October 1998 Archives

Some History

The imposing nineteenth century pressed-tin structure was built on the banks of the first chartered canal in the United States.

Bellows Falls, situated on the Connecticut River, was once a prosperous mill town, and Canal Street held the bustling activity of shopkeepers who operated stores at street level and lived above them.

But when economic time grew hard, Exner Block merchants had to close their doors. The second and third floors were occupied by Mary Exner, whose eccentricities rivaled those of famed Bellows Falls resident Hetty Green, known as the "witch of Wall Streer" and once the richest woman in the world. For years, Exner lived alone in the vast building with her dog, rambling from room to room.

When she passed away several years ago, the edifice sat empty. A number of plans for its future ran the gamut from limited efforts at restoration to possible razing for a parking lot.

On October 7th, 1998, Housing Vermont successfully bid at auction on the Exner Block. RAMP worked along with Housing Vermont to move this project forward.

The Exner Block is a historic building key to the revitalization of downtown Bellows Falls. It is a unique building that contains many of the original historic details - wainscoting, tin walls and ceilings, wood doors with the old glass and hardware.

In designing this project, the team took the opportunity to retain many of these elements while creating viable residential and commercial space.

The challenging tasks of combining the needs of the community with the requirements of the Vermont Division of Historic Preservation and the regulations of the Department of Labor and Industry falls on the project architect, Denny Frehsee of Williams & Frehsee in Brattleboro. Denny has completed schematics that integrate affordable housing with studio and retail space.

Crowd at Exner Grand Opening We are glad to say, however, that the Exner is alive and well due to the vision of Housing Vermont and the Rockingham Area Community Land Trust, general partners (see Projects & Partners.)

The building has been successfully renovated to create 10 afordable living/work spaces for artists and 6 retail storefronts with a focus on the arts. See In the Works for photos of the project in progress.
On Monday, August 28, 2000, the community celebrated the Grand Opening with a ribbon cutting ceremony. Key note speakers included:

  • U.S. Senator Jim Jeffords
  • Governor Howard Dean

Sen. Jeffords, Exner Grand Opening
U.S. Senator Jim Jeffords

Read more about the Exner Block Project...

Project Partners

Partners in this project included:


  • Exner Block Housing Limited Partnership
General Partners:
  • Housing Vermont
  • Rockingham Areas Community Land Trust
Limited Partners:
  • First Vermont Bank
  • Chittenden Bank
Funded by:
  • Town of Rockingham & Village of Bellows Falls through VT Community Development Board
  • VT Housing & Conservation Board
  • US Dept. of Housing and Urban Development
  • VT Housing Finance Agency through the Low Income Housing Tax Credit program
  • Williams & Frehsee, Inc.
General Contractor:
  • Wesfield Construction Company, Inc.
Tenancy Agent:
  • Rockingham Arts & Museum Project (RAMP)
Housing Vermont is a statewide nonprofit corporation which has developed over 2,000 rental apartments in partnership with local nonprofit groups since 1988. A majority of Housing Vermont's work involves the renovation of existing buildings and they are experienced with the adaptive reuse of historic structures. Several Housing Vermont projects combined residential and commercial use and served as catalysts for downtown revitalization. Housing Vermont committed to develop the Exner building and provide affordable housing in combination with commercial and in-home studio space that emphasizes the arts. For more information about Housing Vermont call (802) 863-8424. Read more about the Exner Block Project...

Recent Projects

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Rockingham Arts & Museum Project
7 Canal Street, Bellows Falls, Vermont 05101
tel/fax: (802) 463-3252, e-mail: ramp@sover.net,
Mills to Main Streets Main Street Arts Stone Church Arts Flying Under Radar Housing Vermont Vermont Arts Council
Preservation Trust of Vermont Vermont Community Foundation Vermont Council on Rural Development:Council on the Future of Vermont Sovernet
Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation National Endowment for the Arts National Trust for Historic Preservation
Annual Gowanus Artists Studio Tour, Brooklyn, New York