Sitting in the historic Vermont town of Richmond is one of the only surviving examples of a so-called “round church.” While no one knows why it was built in such a unique shape, rumors and legends abound citing inspirations ranging from the architect’s hometown to the devil himself.
Construction on Richmond’s Old Round Church (in actuality a 16-sided polygon) began in 1812 with the intended purpose of the building to not only act as a meeting house for the young town, but also to cater to the five dissenting Protestant factions in the town. Richmond was home to Baptists, Christians, Congregationalists, Methodists, and Universalists and the church was created as a way of bringing them together under a shared house of worship. However while the reason behind the building’s construction is public record, the building’s unique shape is a thing of debate and legend.
Instead of creating a traditional Spartan church house, the architect William Rhodes designed the meeting house in the shape of a 16-sided polygon with a central belfry. One legend says that the church was built this way thanks to an old legend that says a house with no corners leaves nowhere for the devil to hide. Yet another story that plays more like an American folktale is that the Old Round Church was built by 17 carpenters, one taking each wall, and the last building the belfry. The truth is likely more mundane as a similarly styled church existed in Rhodes’ hometown which likely inspired him.
No matter the origins of this architectural rarity, it remains one of the only examples of such a church left in the world. The Round Church is 50 feet in diameter with 16 sides visible on the exterior. The corner posts are hidden from view, making the building appear more round from the inside than it does from the outside. The Church remained in public use until 1973, when structural problems forced the building to close. Three years later, the town deeded the Round Church to the Richmond Historical Society, who undertook renovations. The building is now once again open to the public. In addition to free tours, the Round Church is available for functions, including weddings. The church has no heat, and is only open during warmer months.