A Walking Tour of Montpelier

Five Walks Through Montpelier by Kathryn Guare features five walking tours of the city, The following is an excerpt from the book:

The County Courthouse

We talked about the earlier, Jeffersonian version of the State House that was destroyed by fire, and unfortunately that was not an unusual occurrence in 19th century Montpelier. There aren’t many buildings from that era we can talk about without adding “and then it burned.”

One example is this courthouse. The one you see now is essentially the third one on this site. The first, made of brick, was built in 1843 and burned down practically before the paint was dry. It was replaced with another brick building, which also had a major fire in 1880, but that one left enough of the outside walls standing to rebuild it into the Greek Revival structure you see today.

The courthouse has of course seen a lot of drama over the years, and one of the more sensational cases was an 1898 murder trial that provides the origin for two separate ghost stories. Mildred Brewster was the bored and restless daughter of a wealthy farmer from Huntington. She came to Montpelier looking for excitement when she was 21 and got more than she bargained for. She fell in love with Jack Wheeler, a handsome granite worker living in the same boarding house with her. The problem was that Jack had already fallen in love with a local girl named Anna, and he was entirely devoted to her. Or was he? He is said to have admitted being intimate with Mildred, but then became engaged to Anna, and Mildred was having none of it.

She bought a $3 revolver in Barre, spent a few hours in the fields above Montpelier practicing her aim, and the following day—a rainy Memorial Day—she invited Anna out for a walk on Seminary Hill, the site of the present-day Vermont College of Fine Arts. Witnesses report seeing them walk out under the same umbrella toward Jack’s house, which was nearby on Sibley Avenue. A few minutes later, Mildred drew her gun, fired a shot directly into Anna’s head, and another shot into her own. Mildred survived; Anna did not.

The murder trial was an internationally reported sensation, and it was standing room only in this county courthouse a year later, when Mildred was declared not guilty by reason of insanity. She spent the rest of her life at the Waterbury State Asylum for the Insane but is said to be spending her after-life in the halls of the county courthouse. Staff over the years have reported sounds of glass shattering, items out of place, and voices in empty rooms. Meanwhile, up at the main hall of the College of Fine Arts, there have also been reports over many years of glass breaking, doors closing, and pictures falling off the walls in unison. They are attributed to the murdered Anna, who is said to be haunting the tower of College Hall.

VCFA’s ghost is regarded with such fondness that the college named its café after her.

Five Walks Through Montpelier is available at Bear Pond Books, the Montpelier Visitor Center, and the State House Gift Shop. You can also order directly from the author’s online store at squareup.com/market/kathryn-guare or by contacting