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Unitarian Church

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1816, Peter Banner. 152 Pearl St., City of Burlington

The oldest extant church in Burlington was built for the First Congregational Society (Unitarian) and stands as a testament to the cosmopolitan tastes of a congregation that included many prominent local merchants. In 1814 the Unitarians acquired a large Pearl Street lot at the head of Church Street. In 1815 they commissioned designs for a meetinghouse from two leading Boston architects, Charles Bulfinch and Peter Banner. They settled on Banner's scheme, which was similar in its massing to his Brookline Meeting House (1806) and Park Street Church (1809). John Johnson surveyed the site in August 1815, and construction proceeded through 1816 under Burlington mason Samuel Reed, master carpenter Seth Pomery, Essex framers Samuel Sinclair and William Allen, and a team of joiners from Burlington, Essex, and Williston. A Revere bell (since recast) was mounted in the belfry, and on January 9, 1817, the building was dedicated by the Reverend John Pierce of Brookline, Massachusetts.

The main block of the meeting room is fronted with a prominent square tower and hipped flanking vestibules. A broad trabeated entrance in the base of the tower is surmounted by a panel with attached balusters and a single large round-arched window framed by paired pilasters. A Greek Revival remodeling of 1845 reduced the size of windows on the sides of the building and added brick corner pilasters that carry broad entablatures. Only the tower preserves a sense of the Federal crispness of Banner's detailing—in wooden stringcourses that coordinate with the cornices of the nave behind, a sash-cornered plaque bearing the construction date, and the delicately paneled octagonal belfry and lantern that recall the middle stages of the architect's delicately Gibbsian Park Street tower. In 1955 a lightning strike necessitated a thorough reconstruction of the tower on the basis of Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) drawings.

Writing Credits

Glenn M. Andres and Curtis B. Johnson


What's Nearby


Glenn M. Andres and Curtis B. Johnson, "Unitarian Church", [Burlington, Vermont], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

Print Source

Cover: Buildings of Vermont

Buildings of Vermont, Glenn M. Andres and Curtis B. Johnson. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2013, 147-148.

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