Rutland is a small city with a population of 17,500 at the crossing of two historic corridors (today U.S. 4 and U.S. 7) traveled since the Late Woodland period. On the hillside site of a Revolutionary War fort overlooking Otter Creek, the village of Rutland developed at this intersection and in 1784 became the county seat. Although few structures from its earliest years remain, the vibrant evolution of local building from 1850 to 1940 is evident in six commercial blocks downtown and in several distinct neighborhoods.
The village green and parade at Main and West streets, purchased by the town in 1791 and one of the largest in the state, is formed by a corner square and then a militia parade that is six rods (ninety-nine feet) wide and runs four blocks south along Main Street. Near and alongside the green are a few early landmarks, including the house of governor and U.S. senator Israel Smith (1793; 44 N. Main Street), the c. 1800 house of attorney Darius Chipman at the south end of the parade, and the small brick Bank of Rutland (1825) just off the square. Builder Nathan Hale's house at 73 S. Main Street (c. 1795; moved here from the green in 1857) hints at the early architectural refinement of the village.
The 1849 construction of the Rutland and Burlington Railroad from Bellows Falls through Rutland to Burlington transformed this village on the hill. On the Otter Creek plain, the Rutland and Burlington erected its main roundhouse and yards, and across the street, Merchants Row became the commercial heart of the small city. On the hillside between downtown and the old village, local magnate George Strong laid out Center and Washington streets across his property, building a trendsetting Italianate house (RU36). At Center and Court streets is Ammi B. Young's U.S. Courthouse and Post Office (RU37), while nearby are the county courthouse (RU38), the former Nickwackett Fire Station of 1860 (now the Rutland Historical Society) at 96 Center Street, the Baptist Church (1871; 81 Center Street) by J. J. R. Randall, and the Congregational Church (1860; 8 Court Street).
Reviving after a downturn in the 1870s, the railroad, the Howe Scale Company (RU35), and the marble industry made Rutland the state's most dynamic community by expanding their investments and employment, attracting immigrants and related machine industries, and generating immense demand for goods and services. A horse-drawn streetcar began in 1882 and was electrified in 1892, serving four neighborhoods. It eventually was extended to Lake Bomoseen, Fair Haven, and Poultney. By 1910 Rutland City had more than 13,000 residents.
Rutland of 1910 is essentially what visitors see today as they leave the U.S. 7 and U.S. 4 corridors. Although the railroad yards and station were replaced by a shopping center and parking lot in 1964, a lively downtown of four- and more-story commercial blocks remains, as do the residential neighborhoods. The many architectural styles of this evolved commercial core range from rather plain brick blocks, such as the earliest survivor, the Bardwell House (1852, now the Bardwell Hotel; 142 Merchants Row); through Victorian styles, such as the polygonal Romanesque Clement Bank Building (1885; 89 Merchants Row); to more modern early-twentieth-century efforts, notably the Chicago School Gryphon (1906) and New Gryphon (1914) office buildings at 28 West Street designed by Rutland architect Arthur H. Smith. At 30 Center Street is one of the city's four vaudeville houses, the Playhouse (1914, Leon H. Lempert Jr.), which became the Paramount Theatre in 1931; it was restored in 2000 by Nimtz, Berryhill, Figiel.
South and west of downtown, the tracks, and the rail yard are a number of impressive industrial sites. Adjacent to this area is a neighborhood of modest, vernacular, clapboarded houses clustered around St. Peter's Church (1871, Patrick C. Keely) at 134 Convent Avenue, its convent (1878, 1896), and school (1884). Originally settled as an Irish neighborhood, it became Italian as immigration patterns changed. North of downtown the middle-class neighborhood of modest Italianate, Queen Anne, Shingle Style, and Colonial Revival houses is on a par with any in the state. On the old village green, many now-landmark buildings replaced earlier structures.
Although the marble industry slowed in the 1920s, Rutland City expanded as a manufacturing center with several new factories. It continued to gain importance as the county's primary retail center and reached a population of more than 17,000 before 1930. New houses were concentrated on the north, east, and south edges of the city, and the Irish Catholic Christ the King Church (RU33) provided a new focus for that community. With the onset of the Great Depression and nadir of the marble industry, the U.S. Post Office and Courthouse (RU22) on West Street was the last major downtown building built for more than a decade.
After World War II Rutland City sustained some manufacturing, increasingly becoming the center of employment for the county as the marble industry nearby continued its slow decline. Downtown retailing remained strong through the 1960s and new employers included General Electric. At the same time the expansion of the Killington and Pico ski resorts boosted tourism-related commerce. By 1970 the city had more than 19,000 residents. Since then U.S. 4 and U.S. 7 have increasingly attracted automobile-oriented retail strips, but the village green or downtown reveals the beauty and livability of this small city between the Green Mountains and the Taconics.
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