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December 3rd, 2016

The People’s House: A History of the Vermont Statehouse – Construction of Third Statehouse

By Senator Bill Doyle
After much debate about the location of the next Statehouse, a formal vote was taken in 1857; the results were as follows: Montpelier, 116; Burlington, 67; Rutland, 35; Bellows Falls, 8; Middlebury, 1; and Northfield, 1. The vote in the Senate was as follows: Montpelier, 13; Burlington, 11; Rutland, 4; and Middlebury, 1. On February 27, 1857, the legislature selected Montpelier as the capital, 138 to 80. The vote in the Senate was 18 to 11.

Edward Walton, editor of “Records of Governor and Council,” said of the Statehouse, after it had burned down, that any person familiar with the engravings of the ancient Grecian Doric temples, such as the Parthenon at Athens, that “purest and noblest of Greek art, which has ever been accepted was the most perfect model of this style will at once recognize in the portico of the State House a perfect copy to the smallest detail, as indeed it was, of one of the best specimens of Grecian architecture.”

The third Statehouse was 25 percent larger than the previous one. Other changes included improvements for heating and lighting and additional furniture. But, according to Walton, “Vermont has a capitol which, for beauty of architecture, solidity of construction, and adaptation to the purposes of legislation, will bear comparison with any other of the much more costly piles which have since been erected for the same purposes.”

According to Mary Nye, who wrote “Vermont State Houses,”: “The style of architecture (of the new building) is the same as the previous building, being Grecian in type. The Doric portico is the identical structure made for the prior building. The building is surmounted by a cupola and dome. This is surmounted by a statue of architecture by Larkin Goldsmith Mead, the Vermont sculpture.”

From time to time, many proposals have been made for expending the Statehouse. Several ago, an expansion plan of $9 million was proposed. At this time, I am confident no such sum of money will be expended. For four decades, I have had the honor of serving in the Vermont Statehouse. During that period I recall older legislators living in the Pavilion Building and boarding houses and gathering at the Justin Morgan Room, which is at the Capitol Plaza. These meetings with former legislators created a greater sense of community than in present day, when legislators live in many different places and many more communities.

Senator Bill Doyle serves on the Senate Education Committee and Senate Economic Affairs Committee. He teaches government history at Johnson State College. He can be reached at 186 Murray Road, Montpelier, VT 05602; e-mail wdoyle@leg.state.vt.us; or call 223-2851.

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