Blanchard Block: The Secret in the Middle

Five Walks Through Montpelier VT: Tour #2 - The Shopping District

Blanchard Block: The Secret in the Middle

Montpelier, Vermont 05602, United States

Created By: Kiltumper Close Press


Along the south side of Main Street is one more historical block to talk about - the Blanchard Block. As the name on its top pediment suggests, it was the ambitious project of a man named Asa Blanchard. He owned a tannery in Vergennes before moving to Montpelier to become a real estate magnate. To make room for his building, he tore down the oldest place in Montpelier, the Cadwell House. Built around 1790, it had badly deteriorated, but in its heyday had been a fashionable rooming house and center of city life. There’s a plaque on the corner of the Blanchard building noting that the Cadwell House once accommodated U.S. President James Monroe, as well as the Marquis de Lafayette, America’s greatest French ally in the Revolutionary War.

The Blanchard building is similar to many such blocks that can still be found in historic districts of small cities around the country, but this one had a secret that most others did not. You get some hint of it from the stately arched main entrance with the wide windows above it. While much of the building was dedicated to merchant and office space, in the rear of the top floors of his building, Asa Blanchard created an opera house, and not a small one. It was an opera house big enough to seat 800 people. For 25 years it attracted some of the country’s top performers because it was conveniently located on the route between Boston and Montreal for traveling theater troupes. Audience members arrived from all over the state by train, and specially scheduled trolley cars were engaged at the end of each performance to carry Barre residents home again. The novel attraction of moving pictures eventually wore down the demand for live theater. The opera house staged its last performance in 1910. Unfortunately there is practically no remaining evidence of it inside now.

For a while in the early 20th century, an elite local organization called the Apollo Club made its home in the Blanchard Block, with several well-appointed rooms housing a library and pool room.
The slightly different style of building you see at the end of the block was added later to serve as a hall for the Grand Army of the Republic, which was a fraternal organization for Union veterans of the American Civil War.

This point of interest is part of the tour: Five Walks Through Montpelier VT: Tour #2 - The Shopping District


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