August 24th, 2019

The People’s House: A History of the Vermont Statehouse – Part III in a Series

By Senator Bill Doyle

Second Statehouse, 1836-1857
In 1831, the legislature asked for proposals for a new Statehouse. In the running were Montpelier, Burlington, Woodstock, Rutland, Middlebury, and Randolph. In 1832, the legislature chose Montpelier, provided that Montpelier would raise $15,000. Montpelier raised $18,000, and with the extra money, bought five additional acres of land in the capitol area.

The controversy over the location of the capitol was sparked by a plan exhibited by an architect, Ammi Young. His earlier work included a Congregational church in Lebanon and two buildings at Dartmouth College. The building committee for the Statehouse invited Young to tour New England statehouses. Included in that tour were statehouses in Boston, Concord and Hartford. After the tour, Young selected Barre granite for the exterior walls and copper for the dome and roof. The dominant theme of the new capitol was a Greek building with a Roman dome.

Young’s work as an architect of the Statehouse gave him a regional and later national recognition. He received honorary degrees from Dartmouth Colelge and the University of Vermont. In 1837, he worked on the Custom House in Boston. In 1852, he went to Washington, D.C., where he became responsible for all federal buildings as the U.S. Treasury’s first supervising architect.

Young’s work on the Vermont Statehouse was recognized in October of 1838 by a resolution. The resolve clause stated “that the thanks of this legislature be presented to Ammi B. Young as a testimonial of their approbation of the taste, ability, fidelity and perseverance which he has manifested in the design and execution of the new capitol of this state; which will abide as a lasting monument of the talents and fine taste of Mr. Young as an architect.”

Granite blocks for the building came from Cobble Hill Quarries in Barre. The quarry owner was paid $100 a year over a four-year period for furnishing the stone. The stone was transported by “four horses and a yoke of oxen. Wagons were loaded with heavy stones by means of skids and rollers.” They were “driven to Montpelier, unloaded and returned home. The 25-mile round trip took 18 hours, beginning in Barre at 4 a.m. and returning at 10 p.m.”

The new Statehouse consisted of a central building 100 feet deep with two wings, 50 feet deep, the length of the entire building being 156 feet. The copper dome was 100 feet tall. In front of the building was a portico, modeled, it was said, after the temple of Theseus and ornamented with six fluted Doric pillars, each six feet in diameter. The first floor was used for state offices such as the Secretary of State and Treasury and committee rooms. The second floor consisted of the House and Senate chambers and the governor’s office. The building was first used in 1836, the same year the Senate was created in place of a governor and council.

Historian Zadock Thompson described the new Statehouse this way, “The entrance to the grounds, and principle approach to the State House from the street, is noble and commanding; the gateways, the fence, the grounds, and all their details are in keeping with the building and assist in giving to it that consideration that it should have, as the capitol of a flourishing, independent state. The building is very neat and simple in its design, a pure architectural character is preserved throughout; this, combined with the convenience of interior arrangement, and the permanency of is construction, renders it a structure of more merit than any other in New England.”

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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