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VERMONT’S THREE STATE HOUSES
A Brief History
Vermont did not always have a state house, or for that matter, a state capital. From 1777 when the Republic of Vermont was founded during the early years of revolution, until 1807, Vermont's General Assembly met 46 times in 14 different towns.

In 1805 Montpelier was chosen as the "permanent seat of the legislature for holding all their sessions." There were two conditions. First, Montpelier had to give land for the capitol. Second, the State House was to be built by September, 1808.

Thomas Davis, one of Montpelier's first permanent settler Col. Jacob Davis, donated the land, and the first State House was built on it at a cost of $9,000. It was a three-story wooden meetinghouse-type structure located near the present site of Vermont's Supreme Court building.

Historical Drawing

The first State House

The first State House had steep winding staircases flanking recessed galleries on its front facade, and a belfry surmounting its hipped roof. Warmed by a two-story stove in the center of its single legislative chamber, members of the General Assembly sat at pine desks on plank seats with straight backs. One historian notes that many of the desks and much of the building itself were "whittled out of use" by legislative jackknives. At any rate, the building deteriorated and was outgrown by the state's emerging bicameral legislature, so it was torn down.

Vermont's second State House, designed by Ammi Young, was completed in 1838 at a cost of $132,000.

With a front portico modeled after the temple of Theseus in Greece, this classically-inspired building displayed a low saucer-shaped Roman dome and was the perfect embodiment of the chaste principles that typified the Greek Revival fashion then sweeping the country.

Historical Drawing

The second State House

This State House was constructed of Barre Granite. It took a team of four horses and a yoke of oxen 18 hours to deliver a load of granite and return to the Barre quarries about ten miles away.

Built on an elevated site blasted out of the hillside, the State House enjoyed a stronger foundation and grander approach. The high ground would also serve to protect the building from the flooding of the Winooski River across the road.

 
On a cold night in January, 1857, a fire, caused by the wood-burning heating system, destroyed nearly everything within the granite walls. Ultimately the walls themselves would come down, leaving only the Grecian portico to be incorporated into the design of the third State House.

The third and present State House was built on the same site as the second. Its basic plan is similar to Young's, but it was built on a larger scale with a distinctly different ornamental scheme reflecting the Renaissance Revival style popular at the time. This State House was constructed over a two and a half year period, cost $150,000, and was dedicated in 1859. Additions in the rear date from 1888, 1900, and 1987.


Historical Drawing

Ammi Young's classic Greek Revival statehouse of the 1830's held a dome that was subtly expressed on the building's interior with skylights over the flanking staircases. Today's State House was to have the same interior effect, but circumstances during constructions in 1858-59 resulted in a dome that has no interior expression whatsoever. This may have inadvertently created a building unique in world architechture.


Historical Drawing

Ornamental scrollwork on the front pediment, diamond-paned windows in the drum of the dome, and a figure of Freedom perched on top were all ideas developed when this lithograph was issued in September, 1857. None of these details would actually be executed as the new State House took form over the next two years.