Abandoned Vermont: Ludlow House

At the corner of Main Street and Commonwealth Avenue in Ludlow, VT, sits an 1849 stone house. It’s an impressive building, one that I haven’t noticed in my travels, probably because I’m normally staring at the Fletcher Library across the street from this house. Finally, I noticed it.

This building is an 1849 stone building constructed in the unique “snecked ashlar” style (Scottish tradition), by William Spaulding. Originally there was a store on the first floor. Snecked ashlar is found only in southeast/central Vermont. (Chester village has an entire historic district of snecked ashlar, but otherwise it’s rare.) (State Survey # 1410-12.)

However, get up and close and you’ll be frightened by what you see. Structurally speaking, it’s not good. As in, I wouldn’t stand too close to that building. I think the walls are going to collapse.

I checked out Google Street View, and from the side street (Commonwealth Ave) you can see a Best Western sign on the front lawn (from Main Street it does not show). To confirm, I searched the Vermont Division for Historic Preservation online resource center. And yes, that was the answer! In the 1990s, the Best Western purchased the stone house at 83 Main Street to convert it to a 5 unit inn (click to read the Environmental Review file).  However, the Division for Historic Preservation denied the initial request as it would have adversely affected this historic building. The Division provided suggestions as to how to work with the building, rather than against it, and what features to retain and preserve. At first, Best Western even wanted to put vinyl siding on the building! As you’ll read in the file, the Hotel and the Division came to an agreement on how to move the project forward.

See, preservation is not about stopping progress! Just moving it forward with respect to the past.



83 Main Street.


Shutters falling off the front gable end.


Due to the precarious condition of the building, I wasn’t about to stand under it to read that notice.


It’s hard to capture in a photograph, but the slabs of stone are falling off the exterior wall, which is bulging at the middle. Windows are popping out of the frames.


Another angle. In the middle you can sort of see the damage in the middle of the building elevation (look for the smaller rock instead of the stone slabs).


Rear addition.


This side is just as bad as the other side. Check out the door.


Poor “snecked ashlar” house.

But, what about it now? My first guess was that the Best Western couldn’t (or wouldn’t) keep up with the maintenance. However, a bit more digging revealed in January 2015 there was an explosion in the building causing $500,000 worth of damage. Fortunately, no one was injured, but there was substantial structural damage.

Do you live in Ludlow? What’s the latest update?

Garfield District School

One room schoolhouses are easily recognizable, as we’ve discussed. I delight in what I call my “schoolhouse radar”. It’s a fun game to play. What is your favorite type of building to spot?


At the crossroads in Garfield (a small hamlet in Hyde Park), VT on a cloudy, foggy day – just before a summer storm arrived.

Near Green River Reservoir in Hyde Park, VT, this building sits at a crossroads, a common place for one room schoolhouses. It has the gable roof massing of a schoolhouse and the general size, and hint of Green Revival detail (cornice returns).

While the building looks a bit dreary in the fog and clouds and the overgrown weeds, it still stands out as a schoolhouse converted to a residence, right? Maybe? Where is the bank of windows?


Pardon the fog and the clouds.


The windows don’t lend themselves to a schoolhouse, but look closely and you can tell by the paint on the rear of the schoolhouse that the bank of windows has been removed and replaced by residential windows. Still, I’d bet on it being a schoolhouse.

Next up? Consulting the trusty Online Resource Center (ORC) of the Vermont Division for Historic Preservation. The ORC contains searchable PDFs of all of the state survey files, among many other resources.


Garfield District School, 1981. The best part: the duck and ducklings to the right of the school. Source: Vermont State Register of Historic Places file.

This building at the crossroads of Garfield was indeed a schoolhouse. According to the 1981 survey, this was the Garfield District School, constructed in 1875, operating until 1953. This was one of the first schools in Vermont certified as a “Standard School”. The Standard Schools were aptly named, as schools were rated based on standards of lighting, ventilation, teaching quality, sanitation, and other details. As of the 1981 survey, the building was a residence. The survey does not discuss the west elevation (the former window bank). However, the existing chimney replaced a cupola that enclosed the school bell.

Applying What You Know: Reading the Built Environment

Learning to read your built environment – your city – helps you to form tangible connections to where you live. In turn, your sense of place and community increases. You feel ownership and responsibility for your town or city, which allows for better planning and smart development. The longer you live somewhere and study, the better you get to know a place; the more you love it.

But what happens you go someplace new? How do you read the built environment if you know nothing about its history? Good question. The best part of learning to read the layers of the built environment is that you can gain a sense of place and understanding without needing to know its cultural history. How do you do that?  By observing and translating the elements of the built environment you see the development and changes.

Elements of the built environment include street patterns (gridded or not?), buildings (height, architectural style, materials), parking lots (where? garages?), sidewalks (width, material?), landscaping (trees?), bridges (type?), utilities (underground wires or telephone poles?), and more.

I want to share an example that I used in my recent Built Environment lecture. It’s simple, but a good place to start. Ready to play along? And, go!

Recently, I traveled through Prescott, Ontario, a town on Canada Route 2 along the St. Lawrence River. I stopped in what appeared to be the center of town. As a preservationist, I always enjoy getting out of the car and wandering for a few blocks to snap photos and observe the area, stare at buildings – that sort of thing.

Here is the view standing on the corner of Centre Street and Route 2. Note the historic building block on the right. On the left, however, is a large parking lot. Parking lots always raise an eyebrow for me – why is there a large parking lot in the center of town? Historically, towns were not built with parking lots in the middle. Let’s have a look around.


Parking lot (left) & historic building block (right) in the center of Prescott.



Top left: the same historic building block mentioned above. Right: tower and parking lot at the SW corner of Route 2 and Centre Street. Bottom left: The same parking lot as seen from the other end of it (note clock tower behind the tree).


You can see the photos above. Now let’s step across the street. These Google street views (below) show that SW corner (in the first photo I stood next to the clock tower).

Once I did a 360 observation of the block I had a few guesses. In the United States, if there is a hole (read: parking lot) in a town or city, I automatically think 1960s Urban Renewal era. However, this was Canada, so I wasn’t sure on Urban Renewal.

But, the drug store adjacent to the parking lot had a mid 20th century vibe (see image below). The general automobile culture (1950s/60s) often falls in line with demolition and parking lots for auto-centric businesses.


Google Street views of the corner and drug store.

My guess? A historic building was demolished for the drug store and parking lot, and the clock tower built on the edge of the parking lot to “honor” the historic building. Classic, right? Always the preservation nerd, I did some Googling to see if I could find information about Prescott development. It took a while, but eventually I did find my answer!

Yes, there was a historic building there. This one:


Prescott, Ontario 1876 Town Hall. The clock tower was a later addition.

According to this source, the town hall was demolished in the early 1960s due to neglect and lack of available funds in the town for repair. While I couldn’t find when the drug store was built, I have a pretty good guess that it followed shortly after demolition of the town hall.

While this was not the most uplifting example of reading the landscape, it is important to understand how our cities and towns are shaped by individual projects and decisions. And the lesson? When you see a large hole in the center, spin around and look around. It’s probably not supposed to be there.

Preservation Pop Quiz: Fisk Farm Edition

Fisk Farm is a historic estate located in Isle La Motte, VT, with an adjoining (historic) marble quarry that began operations in the 1660s. Today the quarry is a world renowned fossil preserve as a Natural National Landmark. The original stone house on the property burned in the early 20th century, but its ruins stand, and later houses and barns remain on the property. Set on the west shore of the island, with a view of Lake Champlain, it is one of the most picturesque spots.

Another Fisk Farm view for good measure. The porch and the stone house of the previous images. #presinpink

A photo posted by Preservation in Pink (@presinpink) on

But, like all historic properties, there are some mysteries. Take this stone structure as your next challenge:


Set the to the left of the shingle style house in the photo above, this is the mystery object. The remains of the original stone house are in the background of this photo.

What is it? I don’t know, but I’m hoping you do. Some clues: 1) There is only one on the property. 2) Each side looks alike. 3) There are some pipes coming up from the ground. 4) Some of the insets have smaller metal pipes in them. 5) I am not taller enough to see the top.


Look alike sides.


Close up of the inset into the stone.


Another inset. Note the metal pipe.


One metal pipe coming out of the ground. This is the only one.


Another view.

Your turn. What do you think?


Reading List: Historic Preservation & the Built Environment

Large, mature trees contribute to the historic streetscape and historic properties.

Thank you to the Wilmington Library for having me as part of their summer lecture series. I thoroughly enjoyed talking about historic preservation and the built environment with community members and visitors. As promised, here is a reading list of related books:

  • Outside Lies Magic by John R. Stilgoe
  • The Motel in America by John A. Jakle and Keith A. Sculle
  • The Gas Station in America by John A. Jakle and Keith A. Sculle
  • Diners, Bowling Alleys, And Trailer Parks: Chasing The American Dream In The Postwar Consumer Culture by Andrew Hurley
  • Blue Highways: A Journey into America by William Least Heat Moon
  • Main Street to Miracle Mile by Chester Liebs
  • Once Upon a Playground: A Celebration of Classic American Playgrounds, 1920-1975 by Brenda Biondo
  • A Field Guide to American Houses (Revised): The Definitive Guide to Identifying and Understanding America’s Domestic Architecture by Virginia Savage McAlester

Have any suggestions of your own? Add them in the comments. Happy reading (don’t forget your coffee). Cheers!

Panton Schoolhouse

Can you spot a one-room schoolhouse as you’re driving by? I bet after this week of one-room schoolhouses here on PiP, you can! It’s a fun game. This ca. 1895 school in Panton, Vermont sits next to the town garage and serves as town storage. It appears as though it was the former home of the town offices, and the town bulletin board is still in use on the rear addition. Take a look. These one-room schoolhouses were called “District Schools” because each town was divided into districts and each district had its own school. This was before the days of school consolidation.


Quite the sunny morning, and the iphone couldn’t avoid it. But, look at the bank of 6 windows on this school.



Note the town bulletin board on the wing. Current fliers are posted there.


Unlike most schoolhouses, this one has windows on both sides. Perhaps they were added when the building was no longer a schoolhouse.


Bank of 6 windows.


View into the schoolhouse shows storage and  original features (see the doors and beadboard).


Peering into the back windows: town highway department storage. Also, note the wall on the left. The addition was added after the original construction date.


The Town Highway Department. Photo taken standing in front of the schoolhouse.

Of course, I feel badly for this schoolhouse. While it’s sort of in use, there is so much more potential to it. Poor thing. It’s a common case for these schoolhouses, even though one room schoolhouses would be fairly easy to rehabilitate to modern uses. What do you think?

Cornwall Schoolhouse

Our tour of Vermont one-room schoolhouses continues. Here’s one in Cornwall, VT off Route 30 that I’ve wanted to photograph for years. The Cornwall District No. 3 schoolhouse was constructed in 1830. It operated as a school until the 1950s.

cornwall school 3

Cornwall, VT. District No. 3 school. Stereoscopic view, ca. 1890. 

Today the school is a seasonal residence. The entrance has been enclosed and the vertical siding has been replaced with horizontal clapboards, but the details and characteristics remain intact (brackets, arch, steeple, slate roof, bank of windows). The house looks lonely on a spring day, but looks well maintained.





Looks like a pretty good seasonal residence, doesn’t it? I hope people still use it.

Abandoned Vermont: Salisbury Schoolhouse

The bank of windows make this easily recognizable as a one room schoolhouse.

One room schoolhouses are adorable. And they are an easily recognized architectural form. While they would be seemingly easy to adapt to an alternative use, many sit on the side of the road, underutilized. The District #8 Schoolhouse, ca. 1855, on Route 53 in Salisbury, VT is no exception. The schoolhouse sits in the middle of a farm field, serving as storage space for its owner. The 1977 survey photographs show a vestibule entry, which has since been removed. Otherwise, the schoolhouse retains its historic integrity with its character defining features such as the bank of windows.

District #8 School on the edge of a farm field.
Front entrance, no longer a vestibule. 
Peek into the windows and you’ll see the original materials of construction as well storage.
Bed frames, desks, stuff.

Hopefully its owner will see its potential soon.

With Your Coffee {Tuesday Edition}

Shard Villa in Salisbury, VT

Hello preservationists and friends! It’s time for an unconventional Tuesday “With Your Coffee” post because it’s good to switch it up once in a while. How’s it going by you? Work and life have been busy around here, but in a good way with challenging work projects, more daylight, and many good reasons to get outside. Here are a few inspiring and fun links that I’ve come across lately, some preservation, some design, etc. What about you? Fill me in!

Have a great day! Let me know if any of these stories spark a conversation. Cheers!

Good Reasons to Look Up: Burlington Sign Tour

Do you stroll around, always looking up? If you’re preservationist, you probably do. If you haven’t thought to look up at buildings and ceilings and cornices, give it a try. You never know what you might discover in your own town. It’s like playing tourist where you live.

Not sure where to start? Check out this Seven Days video  about Burlington signs, featuring two of my fellow UVM alums, Devin Colman and Britta Fenniman Tonn who wander around Burlington reading history through signs.