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VPR's coverage of arts and culture in the region.

Bittinger: Modernism In Norwich

Norwich Vt. is known for its architecture, especially Federal and Greek Revival - but Mid-Century Modern, not so much. That’s about to change. A group of historic homes designed by modern architect Ted Hunter and his wife Peg in a hillside neighborhood behind Blood Brook is being considered for listing as a National Register District.

When the Hunters bravely decided to design homes for middle class families in Norwich, Vt. and Hanover, NH in the 1950s, they were revolutionaries in their chosen profession after being trained by Bauhaus professors at the Harvard School of Design.

Peg Hunter had been among the first women allowed to study there in 1942, after graduating from Wheaton College in Massachusetts - back then a women’s college. In 1946, Peg Hunter appeared at a rally at Wheaton in support of more modern dorms after a plan to update the campus had been proposed and shelved. Eventually, they were built.

For ten years, from 1956 to 1966, the Hunters taught at Dartmouth and maintained an architectural firm in Hanover, where they built homes for fellow professors, won a number of national design competitions, and had their work featured in Progressive Architecture Magazine and The Architectural Record.

Homes of this era were designed with women in mind. Earlier house designs usually included rooms for servants and kitchens for staff. Now that women were working, the open floor plan that combined cooking with child care gained favor. Peg Hunter embraced that concept and was even featured in the 1958 Time/Life Picture Cookbook as being "one of the few successful women architects" in an article titled, The American Woman: Her Achievements and Troubles.

The Hunters designed two buildings for Dartmouth that have since been taken down. Described as “International Style towers,” they included one very innovative detail for the time. The ends of the buildings were designed as climbing walls.

One college guide book recalls the Hunters as the “town’s pioneering Modernists.”

Before eventually moving on to North Carolina, the Hunters also designed the Colby Sawyer Art Center and an Everett Turnpike toll booth.

The Norwich Historical Society is exploring this Mid-Century Modern legacy with exhibits, a program on modern homes on the 16th, and a house and garden tour on the 24th.

The Hunters’ creative vision was to design homes of “a true regional expression” and now the town and state are recognizing their achievements.

Cyndy Bittinger is a writer and historian, who teaches at the Community College of Vermont. Her latest book is, "Vermont Women, Native Americans and African Americans: Out of the Shadows of History."
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