Ferrisburgh-Vergennes, VT (VRN)
At Ferrisburgh-Vergennes, customers use one of the oldest depots in the Amtrak network – and in Vermont. Constructed circa 1851, the wood-frame building is part of a park-and-ride facility that also offers regional and intercity bus service.
Annual Station Ridership (FY 2021): N/A
- Facility Ownership: State of Vermont
- Parking Lot Ownership: State of Vermont
- Platform Ownership: State of Vermont
- Track Ownership: State of Vermont
Downtown Vergennes, centered on City Park and Main Street, is perched on a rise in the land overlooking the valley of Otter Creek. At the base of the hills, the creek’s waters cascade 37 feet before flowing seven miles and emptying into Lake Champlain. These falls, while noted for their natural beauty, also powered early industry that put Vergennes on the map and made it a significant player in trade between Canada and New York City.
Amtrak began serving the Ferrisburgh-Vergennes station on July 29, 2022, when the Ethan Allen Express (New York-Albany-Burlington) was extended north from Rutland to Burlington, Vermont – with intermediate stops in Middlebury and Ferrisburgh-Vergennes. Prior to the start of Ethan Allen Express service, Vergennes and Ferrisburgh had not been served by regularly scheduled passenger trains since 1953. That year, the Rutland Railroad, which had served numerous Vermont towns, discontinued passenger service following a worker strike.
Although located just over the border in the town of Ferrisburgh, the Ferrisburgh-Vergennes stop is closer to downtown Vergennes, which is just over a mile to the southwest along Main Street (Vermont Route 22A). Amtrak customers use one of the oldest depots in the Amtrak network – and in Vermont. Constructed circa 1851, the wood-frame building used to be about a third of a mile south along the track – in Vergennes – but was moved to its new location when the state decided to include it as part of a larger park-and-ride facility at the crossing of State Routes 7 and 22A that provides ample parking and service by regional and intercity buses.
The depot was built only a few years after the Rutland & Burlington Railroad arrived in the area in 1849 and passenger service began that September. In 1843, the state legislature chartered the Champlain & Connecticut River Railroad to link Rutland and Burlington. But before construction even began in 1847, the company changed its name to the Rutland & Burlington Railroad to more accurately reflect its market. By December 1849, the line was completed from Bellows Falls on the Connecticut River via Rutland to Burlington on Lake Champlain.
At Bellows Falls, important rail connections were made to Boston, which was New England’s primary international port. Post-Civil War, the Rutland & Burlington reorganized in 1867 and became the Rutland Railroad. Over the next seven decades, except for a short period from 1896-1904, the railroad would be leased by its principal competitors, including the Central Vermont Railroad and Cornelius Vanderbilt’s New York Central system.
Rather than make a beeline for downtown Vergennes, where commercial and industrial activity was centered on busy Otter Creek, the Rutland & Burlington skirted the edge of town to the northeast. An earlier depot succumbed to fire, requiring construction of the current building, which was originally located on the west side of the tracks (in its new spot, it is on the east side). The railroad also built a freight warehouse to the south of the depot.
The depot has a two-story central pavilion flanked by one-and-a-half story wings to the north and south. The walls are clad in horizontal wood clapboards and windows are embellished with trim work. Each of the three sections is capped by a gabled seamed-metal roof with extended eaves, with the pavilion’s roof featuring brackets. The upper level of the pavilion also has an overhang on the trackside supported by large brackets below. Along with a delicate trio of arches – an open one in the middle flanked by blind arches – on the pavilion’s ground floor facing the street, these elements give the building a somewhat Italianate flare, inspired by Italian country houses that were then the height of architectural fashion.
As was not uncommon in the 19th century, the original floorplan included separate waiting rooms for men and women (and children) in the wings. Each was accessed from its own door on the exterior. The center of the pavilion housed an office used by the station master and telegrapher, which acted as a buffer between the two waiting rooms. A bay window was later added to the center of the trackside façade from which the station master could more easily monitor traffic up and down the rail line. Upstairs was a living quarters for the station master and his family that included a kitchen, living room, dining room and bedrooms. Interior finishes included beadboard on the walls.
By the early 20th century, in addition to the freight house, the depot was surrounded by a coal shed, water tank, ice house, barn, stock yard and other structures. Following the end of passenger service on the Rutland Railroad in 1953, the railroad then went bankrupt in the next decade. The state subsequently purchased the rail line, and the depot was rented for commercial purposes including materials storage.
Creation of the park-and-ride facility presented an opportunity to rethink the depot’s use. It had fallen into disrepair and become hemmed in by other structures at its old site. Planning for the park-and-ride – including assembling the needed land – involved the Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans), city of Vergennes, the Vergennes Planning Commission, town of Ferrisburgh and the Ferrisburgh Planning Commission. The work was divided into two phases.
In 2012, as part of the first phase, the depot was lifted from its foundation and slowly moved by truck to its present location, where a new concrete foundation was built. Firmly in place, a complete exterior renovation was undertaken, guided by documentation such as historic photographs. The arcade, which had been covered and obscured, was restored, and the rehabilitation team replaced damaged clapboards, restored windows, installed new roofs and storm windows and painted the building in a pleasing two-tone paint scheme. Internal rehabilitation work was completed in a later second phase.
Anticipating proposed future rail service, VTrans built a concrete platform with lighting and fencing adjacent to the depot, with new pathways laid to connect to the building and parking lot. Out front, buses and cars can pull up to drop off and pick up passengers.
Phase 1 cost $1.3 million, with approximately half the total covered in the state’s 2012 transportation budget. The other half was obtained through federal funds channeled through VTrans; part of this money was used to extend electric power and water to the site.
When European explorers first visited what is now central Vermont, it was primarily inhabited by bands of Western Abenaki American Indians who spoke an Algonquian language. They lived with the landscape, moving throughout the year to take advantage of opportunities for hunting – including deer, moose and waterfowl – fishing and foraging of nuts and berries. They also came together on a seasonal basis to plant crops such as squash, beans and corn.
In 1609 Samuel de Champlain of France was one of the first Europeans to navigate the lake that bears his name. But what is now Vermont remained beyond the sphere of most European-American colonists well into the mid-18th century and acted as a buffer zone between the French towns of lower Canada and the English settlements of coastal New England. The region became attractive to English colonists after the British defeated the French in 1760 and gained permanent control of Canada.
Vermont did not come into existence as a separate entity until 1777, and prior to this year the land was disputed by New York, New Hampshire and Massachusetts. Many of the early settlements in the territory were established by charters issued by Governor Benning Wentworth of New Hampshire.
By the mid-1760s, New York’s governor was fed up with the growing number of “New Hampshire grants” west of the Connecticut River and asked the royal authorities to better define the boundaries between the two colonies. In 1764, New York gained control over what is now Vermont, but many of the original settlers were opposed to the change, particularly due to the costs that would be incurred to transfer and regain title to the land under New York law.
Over the next decade, forces within Vermont began to advocate for the establishment of a new political entity separate from both New Hampshire and New York. Against this background and the American Revolution, in January 1777, a delegation from the grant communities gathered to declare independence. By July, a constitution had been written. Groundbreaking for its time, it prohibited slavery, mandated universal manhood suffrage without restrictions, and established a public school system. Vermont existed as an independent republic until 1791 when it joined the United States as the fourteenth state.
European-American settlers arrived in the Vergennes area in the 1760s, but it was not until peace came at the conclusion of the American Revolution that more people started to arrive in search of agricultural lands. The new town of Vergennes was created in 1788 when the bordering towns of Ferrisburgh, Panton and New Haven gave up land to create the settlement around the falls on Otter Creek.
Tradition holds that the city’s name was suggested by Revolutionary War hero and Vermonter Ethan Allen to honor the recently deceased Charles Gravier, Comte de Vergennes. Gravier had served as French foreign minister under King Louis XVI and was instrumental in securing the kingdom’s financial support for the Americans in their fight against France’s enemy, Great Britain. He also helped negotiate the peace that ended the war and secured the freedom of the United States.
The new town grew quickly around the falls, which provided ample waterpower for early industries like mills. Otter Creek was also deep enough to allow lake-going ships to sail to the bottom of the falls to load and unload goods including lumber and potash. A year after its formal creation, Vergennes boasted more than 50 households.
An early and influential enterprise built along the falls was the Monkton Ironworks Company, founded in 1807. It took its name from a community located less than a dozen miles northeast of Vergennes where iron ore deposits had been discovered. Within a decade it counted among its assets nine forges, blast and air furnaces, a rolling mill and wire factory.
The Monkton Ironworks soon played an important role in supplying the U.S. Navy during the War of 1812 against Great Britain. Lake Champlain was a key battleground, as it physically separated the New England and Mid-Atlantic states and also was part of a trade corridor that extended from British-held Canada to New York City via the Hudson River.
Commodore Thomas Macdonough and his sailors arrived in Vergennes in December 1813 to take advantage of the community’s resources in strengthening the American fleet. Local shipbuilders, ironworkers and others labored with Macdonough’s men to modify the schooner Ticonderoga and brig U.S.S. Eagle, and construct the corvette U.S.S. Saratoga, among other vessels. The Monkton Ironworks also produced cannon balls and shot. Nine months later, in September 1814, the Americans and British fought a nearly two-and-a-half-hour battle in Cumberland Bay off Plattsburgh, New York. As the smoke cleared, the Americans – whose efforts were supported by troops on land – were decisively victorious, helping to bring the war to an end.
Naval enthusiasts and historians can still visit the site of Macdonough’s shipyard on the north side of the creek where Macdonough Park is today. In 1925, a century after Macdonough’s death, a memorial was erected in City Park by the state and federal governments to commemorate him and the fleet constructed on Otter Creek. Displaying tablets flanked by pairs of Doric columns, a bas relief panel of the commodore in profile and wreaths of honor, the work was designed by John Russell Pope, who is probably best known today as the architect of the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Despite its key role in outfitting Macdonough’s 14-vessel squadron at Cumberland Bay, the Monkton Ironworks closed soon after the war ended and changed hands a few times in the coming decades. The falls continued to be a magnet for businesses including a marble sawing mill and a hemp factory, as well as a shipbuilding enterprise.
Vergennes’ reliance on water-borne trade was reinforced in the 1820s with the opening of the Champlain Canal that connected Lake Champlain with the Hudson River. This new means of transport only served to reinvigorate commercial ties between New York and Canada, and strengthened ports like Vergennes. Newfound prosperity led to construction of fashionable new homes off Main Street, a new school building and streets lined with sidewalks and trees. In 1834, St. Paul’s Church was built on the north side of City Park, where its Gothic Revival bell tower – complete with pointed arches, trefoils and robust finials – remains a landmark as one approaches downtown. A decade later, the new Franklin House Hotel was built facing the park with the hope of luring tourists by steamship and the soon-to-open railroad.
During the mid- and late 19th century, bolstered by both water and rail transport connections, the falls was home to businesses including a horse nail company; manufacturers of wood items such as doors, windows sashes, blinds and wagon wheels; grist and saw mills; a tannery; and a furniture factory. Today only a few buildings remain to tell this industrial story, including an 1878 grist mill and 1874 pumphouse – part of the original city water system – that occupy small islands at the falls, as well as a factory on the south shore where building components, many used locally, were produced. This concentration of industry also ensured that Vergennes was a busy commercial center where local agricultural goods like grain, wool and milk were traded, processed and shipped out.
By the close of the century, Burlington, growing in population, would pull ahead as the main port on the Vermont side of Lake Champlain; in turn, Vergennes’ lake-bound trade declined and overall growth slowed. As happened across the country, the Great Depression of the 1930s was the final curtain for many businesses that had managed to hang on along Otter Creek.
Today Vergennes is noted for its historic charm – much of the downtown and an adjoining residential area are listed as historic districts on the National Register of Historic Places. The buildings and public spaces are considered to provide an excellent overview of the development of a 19th century commercial center and employ a variety of architectural styles. In the late 1990s, the non-profit Vergennes Partnership took on the mission of revitalizing downtown with an eye on economic growth. This spurred the rehabilitation of numerous buildings and improvements to public areas.
Situated halfway between the falls and City Park, the Bixby Memorial Free Library remains a point of pride for the community and surrounding towns more than a century after it opened in 1912. The grand neoclassical building fronted by a portico with limestone columns and topped with an elegant shallow dome was financed from the estate of William Gove Bixby, who had grown up, and spent much of his life, in Vergennes. His sister, Eleanor, deserves credit too, as much of the fortune she left her brother went toward the library.
Inside, the building features a soaring atrium finished with a stained-glass dome that throws splatches of yellows, greens and purples upon the visitors below. Among the library’s holdings are a collection of historic photos documenting Vergennes since the mid-19th century – its businesses, cultural institutions, transportation modes – including the railroad depot – residences and people.
The Ethan Allen Express is financed primarily through funds made available by the Vermont Agency of Transportation and the New York State Department of Transportation.
Station Building (with waiting room)
- ATM not available
- No elevator
- No payphones
- No Quik-Trak kiosks
- No Restrooms
- Unaccompanied child travel not allowed
- No vending machines
- No WiFi
- Arrive at least 5 minutes prior to departure
- Amtrak Express shipping not available
- No checked baggage service
- No checked baggage storage
- Bike boxes not available
- No baggage carts
- Ski bags not available
- No bag storage
- Shipping boxes not available
- No baggage assistance
- No payphones
- No accessible restrooms
- No accessible ticket office
- No accessible waiting room
- No accessible water fountain
- No high platform
- No wheelchair
- No wheelchair lift
Station Waiting Room Hours
|Mon||09:40 am - 10:50 am|
08:00 pm - 10:10 pm
|Tue||09:40 am - 10:50 am|
08:00 pm - 10:10 pm
|Wed||09:40 am - 10:50 am|
08:00 pm - 10:10 pm
|Thu||09:40 am - 10:50 am|
08:00 pm - 10:10 pm
|Fri||09:40 am - 10:50 am|
08:00 pm - 10:10 pm
|Sat||09:40 am - 10:50 am|
08:00 pm - 10:10 pm
|Sun||09:40 am - 10:50 am|
08:00 pm - 10:10 pm