a few decades of the church’s opening, the founding denominations began to move out, some of them to build worship places elsewhere in town. In 1880, the Old Round Church reverted to the Town of Richmond and continued in use as the town’s meeting hall until 1973, at which time safety concerns forced its closure to the public.The Richmond Historical Society was formed in 1973, shortly before the church had to be closed and in 1976, the town deeded the church to the society, who then gathered funds to restore the building, protecting it from a much darker future. The Old Round Church remains one of the most unique architectural designs in Vermont and is always a treat to drive by in all seasons!
In 1833, Jedediah H. Harris, who had run a general store in Strafford village since 1803, commissioned a local contractor to build a new brick and granite store. Harris and his then-partner, Justin Morrill, opened the store in late fall 1834, selling provisions to locals and visitors to the small town. Morrill would later go on to construct a stunning Gothic home nearby and become a leading U.S. Senator. For more than one hundred years the store passed through a succession of owners, until C. William Berghorn Jr. closed it in 1951 to make it his residence. The building has since been converted to the local post office branch, with a residential unit likely above.
Perched atop a hill at the edge of the town common in Strafford, Vermont, the Strafford Town House epitomizes rural New England charm. The town house was constructed in 1799 by local carpenters as a place to do public business and served for a brief period in the early days as a meeting house for various local congregations. The building is one of the oldest meeting houses in Vermont and was one of the first meeting houses to put the entrance at the tower-end and the pulpit at the other end of the building. The change from a side-entrance orientation reflected a time when New Englanders were clearly deciding to separate their political business from their ecclesiastical affairs.
The quaint town of Pomfret, Vermont sees flocks of “leaf-peepers” and Instagrammers every Fall who are in awe of the natural scenery and historic farms seen there. The town was first settled in 1770 when Bartholomew Durkee travelled from Pomfret, Connecticut, along with his family and friends and named the town “New Pomfret” at first to show their roots in Connecticut. The tiny town grew to its peak population in 1830 at just under 1,900 residents, declining steadily over time to roughly 900 today, greatly adding to the rural character of the town.
In Pomfret Center, the local Congregationalists sought a new place of worship and had this structure constructed as their church in 1845. Local builder Eli Buch constructed the Greek Revival edifice with its projecting portico, doric columns, and corner pilasters. As nearby Woodstock Vermont grew, many families moved there and the church sold their building to the Town of Pomfret in 1872 and the building has since been used as Pomfret’s Town Hall.
Attempts were made to organize the Congregational Church in Thetford, Vermont as early as 1771, making this congregation among the five earliest in the state. As was typical of the day, the meetinghouse was intended to serve both public and religious functions, before the separation of church and state. Following the customary dispute over the location of the meetinghouse in town, the structure was erected on the Town Common, marking the beginning of the village of Thetford Hill. Construction began on the meetinghouse in 1785, being completed within a couple years. Sometime between 1807 and 1812, the Congregational Church ceased to be supported by taxes as the separation of church and state resulted in the sale of the meetinghouse and its subsequent move in 1830, from the town-owned common to its present site just north of it. In 1830, the pavilion, tower, and pilasters were added to give the church a Greek Revival flair. The church is reportedly the oldest meetinghouse in the state still in continuous service.
What I love about Vermont is that you can drive down a random road and stumble upon amazing old farms! This home was built around 1830 by Benjamin Holmes Cushman (1778-1880) who lived to be over 101 years old! Cushman opened a brickyard on the White River just north of his soon-to-be home in the early 1820s, likely having his home built soon after as an advertisement to the quality of his bricks. The home was probably the first brick home built in town, and due to the successful brickworks, many others were later built. Cushman bricks were probably used in the construction of the South Tunbridge M.E. Church. The Cushman Family apparently lived in the home until 1975 when a fire destroyed a portion of the home and it was subsequently sold.
One of the more “Vermont” building types is the cattle barn. When I was driving through the charming town of Tunbridge, I saw a massive barn out of the corner of my eye and had to slam on the brakes to get out and take a photo of one of the most unique I have ever seen! This octagonal bam was built by Lester Whitney, a descendent of the Whitney family, which played a significant role in the pioneering, settlement and community life of the historical town of Tunbridge. The Whitney Farm was primarily a dairy farm, with the growing of corn and hay, raising horses, making butter, and cutting ice from a pond created by damming the brook near the old brickyard. The Whitney’s raised sheep, made maple syrup and had an apple orchard south of the house. The purpose of a round barn was that the circular shape has a greater volume-to-surface ratio than a square barn. Regardless of size, this made round barns cheaper to construct than similar-sized square or rectangular barns because they required less materials. It also would be easier for carriages, plows and animals to navigate as there were no sharp corners to go around.
The Congregational Church in Tunbridge, Vermont was organized in February of 1792. The Congregationalists‘ first house of worship, the Tunbridge Meeting House, was built in 1795, and was also the civic meeting hall and a multi-denomination church. The first Tunbridge Village Congregational Church was built from 1835 to 1837, but that building was destroyed by fire in April of 1838. The present building, which seats about two hundred people, was built in 1839 at a cost of about $1,500. The building has changed very little except that in 1882, a freak tornado struck the church destroying the steeple, which was soon replaced with the existing steeple. This building relates architecturally to a number of churches that were built throughout Vermont in the first half of the nineteenth century and serves as a good example of vernacular ecclesiastical Greek Revival style architecture that enjoyed widespread popularity across the state.
One-room schoolhouses were scattered all around small towns like Tunbridge, VT until the advent and proliferation of the personal automobile to allow students to meet in a single, larger school. The Whitney Hill Schoolhouse was one of such one-room schoolhouses that were located in town and constructed in a Vernacular Greek Revival style. The building features two doors at the gable end with transom windows, and a bank of windows at the end of the side facade, to provide light to the classroom inside. The school was apparently in use until the 1920s and appears to be used as a residence or something of the like today.