One of the most stunning Gothic Revival homes in New England has to be the Justin Morrill Homestead in the tiny town of Strafford, Vermont. The home was designed by and built for Senator Justin Smith Morrill (1810-1898), who was born in town and worked with his mentor Jedediah Harris at the local store. He later expanded and owned numerous stores in the area and diversified, investing in railroads, banks and real estate in the region. He retired in the late 1840s and became a gentleman farmer, building this Gothic Revival home in town. In 1854 Morrill was elected to the Thirty-fourth Congress as a Whig. He was a founder of the Republican Party, and won re-election five times. In 1866, Morrill was elected to the U.S. Senate as a Union Republican, serving until his death in 1898. Morrill is best known for sponsoring the Morrill Act, also known as the Land Grant College Act. This act was signed into law by Abraham Lincoln in 1862, and established federal funding for higher education in every state of the country. Senator Morrill primarily used this house as a summer residence, as he spent much of his time in Washington, DC. The property remained in the Morrill family, until World War II. The house was eventually acquired by preservationists, who sold it to the state in 1969 for use as a Historical Site and museum.
The Universalist Society of Strafford, founded in 1798, is the second oldest in Vermont and fourth oldest in the nation. In the early years, Universalists met in Strafford’s Town House, sharing the building with other denominations. Eventually the Universalists, Baptists, and Congregationalists all built their own churches, with the Universalists building a structure in 1833 in South Strafford Village. The white clapboarded church sits high on a hill with a gorgeous belfry and large stained glass windows.
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.
Designed and built by Senator Justin Morrill in 1883, this building was donated to the town of Strafford by Morrill in memory of his mentor Jedidiah Harris. It was given to the town as a public library in part to house the Harris Library, which in turn had been created by a bequest from Harris. This structure remained a library until the Morrill Memorial Library building was completed in 1928 and its collection was joined with Morrill’s. It is currently used as the Town Office building providing space for the Town Clerk/Treasurer and Town Records, and town boards. The white clapboarded building has Victorian detailing with the spindled posts at the porch with a prominent gambrel roof covered in slate. Cute!
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.