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Scene@ Champlain College Historical Buildings Tour

Burlington, Saturday, June 28, Noon


Published July 2, 2008 at 5:38 a.m.

As part of its "50 Years on the Hill" anniversary celebration last weekend, Champlain College threw open the doors of its historic buildings to all comers. I worried I'd be getting a watered-down admissions tour, but Champlain cut out the droning guides and simply gave the community an all-access pass to explore.

As I entered Skiff Hall, home to Champlain's administrative offices, I expected to find a home filled with Victorian decorative decadence. An old banister turned out to be the only reminder of the building's original grandeur - presumably hidden behind years of renovation. Skiff's exterior, however, has retained a semblance of the original 19th-century home better than other campus buildings farther down South Willard.

One of those is Perry Hall, whose exterior is classic haunted mansion. The wrought-iron fence and narrow walkway would be enough to keep anyone from investigating after dusk, but at 1:30 in the afternoon it looked safe. The inside was empty in preparation for the renovations and expansion to come, and not as eerie as I expected. I wandered past a display of ground plans into the vacant parlors and rooms - then descended the staircase, covered in a faded yellow carpet, and tried to imagine Perry as a family home and not a modernized administration and welcome center.

Wandering through other buildings, repurposed as dorms, I noticed several old mirrors, dressers and fireplaces that the college has preserved and kept as part of the living space. It was reassuring to see these relics have withstood the tides of time, but I couldn't help wondering what the original owners would say if they knew their elegant homes were housing the antics of college kids.

My tour ended at Jenson Hall, where, above a brick fireplace, a phrase painted in German read (in translation): "The glory of this house is hospitality." While no college officials I spoke to seemed to have noticed the phrase, it looked pretty appropriate for a school celebrating 50 years by inviting the community onto its campus. For a weekend, Champlain's glory was hospitality.