Historic View of Barre Downtown Historic District
Photograph courtesy of the Library of Congress. PAN US GEOG - Vermont, no. 36
Click here for a high-resolution panorama of Barre

  Individual buildings of the Barre Downtown Historic District
Photographs by CB Johnson and the Vermont Division for Historic Preservation

The commercial and public buildings that form the Barre Downtown Historic District reflect the city's rapid transformation in the 1880s from a rural farming community to an urban, industrialized environment. The area was rich in granite, and quarries were established by the early 19th century. Granite for an early Vermont State House was provided from Barre quarries, transported by teams of horses and oxen. Until the railroad arrived, the community remained small and isolated, and the downtown area was comprised of a collection of widely spaced houses and a few businesses. The first line opened in 1875, in the center of Barre, and a second quarry line was connected in 1888. With this new ability to import and export goods, the granite industry soared, and by 1902 the city had 68 granite quarries. Consequently, Barre and its residents experienced a great period of prosperity and growth, reflected in the buildings erected during that time.

Downtown was rapidly transformed from a small domestic village to a streetscape of tall and massive commercial, institutional, and industrial blocks. As a result, most buildings within the district reflect architectural styles popular at the end of the 19th century. Many new buildings, supporting the growing city, were erected in the 1890s, including numerous commercial buildings in styles ranging from Italianate to Neo-Classical, the Spaulding School (a Richardsonian Romanesque high school) and adjacent 1899 memorial statue to Scottish poet Robert Burns, churches with Gothic and Romanesque motifs, the Queen Anne Montpelier and Well River railroad station, and the Barre City Hall and Opera House which stands across from the focus of the district--the triangular town green.

The need for accomplished stone workers resulted in a wave of immigrants. English, Swedish and French Canadians came to work in the quarries, while skilled immigrants from Scotland and Italy came to work in the granite sheds where the stone was shaped. In contrast to other Vermont communities, Barre was uniquely shaped by the variety of cultures, political ideas and traditions these immigrants brought with them. Their craftsmanship, as well as those of local artisans, is reflected in the quality and character of the historic district. Furthermore, the variety and degree of granite concentrated in the downtown area is indicative of the community's pride in this local resource.

Today, the downtown district is a vital part of the community of Barre, still the "Granite Capital of the World." Many of the buildings have undergone renovations fostered by federal historic preservation tax credits and strong local support for downtown revitalization. Most recently True Value Hardware received just such a tax credit for the successful renovation of 180-190 North Main Street.

The Barre Downtown Historic District is generally those buildings bordering Depot Square, Main and Washington Sts., and bordered to the west by the Montpelier and Barre Railroad right of way. It is a mixture of public and private buildings. A walking tour is available. Further information can be obtained from an Information Booth on Main St., open seasonally 8:00am to 5:00pm.

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