Downtown Brattleboro Historic District
Municipality: Brattleboro, VT
Location: Downtown Brattleboro
Site Type: Historic District
Vt Survey No: --
UTMs: (Zone 18) UTMs: A. 699470/4747500. B. 699620/4746920. C.699350/4746950. D. 699150/4747520
National Register Nomination Information:
The Brattleboro Downtown Historic District encompasses sixty-two buildings in the town's center, extending the entire five-block length of Main Street parallel to the Connecticut River on the east. Multi-story brick commercial buildings dominate the southern three-block stretch of Main Street while imposing civic and religious buildings predominate along the northern stretch, giving the historic district an urban appearance. Historic architectural styles range from the Greek Revival to the Modernistic, with examples from the Victorian period being the most numerous. Although most storefronts have been altered, the buildings generally retain much of their historic integrity. Few modern intrusions have appeared to disrupt the prevailing nineteenth and early twentieth century character of the historic district.
The former Union Station (#l) marks the south end of the Brattleboro Downtown Historic District, standing opposite the intersection where three streets converge to form Main Street. Crossing the cascades of Whetstone Brook a short distance upstream from its confluence with the Connecticut River, Main Street ascends the north slope of the brook ravine and continues along a narrow riverine terrace to the Wells Fountain (#26), the north end of the historic district at the point where the street divides under different names.
Four perpendicular streetsFlat, Elliot, High, and Grove from south to northlead away from the west side of Main Street; the historic district follows them only for short distances. Behind the buildings along the east side of Main Street, a steep bank descends to the Boston and Maine Railroad tracks following the broad Connecticut River. The parallel ridge of Wantastiquet Mountain rises abruptly 1100 feet above the river from the New Hampshire shore, constituting the dominant landform in the area; much polychrome quartzite building stone used in Brattleboro was quarried on this mountain.
The southern three-block stretch of Main Street together with the east ends of the intersecting Flat, Elliot, and High Streets contains the densely developed commercial core of Brattleboro. The terrain rises abruptly from Whetstone Brook and the parallel Flat Street to the higher level of Elliot Street only a short city block to the north; buildings fronting the south side of Elliot Street generally descend three stories below that grade to foundations on the Flat Street plane. North of Elliot Street, the commercial core occupies the relatively flat surface of the riverine terrace.
In this part of the historic district, three- and four-story, flat-roofed, brick commercial blocks stand at the street lines, mostly attached in rows with relatively uniform cornice lines. A solitary Greek Revival style building, the Van Doorn Block (#5), survives in this area. Most of the architecture of this area represents the High Victorian period of Italianate, Second Empire, and Queen Anne influence together with a turn-of-the-century infusion of the Commercial style. The later Latchis Hotel (#61) introduced both the Modernistic style and precast concrete sheathing to the historic district. The Main Street clock (#l7B) constitutes this area's most important piece of street furniture. A modest attempt has been made recently to establish street plantings of small trees.
Northward from High Street, the predominant character of Main Street changes abruptly from commercial to civic and religious buildings. These buildings stand unattached and set back from the street amidst peripheral grounds; although modest in area, these grounds provide the only green space within the historic district (the Brattleboro Common lies a short distance to the north in a residential area). Large deciduous trees - especially American elms - formerly shaded this stretch of Main Street; in recent years, however, most of the trees have succumbed to disease or encroaching pavement, giving the street an increasingly barren appearance.
The buildings in this part of the historic district exhibit a diversity of architectural styles. Examples range from the modified Greek Revival of the Centre Congregational Church (#23) through several High Victorian Gothic, Second Empire, and Georgian Revival buildings to modern rectilinear blocks. More twentieth century examples occur here than in the commercial core, the result of contemporary redevelopment that brought several large civic and commercial buildings into a previously residential area .
The upper.Main Street buildings possess a somewhat different array of form, scale, and materials than the commercial blocks to the south. Several buildings - particularly the recent bank blocks (#22 and 24) and the early twentieth century ex-armory (#25) and Federal Building (#32) - share the three- or four-story, flat-roofed, brick character predominant in the commercial core. In contrast, the three churches (#23, 30, and 34) are distinguished by their structural materials - one of stone, one of brick, and the third wood framed - while their gable roofs and multi-stage towers constitute the most dramatically vertical forms in the historic district. Only two wood-framed representatives (#29 and 33) remain of domestic scale, and both have been enlarged by additions. Three recent buildings (#22, 24, and the Brattleboro public library #28) introduce the severely rectilinear forms of contemporary design expressed in asymmetrically arranged facades of brick, concrete, and glass.
A greater variety of building types - and adaptive uses - occurs along upper Main Street than in the commercial core. The formerly predominant houses have been reduced to two examples (#29 and 33) and both have been converted to other uses (offices and fraternal lodge). Two of the churches (#23 and 34) continue to serve their congregations while the third (#30) has been deconsecrated and converted to commercial use. The former high school (#27) has been adapted to contain municipal offices, and the former armory (#25) has become a center for social service agencies. The redevelopment of this area continues in the 1980's with the construction of the two blocks (#22 and 24) on sites formerly occupied by houses.
The buildings in the historic district are generally being maintained in good condition. Most of the commercial blocks have been subjected to alteration of their storefronts while their upper stories remain more or less intact. An unusually large number and variety of buildings have been adapted to other than their original uses; in addition to those mentioned above, the examples include the former Union Station (#1, converted to a museum and art center), the Paramount Theatre (#20, converted from a commercial block), the former Brooks House hotel (#41, adapted to apartments), the former Central Fire Station (#45, converted to commercial use), the former Methodist Church (#50, also converted to commercial use), and three former automobile garages (#39, 56, and 60, adapted to other commercial use). Most of these adaptations have occurred in recent years, and the buildings have been refurbished or somewhat altered during the process.
In 1979, a Community Development project was undertaken to improve the appearance of Elliot Street and its buildings, several of which (#52-60) stand within the historic district. The three-year Elliot Street Revitalization Project has been awarded grants totaling approximately $300,000 from the Department of Housing and Urban Development to cover both architectural services and construction. The architectural firm of John Rogers and George Heller of Putney, Vermont has designed the facade improvements to reveal and enhance historic fabric; inappropriate sheathing and and signage are being removed, historic materials and components are being cleaned and repaired, and facades are being repainted in polychrome where appropriate. The street itself has received Victorian-style columnar light fixtures, brick paving of pedestrian spaces, and other amenities.
Descriptions follow of the individual buildings in the historic district; numbers refer to the enclosed sketch map.
1. Brattleboro Union Station (Vernon Street); 1915.
2. Boston and Main Railroad Stone Arch Bridge; 1878.
During the 1913 construction of a second main (northbound) track, a steel girder and concrete span was built at an acute angle to the east flank of the stone arch to carry the realigned second track. Like that of the arch, its north abutment is built of cut stone blocks laid in irregular courses; the south abutments of both spans have been either rebuilt or encased in concrete.
3. Former electrical generating station (Arch Street); 1895.
4. Barrows Office (35 Main Street); circa 1930.
5. Van Doorn or Culver Block (51 Main Street); 1850.
On the street facade, the left-bay main entrance and flanking storefront have been somewhat altered. The original double-leaf paneled doors and surmounting semielliptical fanlight have been removed, leaving a void beneath the keystoned brick arch; the present doorways are deeply recessed behind the opening. The two original windows to the right of the entrance have been replaced by one large display window. Around the truncated southeast corner of the block, a four-story, wood-framed (with metal siding), shed-roofed east wing has a triangular plan to conform to the alignment of the little-used Arch Street right-of-way on the southeast.
6. Ullery Block (57-61 Main Street); circa 1900.
6A. Ullery Block Annex (Arch Street); circa 1900. Connected by a passageway, this four-story, flat-roofed, brick industrial annex of polygonal plan stands to the rear (east) of the Ullery Block on the lower level near the railroad tracks. Following the line of Arch Street, the diagonal five-bay southeast facade has segmental-arched openings with stone sills and is crowned by a corbeled cornice. The annex abuts on the northeast the similar American Building Annex (#7A).
7. American Building (63-73 Main Street); 1906.
The front (west) facade is distinguished by its Ohio pressed brick sheathing of light straw color, that being continued onto the north and south elevations to a depth of one bay. On the north, two single-bay angled projections face the street along an alley leading to the building's annex (#7A). The main block carries atop the center of its roof a large four-bay square belvedere capped by a hip roof bearing a flagstaff.
7A. American Building Annex (Arch Street); 1906. A two-story wing attached to the rear (east) elevation of the American Building (#7) connects it to the large four-story, flat-roofed, brick industrial annex that stands on the lower level next to the railroad tracks, extending eleven bays parallel to the tracks on its east facade. Fenestration consists predominantly of segmental-arched window openings with stone sills; three bays of coupled sash (with straight lintels on the lower stories) mark the annex's angled southeast facade abutting the Ullery Block Annex (#6A). A corbeled cornice crowns both facades. From its construction until 1981, the annex was occupied by the Vermont Printing Co., and its successor, the Brattleboro Publishing Co., publishers of the local newspaper, the Brattleboro Daily Reformer.
8. Richardson Building (77-83 Main Street); 1924.
9. Devens Block (85-87 Main Street); circa 1840-45.
The exterior appearance of the Devens Block differs from its neighbors by its taller storefront (with recessed central entrance) beneath a massive rock-faced granite lintel and its taller second-story window openings (now partly blocked down) that share the granite lintels and sills common to the three blocks. The storefront has been altered similarly to those on the adjoining Exchange Block (#10) with modern plate-glass display windows .
10. Exchange Block (89-93 Main Street); circa 1840-45.
11. Cutler's Block (95-97 Main Street); circa 1840-45.
12. Union Block (101-105 Main Street); circa 1861.
The first story presents a side-by-side contrast between original fabric and severe alteration. The three-bay right storefront retains its cast iron pilasters and large display windows flanking a recessed central entrance. Beyond the fanlighted upper-story entrance, the wider left storefront has been altered with clapboard siding, multi-paned display windows and a bellcast copper-sheathed canopy.
A unique decorative feature is affixed to the wall surface between the second and third stories. A large bronze plaque extends the width of the facade, bearing the name 'Amedeo de Angelis' in raised block letters flanked by eagles holding shields. The name was that of an immigrant Italianate shoemaker who owned the building during the 1920's and 1930's and who expressed publicly his appreciation for his adopted country by means of the plaque, reputed to have cost $12,000.
13. Granite Block (109-113 Main Street); circa 1850.
14. Perry Block (115 Main Street); circa 1850.
The Perry Block's distinctive fourth story was added circa 1890 to the originally gable-roofed building; its three bays possess segmental-arched openings above which a bracketed modillioned cornice with denticulated frieze crowns the facade. The building's single storefront has been completely altered in recent years.
15. Ranger Block (117-125 Main Street); circa 1850.
16. Ryther Block (127-129 Main Street); 1884.
17. Hooker-Dunham Block (133-145 Main Street); 1884.
17A. Hooker-Dunham Block Annex: 1897-1900. Constructed in 1897-1900 at the rear (east) of the Hooker-Dunham Block, this flat-roofed brick annex rises six stories from the level of the railroad tracks to exceed the size of the main block.
17B. Main Street Clock (141 Main Street); 1908. Brattleboro's street clock stands on the sidewalk in front of the Hooker Dunham Block (#17). The cast-iron fixture consists of a tall paneled pedestal bearing an attenuated Corinthian column that supports the circular clock head crowned by a closed cresting. The two clock faces are marked with roman numerals and lettered 'Brattleboro, Vermont.' Installed in 1908, the clock was made by the Brown Street Clock Co. of Monessen, Pennsylvania.
18. former Vermont Savings Bank Block (151-153 Main Street); 1869, circa 1935.
The 1935 reconstruction destroyed the original High Victorian Italianate .style facade, probably the most ornate commercial facade to appear in Brattleboro. Subdivided vertically by pilasters into single side bays flanking a central double-bay panel, the symmetrically arranged stone-trimmed facade also carried strong horizontal articulation provided by inter-story cornices and projecting continuous sills. The facade was crowned by a spectacular roof cornice supported by giant scrolled brackets and bearing a pedimented parapet culminating in finials. The round-arched upper-story window openings were framed by pilasters and, on the second story, stone hood molds. On the first story, twin side-bay pilastered entrances flanked a central plate glass window.
The Vermont Savings Bank occupied this building throughout its history, being responsible both for the original construction (under the name of a corporate predecessor) and the 1935 reconstruction of the main facade. A merger with the Vermont National Bank in the 1950's removed the Savings Bank from the building; subsequently it has been used for offices.
19. Commercial building (155-159 Main Street); 1981.
20. Paramount Theatre (165-169 Main Street); circa 1850, 1937.
The north elevation of the building reveals its original brick construction with stone lintels and sills. The upper stories of the south elevation (exposed by the demolition of a similar-scaled commercial block on the site of the adjoining building, #19) also show original materials, the second story being constructed of quartzite rubble instead of brick. Stone quoins appear on the west corners of both side elevations, indicating the cut granite blocks used to construct and distinguish the main facade.
The original gable roof of the building extended parallel to the street and terminated in brick gable parapets. An oriel window was added to the left bays of the main facadeıs second story early in the present century but was removed probably at the time of the theatre conversion.
21. Commercial building (181-183 Main Street); 1953.
22. Burlington Savings Bank Building (185-187 Main Street(; 1980.
23. Centre Congregational Church (193 Main Street); 1842, 1864.
The wood-framed main block rises two stories to a slate-shingled gable roof oriented perpendicular to the street; it extends five bays in length along the north elevation. The three-bay main (west) facade is sheathed with flush boards to suggest stone, an effect enhanced by wood corner quoins. The engaged tower constitutes the central bay, interrupting the fully pedimented gable. Twin secondary entrances occupy the side bays on the first story directly below flat-topped second-story windows; both sets of openings are sheltered by bracketed entablature.
Added in 1864, the Italianate Revival style central tower soars three times the height of the main block through four stages and a culminating spire. The churchıs main entrance occupies the tower's base, its double leaf paneled doors enframed by pilasters that support the keystoned hood mold of the semicircular fanlight that shows the influence of the Romanesque Revival style. A similar surround marks the similar second-story stained glass window, springing from an attenuated return of the molded roof cornice carried around the tower. The quoined base stage emerges in full depth above the ridgeline to conclude at a projecting cornice.
The tower's diminished, quoined second stage contains the original town clock. The clock was made by George Holbrook of Medbury, Massachusetts and installed in 1816 when the church was constructed on its original site. The round clock face on each elevation has Roman numerals and is crowned by a keystoned hood molding similar to those below. Another projecting cornice terminates the clock stage.
The belfry occupies the next diminished stage, its corners defined by pilasters that rise to a projecting cornice; a round-headed louvered opening with molded surround marks each face of the belfry. The next upper stage is octagonal in plan and is decorated with slender round-arched blind panels flanked by corner pilasters that carry a projecting cornice. The octagonal stage forms the transition to the shingled spire, which tapers upward to a finial and metal weathervane.
At the time of its reconstruction on the present site in 1842, the church possessed a substantially different appearance. The west front was distinguished by a Doric portico, and a steeple stood atop the roof. In 1864, a violent storm blew down the spire, severing it above the clock chamber. This event and a contemporary need for more interior space caused the alteration of the west front to its present form. The main block was extended forward the depth of the portico, and the central tower was erected to engage the new facade. (The tower was fitted with a new bell from a Troy, New York foundry, replacing the original bell cast by the maker of the tower clock, George Holbrook.) Again in 1929, the tower was partly destroyed - by a fire that also damaged the roof - but subsequently was rebuilt to match its previous appearance.
The church received its first addition in 1854, when the two-story rear (east) wing was built to provide a chapel. A new chapel appeared circa 1870 in a one and one-half story south ell attached to the east wing, the latter being converted to "ladies' parlors." Half a century later, in 1924, the south ell was enlarged to its present two-story, flat-roofed form with Georgian Revival characteristics (including a second-story Palladian window) designed by Hutchins and French, Architects of Boston. Different exterior materials and color were introduced in 1966 when a one-story, flat-roofed brick extension was added to the south ell.
In 1981, the historic integrity of the church was compromised by the application of vinyl sheathing to the side elevations and the two-story additions. The sheathing conceals the original clapboards, cornices, corner quoins, and other stylistic elements; only the west front and the tower now (1982) retain their historic appearance.
24. Merchants Bank Building (201-205 Main Street); 1980.
25. former Brattleboro Memorial Armory (207 Main Street); 1922.
On the five-bay west front of the main block, a three-bay central pavilion projects slightly forward and surrounds the round-arched, keystoned portal leading to the deeply recessed double-leaf main entrance. The pavilion interrupts the stone water table that delimits the partly exposed basement. The first story is marked by keystoned flat-arched window openings with eight-over-eight sash, above which a projecting stone beltcourse encircles the main block. The upper stories are related by their triptych windows; the second-story windows have plain rectangular openings while those on the third story occupy keystoned, round-arched openings (like that of the main entrance) tied together by an impost stringcourse. A projecting stone cornice encircles the block below a brick parapet with a stepped stone coping; a rectangular stone tablet surmounts each bay along the parapet.
Since the demolition of Brattleboro's Town Hall in 1953, the former armory has served somewhat the same functions. Recently the building has been refurbished and adapted to contain offices of various social service agencies; its name has consequently been changed to Gibson-Aiken Center.
26. Wells Fountain (head of Main Street); 1890.
The fountain marks approximately the site where the architect's older brother and prominent sculptor, Larkin G. Mead, Jr., created hi.s famous 'Snow Angel' on New Years' Eve of 1856. (A marble replica of that short-lived ice sculpture is exhibited at the Brooks Memorial Library, #28, across the street.) For half a century after installation of the fountain, the landscaped grounds of E. J. Carpenter's neighboring Italianate villa provided an appropriate background for the fountain. Then in 1933 the house was demolished and replaced by a gas station, leaving the fountain isolated in the midst of a paved expanse and surrounded by heavy vehicular traffic. Although the fountain itself remains intact, the historic character of its setting has been destroyed.
27. former Brattleboro High School (230 Main Street); 1882-84.
A projecting central entrance pavilion dominates the main (east) facade, crowned by the castellated corbeled main cornice and capped by a large pyramidal-peaked roof (with triangular louvered dormers) that rises above the lower slope of the hip roof. Attached to the pavilion's first story, a gabled entrance porch with round arched openings shelters the double-leaf doorway; the porch is approached by a flight of marble steps that matches the height of the building's rubble stone foundation and marble water table. The central pavilion's second story is lighted by triple two-over-two sash sharing continuous marble sills and lintels, that being the standard window arrangement repeated on the flanking bays as well as the other elevations of the building. At each end of the east facade, a paneled corner pavilion repeats at smaller scale the form of the entrance pavilion; the peak of each pavilion's roof culminates in a metal cresting.
The asymmetrical north and south flanks of the building are composed of elements similar to those on the east front, excepting the added gabled dormers on the lower slope of the hip roof. The secondary west facade possesses an entrance pavilion that extends more than half its width, creating recessed corners in contrast to the projecting corner pavilions of the main facade. Atop the center of the roof stands a quartet of large brick ventilating cupolas with round-arched louvered openings and corbeled cornices.
After the completion in 1951 of a new union high school (outside the historic district), the building was converted (in 1953) to Brattleboro's Municipal Center containing the offices of local government; the exterior of the building remains essentially unchanged.
28. Brooks Memorial Library (224 Main Street); 1967.
29. Burnham House (214-218 Main Street); circa 1860.
The porch also provides access to a two-story, clapboarded, shed-roofed west wing. From the southwest corner of the wing, there extends a one story, flat-roofed ell constructed of rusticated concrete blocks; its pedimented east entrance porch repeats some of the main porch's ornamental details. The concrete-block ell was built to contain a doctor's office.
30. former All Souls Unitarian Church (210 Main Street); 1874-75.
The east gable front presents to Main Street a central entrance sheltered by a gabled porch, above which a rose window set within a pointed-arch surround dominates the facade. Approached by a flight of stone steps, the Tudor-arched openings of the porch are supported by polished Tuscan columns and stone piers; the coupled double-leaf doorways are surmounted by stained glass transoms set within a Tudor-arched surround. An attenuated tower defines the southeast corner of the facade, its truncated pyramidal roof not achieving the height of the main roof's ridgeline. Like those on the building's other gables, the raking eaves are trimmed with granite copings terminated by lower-corner gablets.
The principal tower projects from the north corner of the facade, containing a Tudor-arched secondary entrance in its base. The upper part of the base stage is occupied by the bell chamber, whose quoined louvered openings have Tudor-arched heads. The latter point toward lancets that mark the base of the stone broached spire. The spire tapers upward to culminate in a stone cross.
The three-bay north and south side elevations of the church are trimmed with granite water tables, corner quoins, and quoined Tudor-arched window surrounds. Near the west end of the main block, the gabled transepts project only slightly outward from the flanks, lighted by large three-part tracery windows. Atop the crossing stands a small cupola with pointed-arch louvers and a pyramidal roof. The west elevation of the church lacks openings; its raking eaves are punctuated by stone interior end chimneys.
The Unitarian parish vacated the church in 1970, moving to a new building in West Brattleboro. In 1972, a local law firm bought the property, including the adjacent former parish house (#31); subsequently the church has been converted to commercial use. While the exterior retains intact its historic appearance, the interior has been altered principally by the removal of its religious furnishings.
The interior shell continues to evoke its historic character. The major features include an exposed ceiling supported by ribbed rafter beams with collar ties, a choir loft above the east vestibule with a paneled front, the shallow sanctuary at the west end recessed beneath a pointed arch (and flanked on the north by the pipes of an organ), and wainscoting below the windows. The latter retain their original stained glass installed by Baker and Son of New York, illustrating the Life of Christ. Some original decoration also survives, including murals painted by W.J. McPherson of Boston and floral stenciling applied by Swedish parishioners employed at the Estey Organ Co. in Brattleboro.
31. former All Souls Unitarian Parish House (5 Grove Street); 1913.
The building shows the influence of the Western Stick style in its picturesque blend of natural materials and design characteristics. Vacated by the Unitarian parish in 1970, it has been adapted to contain law offices without alteration of its exterior appearance.
32. U.S. Post Office and Court House (204 Main Street); 1915-17.
The east front presents to Main Street an arcaded five-bay entrance pavilion that projects slightly forward of the flanking end bays. The rusticated first story contains three round-arched central doorways approached by a flight of stone steps matching in height the stone foundation; flanking the doorways, four elaborate iron lamps mounted on scrolled brackets illuminate the entrance. A heavy stone beltcourse provides a continuous sill for the second-story window openings as well as a base for the stone-trimmed brick pilasters that define the individual pavilion bays, rising to support another heavy beltcourse atop the third story. The decorative second-story windows consist of full-height casements protected by shallow iron balconets and surmounted by blind round arches inset with bas-relief figures. A prominent denticulated stone cornice encircles the main block, crowned by a parapet with intermittent balustrades.
On the north (Grove Street) flank of the building, the main blockıs stone beltcourses are carried across the west block to provide the only decoration of the latter. The beltcourses are omitted from west block's south flank, from which projects a one-story wing with a full-length, multi-bay loading dock. The west block was built to contain the mechanical equipment for the mail processing center that serves most of Windham County; the main block was refurbished during the construction project.
33. Masonic Temple (196 Main Street); circa 1910.
At the joint between the main block and the offset west addition, a south interior corner entrance porch leads to the latter block; its window openings have been blinded on both stories.
34. First Baptist Church (190 Main Street); 1867-70.
Two decades later, in 1889, the church's appearance was changed appreciably by a $28,000 enlargement. Charles Wentworth, partner of Ralph Adams Cram, designed the addition of a truncated entrance tower to each corner of the east front and a three-story wing on the west elevation. The added towers and the contemporary removal of various pinnacles reflect the Late Gothic Revival style then emerging from the Cram office.
At the same time, the original central tower received a large pointed-arch stained glass window in place of the main entrance. Accentuated by corner buttresses, the tower rises through a three-story base stage to a diminished bell chamber marked by coupled pointed-arch louvers and crowned by a figured cornice. An octagonal spire rises from the bell chamber, shingled with polychrome patterned slate and tapering upward to a culminating needle.
Now nearly obscured by ivy, the wall surfaces of the east front are bisected by stepped buttresses that interrupt the scalloped corbeled roof cornice. Like those in the towers, the lancet windows are recessed within pointed-arch stone surrounds with chiseled sills. The buttressed corner towers contain the twin main entrances of the church, whose double-leaf doorways are surmounted by stained glass transoms and recessed within pointed arch surrounds; stepped lancets on the tower side walls correlate to interior stairs. The roof cornice continues around each tower, interrupted in the front by a lancet window in the position of a wall dormer; the towers are capped by pyramidal roofs.
On the north and south flanks of the church, wall buttresses define the individual bays. A one-story gallery with Tudor-arched openings extends along the north flank, connecting the north tower and the north projection of the west wing. The three-story, hip-roofed wing was added to the rear of the church in 1889 to provide a chapel and meeting rooms.
The 1889 project brought to the church its first stained glass window created by the Tiffany Studios of New York: 'Christ Among the Doctors' was installed in the central tower (the principal window in the church) as a memorial to Jacob and Desdemona Estey. Another Tiffany window, 'St. John, the Divine,' was installed in 1896 in memory of Levi Fuller, partner of Jacob Estey in the latter's organ manufactory and former Governor of Vermont. In 1906, the Estey family contributed a pipe organ from its factory to honor Julius J. Estey, son of the company's founder; the company had commenced production of that type of organ in 1901 during Julius Esteyıs presidency.
35. Former Montgomery Ward Company building (182-184 Main Street); 1929.
36. Commercial building (178-180 Main Street); 1929.
37. Dunkin' Donuts (176 Main Street); 1970.
38. Manley Apartment Building (29 High Street); 1918.
39. Manley Brothers Block (22-28 High Street); c.1910.
The building was erected circa 1910 for the Brooks House (#41) hotel corporation and then leased to John and Robert Manley for their automobile repair and rental business that served both hotel guests and the public. Ramps provided access to the upper stories of the west flank from southward ascending Green Street on the adjacent hillside. Subsequently converted to other uses, the building's High Street storefronts have been altered (in 1977) with wood sheathing surmounted by a false mansard. A contemporary one-story, flat-roofed (also with false mansard) brick ell has been added to the rear of the east elevation.
40. Retting Block (16-20 High Street); circa 1850.
The Retting Block was constructed circa 1850 and thereafter used for a Masonic hall. The building was saved from the Great Fire of 1869 that destroyed the entire block of Main Street between High and Elliot Streets. After being displaced from another building by the fire, John J. Retting, an immigrant German furniture maker, moved his store into the building; Rettingıs sons continued the business following his retirement. Subsequently the building has been extensively altered and converted to contain offices. Non-contributing owing to alterations.
41. Brooks House (120-136 Main Street); 1871-72.
42. Crosby Block (106-118 Main Street); 1870-71.
The upper stories of the truncated block retain their original appearance, although the overall symmetry of the design has been interrupted. The pressed brick main (east) facade is subdivided into three-bay panels by quoined brick piers that rise from the storefront cornice to support a paneled frieze (bearing the block's name at its original center) below the arcaded corbel tables of the prominent roof cornice. The window openings on both upper stories have stone sills and hood molds; the latter differ in form to distinguish the stories, being straight on the second story and segmental-arched on the third story. The storefronts have been completely altered in a confusion of materials and forms; the original corbeled storefront cornice survives only across the northernmost 13 bays.
43. Vermont National Bank Building (100 Main Street); 1958-59.
The wider Elliot Street (south) elevation displays the same appearance aside from the doubling of the vertical window bands. The original south elevation extended six bays marked by plain granite lintels and sills; both the storefront and roof cornices were carried also across this elevation.
The present building does not contribute to the character of the historic district.
44. Market Block (15-23 Elliot Street); 1873.
The Market Block possesses the most completely intact nineteenth century storefronts in the historic district. Oriented around recessed transomed doorways, the storefronts have large transomed display windows framed by cast-iron columns that support a continuous granite lintel. On the second story, the window openings are framed by granite lintels and sills. Above the second-story windows, a range of starred tie-rod anchors serves both decorative and structural functions; both starred and linear anchors appear on the east elevation.
45. former Central Fire Station (25 Elliot Street); 1873.
The main (south) facade retains its original appearance only on the second story, where brick piers bisect the four-bay wall surface into twin recessed panels surmounted by a scalloped, corbeled cornice; the round-headed six over-six sash are crowned by corbeled hood moldings. The west elevation of the building lacks both the ornamental cornice and the hood moldings, its four window openings having straight granite lintels and sills.
In contrast to the original fabric of the second story, the first story of the south front has lost its historic character. In several alterations since 1950, it has been extended forward to the street line and converted to a storefront with large display windows; during an earlier alteration, the original twin round-arched engine bays were enlarged to rectangular configuration. Another post-1950 alteration of the building involved the dismantling of the square hose-drying tower - lighted by an oculus on each face and crowned by a corbeled cornice - from the rear of the roof. Currently (1982) a substantial wood canopy and glass-enclosed greenhouse are being attached to the second story atop the extended storefront.
46. Fisher or Grange Block (49-55 Elliot Street); 1894, 1915.
On the south facade, both upper stories are lighted by three triptych windows separated by single sash; all openings are enframed by stone sills and lintels, the latter interconnected by dogtooth beltcourses. The third story is distinguished by semicircular keystoned fanlights that crown the central panels of the triptych windows. A corbeled dogtooth cornice surmounts the facade and continues around its corners to a depth of one bay along each eleven-bay side (east and west) elevation, indicating the extent of the 1915 reconstruction. The first-story windows on the east elevation were opened during a recent refurbishment of the building.
The three storefronts retain most of their original fabric. Fluted cast iron pilasters flank each storefront while attenuated cast-iron columns provide intermediate support; these vertical members support a stamped metal denticulated storefront entablature that extends the width of the facade. The entablature remains unobstructed by signage, that being applied instead to the large display windows. Canvas awnings shade the display windows, partly concealing their blinded transoms.
47. Emerson Block (48-64 Elliot Street); circa 1890, 1914.
On the north facade of the building, only two stories are exposed to Elliot Street, and the wall planes of the east and west blocks meet at a slight angle. Brick pilasters enframe both wall planes, rising to support an overscaled denticulated entablature. In 1977, the entire second story of the facade was sheathed with redwood panels (although apparently without serious alteration of the original fabric), and the storefronts were altered in a uniform manner with modern plate glass and partial wood sheathing.
The original facade constituted the most significant architectural feature of the Emerson Block: both stories were sheathed with full-height glass, and the glass was employed by the unknown architect or builder in varying manners on each wall plane and story. The west plane's second story was the most extraordinary, consisting of three embayed Chicago windows separated only by attenuated pilasters. The same story of the east plane presented the contrast of flush panels of plate glass secured by slender mullions.
The first story differed less markedly from one plane to the other. On the west plane, the storefronts were enclosed by full-height plate glass with narrow street panels flanking broad angled panels leading to the deep recessed central doorways, the entire assembly being surmounted by an attenuated version of the roof entablature. The storefronts on the longer east plane possessed wider street panels and transom panels above all fixed glass; these storefronts were surmounted by a continuous sign band.
48. Commercial block (42-44 Elliot Street); circa 1880.
A heavy granite storefront lintel provides a strong horizontal division of the facade. The storefront consists largely of plate glass, its display windows flanking a recessed central entrance (all of whose transoms have been blinded); fluted cast-iron pilasters provide structural support. In the left bay, the transomed upper-story entrance is recessed between granite-based piers.
Like its neighbors along the south side ff Elliot Street, this building descends three additional stories on the rear to the level of Flat Street. Its relatively plain east and west flanks have segmental-arched window openings. A large polychrome billboard advertising a defunct patent medicine has been recently repainted on the upper east wall, contributing to the visual diversity of the streetscape.
49. Former Methodist Church (16-20 Elliot Street); 1880.
The dominant feature of the church's design, the northwest tower displays an extraordinary array of ornamental details. The double-leaf main entrance occupies its base, set within the pointed-arch opening of a partly metal sheathed surround and flanked by corner buttresses. Above a raised belt course, a pair of slender round-headed windows is surmounted in turn by an oculus with a molded surround. The base stage then joins the diminished bell chamber, marked on each face by pointed-arch louvers set within a molded surround and crowned by a corbeled cornice. From flared eaves, the four-sided spire - shingled with polychrome patterned slate - tapers upward to a stylized cross of metal openwork.
The counterbalancing northeast tower rises only to the height of the building's ridgeline but it repeats on a smaller scale the form of the main tower. A secondary entrance occupies its buttressed base, and it culminates in a flared four-sided spire shingled in the manner of its larger counterpart. The interposed wall plane is dominated by a rose window, whose trefoil motif appears also in the underlying cluster of three etched lancet windows; smaller triplet round-headed windows occupy the gable, whose surface is embellished with niches and zig-zag brickwork.
In contrast to the north front, the east and west flanks of the building display little ornamentation; fenestration on each of their main and upper most basement stories consists of three pairs of trefoil-motif, pointed arch etched windows.
The exterior of the building remains unaltered except by weathering, being especially in need of repointing. The interior, however, lost most of its historic integrity circa 1970 when converted to a theatre. More recently, the building has been converted to commercial uses, and the interior has been subdivided longitudinally into parallel shops; only the entrance vestibule and the outside walls continue to evoke their ecclesiastical origin. A commercial display case has been recently attached to the north facade, repeating the forms of the lancet windows now shielded behind it.
50. [NO NUMBER 50 LISTED.]
51. Leonard Block (12-14 Elliot Street); 1882.
On the unaltered upper stories, the segmental-arched window openings display marble sills and stilted marble hood moldings highlighted in black except for the impost blocks and keystones. The spandrels are also high lighted with black striping. Corner piers rise from the corbeled storefront cornice to the massive stamped-metal modillion roof cornice; pressed brick quoins turn the corners onto the standard brick east and west elevations. The storefront has been completely altered (in 1961) with an angled display window.
51A. Office building (10 Elliot Street); 1958. One-story, flat roof, infill between buildings#51-52. Non-contributing owing to age.
52. Former Peoples' National Bank Block (2-6 Elliot Street); 1879-80.
The symmetrical main (north) facade comprises twin two-bay panels flanking a recessed central bay. On the twin panels, the third story openings contain slender coupled one-over-one sash enframed by marble lugsills and peaked marble lintels; the second-story openings have single one-over-one sash set within identical surrounds. Marble quoins articulate the corners of the panels, interrupted by a marble storefront cornice. Flanking the recessed upper-story entrance, the somewhat altered storefronts have recessed central entrances. The left storefront has had its entrance shifted from the left bay, losing in the process the two marble-banded piers that originally supported the openings; the right storefront retains nineteenth century attenuated cast-iron columns.
Although truncated from its original profile, the roof cornice remains an outstanding ornamental feature of the building, projecting its arcaded corbeled form above a marble beltcourse that delimits the wall plane. Stylized turrets interrupt the cornice above the corners of the north facade's wall panels, leaving a niche above the central bay. Originally the cornice carried several additional marble-trimmed courses and a parapet above the central bay, and the turrets rose higher than the cornice
The Main Street (east) facade reiterates the decoration of the north front on a single wall plane five bays in width. An additional horizontal articulation appears in the form of a marble beltcourse that emanates from the north facade's foundation and serves to delineate the basement, the latter increasingly exposed by the downward slope of the ground toward the south end of the block.
The People's National Bank was founded in 1875 by Jacob Estey (of the organ manufactory) and associates. The bank occupied this building for its headquarters until 1923 when it merged with the Vermont National Bank (#43) on the opposite corner of Elliot Street. Subsequently the building has been used for stores and offices.
53. Pentland Block (78-80 Main Street); 1877.
54. Barber Building (62-76 Main Street and 5-7 Flat Street); 1915.
The dominant articulation of both street facades follows horizontal planes. A heavy precast concrete storefront cornice supported by rusticated concrete pilasters surmounts the somewhat altered Main Street storefronts and central upper-story entrance; the storefront cornice continues in the same plane across the Flat Street facade, above two stories of irregular fenestration. A lesser cornice terminates the wall planes atop the fourth story, above which the stucco-outlined bays of the fifth story form a broad band. A prominent stamped-metal roof cornice crowns the facades, itself surmounted by a brick parapet.
55. Commercial building (9 Flat Street); c.1870.
56. Smith Building (17-19 Flat Street); c.1920.
57. Commercial building (29 Flat Street); c.1870.
58. former DeWitt Livery (31-35 Flat Street): c.1900.
59. DeWitt Block (43-47 Flat Street); c.1900.
60. Mosher Block (Flat Street); 1914, 1938.
When the adjoining Latchis Hotel (#61) was constructed in 1936, part of the Mosher Block's interior was rebuilt to contain the auditorium of the Latchis Theatre, and the west wing was added to contain the stage. The theatre entrance passes through the hotel block from its Main Street facade.
61. Latchis Hotel (38-50 Main Street): 1936.
Sheltered by a metal-sheathed marquee, the hotel's main entrance occupies the first story of the building's truncated northeast corner. Colossal fluted 'pilasters' ascend the upper stories of the single-bay corner wall plane, and culminate in foliated heads similar to the inter-story foliated spandrels. Like those on the flanking east and north facades, metal-framed compound windows occupy the upper-story openings. A low parapet surmounts the corner wall, interrupting a row of two-dimensional 'triglyphs' that crowns the tops of the adjoining facades.
Near the center of the seven-bay Main Street (east) facade, another marquee shelters the deeply recessed entrance to the Latchis Theatre (the body of which extends into the adjoining Mosher Block, #60). Another set of colossal fluted 'pilasters' enframes a two-bay panel above the theatre entrance, rising to foliated heads flanking the embossed name of the hotel and theatre. Transomed storefronts with recessed entrances flank the theatre front.
The similar Flat Street (north) facade extends eight bays, subdivided by piers into single- and double-hay panels. A secondary hotel entrance is located near the center of the Flat Street facade. Both the hotel and theatre remain in their original uses.
62. Wilder Building (30-36 Main Street): 1875.
The main (east) facade of the Wilder Building extends eight bays in width on the pressed-brick third and fourth stories, subdivided by brick piers into two-bay panels. The window openings on those stories are trimmed with stone sills and segmental-arched (but flat-topped) lintels. A band of brightly hued ceramic tile decorates the spandrels between the same stories. The piers support a massive, elaborately detailed, metal roof cornice embossed with a scalloped lower edge, rosettes, and stylized brackets.
The first and second stories contrast sharply to the upper stories (and, for that matter, to any other facade in the historic district). Three intermediate cast-iron pilasters - made by the Atlantic Iron Works of New York - and granite corner pilasters distinguish the ground story, flanking the transomed display windows and recessed side entrances of the storefronts. The granite corner pilasters ascend the second story, whose wall surface is sheathed with stamped metal incorporating paneled spandrels and intermediate pilasters that extend upward from their cast-iron counterparts on the first story; the pilasters support a second-story metal cornice embossed with dentils and brackets. Triplet one-over-one sash with slender mullions occupy each of the four second-story panels.
The less ornate six-bay south elevation lacks the pilasters and piers, metal sheathing, and ceramic band of the east front; however, it displays identical upper-story window treatment and is crowned by a similar roof cornice. A first-story corner display window was added probably circa 1907. The fully exposed basement story next to Whetstone Brook is built of coursed, rock faced granite blocks.
Centered atop the roof of the building (and not readily visible from the street), a large three-bay square belvedere capped by a flat roof with projecting eaves overlooks the Whetstone Valley.
The original appearance of the Wilder Building differed most importantly in the nature of its fenestration. The first and second stories of the east front displayed the contemporary technological innovation of being enclosed entirely with plate glass. Between adjacent pilasters on the second story (probably extensions of the cast-iron pilasters below), two vertically elongated plates separated by a central mullion opened the full expanse of each bay; on the first story, such windows flanked the recessed entrances. The two stories were altered to their present appearance probably circa 1907 when Arthur B. Clapp bought the building and gave it its present name. Presumably at the same time, the originally blank corresponding stories on the south elevation were given their present fenestration.
The Brattleboro Downtown Historic District coincides with an architecturally significant town center whose urban character remains extraordinary in Vermont, a state that ranks among the most rural in the nation. The predominantly commercial, civic, and religious buildings extant in the historic district represent a 140-year period of development that began circa 1840 in the Greek Revival style and continued through the Italianate Revival, High Victorian Italianate and Gothic, Second Empire, Commercial, and Modernistic styles to the present. Concurrently, Brattleboro advanced to its twentieth century position as the cultural, commercial, and industrial center of southeastern Vermont.
The majority of buildings in the historic district date from nineteenth century redevelopment; their design, materials, and workmanship continue to evoke strongly the architectural nature of that period during which a country village evolved into an accomplished town. An unusually small proportion of recent twentieth century intrusions detracts from that prevailing character.
Several prominent American architects and artists have been associated with Brattleboro. Two pairs of brothers - William Morris and Richard Morris Hunt, and Larkin G. (Jr.) and William Rutherford Mead - emerged from the town during the second quarter of the nineteenth century to achieve international stature in their respective disciplines. Another Vermont-born architect, Elbridge Boyden, became nationally recognized while practicing in Worcester, Massachusetts; three architectural landmarks in the historic district - the First Baptist Church (#34), the Brooks House (former hotel, #41), and the former All Souls Unitarian Church (#30) - comprise an important sample of his professional achievement.
Chartered in 1753 to William Brattle, Jr. and associates of Boston, the township originally named Brattleborough received its earliest concentrated settlement in the 1760's. The water power available at the cascades of Whetstone Brook just above its confluence with the Connecticut River attracted development to what became the East Village, the present town center. The first gristmill and sawmill were built there in 1762 and 1768, respectively, followed in 1771 by Stephen Greenleaf's store a short distance to the north along the present Main Street. In 1795, the hamlet acquired a public house on the site of the present Brooks House (#41), establishing an activity that continued there for more than 160 years.
The Connecticut River valley has long served as the traditional route of regional travel. In 1804, the first bridge across the river at Brattleboro was built to enable overland travel to Boston via turnpike across New Hampshire. However, the principal means of early nineteenth century transport remained the river, connecting Brattleboro with Hartford, Connecticut, and the Atlantic coast to the south. John Holbrook, a leading entrepreneur during the early decades of the village's existence, achieved financial success by running flatboats to Hartford and importing goods from the West Indies. The village boat landing was at the foot of Mill (later Arch) Street just north of the present railroad arch bridge (#2).
The year 1811 brought several events significant to Brattleboro's future. A paper mill was built along the Whetstone upstream of Main Street; a library association was formed; and John Holbrook sold his commercial enterprises to Francis Goodhue, probably the most energetic entrepreneur in early nineteenth century Brattleboro. The village was growing apace, and in 1816 a meetinghouse was raised on the Common (north of the historic district), with John Holbrook becoming its Deacon. The same year, the entrepreneurial Holbrook joined Joseph Fessenden to expand a multi-faceted business - paper making, printing, publishing, and book-binding - that would grow to become Brattleboro's leading industry in the twentieth century.
At the beginning of the next decade, in 1821, increasing financial activity led to the organization of the Bank of Brattleborough (predecessor of the Vermont National Bank, #43), and John Holbrook soon retired from his publishing business to become its president. By 1824, the East Village had grown to the extent that it "was said to be the richest village of its size in New England;"(1) most of the town's population of 2017 lived and worked in the village. One measure of Brattleboro's contemporary economy comes from the value of its inbound trade: "There were 'brought into town by boats and other conveyances during the year ending March 1, 1824, $96,963 of merchandise.-"(2) Francis Goodhue accounted for much of this activity, being involved in several different businesses and the construction of numerous buildings.
While the river remained Brattleboro's lifeline of freight transport, overland stage routes were being extended to each quadrant of the compass with Brattleboro at the crossroads. Four-horse coaches from Boston, Troy, New York, Hartford, and Hanover, New Hampshire converged each evening on the village's principal hostelry, Chase's Stage House (site of the Brooks House, #41) for supper and exchange of passengers. In 1830-31, an attempt was made to establish regular steamboat service to hasten travel on the river. A small steamer, the 'Barnet,' sailed upriver from Hartford past Brattleboro late in 1830 and other boats were tried in 1831; however, the venture soon proved both a practical and financial failure.
An ecclesiastical dispute within the Congregational Society (the sole religious body in the village) resulted in an 1831 schism. The dissidents formed a Unitarian Society and proceeded the same year to build the village's second church (but first on Main Street) on the site occupied later by that denomination's stone church (#30). The following year, another predecessor of a prominent existing building appeared when the village gained its first high school actually a private academy - near the north end of the rapidly developing Main Street. Near the other end of the street, a prominent Greek Revival style facade appeared circa 1833 when the tavern formerly used by Jolim Holbrook for a store was enlarged with a tetrastyle Doric portico; later called the American House, it was eventually replaced by the present American Building (#7).
The 1840's brought significant changes to the expanding village, and during that decade Brattleboro's population recorded its greatest increase - from 2623 in 1840 to 3816 in 1850. A second church came to Main Street in 1842 when the congregationalists moved their building from the Common to its present site (#23), that being more convenient to the southward-shifting center of population. Although houses were interspersed with commercial structures among the mostly wood-framed, gable-roofed buildings along Main Street, the trend toward commercial development accelerated during the decade and introduced a generation of multi-story brick commercial blocks, some of which have survived to the present.
Three excellent flat-roofed examples of that type - the Devens, Exchange, and Cutler Blocks (#9-11) - were erected in the early 1840's to constitute a sixteen-bay uniform facade on their upper stories. A short distance to the south stands an architectural anomaly constructed in 1850 for Anthony Van Doorn: a large Greek Revival style brick house (#5) oriented with a narrow eaves facade to the street and its expansive pedimented gable elevations facing adjacent buildings.
In the 1840's, a new enterprise was launched on Elliot Street (west of the historic district) that soon gave Brattleboro a national reputation as an extraordinarily attractive summer resort. Dr. Robert Wesselhoeft opened his establishment for hydropathic physical therapy in 1845 using the water from numerous pure springs along Whetstone Brook. The venture proved immediately successful; the following year, some 400 patients overflowed its facilities. The 'water-cure' attracted a wealthy and sophisticated clientele from throughout the country, especially Southerners who sought refuge from the heat and humidity of their regional climate. The influx of visitors contributed substantially to the village's commercial success.
The available means of travel to Brattleboro must have constrained somewhat the success of the Wesselhoeft establishment during its first four seasons. In February, 1849, however, the railroad era arrived in Brattleboro with the opening of the Vermont and Massachusetts line to the cities of the southern Connecticut Valley. The first depot - a plain wood-framed, gabled building - was constructed across the tracks to the south of the later Union Station (#1). The upsurge in travel by railroad undoubtedly caused the construction in the same year of the imposing Revere House, a Greek Revival style, three-and-one half story, brick hotel owned by James Fisk, Sr.; the hotel occupied the focal south corner of Main and Elliot Streets, site of the later People's National Bank (#52).
Two years later, Hugh Henry and associates opened their Vermont Valley Railroad northward along the Connecticut River to Bellows Falls, the regional hub of rail lines radiating to Boston, Rutland and Burlington, Vermont and ultimately Canada. River traffic dwindled immediately and the stagecoaches were relegated to off line routes. With the exception of a short-lived branch line along the West River valley to its northwest, Brattleboro's railroad connections were completed by the Connecticut Valley route.
Although the Wesselhoeft establishment declined after the death of its founder in 1852, other water-cures were started during the 1850's in anticipation of similar success, particularly given the greatly improved accessibility of the town. Owing to changing fashion and the outbreak of the Civil War, however, that success proved elusive and the business faded. Certain of Brattleboro's manufacturing industries, on the other hand, thrived after gaining rail service; in the case of Hines, Newman and Company, producers of paper-making machinery located at the Whetstone cascades, the firm proceeded to ship its equipment to paper mills throughout North America.
The water-cures attracted to Brattleboro many prominent figures in literature and the arts but they were not without resident counterparts. The offspring of two local families, the Hunts and the Meads, born during the second quarter of the century became internationally renowned: the artist William Morris Hunt (1824-1879), his architect brother Richard Morris Hunt (1828-1895), the sculptor Larkin G. Mead, Jr. (1835-1879), and his architect brother William Rutherford Mead (1846-1927). Early in their careers, both Hunts and Larkin Mead practiced briefly in their home town but little evidence remains of that activity.
In 1854, the Episcopal parish of St. Michael's contributed to Main Street a modest bell-cote, half-timbered and brick church on the site of the present building #22; Richard Morris Hunt is reputed to have designed St. Michael's after a small country church that he had seen in England. The following year on the adjoining lot to the south (and across the street from the Hunt homestead), Brattleboro's Town Hall was constructed in a restrained Italianate Revival style distinguished by round-headed tracery windows (later replaced by building #21). During 1856, both William Morris Hunt and Larkin G. Mead used studios in the building, the latter also conducting a drawing school. Mead achieved almost instant national recognition for an unusual piece of sculpture created on a Brattleboro street during the night of New Year's Eve, 1856: the 'Snow Angel' executed in ice at the north end of Main Street, its site later commemorated by the Wells Fountain (#26).
South of the Town Hall along the east side of Main Street, additional brick commercial blocks replaced wood-framed buildings during this period. The earlier examples with plain facades, e.g., the Perry and Ranger Blocks (#14-15), were soon outshone by the polychrome stone-sheathed Granite Block (#13) and the Italianate Revival style Union Block (#12). Especially the latter pair reflected the rising commercial prosperity of the village.
Meanwhile, at the foot of Main Street, a business had been started that would expand through several locations into the most important industry in Brattleboro history. In 1852, Jacob Estey bought an interest in a small company making melodeons; after various shifts in ownership, the firm of J. Estey and Company emerged in 1866 with Estey in control. Within two decades, the Estey Organ Company became the largest organ manufacturer in the United States and shipped its instruments throughout the world. (See the National Register nomination of the Estey Organ Company Factory, entered in the Register on April 17, 1980.)
Late in the 1860's, there began a period of dramatic redevelopment along Main Street from which emerged much of the streetscape's present appearance. The First Baptist Society initiated construction in 1867 of their Gothic Revival style church (#34) designed by the Vermont-born (in Somerset to the west of Brattleboro) architect Elbridge Boyden practicing in Worcester, Massachusetts. A contemporary local historian judged the completed edifice "the most costly and elegant specimen of church architecture this side of Rutland, if not in the State."(3) While the Portland stone-trimmed brickwork of the church was being carried upward, a savings bank erected in 1869 a little to the south on the opposite (east) side of the street the most elaborately decorated commercial facade ever to appear in Brattleboro: a High Victorian Italianate style building (#18) that would lose its facade to a 1935 reconstruction.
A pair of disasters struck the village in October, 1869, forcing extensive redevelopment of the affected areas. The most destructive flooding in Brattleboro's history occurred on the fourth of that month when a flash flood along Whetstone Brook caused $300,000 damage. Among the destroyed buildings, bridges, and dams were various structures along Flat and lower Main Streets.
Nevertheless, the flood proved less destructive within the limits of the historic district than the Great Fire that followed it on the last day of the month. The fire ravaged the entire west side of Main Street between Elliot and High Streets, being stopped on the latter street at the Masonic Hall afterward occupied by the Retting furniture store (#40). The fire destroyed principally the three-and-one-half story, wood-framed Brattleboro House (formerly Chase's Stage House), and the two-and-one-half story, brick Blake Block on the corner of Elliot Street, an originally (1808) Federal style house that had been converted circa 1853 to commercial use with a cast-iron shopfront extension and Italianate details.
A leading local entrepreneur, Edward Crosby, whose grain and feed business extended throughout northern New England, took the initiative of redevelopment. In 1870-71, his elongated brick commercial block (#42) was constructed to stretch twenty-six bays northward along Main Street from the Elliot Street corner - the longest uniform facade of its type ever built in Brattleboro.
The following year, however, Crosby's effort was surpassed by that of George Jones Brooks, whose fortune gained from a San Francisco paper business was applied to the construction of the finest hotel in northern New England. For its design, Brooks employed Elbridge Boyden, who had just completed the First Baptist Church (#34) within sight of the hotel. Boyden used the eminently suitable (and fashionable) Second Empire style for the massive brick Brooks House (#41); its Main Street facade extends some twenty-four bays and rises in part a story plus the dormered mansard above the adjoining three-story Crosby Block, while the secondary High Street facade extends about two-thirds that length. (See the National Register nomination for the Brooks House, entered in the Register on February 1, 1980.)
The Elliot Street end of the burned area received its new buildings in 1873. Edward- Crosby continued his development efforts with the Market Block (#44) next to the Crosby Block. On the next lot to the west, the Town of Brattleboro erected an Italianate Revival style Central Fire Station (#45).
The following year, the All Souls Unitarian parish retained Elbridge Boyden to design their new church within sight of his two previous projects along Main Street. Boyden created his local masterpiece for the Unitarians in a richly decorated polychrome masonry expression of the High Victorian Gothic style (#30). The completion of the church in 1875 was accompanied by the construction of a commercial landmark at the south end of Main Street: Chester L. Brown's remarkable block (#62), whose first and second stories displayed an unprecedented (in Vermont) expanse of plate glass "in full view of all passers by railroad. [The contemporary business directory continues] Mr. Brown's unique arrangement of goods in his spacious glass front has proved so successful as an advertising medium that the plan has been copied in other sections of the country."(4)
Despite the proximity of the new fire station. another conflagration struck Brattleboro's commercial center in 1877. The fire started in the Revere House stables diagonally across the street from the fire station and swept eastward through the hotel on the corner of Main Street. Once again, redevelopment proceeded apace, in this case undertaken by Jacob Estey and associates: their People's National Bank Block (#52) was erected in 1879-80, introducing to Brattleboro a distinctive commercial adaptation of the Ruskinian Italian Gothic style. The developers then sold the contiguous Elliot Street lots to DeWitt Leonard and the Methodist Society. The Methodists completed also in 1880 a High Victorian Gothic style church (#50) designed by an Elmira, New York architect, Warren Hayes (and the last church built within the historic district). Leonard followed in 1882 with a High Victorian Italianate block (#51) for his expanding printing business.
The increasing economic stature of Brattleboro was reflected in the 1881 construction of a more appropriate railroad depot, a rather ornate Italianate Revival style brick building with an attached platform shed that could shelter a train under the curvilinear roof of its north end. Another railroad improvement occurred in 1878 when the covered wood bridge over Whetstone Brook was replaced with the present incombustible stone arch, #2 - then called 'S. M. Waite's monument' after the local businessman leading the contemporary reorganization of the Vermont Valley Railroad company.
Redevelopment continued along Main Street during the 1880's with larger, more elaborate brick buildings replacing their early nineteenth century, wood-framed counterparts. In 1884, two substantial commercial blocks were added to the east side of the street by William Ryther (#16) and George W. Hooker (#17), providing counterbalance to the opposite Brooks House. The hip-roofed Brattleboro High School (#27) was completed the same year on a knoll overlooking the north end of the street. Another civic improvement appeared on upper Main Street in 1886 after George J. Brooks commissioned Brattleboro's first public library building; the original Brooks Memorial Library introduced the Richardsonian Romanesque style to Brattleboro in the last year of life of both the town's benefactor and the architectural style's creator. To close the decade, the Estey family whose organ business had expanded sufficiently to claim being the largest in the world - made possible a substantial enlargement of the First Baptist Church, the plans for which were drawn by Charles Wentworth in the late Gothic Revival manner championed by partner Ralph Adams Cram. (Coincidentally, a later partner of Cram, Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue, descended from the Goodhue family prominent in Brattleboro's early development.)
At the beginning of the century's last decade, a symbol of civic benefaction was installed at the head of Main Street. Edwin P. and Alice P. Carpenter, whose elaborate Italianate villa crowned the knoll at the intersection of Linden Street and Putney Road, gave a plot "for a water fountain of artistic design or some other work of art which shall beautify and adorn said plot and remain an ornament to the said village and evidence of the good taste of its inhabitants . . ."(5) William Henry Wells commissioned the water fountain, and William Rutherford Mead designed it in an elemental Neo-Classical Revival manner. Marking the site of Larkin Mead's 'Snow Angel,' the Wells Fountain (#26) stands also as an appropriate home-town monument to the partner of the McKim, Mead, and White architectural firm.
A dispute erupted a few years later that gave exercise to the aesthetic sentiment expressed in the Carpenters' statement. Then-resident Rudyard Kipling joined the opposition to a planned trolley line, declaring that it wouId destroy "the beauty for which Brattleboro is so justly famous."(6) Finally overriding such opposition, Edward C. Crosby (son of the Crosby mentioned above) and M. A. Coolidge proceeded in 1895 with construction of the Brattleboro Street Railroad, bringing urban transit to Main Street. In contrast, an indication of the town's rural setting appeared the same year on Elliot Street when the local Grange chapter erected its new Farmers' and Mechanics' Exchange block (#46). Nevertheless the urban influence predominated; in 1895-96, the Town Hall was enlarged to contain the elaborately decorated Auditorium modeled on New York's old Abbey Theater, and many famous metropolitan stage companies performed there until displaced by movies.
Around the turn of the present century, the last generation of mixed-use, multi-story commercial blocks emerged in the historic district, displaying characteristics of the contemporary Commercial style. The imposing American Building (#7) with its end-bay Chicago windows constitutes the finest example along Main Street; it was constructed in 1906 and named for the Greek Revival style hotel that it displaced. A more dramatic application of Chicago windows and plate-glass sheathing occurred a few years later in the Emerson Block (#47) on Elliot Street; in that case, embayed Chicago windows and plate glass were used to enclose the entire facade. Ironically, at about the same time, the pioneer example of plate-glass sheathing, the 1875 Wilder Building (#62), lost its second-story expanse in favor of the present fenestration.
The population of Brattleboro township surged from 6640 in 1900 to 7541 in 1910, significantly exceeding rival Rockingham (Bellows Falls) to the north along the Connecticut River, and during that decade, Brattleboro achieved its twentieth century position as the dominant cultural, commercial, and industrial center of southeast Vermont. Reflecting the town's increasing importance, a series of more elaborate public buildings began to appear in 1912 with an enlargement of the Brooks Memorial Library. The following year, the Boston and Main Railroad and the Central Vermont Railway finally resolved their longstanding dispute about facilities and service at Brattleboro (where their lines connect), and proceeded in 1915 to construct the stone Union Station (#l) on the embankment from which had been excavated some of the rock fill used to build the new second track northward. (See the National Register nomination for Union Station, entered in the Register on June 7, 1974.) Construction began the same year on the imposing U.S. Post Office and Court House (#32), an adaptation in brick of the Second Renaissance Revival style designed under the architectural supervision of Oscar Wenderoth. The Federal Building was completed in 1917; five years later, the counterbalancing Brattleboro Armory (#25) was erected directly across Main Street.
At this stage, the upper Main streetscape reached the aesthetic zenith of its twentieth century appearance. The distinguished religious and public buildings were interspersed with substantial residences, the building were complemented by landscaped grounds, and mature American elms formed a graceful arcade over the street itself. Kipling's nemesis, the street railway, was removed in 1923 but the increasing numbers of motor vehicles were about to cause much more serious disruption of the beauty that he lauded.
Transformation of the upper Main streetscape began in 1929. The stately Federal style Hunt family homestead at the corner of High Street was demolished and replaced by the Montgomery Ward block and attached neighbor (#35-36), the former being a stock example of polychrome Art Nouveau storefront design that appeared contemporaneously in several Vermont towns. The Ward block was placed at the street line in contrast to the prevailing setback, and its body was oriented at an acute angle to follow within a few feet the south elevation of the adjacent First Baptist Church (#34), thereby effectively concealing that flank of the church. At the same time, the street was widened to accommodate the increasing motor vehicle traffic, destroying in the process the entire row of shade trees along its west margin.
During the 1930's, two significant nineteenth century blocks diagonally opposite the Ward block lost their original facades. The High Victorian Italianate front of the Vermont Savings Bank block (#18) was stripped in favor of a pastiche of Neo-Colonial details, and the earlier stone facade of building #20 was sheathed with enameled metal panels to give the illusion of a modern Paramount (movie) Theatre. At the head of Main Street, the Carpenters' Italianate villa was demolished and replaced on its south grounds by a gas station, whose intrusion behind the Wells Fountain (#26) belies the "evidence of good taste" that prompted its erection. A positive development in 1939 at the other end of Main Street give Brattleboro another hotel, the Latchis (#61) - a combination of Modernistic style and precast concrete sheathing unique in the historic district.
While construction of the Latchis Hotel essentially concluded development of Brattleboro's commercial center, the character of Main Street's north half has continued to change. An event traumatic to the community occurred in 1953 when the Town Hall was sold for demolition; actually the shell of its first story was spared and converted to the present one-story commercial building on the site, #21. During that project, the adjacent St. Michael's Episcopal Church was moved to a new site north of the historic district. A decade later, in 1967, Brattleboro lost another outstanding civic building: the Brooks Memorial Library was demolished to provide a parking lot for the adjacent Federal Building (#32), and the library collections were shifted to the present building, #28. Recently, two office blocks (#22 and 24) have been constructed along the east side of the street, continuing the trend toward commercial redevelopment.
The recent buildings mentioned above (#22, 24, and 28) relate by materials and scale to their historic counterparts, and represent the contemporary phase of an architectural continuity. A few other recent buildings, in contrast, differ markedly and constitute intrusions into the historic fabric of the town center. These include a one-story storefront (#19) that punctures the multi-story commercial row along the east side of Main Street; the one-story chain doughnut shop (#37) set back from the north corner of High and Main Streets, presenting a stark contrast to the Brooks House (#41) on the opposite corner; and a one story, gable-roofed storefront (#49) interjected among the predominant multi story, flat-roofed commercial blocks of Elliot Street. At the present, the limited number of such intrusions exerts only a minor effect on the overall integrity of Brattleboro's historic environment.
1. Barry, Harold A., Michelman, Richard E., Mitchell, Richard M., and Wellman, Richard H. Before Our Time: A Pictorial Memoir of Brattleboro, Vermont from 1830 to 1930. Brattleboro, Vt.: The Stephen Greene Press, 1974.
2. Beers, F.W. Atlas of Windham County, Vermont. New York, 1899.
3. Map of Brattleboro (Scale 1"=250'). New York: D.L. Miller and Co., 1895.
4. Burnham, Henry. "Brattleboro." in Hemenway, Abby Maria, ed. Vermont Historical Gazetteer (Vol. 5). Brandon, Vt., 1891.
5. Burnham, Henry. Brattleboro, Windham County, Vermont. Brattleboro, Vt.: D. Leonard, 1880.
6. Cabot, Mary Rogers. Annals of Brattleboro, 1681-1895(2 vols.). Brattleboro, Vt.: Press of E.L. Hildreth and Co., 1922.
7. Child, Hamilton. Gazetteer and Business Directory of Windham County, Vt., 1724 1884. Syracuse, N.Y., 1884.
8. Crane, Charles Edward, ed. With Interest (9 vols.). Brattleboro, Vt.: Vermont-Peoples National Bank of Brattleboro, 1922-32.
9. First Baptist Church of Brattleboro - 100th Anniversary. Brattleboro, Vt (?),1940.
10. Houpis, John N., Jr. Brattleboro: Selected Historical Vignettes. Brattleboro, Vt.: Brattleboro Publishing Co., Ltd., 1973.
11. Kristensen, John. The Brooks House Hotel and the All Souls Church; Brattleboro, Vermont. Unpublished student paper for Design and Conservation course, Cornell University, Fall 1972. (Available at Brooks Memorial Library, Brattleboro, Vermont.)
12. Richard M. Mitchell, Hinsdale, New Hampshire (co-author of Before Our Time) Interviewed by Hugh Henry on December 10, 1981.
13. Pomeroy, Frank T., ed. Picturesque Brattleboro. Northampton, Mass.: Picturesque Publishing Co., 1894.
14. A Walking Tour of Medieval Brattleboro (brochure). Brattleboro, Vt.: Arts Council of Windham County, 1981.
DATE ENTERED: February 17,1983.
BACK TO NATIONAL REGISTER PROPERTIES