Lets Talk About Blocks - 24-26 State Street

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

Lets Talk About Blocks - 24-26 State Street

Montpelier, Vermont 05602, United States

Created By: Kiltumper Close Press


We’re now moving into the main commercial area of the city and we need to start thinking in terms of blocks. It is the large brick blocks of buildings that were built in the late 19th and early 20th century that give Montpelier its overall air of coherence and character. The blocks are sometimes hard to distinguish when you are browsing among the shops and restaurants along the street, but if you look up to the roof lines you’ll get a better idea of where one stops and another begins. The largest on State street is the Union Block, which has an impressive arched granite doorway topped with a decorative iron railing. It's between 24 and 26 State Street.

A Renewed Interest in Preservation

On the opposite side of the street if you look up you’ll see a rooftop pediment identifying the Walton Block. I mentioned earlier that the 60s marked a period when demolition replaced the earlier fashion of moving buildings from one place to another, but the 1967 renovation of the Walton Block was the first to reflect a renewed commitment to historic preservation in the city. All the stamped sheet metal ornamentation on the façade was retained, as well as the 8 columns running along the ground floor, which are made of cast iron.

Fires and More Fires!

There’s a story to how some of these long city blocks were created, and it’s another one that starts with fire – two of them this time. The first was in March 1875. It took down several buildings on Main and State streets, including the original Rialto block we passed earlier. The second and more catastrophic fire was only two months later. Fanned by strong winds, it raged along both sides of Main Street and burned many buildings at the lower end of Barre Street as well. Miraculously, there were no lives lost in either fire.

Our fire chief at the time was a Civil War veteran with the fabulous name of Colonel Perley Pitkin. He had a team of men that he assigned to lead efforts to contain the fire at various points along the street. Many were fellow Civil War veterans and also ministers of the various churches in Montpelier. They are credited with preventing an even wider disaster, using nothing more protective than wet carpets to wrap themselves in while they beat back the flames. By the end of it, such was the destruction that a citizen could stand on the Rialto bridge and have an unobstructed view across town to the area on Barre Street where Sarducci’s restaurant is now.

The rebuilding began immediately, and this time the merchants and architects of Montpelier went in for solid, flat-topped brick structures over the more flammable wooden ones with gables and pitched roofs. Most of the large blocks along Main Street were constructed during this period.

Montpelier Gets a Water System

Another direct result of these fires was the installation of the city’s main water system, including hydrant hook-ups. Berlin Pond, a few miles from the city center was identified as the most suitable source. The engineer for the project was a man named Joel Foster, and his publicly-funded memorial can be seen in Green Mount Cemetery today, which is at the lower end of State Street. It is a full-size granite likeness of the man, with a bowler hat in one hand, and his other resting on top of a fire hydrant.

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


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