Middlebury, VT (MBY)
Located in rolling green hills about a dozen miles east of the southern end of Lake Champlain, Middlebury developed along the falls of Otter Creek and is home to well-known Middlebury College.
Annual Station Ridership (FY 2021): N/A
- Facility Ownership: State of Vermont
- Parking Lot Ownership: N/A
- Platform Ownership: State of Vermont
- Track Ownership: State of Vermont
Located in rolling green hills about a dozen miles east of the southern end of Lake Champlain, Middlebury developed along the falls of Otter Creek and is home to well-known Middlebury College. The community is served by the Ethan Allen Express (New York-Albany-Burlington), which was extended north from Rutland to Burlington, Vermont – with intermediate stops in Middlebury and Ferrisburgh-Vergennes – on July 29, 2022.
The station, which consists of a concrete platform with a canopy to protect customers from inclement weather and the strong summer sun, sits on the north end of town just a few blocks from the historic Village Green. The station is also within walking distance of local bus service. The Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans) oversaw construction of the platform, canopy and lighting, and the town built the parking lot and access paths. Prior to the start of Ethan Allen Express service, Middlebury had not seen regularly scheduled passenger trains since 1953. That year, the Rutland Railroad, which had served numerous towns within the state, discontinued passenger service following a worker strike.
Standing opposite the new station is the Rutland Railroad’s former passenger depot that opened in 1891. Constructed to replace an earlier building destroyed by fire, it was converted to commercial use in the latter half of the 20th century. An extensive rehabilitation was completed by the building owner in 2011 that was sensitive to the structure’s history.
The one-story wood frame Shingle Style depot features a central belvedere capped with a pyramidal roof. The belvedere has trios of round arch windows facing both the track and the street, and decorative shingles – square cut and scalloped – create fanciful patterns, including large diamonds, that catch the eye. On the bulk of the building, vertical board and batten cladding is used between the ground and a belt course; above, the remainder of the wall is covered in horizontal wood clapboards. The slate hipped roof extends beyond the walls and is supported by large brackets, creating an overhang that sheltered passengers. These brackets are also echoed at the belvedere’s roofline.
A contemporary depot further north in Shelburne, Vermont, has a very similar design, and its floorplan included waiting rooms for men and women (and children) separated by the station master’s office in the middle. The Middlebury depot likely had a similar interior arrangement when it opened to travelers.
Directly north of the depot, and once connected to it by a covered open-air passageway that is now enclosed, is a circa 1870s freight depot. Its intended function is revealed by the dearth of windows to provide security and the large doorways that allowed crates and parcels to be wheeled to and from trains.
Both the freight and passenger depots originally stood on the west side of the tracks but were moved to the east side in 1912 to make way for the construction of an underpass that guides Seymour Street safely below the tracks.
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 late 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.
The railway age arrived in Middlebury on September 1, 1849, when the first train of the Rutland & Burlington pulled into town; it was followed by the first passenger train 18 days later. Passenger and freight operations were initially concentrated on the south side of town below Cross Street and near Otter Creek. As the century progressed and the rail network grew, Middlebury’s citizens gained greater access to goods and services from New England and beyond.
As the railroad was built through Middlebury, track was laid in a 20-foot deep cut that ran through the historic Village Green, splicing off its southwest corner, and under Merchants Row and Main Street, two important commercial arteries. The railroad would be a constant presence through the heart of town for the next century and a half until replacement of two roadway bridges over the railroad prompted a reassessment of this arrangement.
By the 2010s, the existing bridges were approaching a century old and were in need of replacement. Rather than install two new bridges, the state, town and Federal Highway Administration embarked on a larger project to tunnel the railroad through Middlebury, reconnecting downtown with new public spaces while also improving rail safety.
Overall, a rail corridor running 3,500 feet through downtown was rebuilt. In summer 2020, a new 360-foot tunnel composed of more than 400 pieces of precast concrete was erected. By lowering the rail bed by about four feet, the tunnel became tall enough to allow freight cars with two containers stacked one on top of the other to move through with ease – without disturbing the level of the streets and sidewalks above.
The Village Green was restored to its original size as a result, and two new parks were created. The corner that used to be cut off by the railroad is now known as Triangle Park and features a plaza with a fountain and a broad grassy area defined by stone blocks that provide seating. Across Main Street, Lazarus Park borders the railroad and includes a labyrinth meant as a space for contemplation.
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.
Unlike portions of the New England coast, Vermont was difficult for European-American colonists to access due to mountain ranges and thick forests. Vermont remained beyond their sphere 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. Charters for four towns were granted in November 1761 to a group from Salisbury, Connecticut, and one of them was for Middlebury, which may have taken its name because it was located between the three other new towns.
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, and 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.
Against this background, settler Colonel John Chipman arrived in what is now Middlebury in 1766 and cleared an area east of the confluence of Otter Creek and the Middlebury River about four miles south of the current downtown. This clearing would grow into the first permanent settlement when Chipman was joined by others, including his brother-in-law Gamaliel Painter, in the early 1770s. They began to construct homes and prepare the land for farming.
It was not long before new arrivals also settled around the falls on Otter Creek, which had the potential to provide waterpower to early industry. There on the east bank, Abisha Washburn, Chipman’s father-in-law, built a sawmill in 1774. Although it was subsequently destroyed during the American Revolution, Washburn and Painter returned to the site a decade later to rebuild the mill – which in turn only survived two years before being washed away in a flood.
Painter soon came to own 100 acres around the north side of the falls and in the late 1780s constructed a sawmill and grist mill to serve area settlers. The businesses also benefitted from their location near a ford that crossed the creek. On the south side of the falls, Daniel Foot, who also claimed 100 acres, built competing saw and grist mills. Foot also owned land north of the creek and in 1787 erected a bridge across the waterway.
By 1793 there were reportedly more than 60 buildings hugging the land around the falls, which some area residents had begun referring to as “Painter’s Mills.” It would develop into an early industrial center – particularly along the southern side known as “Frog Hollow” – when the mills were joined by nail and window sash factories, forges, gun smithies and other enterprises. Middlebury would host the second set of power looms built in New England, and in the 1820s, John Deere – whose name is still synonymous with fine agricultural machinery – worked as a young apprentice in a local shop.
Entrepreneur Eben Judd developed a soft iron marble saw in 1802, which led to the development of a marble works in the Hollow. It was supplied by quarries in the immediate vicinity and by marble brought in from other communities. Into the 1830s, Judd’s factory sawed upward of 10,000 feet of marble per year for use in construction and as home goods such as sinks and tabletops. This helped spread the reputation of fine Vermont marble across the country and over the border into Canada.
In an effort to develop the young town, Gamaliel Painter deeded lots to a lawyer, doctor, cabinetmaker, blacksmith and other learned and skilled professionals valuable to a growing community. With the donation of land to Addison County, Painter also encouraged the establishment of Middlebury as the county seat in 1790, which it remains today.
At the center of his town, Painter established the triangular Village Green, which has largely retained is form for two centuries. Along its edges in the early 19th century were erected Middlebury’s most prominent religious, cultural, commercial and residential buildings. These include a Congregational church on the north end – whose soaring tiered spire has long been a town landmark – a tavern, inn, the first courthouse and Painter’s own home.
Complementing the industrial facilities along the river were new commercial establishments that drew a clientele from a wide region. Impressive commercial blocks on the south and west side of the Village Green remain today; dating to the late 19th century, they replaced earlier establishments lost to fires.
Painter was also instrumental in the founding of Middlebury College, which began with seven students in 1800 who came to train for the ministry and other professions. The college was the main beneficiary of Painter’s extensive estate, and a hall overlooking the Main Quad bears his name.
In 1823, Alexander Twilight graduated from the school, becoming the first African American to earn a baccalaureate degree at an American college. The institution began admitting women in 1883 and a period of expansion followed into the early 20th century during which Middlebury College established itself as a leader in liberal arts education and languages.
Toward the mid-19th century, Middlebury found itself at the center of a growing merino sheep wool industry. Merino sheep imported from Spain thrived in the rocky but verdant countryside of central Vermont. Processing of the fine wool became a major new business in the old cotton mills along the Hollow, with national demand for the town’s products. This helped make Middlebury the largest town in the state, but the good times came to an end by the late 1860s when wool production shifted elsewhere.
Following in the footsteps of Judd’s marble business, the Brandon Italian Marble Works was established in town in 1898 after the company’s previous premises in Brandon, Vermont, were destroyed in a fire. Sawing and finishing mills located northwest of the Village Green had convenient rail access to allow for the delivery of the raw marble blocks and the shipping of finished products. Later bought out by another company, the marble works operated until the onset of the Great Depression. Today the old mill buildings have been rehabilitated for commercial and retail uses.
While many of the industries that once defined Middlebury have since faded or shifted elsewhere, the town remains an educational center and popular tourist destination in central Vermont. Much of the core of the village is an historic district listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is noted for fine examples of Federal, Greek Revival and Victorian architecture. The Village Green continues to serve as the heart of the community, hosting events and gatherings throughout the year.
From a handful of buildings at its founding, the Middlebury College campus has expanded over the years on the south side of Otter Creek. The college’s art museum contains objects with roots in antiquity and is particularly known for its collections of Asian art, photography and contemporary prints. Students, townspeople and visitors can take advantage of a full schedule of lectures, films and other programs showcasing the museum’s works.
Robert Frost fans will make a beeline to the college library, whose collection includes books, manuscripts, photos and other items related to the poet. The library’s Abernethy Collection of American literature contains many first editions and manuscripts representing seminal authors such as Thoreau, Emerson and Henry Adams. Those with musical inclinations might stop by the Vermont Traditional Music Archives.
Also on the south side of town – just over the Main Street Bridge and facing Cannon Park – is the Henry Sheldon Museum of Vermont History. Located in a handsome 1829 house, the extensive collection of Vermont furniture, paintings, documents and other artifacts was assembled in the late 19th century by the museum’s namesake. An insatiable collector, Sheldon’s items track the history of the region and state, highlighting its people, industries and resources. In 1882, Sheldon opened his museum to the public – making it the country’s first incorporated village museum.
Just down the street is the Vermont Folklife Center. Founded in 1984, it is dedicated to the cultural and social fabric of Vermont’s diverse communities. The center’s folklorists conduct interviews and photo documentation of Vermonters to capture their experiences past and present. This material is in turn shared through platforms including the web, radio and exhibits. A Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program supports master artists working with apprentices in their communities.
For those seeking a closer connection to the natural beauty for which Vermont is famous, the 18-mile Trail Around Middlebury is a footpath that encircles the town and is perfect for hiking, running or a leisurely amble. From Middlebury, long-distance hikers can also access the Long Trail, which traces Vermont’s highest peaks within the Green Mountains for 272 miles between the state’s borders with Massachusetts and Canada. Numerous campsites allow hikers to plan a multi-day trip. Winter sports enthusiasts will also find much to enjoy throughout the extended season, including skiing, snowboarding, skating, snowshoeing, fat-biking and snowmobiling.
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.
Platform with Shelter
- 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 0 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
- Same-day parking is available for free
- No payphones
- Accessible platform
- No accessible restrooms
- No accessible ticket office
- No accessible waiting room
- No accessible water fountain
- Same-day, accessible parking is available for free
- No high platform
- No wheelchair
- Wheelchair lift available