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Wilmington VT Historic Downtown Stroll

Molly Stark Statue - Wilmington VT

Overview

The Wilmington Historic Downtown Stroll has many more attractions (25!) than I typically put in a single walking tour, but this is still very doable in 2-3 hours. The reason is that all of it is in the compact downtown, nearly all of the attractions are historic buildings, and most of those you will be admiring only from the outside. 

Thus, this becomes a pleasant stroll that covers the historic downtown from end to end and top to bottom, with some great shops to browse along the way, and a fitting end at the Old Red Mill where you can relax with an ale as you contemplate your completed exploration.

Wilmington Historic Downtown Stroll

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Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center

Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center

The Chamber of Commerce operates a great little Visitors Center, next to Bartleby’s Books. Stop in to get tips for your visit. While you’re there, pick up the pamphlet for the historic walking tour. This has a great map of all the historic buildings and additional information on each.

Norton House

Norton House

Built circa 1760, Norton House was one of the eight original buildings moved from Lisle hill in 1833. The cape style house still has many of its original features, including hand-blown window glass and a center chimney.

The building was still in use as a primary residence until 1967, when Mildred Norton sold it to Suzanne and Alfred Wurtzberger, who owned and ran the 1836 Country Store next door. Suzanne moved her quilting supplies from the Country Store and opened Norton House Quilting. Suzanne’s granddaughter, Emily Hammer, bought the store after Suzanne’s death in 2016 and continued to run the business until the pandemic presumably took its toll and the store closed. Emily still runs her quilting business online, and the building is up for sale as of this writing.

Lyman House / 1836 Country Store

Lyman House / 1836 Country Store

Built originally in 1836, and expanded over 30 odd years, the Lyman house is a classic New England farmhouse that rambles back from the street to connect with the barn, which houses the 1836 Country Store. The original porch is gone, making the building look more like a Federal Colonial.

The main house is occupied by Jezebel’s Eatery, which has been operating there since sometime before the 2011 flood, re-opening in 2012.

The 1836 Country Store was started in 1966 by Alfred and Suzanne Wurtzberger and has been run by the family since. The business makes its own fudge and chocolates, which is nice. Beyond that and the expected maple syrup, you’ll find all the typical Vermont gear and souvenirs. At the risk of offending long time fans of this establishment, I need to say that I was disappointed with the merchandise. Too much of it was the tired made-in-China touristy stuff. I was particularly sad when it came to the mugs – there are so many excellent potters in Vermont. The store is currently open, but up for sale as of this writing.

Bartleby's Books

Bartleby’s Books

Bartleby’s Books was once part of The Vermont House, then converted to a garage in the 1920s by the Childs family. Bartleby’s is an excellent bookshop and has been operating here since 1989.

The Vermont House

The Vermont House

In the heart of Wilmington’s downtown, The Vermont House adds charm as well as accommodations for those wanting to be in the thick of activity. A three-story, eleven room Greek Revival inn, it opened in the mid-1800s as an inn and tavern serving stagecoaches traversing the Green Mountains between Brattleboro and Bennington. Its history is in keeping with its longevity, having hosted the first Old Home Week dinner in 1890, and offering up its porch as the reviewing stand for parades. Its third floor was used as a dance hall, with the third floor porch no doubt providing a welcome place to cool down between sets.

Childs/Crafts House

Childs/Crafts House

Across the street from The Vermont House is a charming little white house with a bay window in the gable end facing the street. This was built circa 1845 and was where the Childs family lived. Adna Childs was the founder of the Wilmington Bank and the Universalist Church, was the postmaster for 24 years, was active in the Masonic Lodge, and was the owner of the land where Memorial Hall and Crafts Inn now sit.

The house currently is currently occupied by The Incurable Romantic gift shop – and it’s well worth browsing the shop’s wonderful offerings. It’s much bigger than it appears from the front – it’s not wide, but goes way back!

The shop does not appear to have a website and I missed getting a photo, but I have reached out to the owner for photos.

Old Telephone Exchange / Quiaigh Designs

Old Telephone Exchange / Quaigh Designs

The Old Telephone Exchange was built initially as a private home, but housed the exchange in the 1950s. It contained a switchboard and two cots (all gone), since the operators were required to be available 24 hours a day.

Quaigh Designs has occupied the space since 1967 and is a delightful shop full of pottery, art, jewelry, glasswork, a woolen sweater gallery and more. Everything in this boutique is unique and beautiful, a worthy occupant for a historic building.

Railroad Office Building / Alpenglow Bistro

Railroad Office Building

The old Railroad Office Building, built circa 1900, housed the offices of the Deerfield River Company/Hoosac Tunnel & Wilmington Railroad, an important development for the town, as the railroad brought urbanites looking for fresh air, beginning the current tourism-based economy.

The Alpenglow Bistro now occupies the building.

Wilmington Memorial Hall

Memorial Hall

Memorial Hall and Crafts Inn were both commissioned by Major Frederick Childs, son of Adna and a Civil War hero. They were designed by architects of the notable New York architectural firm of McKim, Mead & White, some of whose notable works include the Boston Public Library, the Rhode Island State House and the National Museum of American History.

Memorial Hall opened in 1902 in time for Christmas. Designed to acoustical standards, it purportedly using the same proportions of Boston’s Symphony Hall, also designed by the McKim, Mead & White. Memorial Hall is still well used. Owned by the town, it hosts both public and private events.

Crafts Inn

The Crafts Inn

Along with Memorial Hall next door, The Crafts Inn was designed by architects of the notable New York architectural firm of McKim, Mead & White. The site formerly hosted Wilmington’s first hotel, which was destroyed by fire in 1885, along with a number of other buildings.

Crafts Inn (then known as Childs Tavern in honor of Major Childs) is a New England shingle-style hotel commissioned in 1898 and opened in 1902. It features a wide front porch with paired Doric columns that fairly cries out for a rocking chair and a glass of iced tea. The inn was meant for extended stays and saw several expansions in the early 20th century. Famous guests reportedly include Presidents Taft and Coolidge, Norman Rockwell, and Admiral Perry.

In the 1980s, it transitioned to timeshares, and many units are available for booking stays. The exterior of the inn is very charming, with lovely gardens and the Deerfield River in back. Inside, it could use a little updating, but you can’t beat its location in the heart of town.

Molly Stark Statue

Molly Stark Statue

At the eastern streetside corner of Crafts Inn is a statue of Molly Stark, wife of General John Stark. Remember when I said the people, including women, in the early days were of a hardy disposition? Consider Molly. She may be holding only one child in this statue, but she had ten others. And along with all the duties of a pioneer wife, she also nursed her husband’s troops during a smallpox epidemic and opened their home as a hospital during the war.

To me, that’s enough to earn her admiration and a statue.

But it’s a curious thing that her name is splattered all over the place in Vermont and New Hampshire, even overshadowing her husband who won battles and purportedly coined New Hampshire’s “Live Free or Die” motto. His most famous words, at least in these New England parts, is his battle cry in Bennington about taking the redcoats and saving Molly from widowhood. He appears to come up with some pretty pithy words in a crunch, but who knew that they would confer on Molly a fame that outmatched his own.

We New Englanders can latch on to some strange things, but I’m glad we gave a woman her due.

Dot's Restaurant

Dot’s Restaurant

Dot’s Restaurant is such an iconic spot in Wilmington, that even though it was fairly well demolished in the 2011 flood, the town refused to let it go, rallying behind owners John and Patty Reagan to rebuild. A sane economic response would have been to let it go, but this was not about economics. It was about saving a treasured eatery that was as much about community exchange as it was about noshing.

And not just for locals – purportedly, every Vermont governor, along with other politicians, appears here for a photo opp and to promote their campaigns.

The building dates to 1832, originally a post office, then a general store, and became a diner in 1930. The building was destroyed by the 1938 flood and rebuilt. John Reagan bought Dot’s in 1981, married Patty in 1988, and they ran it together until John’s death in 2017. Patti persevered and Dot’s continues it’s tradition. 

River Bank Park

River Bank Park

Giving proof to the adage that good things can come from bad is River Bank Park. In 2007, on Easter morning, a fire destroyed Wilmington’s first and historic bank building. One wonders if there’s something to be learned through the convergence of fire, a holy day and a money institution, but that’s an exploration for another day.

The question was then what to do about the remaining rubble sitting on the corner of Wilmington’s central intersection with the north branch of the Deerfield River sliding by? The town took action, voting to buy the lot and create a public park. Outside of a bit of pergola drama, the act was done, and the park completed in 2010.

The word “park” doesn’t do this spot justice – it is really a magical little garden, something any of us would rejoice to have in our own yards. Designed by local architect Joseph Cincotta, it packs a big punch in a small space, incorporating curved stone walls with an integrated oval bench, and an undulating pergola using tree branches as posts. The whole scene is filled with plants.

You can’t miss it – it grabs your attention in that “oh, look there, let’s explore that” kind of way. It’s a peaceful oasis in the middle of town, a worthy place to rest your weary feet before continuing on your journey.

Pettee Memorial Library

Pettee Memorial Library

Wilmington’s public library began its life in 1895 with $100 appropriated by the town with approval of its citizens, and matched with $100 from the State Board of Library Commissioners. With that money and a single bookcase constructed for the occasion, the fledgling library was set up in the post office, with the postmaster acting as librarian.

Fast forward to 1906, when the Pettee Memorial Library was funded as a gift to the town by Lyman F. Pettee, in memory of his parents Dr. and Mrs. Anson L. Pettee, life-long residents of Wilmington. Designed by New York City architect Paul C. Hunger, it replaced the circa 1850 Village School, a two story grammar school on the property, which was moved to another location (these Wilmingtonians seem to like moving buildings).

The library is of Classical Revival brick architecture, with a gabled entrance supported by ionic columns and oak paneled doors. The statue of a Union soldier stands guard outside, memorializing our defenders of freedom. Also out front, dating to the construction of the library, is a granite horse trough topped with a lantern, dedicated to the memory of Lewis Porter Stone, a native of Wilmington. The trough was indeed used to water horses, but is now used as a planter.

Universalist Church

Universalist Church

The Universalist Church in Wilmington was established in 1830 and found its permanent home here in 1835, when it purchased the land and constructed the current building. The Childs family donated the steeple, and the stained glass windows were family memorial gifts. The steeple and windows are original to the building, as are the interior hardwood floors, choir loft and stamped tin ceiling.

The building was owned by the church until 1958, at which point it was used for various private and public purposes, until the Valley Town Church leased it. The building is protected by deed to maintain its general exterior appearance, and was sold in December 2022. Time will tell what will become of this wonderful building.

Orrin O. Ware Store

Orrin O. Ware store

At the corner of Wilmington’s central intersection is the 1880 Orrin O. Ware store, an 1880 French Empire building. The second floor was historically used for “tenements” and the third floor was once occupied by the Masonic Lodge until 1904.

The Ware family owned and ran the Ware store until 1975, at which point it was used for other various retail purposes. The building was sold in 2018 and remains unoccupied as of this writing. Plans have been put forward for a brewery or retail space on the first floor with residential units on the upper floors.

The Internet Archive’s digitally scanned book “Wilmington, Vermont”, published in 1900, provides an interesting glimpse at the Ware store’s early days. “The ground floor of Ware’s block contains an extensive stock of dry goods, ladies’ garments, gents’ clothing and furnishings, canned goods and groceries ; a side room, adjacent contains a stock of wall paper, boots and shoes. The back store is filled with heavy groceries, paints and oils, hardware and agricultural implements.”

Masonic Hall

Masonic Hall

The building currently housing the Masonic Lodge was originally built in 1825 as the Methodist Church near Cutting Cemetery about four miles north of the current town center. The church building was moved (because that’s what they do here) to the current location in 1835, at which point it acquired a steeple and belfry.

The church sold the building to the Masonic Lodge in 1911, providing a permanent home for that organization, which had bounced around different leased spaces since its original building was abandoned in 1883. That original building was one of the eight moved from Lisle Hill in 1833.

The steeple and belfry were removed in 1928, and the bell was donated to the Baptist Church.

Congregational Church / St. Mary's of the Mountains

Congregational Church / St. Mary's in the Mountains

Just two buildings east of the former Methodist Church is the former home of the Congregational Church, now occupied by St. Mary’s in the Mountains Episcopal Church. The building was constructed in 1883, replacing an earlier one that was destroyed by fire the previous year.

The Congregational Church itself was established in 1780, the first organized church in town, originally meeting in a log meetinghouse on the old town common, which also served as the place for town meetings.

The building is striking for the steep roofed three-story gabled front and the even taller square tower at right that houses the entrance. The main doors of the church are painted red in a Middle Ages tradition, the color representing the Blood of Christ, marking the building as a sanctuary from physical and spiritual dangers.

Farwell House

Farwell House

The Farwell House was constructed in 1870, a pretty gothic revival style private home that sits whimsically at the back of a wide lawn.

Town Hall & Barber Block

Town Hall & Barber Block

At the corner of East and North Main Streets are two buildings that are joined together and house the town offices.

When the town was moved from Lisle Hill in 1833, a new meetinghouse was built on this corner. Around 1850, the current Greek Revival building next door was constructed, which Hardy Barber took possession of in 1891 for his men’s clothing and shoe store. The shop did not have longevity, at least in that location. By 1901, it was a harness shop.

In 1879, the meetinghouse was torn down, as it was revealing its poor construction, and the building that stands today was erected, containing the town offices and meeting room. At some point after that, the two buildings were connected and now together serve the needs of the town offices.

Dr. Pulsifer's House / Maple Leaf Tavern

Dr. Pulsifer’s House / Maple Leaf Tavern

The Maple Leaf Tavern on North Main Street occupies one of the original eight buildings moved from Lisle Hill in 1833, where it had housed the medical practice of Dr. Billings Pulsifer. In its new location on North Main Street, the ground floor was, at some point, extended out from the main building, and a porch constructed above that. The shed dormer likewise was probably added at a much later date.

There is an interesting story about the Maple Leaf Tavern that ties it in a strange way back to Dr. Pulsiver. The first Maple Leaf Tavern went into foreclosure in 2018 and was snapped up at auction by two brothers who grew up in the area. One of those brothers went off to pursue a medical career, but now finds himself running this particular tavern in Vermont. Perhaps the ghost of Dr. Pulsifer called back a kindred spirit.

Parmalee & Howe Drugstore

Parmalee & Howe Drugstore

At the corner of West and North Main Streets stood the quintessential corner drug store complete with an iconic and much loved soda fountain. The original building was constructed in 1888, opening as the Parmalee drugstore. It was destroyed by fire in 1928 and the current English Georgian Revival style brick structure replaced it in 1930. It operated as a drugstore until 1994, when the iconic business sadly closed its doors for good.

The building has a number of interesting features, including distinctive arched windows above display windows, decorative brickwork and inset brick arches with what one architect describes as “illogical” square windows.

The interior was beautifully updated and recently operated as The Cask & Kiln restaurant, which is now also closed. A very appealing building, inside and out, one hopes that another restaurant will open soon. The building is up for sale as of this writing.

Baptist Church

Baptist Church

The Wilmington Baptist Church got its start in 1806, and a permanent home in 1833 with the construction of this Greek Revival church. The steeple with its belfry was added in 1899. Little has changed since, and the building adds the iconic white clapboard, steepled church that is all but required in New England towns.

An interesting feature is its raised entrance platform (now concrete) with stairs on the side. This allowed ladies to step directly from buggy to entrance level without having to navigate the stairs.

You won’t see any buggies pulling up to service today (with perhaps the exception of a wedding), but the church remains an active congregation.

Barber House - Wilmington Historical Society

Barber House - Wilmington Historical Society

Lisle Hill Road branches off from North Main Street across from the Baptist Church. The first building on the right is the 1806 Barber House, the first building in Mill Hollow, and currently occupied by the Wilmington Historical Society. The Society maintains a museum here. Like most historical societies run by volunteers, hours are limited but you can call ahead for an appointment.

Old Red Mill - Valley Craft Ales

Old Red Mill - Valley Craft Ales

The Old Red Mill on North Main Street was originally built in 1828 by Richard Waste as a grist mill, later transitioning to a lumber mill. In the 1890s, it was used by the Readsboro Chair Company to manufacture chair stock. Over the years, wooden water wheels were replaced by metal wheels, and eventually turbines. A fire partially destroyed the building in 1900 and it was rebuilt in 1902-03, with some original features remaining. Since the 1930’s, the building has been used as an inn and various restaurants, currently run by the excellent Valley Craft Ales.

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