Burlington is the home of five colleges. Champlain College has over 2,000 undergraduates and concentrates mainly on business courses. They have an excellent computer graphics and video gaming program. Saint Michael’s College is located just outside Burlington in Colchester with a student body of about 2,000 as well. Burlington College is the new comer to town with only about 400 students. And the Community College of Vermont is located just outside Burlington in Winooski with approximately 800 students.
The oldest, the biggest and the best university in the State is the University of Vermont. Situated high on top of the hill that Burlington was built upon with fantastic views of both the Adirondack Mountains and the spine of the Green Mountains, UVM is a wonderful college campus within walking distance of downtown hotels or you can catch a free shuttle bus up College Street to its eastern terminus at the UVM Green. Burlington Segways also offers a fun and effortless guided tour of the UVM campus by Segway.
The land that the UVM campus is located on was a gift of Ira Allen in 1792, a mere nine years after the founding of the City on the eastern shore of Lake Champlain in 1783 at the conclusion of the Revolutionary War. UVM is the fifth oldest chartered college campus in the United States right behind Harvard, Yale, Brown and Dartmouth. Ira had two stipulations attached to his gift. The first was that it would contain a green so he could graze his sheep. The second was that the university would be named after him.
Shortly after making the gift however, Ira fell upon hard times and was imprisoned for a time on a French Frigate. During this time he was unable to attend to his land speculation business in Burlington and consequently lost a considerable fortune. He was therefore unable to fulfill his pledge of funds to start the university and the State of Vermont eventually took over the campus and it became a land grant college under a program championed by Vermont U.S. Senator Justin Morrill. One of the buildings on the Green is named in honor of Justin Morrill who shepherded the Land Grant College Act though Congress during the Civil War in 1862. It was signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln and became the foundation of many fine land grant colleges throughout the United States including Cornell University in New York.
So the university was never named after Ira but instead became the University of Vermont. And Ira Allen would have been all but forgotten as the founding father of UVM but for the Green that is the center of the campus today. But in the 1920s a devoted follower of Ira’s named James Wilber made a fortune in the Manchester, Vermont area and donated the money for a statue of Ira that now stands proudly in the center of the Green at the top of College Street. UVM students have long dressed this statue up with scarves and hats and other clothing in the winter time to keep old Ira warm through Vermont’s long winter months.
James Wilber then went on to contribute $5 million dollars to UVM with the stipulation that these funds be used to build a chapel in Ira’s name. The Ira Allen Chapel is the tallest building on campus today at 165 feet. Its iconic classical Greek Revival style architecture is certainly the most distinguished symbol of UVM today. But James Wilber wasn’t done contributing to UVM. He established a scholarship that currently funds contributions toward tuition for over 900 students each year.
Some of the most elegant buildings on the UVM campus line the east side of the Green starting with Ira Allen chapel at the north end and including from north to south Billings Library, named in honor of Frederick Billings, the railroad tycoon that Billings, Montana is named after as well, Williams Hall with its incredibly detailed and all different columns and magnificent gargoyles and the latest reincarnation of Old Mill. The original Old Mill was the first structure on the UVM campus built in 1804. It burned down and was replaced by a second Old Mill, which also burned and a third which similarly burned to the ground. The latest and current reincarnation of Old Mill is also the largest and has stood on the green for over 100 years now without going up in flames. Next is Royall Tyler Theater, See Burlington Arts and finally Justin Morrill Hall on the corner of the green along Main Street.
Other points of interest on the UVM campus include the full scale statue of the Vermont Catamount next to Royall Tyler Theater. The Catamount is the Vermont mountain lion that went extinct when the last one was shot in 1888. It is the mascot of UVM. Bailey Howe Library is a 1960s structure located behind Royall Tyler and the new Dudley Davis Student Center built in 2009 is located across the quad from Bailey Howe. The Aiken Building named after long serving Vermont U.S. Senator George Aiken is located next to the Davis Center and features an interesting “living machine” that recycles all the sewage generated by the building into usable water for plants located in the greenhouse and atrium. The James Jeffords Environmental Science Building is named after Vermont U.S, Senator James Jeffords. And last but not least to be mentioned here is Converse Hall with its classic and eclectic gothic style architecture called Victorian eclectic. Built in 1895 it is still used as a dormitory today. It is also known as the spookiest building on campus due to the alleged night time visits of the ghost of a UVM medical student who hung himself on the fourth floor there in the 1920s.
UVM currently has an undergraduate enrollment of over 10,000 and a graduate population in excess of 2,000. It is a major university offering excellent courses in environmental studies, agriculture and engineering to name only three programs and it features a top rated medical school as well. The student body and faculty at UVM and the other area colleges contribute an immeasurable energy to Burlington that has contributed to the arts in town and made Burlington one of the best cities to study in in the entire world.