The Honorable Allen Hodgdon: Architectural Historian of Essex County

IMG_20190203_194608.jpgBelieve it or not, Guildhall, Vermont is home to an accomplished architectural historian.  Allen Hodgdon was born in Granby, Vermont and lived his entire life–except for going away to college and graduate school–in Lancaster, NH and Guildhall.  Allen was the first person Edward and I met when we moved here from Boston in 2004.  We encountered him behind the counter and tending the wood stove at the Guildhall Village General Store, which he owned and operated.  He was the first to give us an insider’s perspective on the Town and to answer our questions about the beautiful public library that sits next to our home.

An architectural historian who runs a general store?  Ah, but those are only some of Allen’s accomplishments.  I consider him a true “renaissance” individual, with broad, deep familiarity on many subjects, including history, literature, antique furniture, music, photography, painting and animal husbandry.  He is an excellent cook, an animal lover, and our elected local probate and assistant judge, so therefore a scholar of the law, too.  As an assistant judge, he manages the affairs of the county and hears traffic and uncontested divorce cases.  For years, he was our Town Moderator and Chair of the Lister (Assessor) Board here in Guildhall.   There aren’t many people anywhere in the world like Allen, someone with whom I can have an intelligent, even fascinating, conversation on virtually any topic.

But back to architecture:  the catalyst for this blog entry is that in the fall of 2018, Allen published a comprehensive volume about the renowned architect of the Northeast Kingdom, Lambert Packard.   “The Life, Times, and Works of Lambert Packard, Architect” has been 44 years in the making.  Although I’ve been acquainted with Allen for 15 years now, I had no idea about this work in progress, until I stopped one day at the Fairbanks Museum & Planetarium in St Johnsbury to visit their gift shop in search of holiday gifts.   There, proudly on display, was a single copy of the book.  That same hour, I bought the last copy on sale at nearby St Johnsbury Athaeneum, the local public library and museum.

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Allen Hodgdon, at the Essex Co Courthouse

Later that week, I stopped to visit Allen at home, and he signed the book so I could give it to Edward for Christmas.  We spent a pleasant few minutes in conversation about the book and then, after the holidays, I interviewed Allen in more detail about the book’s evolution over 44 years.

Allen attended Lyndon State College for two years, and there, he met an architecture history buff-turned English professor by the name of Norman Atwood.  Professor Atwood became Allen’s mentor and encouraged Allen to apply to and then transfer to his former employer, the University of Illinois, where he had been the Dean of Students.   More important, Professor Atwood handed over to Allen a sheaf of his own detailed, handwritten notes about local architect Lambert Packard.  Allen took the notes, finished undergrad out in Illinois, and then went to grad school in architectural history at nearby Northwestern University for two years and studied with architectural historian, Professor Graham Newell.    He returned to the Northeast Kingdom, worked, lived his life, and steadily, slowly, researched the life and the  buildings of Lambert Packard, one by one.

Along the way, Allen decided to apply for Guildhall Village to be named on the National Historic Registry.   He conducted the extensive research on every single building in the Village in support of that application, which includes our beautiful home, the Benton Cottage.  It’s a fascinating document, and can be viewed here.

Back in the NEK, Allen worked as a grantwriter at the Fairbanks Museum & Planetarium and subsequently as a proofreader at the famed Stinehour Press, in Lunenburg.  He became active in town politics, as previously noted, and has served on and off as the local probate and assistant judge for the last 20 years.

He painstakingly researched the history of Packard and his buildings using sources such as vital statistics in Town Clerk’s offices and the Packard collections at the St Johnsbury Athaeneum, Goodrich Memorial Library in Newport, the Vermont State Library in Montpelier, and Dartmouth College, including newspapers on microfilm, photographs, drawings and letters.

The book is a remarkable accomplishment, astonishing in its loving attention to detail, its scholarly rigor,  and its crisp and elegant language and graphics.   The book makes the science and art of architecture come alive.  I consider myself reasonably knowledgeable about Lambert Packard’s career, but in perusing this incredibly detailed volume, I discovered that there were many buildings  I encounter regularly in my work and travels, unbeknownst to me,  designed in part or in whole, by Packard, such as the beautiful Orleans County Courthouse, in Newport, Vermont, where I spend every Monday representing parents and kids on the juvenile docket.

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Orleans Co Courthouse, Newport, Vermont, designed by Lambert Packard

And although the book is complete after all these 44 years, Allen is not finished.  I asked him if he had any new projects in the pipeline, and with a twinkle in his eye, he told me that yes, he’s now working on an architectural history of every single county courthouse in Vermont.  I can’t wait!

 

 

 

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