Attention, book lovers, bargain hunters, and history buffs! Don’t miss the great deals at the University of Virginia Press Warehouse Sale. Thousands of first-quality books in Virginiana, history, literature, African American studies, founding fathers, the Civil War, and more will be on sale. Hours are Friday, October 31, from 10 am to 6 pm, and Saturday, November 1, from 10 am to 2 pm at the Press Warehouse, 500 Edgemont Road, three blocks west of McCormick and Alderman (driveway located off McCormick Road). For more information, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 434-924-6070.
glasses We are remembering Bernard Mayes, who passed away on October 23 at the age of 85 after one of the most engaged lives imaginable. A survivor during his childhood of the London blitz, Mayes went on to become an ordained priest in the Anglican church. His many accomplishments included broadcasting with the BBC, his founding of the Suicide Prevention movement in his adopted America, and serving as first chairman of NPR. Mayes joined the faculty of the University of Virginia in 1981 and created the university’s media studies program. He was also a valuable activist for gay rights, and his memoir, Escaping God’s Closet: The Revelations of a Queer Priest, is a fascinating look at the how a gay priest resolves his sexuality with his faith.
The Daily Progress has published an excellent look at Mayes’s life here. We should all bring this much courage and passion to our lives.
One hundred and fifty years ago, on October 19, 1864, a band of Confederate raiders attacked the small Vermont town of St. Albans in Franklin County. To mark the anniversary, we’re pleased to post the historic overview of the city and its architecture, together with one of the associated building entries, drawn from the award-winning Buildings of Vermont volume by Glenn Andres and Curtis Johnson and from SAH Archipedia, which features online entries here and here.
City of St. Albans
St. Albans has been justly celebrated for the beauty of its setting along Lake Champlain, for its status as a major port of entry to the United States, and as the nation’s greatest nineteenth-century rail center east of Chicago. Not surprisingly, St. Albans is also a place of notable architecture. In Norwood, his novel of 1867, Henry Ward Beecher proclaimed that “the picturesque scenery of New England reaches a climax at St. Alban’s [sic], a place in the midst of greater variety of scenic beauty than any other that I can remember in America.” St. Albans’s town stretches from St. Albans Bay on the west to hills that rise toward the Green Mountains on the east. It was first settled on the bay, affording water access north to Canada and south to the emerging communities of New York, which established early ties with Franklin County as witnessed in the millwork and joinery of Whitehall, New York–based William Sprats. These ties became most evident almost three miles to the east in what would become the City of St. Albans. Here Ira Allen, soon to be a major proprietor in the town, surveyed the stagecoach road that became U.S. 7 (Main Street) to run adjacent to the common as mandated by the town’s New Hampshire Grant charter. While the bay was the early commercial center for St. Albans, its docks and boatyards retaining importance through the era of lake steamers, the inland village at the junction of Lake Street and the north–south stagecoach road served as the political center for town and county. By 1793 the common had been cleared, and in 1799 land for a courthouse was donated by Colonel Halloway Taylor. Eventually, the common developed into a handsomely appointed park named after the colonel.
By the 1830s, while the St. Albans Steamboat Company was booming at the bay, village-area proprietor and former U.S. congressman John Smith used his Washington contacts to promote St. Albans as a railroad center. By the 1850s Smith was president of the Vermont and Canada Railroad, bringing trains from Boston to Montreal via St. Albans, and had laid the groundwork for a St. Albans–based family railroad dynasty. His successor and son, John Gregory Smith (governor of Vermont 1863-1864 and president of the Northern Pacific Railroad 1866-1872), engineered a series of mergers that produced the Central Vermont Railroad, and facilitated the transfer of administration and shops from Northfield to the western side of St. Albans village in 1860. Between 1860 and 1870 the town’s population almost doubled to 7,014 residents.
St. Albans’s strategic importance was signaled in 1864, when Confederate raiders crossed in disguise from Canada in a successful attempt to rob the city’s banks and an abortive attempt to burn its downtown core. In the 1890s John Gregory Smith’s son, Edward Curtis Smith (governor of Vermont 1898-1900), developed the main rail yard (called “Italy yard” because of its construction by Italian work crews) into the most extensive in New England. Railroad operations at their turn-of-the-twentieth-century peak provided 1,799 jobs in a community of 7,954 residents. They also drew businesses that depended on rail–from large tourist hotels to bridge fabricators and foundries. The St. Albans Foundry Company became a worldwide purveyor of horse-powered treadmills and later a pioneer of portable gasoline engines for farm power. Other industry included manufacturers of work clothes and garters, New England’s largest creamery, a packing plant, and cold storage for butter, fruit, and maple sugar.
The railroad and the growth it fostered led to the village being set off from the town, first in 1855 as a fire-prevention district, next in 1859 as an incorporated village, and in 1896 as a city. The railroad yards developed on the flats to the west of Main Street with offices, depots, and shops on Lake Street, and adjacent workers’ neighborhoods. A commercial area grew between the tracks and Main Street, and public and institutional buildings were built along the eastern edge of Taylor Park, which was formalized with a fountain (1887) donated by the Smith family. Beyond Taylor Park rose the houses of merchants, industrialists, and railroad managers on Aldis Hill.
Whereas Federal and Greek Revival houses had lined the Main Street stagecoach road, the area eastward developed during the railroad era with Gothic Revival, Italianate, Second Empire, and Queen Anne buildings. Bank, Congress, High, and Smith streets comprise one of the state’s most stylistically varied and best-preserved Victorian neighborhoods, the houses becoming increasingly grand as they climb the hill, gaining views of the lake and the distant Adirondacks. While the city’s two most extravagant houses, both built by Smiths, no longer stand, the neighborhood is dotted with the homes of their relatives and executives, a veritable catalogue of an ambitious half century of building. The commercial district by contrast is distinguished by striking homogeneity. A fire in 1895 destroyed one hundred and thirty buildings on seventy-five acres along the west side of Main Street. Rebuilt within two years, the new downtown was dense with three- to four-story masonry structures in Queen Anne, Romanesque, and Colonial Revival modes.
Subsequent fires, changing business patterns, and the diminishing importance of the railroad over the course of the twentieth century caused some attrition but also a relatively stable population, lessening the inevitable pressures for change. As a result, the built fabric of nineteenth-century St. Albans remains impressively visible.
FR30 Brainerd House
1853. 107 Bank St., City of St. Albans
Unlike most of Vermont’s Gothic Revival houses, which tended to fall into the Carpenter Gothic cottage category, lawyer Lawrence Brainerd Jr.’s house was a more substantial Gothic villa, reflecting the family’s success in mercantile, banking, steamboat, and railroad enterprises. The house was built on a spacious property at what was then the edge of town, beyond the head of Bank Street. It is large, two-and-a-half stories, and solid, with brick walls on granite foundations. The house is picturesque with an asymmetrical plan topped by an array of gables, cross gables, and clustered corbeled octagonal chimneys. A veranda with a round corner pavilion wraps the west and south faces of the building in Tudor arches with quatrefoil spandrels. The gables are decorated with some of the finest bargeboards in Vermont, cusp-arched with drops. These bargeboards were replicated when the house was expanded to the east later in the nineteenth century. They were duplicated at the Rugg House (c. 1890 or earlier) on the north side of VT 36, 1.7 miles east of town.
James-Salter James Salter, one of the last men standing from the grand postwar era of American novelists, is the first Kapnick Distinguished Writer-in-Residence at the University of Virginia. What this means for fiction fans in the Charlottesville area is three opportunities in October to see Salter speak on the craft of writing. The first lecture will be Thursday, October 9. Two more lectures will follow on the 14th and the 27th. Each event is at 6:00 p.m. in UVa’s Special Collections Auditorium. On November 11 at 5:00 p.m. Salter will give a fiction reading in Newcomb Hall. Complete details on all events may be found here.
Richard Ford once rather famously remarked, “It is an article of faith among readers of fiction that James Salter writes American sentences better than anybody writing today.” You may read an excellent profile of Salter here.
The 75th anniversary of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Pope-Leighy House, one of the famed architect’s few works in Virginia, will be celebrated at Woodlawn Mansion in Alexandria on Sunday, September 28. Steven Reiss, author of the new Frank Lloyd Wright’s Pope-Leighy House, will read from the book and answer questions. Attendees will then tour the actual Pope-Leighy house, located on the same grounds as Woodlawn. Hosted by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the event’s complete details may be found here.
The fight for emancipation was a noble and necessary pursuit. What most people don’t know, however, is that President Lincoln had to move deftly even within his own party to formulate, and finally push through, this historic legislation. Salon is featuring an excerpt from Paul Escott‘s new book, Lincoln’s Dilemma: Blair, Sumner, and the Republican Struggle over Racism and Equality in the Civil War Era, that provides an inside look at the fascinating political maneuverings. You can read it here.