History Behind John Roberts Houses
In the days when Burlington’s boundary nudged Mansfield Avenue, and when the New North End had more cows than people, blue-collar workers needed houses. John W. Roberts built them by the dozen: 1 ½ story cottages in the fancy and popular style of Queen Ann.
At least 50 of them still stand, scattered around the city from King Street to Mansfield Avenue, from North Winooski Avenue to Spruce Street.
Built for about $900 each in the late 1800s, they are worth $50,000 or more. They are more comfortable now, with indoor electricity, plumbing and telephones though the floors tend to be uneven and they are difficult to insulate.
Today, they serve as starter homes, as homes for single elderly people or young married couples wanting a home to fix up. Some are divided into apartments. The characteristic bay window, originally designed to give light to a parlor, now looks into bedrooms, family rooms and storage rooms.
Through the years, some of the houses have fallen apart; others have been spruced up. Two on King Street were torn down to make room for parking near downtown Burlington. “When you see one of them, you start to see them everywhere,” said Evelyn Lawrence, who raised her children in a John Roberts house at 239 Loomis Street.
While all the John Roberts houses were built alike during four generations they have been altered in dozens of ways to reflect the tastes and lifestyles of their owners:
Howard and Nancy Dolan, 250 North Winooski Avenue, covered their decaying clapboards aluminum siding, They did not want to keep painting every few years, they said and wanted to increase the retail value of the house. Their front room is the master bedroom.
Steve and Maggie Conant, 69 Mansfield Avenue, converted a dingy attic into a sunny loft for guests. They are modernizing – one room at a time. Their bay window holds their Christmas Tree every year.
April Werner and Benjamin Bergstein. 354 North Street, are meticulously preserving their peach and pink exterior. They recently finished a large addition to the top of the back floor with wood molding tomatch the original outside and inside
Kathryn Flynn, 24 Front Street, has kept her antique kitchen cabinets and woodwork in spotless condition. Like herself, she said, the home has nor changed for 36 years. Here front room is still the parlor.
John Roberts Houses: A Unique Style is Preserved in Burlington By Chris Lavin Burlington Free Press January 12, 1986