Vt. Supreme Court Building's 100th Birthday Party Features Historical Re-Enactment

May 17, 2018

This year, the building that holds the Vermont Supreme Court turns 100. On Friday, state officials will celebrate that anniversary.

The centennial will be marked by speeches, tours and a re-enactment of the oral arguments in a 1918 case: Dodge Brothers v. Central Vermont Railway Company. That case involved 5 colts who were killed by a train.

"The heart of the case is so fascinating because it has that rural, agricultural collision with the railroads," said Paul Gillies, an attorney and historian in Montpelier, who also has written an essay on the history of the Supreme Court building.

Paul Gillies spoke to VPR's Henry Epp. Listen to their conversation above.

Gillies said the Supreme Court building was the first home built and designed for the state's highest court — before 1892, the court moved around the state every week.

"Until they built the annex of the Statehouse, and then they had a place there," Gillies explained. "But that seemed to be too busy and too crowded and not enough room. So, a hundred years ago, the Legislature decided they needed a second building. This would be the second state building in Montpelier."

Gillies said much has changed since the court first moved into its current home in 1918.

"There are a lot more cases, first of all," Gillies said. "There's probably about 10 times as much."

The other big change? The time limits for oral arguments per side. In 1918, that limit was an hour; Today it's only 15 minutes.

As for the re-enactment of the 1918 case planned for Friday, Gillies said re-enactors will stray from historical accuracy in this regard: They'll use the present day time limit, rather than that of a century ago.