As the fifth oldest university in New England, UVM’s past is filled with colorful visionaries and noteworthy tales.
The University’s history is highlighted every summer and fall at weekly UVM historic tours. From July to October, 90-minute historic tours of UVM are offered Saturdays on campus, starting at 10 a.m.
Led by retired Professor William Averyt, the UVM historic tours showcase more than a dozen UVM buildings that are on the National Register of Historic Places, including Billings Library, designed by the renowned architect H.H. Richardson; and the Old Mill building, whose cornerstone was laid by Marquis de Lafayette.
UVM also has its share of visionary people behind the school’s history. UVM founder Ira Allen was a Revolutionary War hero, statesman and aggressive real estate speculator. UVM’s third president, James Marsh, was a transcendentalist who inspired Emerson and Thoreau and created the modern university curriculum.
Conversational Tours with a Fresh Perspective
Averyt, who has been giving historic tours since they began in 2008, says he likes to keep the tours fresh and conversational.
“I always emphasize at the outset of the tour that these will be conversational tours, with lots of back and forth questions. I urge the professional historians not to lurk but to jump in and keep me honest,” Averyt says. “Many of our visitors are professional or amateur historians, as well as more senior alumni who can share great historical nuggets about things, such as how the Billings building functioned as the university library before Bailey Howe was built.”
The tours are fine-tuned each year as Averyt learns more about UVM’s history. New information that he incorporates into the tour are often from visitors on the tour.
“Once I had a very nice couple in their late 20s who were quiet during the first half of the tour. But halfway through, they gently offered a fresh historical nugget to what I was saying. Well, it turned out that they were both Ph.D. students in colonial history at Princeton. So, that’s why I tell people to jump into the conversation whenever they want,” he says.
Some interesting historical facts to learn on the tour include:
- In 1817, there was a giant ox roast in honor of the visit of President James Monroe.
- UVM alumnus, educator and philosopher John Dewey’s ashes are buried on the side of Ira Allen chapel.
- Founder Ira Allen led a rather wild life.
- Students retaliated against the sheep when they grazed on the Campus Green in the early 19th century.
- The reason why the Johnson-Catlin house moves every 100 years.
What fact about UVM’s campus does Averyt find most impressive?
“Every time I give a tour, I touch the foundation stone of Old Mill, which was laid by General Lafayette in 1825, when he returned to the U.S. to accept a gift of thanks from the U.S. Congress for his role in our Revolution,” he says. “This feels like touching the very origins of our university as well as touching an important part of American history.”