Old Round Church: A curiosity in heart of the Green Mountains

Richmond, Vermont 9 4 2015 043

The Old Round Church of Richmond, Vt., is unusual for a number of reasons:

  • It is the believed to be lone surviving 16-sided wooden meetinghouse in the United States;
  • When it was originally constructed more than two centuries ago it was home to five different Protestant denominations, all of which would meet every Sunday, each sharing the two-story wood frame structure;
  • It was built at a cost of $3,000; when renovations to the structure were complete in 1981 the price tag was $180,000; and
  • The church was rumored to be built in a circle so that the devil wouldn’t have a place to hide.

The Old Round Church was constructed in 1812-13 by William Rhodes. Rhodes was a native of Claremont, NH, which was home to a 16-sided brick church, similar to what would be erected in Richmond, located in the western foothills of Vermont’s Green Mountains on the banks of the Winooski River.

Rhodes was no novice craftsman: He built several covered bridges in New England, a number of houses, and was also a blacksmith.

Construction was funded by sale of pews, most of which were purchased by Congregationalists. The other denominations which used the church in its early decades were Baptists, Methodist, Universalists and a group described as “Christians.”

The structure was built in the Federal style. Rhodes was able to give the structure an appearance of light, delicate walls by hiding the 16 large corner posts behind 32 interior sides, making the inside seem much more round than the outside.

The building is topped by a sixteen-sided roof with a two-stage octagonal bell tower.

Because of the unusual design, much of the flooring, which was fitted around pew boxes, is hand cut, with some of the planks up to 24 inches wide and many cut at 45 or 60 degree angles, to enable them to fit with adjacent planks.

As the 19th century progressed, the different denominations that originally called the Old Round Church home stopped worshiping within the structure. Some built their own houses of worship; others moved to nearby towns and some disbanded.

In the 1880s, the building became the responsibility of the town of Richmond. Town meetings had been held at the locale since its opening and this continued up until 1973, when structural problems forced the closure of the building to public gatherings.

In 1976, residents voted to deed the Old Round Church to the Richmond Historical Society, to enable it to be eligible for grants not available to municipally owned buildings. Renovations were completed in 1981, and a second multi-phased renovation project was begun in 2005, which included roof replacement and installation of a fire sprinkler system.

The Old Round Church was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1996 by the National Park Service.

While church services are no longer held within the structure, it remains a popular site for weddings and it is open for free tours during the summer and early fall.

12 thoughts on “Old Round Church: A curiosity in heart of the Green Mountains

      • Vermont is beautiful; I spent my early childhood there (in Strafford) and I often wonder what it would have been like to grow up there. Perhaps a little insular, but I’ll never know!

      • Vermont is beautiful. I’d only been through a handful of times, the last being in the early ’90s, so it was wonderful to revisit the state. And I have a much greater appreciation for its history today.

        Yes, it’s always interesting to ponder the “what ifs.” Of course, Vermont certainly had some effect on you in your formative years. Who knows how things might have turned out if you hadn’t lived there at all?

        I ended up moving all over the nation, but if I’d stayed in California, where I was born, I probably would have spent extensive time studying the California missions and the impact of the railroads on that state and the west. Instead, after nearly 20 years in the South, I’m engrossed in the American Revolution, the Civil War, Reconstruction and Jim Crow. Every region has areas of interest that are unique or have had heavy influence.

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