This Place in History: Burlington Ravine

Vermont Historical Society

BURLINGTON, Vt.

At ‘This Place in History’ we’re in Burlington with Executive Director of the Vermont Historical Society Steve Perkins.

“We’re doing a little bit of urban exploring. This is the back parking lot behind the Burlington Fire Department, right off of Main Street in downtown Burlington. What we’re standing in is one of the few old areas where you can see the Burlington Ravine,” said Perkins.

“This area of Burlington had a pretty large ravine that ran right through it. It separated what we know of now as the downtown core from further up the hill. It’s thought that at some time in the distant past it was a tributary or a piece of the Winooski River that flowed down through here all the way to [Lake Champlain]. In some places this ravine was almost 30 feet deep.”

This barrier became a problem when the city began to expand.

“The first thing they did was put in a train. Central Vermont Railway ran their train [through the ravine]. In fact, the depot was right here where the fire station is above us,” explained Perkins.

“Eventually, they decided to move the train and at that point, they started to fill in the ravine. It became a good place for the sewer because you had natural waterflow. And then, ultimately, it became that it was a hindrance, so they filled it in. There are great stories that they filled it in with trash. They had people just throw their trash into this ravine and slowly fill it up until we have what we have today and you really can’t see it.”

“It’s not ideal at all [by modern standards]. The train went in in the 1850s and moved by the 1860s. In the 1870s, it was converted to the sewer. Then, by the end of that decade and into the 1880s, they had really filled it in so that by the 1890s the ravine was almost completely full.”

“If you can imagine, filling this ravine with trash doesn’t provide the best footings for building. So if you walk through the city today, you can somewhat see where that ravine was because you have things like parking lots, retaining ponds. You see walls and parking lots down low and the road up high. That’s all evidence of where that ravine was,” described Perkins.

For more information on how flooding in the City of Burlington can, in some cases, be linked to the ravine, click here.

At ‘This Place in History’!

For more from our ‘This Place in History’ series, click here.

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