ST. ALBANS CITY — St. Albans has a new historic resource.
As part of the City of St. Albans’ efforts to update its listing on the National Register of Historic Places, at a meeting on Tuesday, April 5, the city released completed research on the 112 buildings that make up its downtown district.
The city has hired historical preservation consultant Lyssa Papazian to update the information in 2021, and the city Historic Preservation Commission published the results as part of the registry’s public approval process.
The work itself traces historical patterns and architectural themes from each period, and Papazian has created property surveys that communicate each building’s history, its varied uses, and any renovations it may have undergone over the years. last two centuries.
The documentation also allows the City of St. Albans to expand the boundaries of its downtown historic district. The last update dates from 1980.
As for its new boundaries, Papazian recommended removing demolished buildings from the district boundaries and adding six properties to the list of historic properties due to their significance.
These additions include the First Baptist Church, the building on the southwest corner of Main and Hoyt streets, an additional building on Center Street, the old jail, and the remainder of the South Main block ending at Stebbins Street.
Properties on the Register of Historic Places are eligible for state and federal grants to make renovations and updates in accordance with historic precedents. The registry, however, does not restrict owners if they seek to alter or demolish properties with private financing.
While the documents help with the record, the hundreds of pages collected on downtown St. Albans also provide in-depth insight into the city’s past. Building by building level, the new research shows when and why each building was first built and gives an overview of each building in its various stages.
“I’ve included all historical images of any particular building that I can find, and again, these images show it well or a glimpse of it through time,” Papazian said.
As for the periods followed by his research, Papazian has accumulated historical evidence ranging from 1792 to 1960. To be listed on the historical register, a building must have been constructed at least 50 years ago and have some sort of historical significance. or architectural in the dense agglomeration that makes up the district.
For downtown St. Albans, that’s about 90% of its properties.
“The district reflects the growth of St. Albans as a major commercial and government center in northern Vermont and the prosperity brought by the Central Vermont Railroad in the 1850s that continued into the next century,” explained Papazian in the draft statement of significance.
To give historical context to the research, Papazian has categorized each building according to the period in which it was built. Before the railroad came to town, St. Albans sat on a coach route, which attracted a hotel, a few shops, and eventually some churches.
Buildings from this period are generally less ornate, with Greek Revival and Gothic Revival architectural styles. A line of them is on the northeast block of Main and Bank streets.
Papazian said the first building still standing, the American House, was built in 1815 during this period. St. Mary’s Catholic Church was also built around this time in 1849.
The railways, however, changed the trajectory of the city. With the introduction of the 1850 rail line from Boston to Montreal, St. Albans grew faster. Around this time, the rest of the religious institutions and buildings on Church Street were remodeled in brick, and downtown businesses received major updates to transform the few blocks into an urban center.
This St. Albans, however, did not survive.
In 1895, a citywide fire destroyed 130 buildings on over 75 acres of land in the main town center, leaving much of its central blocks in a charred landscape. During Tuesday’s presentation, Papazian showed some maps she found that determine how much of downtown St. Albans survived the disaster. Among these buildings are the Waugh Opera House and improvements to Taylor Park.
But St. Albans residents haven’t abandoned their downtown area. The fire gave local businesses a reason to build bigger and better, which led to taller and generally more ornate buildings.
Development after fire
Papazian noted a few architectural themes that came to the fore during this period. For example, a few buildings from this period have slanted corners, and more than a few feature stonework and ornate arches that Papazian suspects was a way of showing a building owner’s business success.
“The many new commercial blocks built at this time established the character of parts of the streetscape that still exist today,” the draft statement document reads.
It also allowed the redesign to create a more cohesive whole both in scale and design.
“It is likely that only a few architects designed most of the 1896 buildings for fewer owners, after some post-fire consolidation,” the statement said.
Commercial growth continued during this time, and over the next five to six decades, businesses often provided small updates to their storefronts.
The social customs of the 19th century also began to disappear. At one point, Papazion found evidence of at least eight social halls that were on the upper floors of downtown buildings that housed clubs, such as the International Order of Oddfellows or the Masonic Lodge.
Skating rinks, billiard halls, and bowling alleys were also popular places in downtown St. Albans in the 19th century, but due to fires and changing social habits, they no longer exist.
To track storefront changes from 1900 to 1960, Papazion relied on photographic evidence and, comparing different years, mapped some of the updates made to each building as they expanded the storefronts. , combined some spaces for department stores and gave the buildings a new look. .
Some of these changes are still visible today. Ralston’s building, for example, had its bay windows enlarged in the early 1900s, and Papazion has several photographs of the before and after.
“It’s fascinating to use these things to unravel history,” Papazion said.
Before Papazion’s research is submitted in August to the National Register of Historic Places, the public will have another chance to view the documents. Another public hearing has been set for 5:30 p.m. on July 12.
“Depending on how many people show up, if it’s just a small group it will be easy, but we can take groups of people – just take them – and talk briefly about the neighborhood itself- same,” said Laz Scangas, Historic Preservation. Committee chairman.
The presentation made at the public meeting can be found below: