The Bank Building and the Invisible Bridge - 41 State Street

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

The Bank Building and the Invisible Bridge - 41 State Street

Montpelier, Vermont 05602, United States

Created By: Kiltumper Close Press


At the intersection of Elm and State Streets on the corner opposite the Court House’s opposite is a late 19th century building. It replaced an earlier wooden structure built in 1861 that served as the city's post office. Where did it go? Down the street and around the corner. You can see for yourself where it shuffled off to because it is still coyly hiding away in Pitkin Court behind the fire station on Main Street. It was built by James G. French, a successful Montpelier clothing merchant. He also served as postmaster and got into construction in a big way in the latter half of the 19th century. You’ll hear his name a few more times on these tours.

Another James you’ll be hearing about is James R. Langdon, also a very important figure in the commercial life of Montpelier in the late 19th century. He put up the current building in 1874, and it originally had a flat roof. The decorative mansard roof and round dormers seen now were added about 20 years later. Along with the post office, the main tenant was a bank that remained there under different names for well over a hundred years. The place is still often called the Chittenden Bank Building because nobody gave it a different name. The bank’s vault has been creatively incorporated into the interior atmosphere for several businesses that moved in when the bank finally left.

Rialto on the North Branch

Walking past it, you’ll come next to the Rialto Bridge. It was built in 1915 and is probably the most unusual of its kind in Vermont because most of it is invisible. It’s made of steel I-beams encased in concrete and has a width of 70 feet, the longest span of its kind in the state. It takes its name from the structure built on top of it. If you turn and look across the street you’ll see the Rialto Block, with its name over the doorway.

The best perspective on this unusual bridge is from the truss-style steel bridge you can see upriver on Langdon Street (which, yes, is named after James Langdon, or more accurately, he named the street after himself when he created it). From there, you can watch the waters of the North Branch disappear under the Rialto – both bridge and building - and stream out the other side.

On the Rialto bridge, as you are facing the river, you’ll see a sign on the side of the Chittenden Bank building to the left. It is offering to sell the air rights over the river to build a deck connecting one building to the other, and there’s a story behind that.

The sign was posted by Jeff Jacobs, a famous and controversial figure in Montpelier’s real estate community for several decades. In 1996 he filed a permit to put a McDonald’s in the bank building, which he owned. The idea did not go over well. The permit was rejected by the City Council, not least for the fact that it would have required installing a 3-story fryer vent on the side of the historic structure. There were lawsuits and appeals, all unsuccessful, and at some point in all the drama this sign appeared. Whether Jacobs actually owns the airspace, or whether it could legally be sold or leased for development, remains an unsettled question, and to most of us it seems best that it remain so.

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


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