This fall, Champlain College added another historic building to its constellation of Victorian residence halls: 158 South Willard Street, on the corner of Main and South Willard. This gorgeous residence stands out for its architectural significance and ties to two Burlingtonians, famous in their day for their military service, business ventures, and travel adventures.
Designed in 1877 in the French Empire style by local architect Alfred Benjamin Fisher (1831-1911), 158 South Willard is one of at least fifteen surviving Fisher buildings in the City of Burlington. Champlain College now owns or leases eight of them, including Aiken, Hill, Lyman, Jensen, and Pearl Halls. The College is leasing 158 South Willard Street from the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity, affiliated with the University of Vermont, for five years.
158 South Willard was built for Brevet Major General William Wells (1837-1892), a Civil War hero commemorated in Burlington with a statue at Battery Park. After the war, Wells expanded his father’s pharmaceutical business into a multimillion-dollar company that produced medicines, infant formula, fabric dyes, and other household products. By 1894, Wells, Richardson & Co. had $2 million in annual sales (some $51 million in today’s dollars), employed more than 200 people at its College Street headquarters, and had branches in London, Montreal, and Sydney. Visit our online catalog to view vintage Wells Richardson & Co. promotional materials in our Special Collections.
Wells passed on his private fortune to his daughter Bertha and her husband, Dr. Horatio Nelson Jackson (1872-1955). Jackson made headlines in 1903 when he successfully completed the first cross-country trip across the United States in an automobile, accompanied by his mechanic, Sewall Crocker, and his bulldog, Bud:
This trip was the subject of Horatio’s Drive: America’s First Road Trip, a 2003 Ken Burns documentary for PBS, and was featured in an exhibition at the Smithsonian Institution. Jackson’s 1903 Winton touring car, aptly named Vermont, and Bud’s driving goggles are now part of the Smithsonian’s collections.
-Erica Donnis, Special Collections Director
Corrections: the military title for William Wells was corrected to Brevet Major General on January 19, 2021.