Burlington sits atop a extensive network of tunnels. From a legendary smuggling network to long-buried railroad shafts and forgotten sewage systems, the labyrinth that winds its way through Queen City’s basement has garnered a lot of media attention over the years. . But a few tunnels above the ground receives less attention.
Although they do not have a historical history or even documented explanations for their existence, a few elevated walkways in the downtown corridor recently caught the attention of this reporter. When the topic was brought up in the office, other staff ignored the three “airways” as such architectural features are sometimes called.
The skyways in question are all located near Church and College streets. One connects a narrow, unnamed lane between 116 Church Street / 186 College (the stately building on the northeast corner of Church and College) and 190-194 College, its eastern neighbor emblazoned with âPomerleau Bldgâ.
Another overhead route spans Thorsen Way, the alley next to Red Square, connecting the 185-195 College building complex to 127 South Winooski Avenue. Finally, a three-story passage above Stacy Lane, an even shorter alleyway jutting out behind Ake’s Place, appears to connect different parts of the 185-195 group.
Devin Colman, architectural historian for the state of Vermont, knows a thing or two about skyways. He grew up in the Twin Cities area of ââMinnesota, which has a massive skyway system built to protect pedestrians from harsh winters as they pass through the downtown area of ââthe city. In Burlington, “[the tunnels] probably seems more designed for convenience to me, âColman said over the phone.
Compared to Minnesota’s skyline tunnels, which stretch for 80 city blocks, those in Burlington are insignificant, but no less curious. Once we contacted the owners, one thing became disappointing – none of the airways are currently operational or particularly accessible. What’s even stranger is that some of the owners were unaware of their existence until we reported them.
Real estate company Grandview Farms owns 116 church. Company portfolio manager Claudia Shapiro said she never even noticed the short walkway that connects her building to 190-194 College.
âI walk this alley everyday,â Shapiro said over the phone. “I never looked up.”
Shapiro has confirmed that the skyway is closed at the end of her apartment building, but she is not sure if this is true on the other side of the tunnel.
“Jimmy Hoffa could be buried there!” she joked.
Ernie Pomerleau, President of Pomerleau Real Estate, assured us that the tunnel side of his building was also closed.
âFifty years ago, when I first saw it up there, it was practically closed,â Pomerleau said over the phone.
It would only have been a few decades after the skyway was added, according to Sanborn Map fire insurance cards, which once provided detailed visualizations of buildings in urban areas. Colman wrote in an email that this particular air route does not appear on the 1942 map but on the 1950 map, placing its construction between those dates.
Regarding the subsequent passage on Thorsen Way, Colman said that its glass and steel design indicates that it was probably built in the late 1950s or 1960s. There is no way to tell. from Sanborn cards, as there were no more for Burlington after 1950. (The company eventually stopped producing cards as their use declined in the mid-20th century.)
The purpose of this tunnel is known, however. When the Burlington Free Press offices were housed at 191 College, workers used the tunnel to access the newspaper printing house at 127 South Winooski. The staff of the Gannett newspaper moved to Bank Street in 2013. But its printing plant remained at the South Winooski address until the end of 2020, when the Handy family bought the building. The Handys also own College 185-195.
Colman believes the three-story skyway above Stacy Lane was also linked to the Free press. On Sanborn’s 1894 map, it is labeled as an “intended pass” that connects a former newspaper printing house at 187-189 College to a building in the back, which is labeled “printing and electrical supplies” and ” book binding â.
Mac Stevens, a property manager for the Handys, initially said he was certain the intended pass was sealed on both sides. But I saw a ceiling light shining in the middle of the intended pass, and other furniture is visible from the street level. Stevens said it was possible that the planned pass was annexed to the larger 185-95 complex, which combines commercial and residential uses, but he could not confirm.
He also said that the Thorsen Way tunnel is only accessible from the print shop side.
âBut he’s never been in a travel state,â Stevens said over the phone. âI was curious too. [But] it doesn’t look particularly stable. I don’t think you would want to be in there for an extended period of time. ”
He said the fate of the Thorsen Way Tunnel will depend on the Handys’ plans for the newly acquired former printing house.
âI imagine that once we figure out what we’re going to do with this property, then we’ll have an idea of ââwhat’s going to happen to this covered bridge,â he said.
Stevens offered this reporter a chance to take a look at the Thorsen Way Tunnel. Whether it’s structurally sound or not, I think maybe I should accept it.