The Vermont Marble Company came into being in 1880 under the leadership of Redfield Proctor, who consolidated several local marble companies including the Sutherland Falls Marble Company, which was based near the falls of the Otter Creek in what is now the Village of Proctor. By the turn of the 20th century, the Vermont Marble Company sought to derive more power from the falls of Otter Creek, and in 1904 built the Proctor Hydroelectric Station. That station is licensed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which opens the owners of the hydroelectric plant to Federal environmental review, including cultural resources studies in accordance with Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act. I was fortunate to handle many of the Section 106 issues for the various owners of the plant over the past several years, including several projects involving HABS/HAER photography.
VT Marble Mills and Sutherland Falls
The current owner of the Proctor Hydroelectric Station is Green Mountain Power (GMP). The hydroelectric plant was upgraded in the early 1980s with a modern generating unit that supplemented the original 1904 and 1926 units. The older units, however, now need to be replaced. At the same time that GMP was beginning work on the hydroelectric station, they realized that one of the buildings close to the station, that had been part of the Vermont Marble Factory Complex, was in poor condition and thus constituted a liability. Vermont Marble ceased operation in Proctor back in the 1970s, but the buildings have remained intact. Despite it importance to the State of Vermont, the complex had never been evaluated for the National Register. As part of the planning process, I carried out an assessment of the complex. I recommended that it was indeed eligible for the National Register as a historic district, and that the building proposed for removal, despite its condition, contributed to the significance of the district.
With no feasible alternative to removing the building, GMP requested that I carry out the documentation of the building according to HABS/HAER standards. I carried out this work in the spring of 2012, taking about 2 days to photograph Building 25, along with the surrounding Vermont Marble buildings, using my 4×5 camera.
The Vermont Marble Mill is a complex of buildings, most of them connected, that lie on a ridge on the west side of Otter Creek above Sutherland Falls. As early as the late 18th century, the falls provided a source of power for a number of mills, a tradition that continues to today with a hydroelectric plant at the base of the falls.
Here’s how I described the complex, in the summary paragraph for a National Register historic district nomination:
The Vermont Marble mill complex is located in the Village of Proctor, Vermont, in Rutland County. Proctor is a very small village lying to the WNW of the City of Rutland, and is focused around the former factory complex. The mill complex is situated on the west side of Otter Creek where Sutherland Falls drops approximately 75 feet. The area has been occupied by manufacturing industries since the late 18th century when John Sutherland began to use the available water power to power both saw and grist mills at the falls that now bear his name. The mill complex as it currently exists began to take shape in the 1850s through the 1870s with a series of three adjacent buildings lying in a narrow strip of land between the railroad tracks to the west and the steep bank above the Otter Creek to the east; this location forced the mill buildings into a linear north-south orientation. As the Vermont Marble Company’s business expanded dramatically in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the mill expanded primarily to the north and south of the original buildings, continuing the linear north-south orientation. Given the narrow space available for construction, several of the current buildings replaced earlier buildings on the same location. The buildings at the southern end of the complex were built on land that was raised by at least 20 feet above the original grade. The land was raised using vast amounts of fill including blocks of waste marble, and was supported at the eastern end, adjacent to Otter Creek, by a marble foundation wall that is oriented north-south parallel to the Otter Creek. The complex was largely complete as it currently exists by 1940. The series of connected buildings that constitute the present mill complex show a mix of architectural design and materials, including simple vernacular wood frame buildings with clapboard siding at the southern end, and brick factory buildings with steel frames at the northern end. The central portion of the complex is currently occupied by the Vermont Marble Museum, while the rest of the complex is vacant.
I was fortunate to have had such extensive access to the mill complex, and GMP was very supportive and helpful. In addition, I had access to two sources of research materials for Proctor–the Proctor Free Library and the Proctoriana Collection at the Vermont Historical Society in Barre. Both of these are wonderful places to work with fantastic resources for the history of the Vermont Marble Company. I’ve also had word that the Vermont Marble Museum’s collection of Proctor materials have been acquired by the University of Pennsylvania; I would love to have access to those records as well.
Proctor is a terrific place, given its incredibly significant role in the history of Vermont., as well as its obviously central role in the tiny community of Proctor. The fact that it remains largely intact, despite closing as a marble mill in the late 1970s, is remarkable. It clearly represents memories worth preserving. I’m glad that GMP is investing the resources to maintain the power station, and keep it running into the future. It was a great pleasure to have been able to document the place.
If you would like to comment on this post, please feel free to send me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to hear from you!