For History Lovers
Curated by the Vermont Historical Society
"Today, the 450 buildings that comprise the Montpelier Historic District reflect the town's prosperous past, during which time many high style and vernacular examples of various 19th century architectural styles were constructed. Such variety of styles, and the mix of domestic, commercial, religious, and institutional buildings, speak to the slow but continuous growth of the town." -National Register of Historic Places
Montpelier may be small, but its historical significance is great. Everywhere you turn, you will witness historical architecture and experience a piece of Vermont's historic as a pioneer of progressive politics. While the Vermont State House is the focus of Montpelier's historic district, you will discover Vermont's largest National Register of Historic Places district, a "well preserved collection of the essential buildings comprising any 19th century New England town, as well as a reflection of the major architectural styles of the century."
Where to Eat
This restaurant represents the old and new Montpelier: an ethnic restaurant in one of the downtown’s oldest buildings. The Silas French House was constructed around 1825 and was flush to the street, lining up with the earlier Spaulding House next door. In the 1950s the French House was moved back from the street to make room for a gas station. For many years in the late 20th century the French house was home to the Thrush Tavern, a popular watering hole for legislators, lobbyists journalists, and the public.
The North Branch Café
The relaxed atmosphere of this tea room belies the building’s earlier history as a post office and bank. This site was originally occupied by a post office building that was moved in the 1870s and is now located behind the fire station on Main Street. The present substantial building was constructed by James Langdon in 1874 to house a new post office and a bank. A mansard roof was added sometime later. The brick building was further modernized after the 1927 flood with a stone façade on the first floor. The last bank moved out of this building in the mid-1990s and the building has been used since by a series of interesting restaurants, some of them using the old vault as part of their décor.
This restaurant represents part of Montpelier’s ethnic heritage and its railroad past. Italian quarrymen and granite carvers lived further down Barre Street near the Coop. This building was originally a baggage building for the Montpelier and Wells River Railroad, one of two railroads that serviced Montpelier in the nineteenth century. This building originally stood across Main Street from its present location. The building next to it, now housing a bank, was the railroad’s passenger station.
Where to Shop
In the 1880s, James Langdon, a local banker and Montpelier’s first millionaire, had a vision of an elegant shopping complex on a side street in Montpelier. He purchased several buildings, moved one of them across the river to Elm Street (now Sweet Melissa’s) knocked them down, and developed the street that now bears his name. The buildings on either side of the street were built in a uniform style to create visual harmony. The large bank building facing State Street anchored the shopping street.
Hunger Mountain Coop
Though it’s known as a center of government and insurance, Montpelier has long had an industrial side as well. The Hunger Mountain Coop today sits in the old industrial heart of the city, where items as varied as tombstones and clothespins were made well into the 20th century. (The old clothespin factory still stands two buildings beyond the Coop on Granite Street, right next to the historic Granite Street Bridge.) If you walk down the aptly named Stonecutter’s Way, you’ll see numerous historic markers sharing the district’s history.
Bear Pond Books & Capitol Stationers
The Blanchard Block, home to Bear Pond Book, Capitol Stationers, and other shops, was built in 1884 and replaced an early wooden structure, the Cadwell House (look for a brass plaque next to the alley). It was designed by Montpelier’s third mayor, George Guernsey, and originally housed a full-sized opera house on the second floor! When it was built it was the first and tallest example in Montpelier of mixed-use commercial architecture that is common in downtowns today: shops below, offices above, and housing above that, all behind a uniform brick façade.
Where to Visit
Vermont History Museum
The Vermont Historical Society runs the state’s history museum, on the first floor of the historic-looking (but actually modern) Pavilion Building next to the Supreme Court. The museum features 5,000 square feet of Vermont history, from the region’s earliest native inhabitants to the present day. Exhibits are accessible and friendly for all ages, with hands-on interactives for small children and thoughtful explorations of Vermont’s diverse past for content-driven adults.
T.W. Wood Gallery
Thomas Waterman Wood, Montpelier native, was a largely self-taught artist who painted portraits and genre subjects across the northeast and the south. He became the head of both the National Academy of Design and the American Watercolor Society. Many of his scenes feature Montpelier locals or landmarks. Late in his life, he set aside funds and a number of his paintings – as well as old master copies – to support an art gallery for Montpelier that is still open today. Over the years, the gallery has expanded its permanent collection and also hosts regular shows by Vermont artists.
Vermont State House
Montpelier became the capitol of Vermont because its citizens voted to privately fund the construction of a building to house the state’s legislature. The first of those buildings was a small building on the site of today’s Supreme Court. The second, designed by well-known civic architect Ammi B. Young, was built in 1833 and burned to the ground in 1857. Only the columns remain from that second building. The third and current building, designed by Thomas Silloway, opened in 1859 and incorporated Young’s granite columns into its façade. The Vermont State House is the seat of Vermont’s legislative and executive branches of state government: it houses the House of Representatives, State Senate, and the Governor’s formal office. Its current appearance is the result of a painstaking, 30+ year renovation and restoration process to bring it as closely as possible to its original look. It is a remarkably open building, often known as “the people’s house”; visitors can look around without a guide at any time the building is open.
Where to Stay
Learn about lodging options in Montpelier.