The American House fire in downtown Burlington, December 1906

On a bitter cold December morning in 1906, crowds gathered at the corner of Main and St. Paul Streets as a catastrophic fire swept through Burlington’s premier hotel, the American House. Local photographer B. Benton Barker rushed over from his studio and home on College Street to capture the scene. He soon published his images of billowing smoke, firefighters, and spectators in a series of postcards that he sold.

“American House Fire, Dec 16 ’06,” by B. Benton Barker, 
Llewellyn Collection #2010.1.581

According to the Burlington Weekly Free Press of December 20, 1906, the hotel was gutted, and one hotel guest died. Several street-level shops and apartments at the rear of the building were also destroyed. Only a portion of the structure, the eastern section fronting on Main Street, survived the fire; it now contains the Flynn Theatre’s FlynnSpace as well as several stores. In 1911, the Hotel Vermont, now the Vermont House, was constructed on the corner site. Another Burlington photographer, Charles H. Bessey, shot the Hotel Vermont soon after its construction was completed.

“Hotel Vermont, Burlington, Vt.” by Charles H. Bessey, 1911, 
Llewellyn Collection #2010.1.607

These postcards, and many more, are included in a new exhibit featuring Benton and Barker’s work in Perry Hall, which will be on view through early February.

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