July 9, 1998

Middlebury College President's House Undergoes Renovation

Modifications Improve Accessibility and Respect Historical References

Renovation work that has begun on the Middlebury College president's home at Three South Street in Middlebury is scheduled for completion in August. When complete, the house and the rear terrace will be wheelchair accessible, there will be improvements to the storm vestibule arrangement at the front door, and the house will more closely reflect its distinctive gothic character.

According to Glenn Andres, professor of history of art and architecture at the College, the Middlebury College president's house is the most prominent gothic revival house in Middlebury. It was built in 1854 for foundry owner Jason Davenport and became the home of the College's presidents in 1918.

Andres said that changes made in the past to the original architecture of the house have changed its character and appearance drastically. "The decorative trim under the eaves of the house known as bargeboards were cut off, probably in the 1950s or even 60s, undoubtedly to simplify the maintenance of the house," said Andres. Andres said that this removed one of the most distinctive features of the house. He said that the building has also been painted uniformly white, which plays down the visual impact of the detailing.

Middlebury-based architectural firm Parker Croft Architect worked on the design for the restoration. The firm undertook a study to determine the appearance of the lost bargeboards. They examined views and remnants of the old eaves and fascias to determine the spacing of the decorative motifs. Comparisons were also made with other houses in Middlebury and Salisbury that used the same decorative vocabulary. This provided a sense of the rhythm, proportions, and spacing of the trim elements. Computer graphics were used to help come up with something that fit the character and dimensions of the house.

Croft said the restoration will make the house more welcoming. "Not only will the house provide easier access to those who use a wheelchair," he said, "but the whole feel of the house will be warmer."

The warming effect will be achieved in part by the painting of the house, which will more closely reflect the colors used at the time of its construction. The paint, consisting of natural tones-a buff for the body of the house, cream trim, and putty gray accents-will emphasize the decorative trim elements under the eaves, on the porch and around the windows. Croft noted that landscaping around the house will be modified not only to more accurately reflect the historical period in which the house was built, but also to accommodate improvements in accessibility for disabled persons.

The construction of a ramp to improve access will be accomplished primarily through grading rather than through changes to construction of the house in the front. The direct, stepped front walk will be replaced with a curving walk, according to Andres. He said that the new walk will be more in keeping with the picturesque landscape ideas of the greatest theorist of the gothic revival, Andrew Jackson Downing. "The walk will curve across the front of the house," said Andres, "where there will be steps to the front door, but it will also curve and climb for a ramped approach to the porch on its south flank and then continue to the rear terrace."

On the porch itself there will be a new, permanent and more ample storm vestibule, largely of glass, with doors on all sides to permit approaches from the porch as well as from the front steps. This will be at the first floor level of the house and will eliminate all steps for someone using the ramped approach.

Andres said that when the renovation is completed, the house will be transformed in character. "It will be a project that returns the house to the original spirit of its design," said Andres. Parker Croft commented that "the home will be a very good neighbor and historically interesting in an architectural sense."

The project manager for the renovation is Harold Strassner, senior supervisor in the College's facilities management department. Exterior painting will be done by Rutland's Magic Brush. The College's facilities management staff will work on interior redesign to accommodate access needs, and with Custom Roofing and Sheet Metal to install the trim on the gable ends of the house. Farrington Construction of Shelburne will build the handicap ramp.