25 Things You Should Know About Burlington, Vermont
By Jeff Wells
It may be the largest city in the Green Mountain state, but to residents and visitors alike, Burlington feels more like a small town. Situated on the shores of Lake Champlain, it’s home to just under 43,000 residents along with a thriving collection of local businesses, from cozy cafes to arts and crafts stores and brewpubs. Even a now-famous ice cream parlor started by two childhood friends still maintains its local flavor. Here are a few things you might not know about Burlington, Vermont.
1. It was established as part of the New Hampshire Grants, which colonial governor Benning Wentworth doled out beginning in 1749 as a way to alleviate overcrowding in Massachusetts and Connecticut. The Burlington grant recipients, which included 64 families, began settling the area in 1763 but were interrupted by the outbreak of the Revolutionary War.
2. Nobody’s really sure where the name came from. One theory holds that Wentworth named the town after Richard Boyle, the 3rd Earl of Burlington, as a way to gain favor from the powerful Englishman. Another holds that it was named for the wealthy Burling family, who owned land throughout New York.
3. One of the first naval battles of the Revolutionary War took place nearby on Lake Champlain. The Battle of Valcour Island pitted a colonial force of 15 ships, led by none other than Benedict Arnold, against 25 British ships. The outgunned Americans were defeated, but their resistance stalled the British expansion into the Hudson Valley. If Arnold had died during that skirmish, historians believe, he likely would be considered a war hero.
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Burlington was home to Ethan Allen, a folk hero credited by many as the father of Vermont. Born in Connecticut, Allen and his Green Mountain Boys defended land established by the New Hampshire Grants against competing claims from New Yorkers. In 1775, Allen and his militia captured Fort Ticonderoga from the British, securing a decisive early victory in the American Revolution. A fierce fighter and leader, Allen was a philosopher and a published author, to boot.
5. During the War of 1812, Burlington served as a base for nearly 4000 U.S. troops. The influx strained the city’s resources and increased tensions between soldiers and citizens. After town officials arrested several soldiers on charges of theft, a band of their comrades marched on the jail and freed them.
6. In 1813, British ships fired upon an American fleet docked in Burlington. The ensuing naval duel, which lasted only 20 minutes and had zero casualties, marked the only battle ever fought within city limits.
7. The 1823 opening of the Champlain Canal, which connected Lake Champlain to New York’s Hudson River, signaled the beginning of Burlington’s prominence as a port town. By the mid 1800s, the city was the third largest lumber port in the nation.
8. To expand their bustling port system, Burlington officials created more space. Over the course of a century, 60 acres worth of fill from construction projects went into Lake Champlain, expanding the shoreline further out into the water.
9. The University of Vermont, founded in 1791, declared support for freedom of religion in its charter, making it the first institution of higher learning to do so. It was also one of the first universities to admit female students, in 1871.
Billings Library at the University of Vermont, c. 1895 // Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
The university’s designation, UVM, does not stand for “University of Vermont,” as many believe. Rather, it stands for the Latin “Universitas Viridis Montis,”or “University of the Green Mountains.”
11. The Church Street Marketplace, Burlington’s busy pedestrian shopping walk, was inspired by a market in Copenhagen called the Stroget. A local architecture student observed the Stroget in 1962 and began lobbying officials to create something similar in Burlington. In 1980, Burlington closed off two downtown blocks along Church Street to traffic, and a year later the Church Street Marketplace officially opened.
12. The Fletcher Free Library, established in 1871, lets residents check out gardening tools in addition to books, CDs, and DVDs.
13. Every summer, Burlington hosts the Festival of Fools, an event dedicated to “the age-old tradition of busking” that features world-renowned street performers along Church Street and in City Hall Park.
It was the site of the world’s first international hockey match, in 1886, between the Montreal Crystals and members of the local Van Ness House hockey team. The game, which took place during the Burlington Winter Carnival, resulted in a 3-0 win for the Canadians.
15. Its nickname, “the Queen City,” originated with a speech given by Burlington’s first mayor more than 150 years ago. “We represent a young city, which may in time be known and distinguished as the Queen City of New England,” said Albert L. Catlin during his 1866 commencement address, establishing a lofty vision for the northern outpost.
16. In 1978, childhood friends Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield opened an ice cream shop in a renovated filling station. Despite having no experience besides a $5 correspondence course in ice-cream making, the two established what quickly became a local favorite. The rest is sweet, sweet history.
Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield serving ice cream at Occupy Wall Street, 2011 // Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0
The band Phish formed at the University of Vermont in 1983. Their first gig was at the university’s Harris-Mills Cafeteria.
18. From 1981 to 1989, Burlington was feeling the Bern—Bernie Sanders, specifically, who served four consecutive terms as mayor.
19. The tallest building in Burlington, Decker Towers, is just 11 stories. It’s also the tallest building in the state, making it the shortest-tallest building of any state in the nation.
20. For five years, Burlington played partial home (along with the city of Barre) to a semi-pro basketball team called the Frost Heaves. Owned by Sports Illustrated writer Alexander Wolff, the Heaves won the American Basketball Association title in its first two seasons, then folded in 2011 after declining attendance.
21. There aren’t enough cooks in the kitchen—literally. Burlington’s labor force hasn’t kept up with its culinary expansion, leaving the city desperate for chefs, line order cooks and restaurant workers in general. The president of the New England Culinary Institute has called the situation “a crisis.”
Burlington is the 38th most popular name for American cities and towns, with 34 total, according to the U.S. Census. There’s a Burlington, North Carolina and a Burlington, Colorado, among others.
23. Every summer, teams of rowers face off in the Dragon Boat Festival on Lake Champlain. Modeled after a similar type of long boat from ancient China, each dragon boat is 41 feet long and holds upwards of 20 rowers. Proceeds from the event go to local cancer charities.
24. According to a recent assessment, 30% of the traffic in downtown Burlington is comprised of drivers searching for parking. The city claims to have ample parking, and is working to improve signs and other tools to direct motorists to vacant spots.
25. It’s one of the most environmentally progressive cities in the nation. Earlier this year, Burlington became the first city to source 100% of its residential energy from renewable sources.