Burlington lies roughly 55 km (30 mi) west of the state capital in Montpelier, about 80 km (45 mi) north of Rutland, and 100 km (60 mi) southeast of Montreal, Quebec. Burlington is a college town, home to the University of Vermont and to Champlain College. St. Michael's College is in nearby Colchester. The only large industrial facility in Vermont is IBM's semiconductor plant a few kilometers east in Essex Junction, but many small industrial and service companies are located in the Burlington area. Burlington also has a thriving cultural and music scene.
The most famous local band is Phish, an eclectic "jam band" originating from the University of Vermont circa 1983. They are also donating all profits from the sale of Ben & Jerry's Phish Food ice cream to the cleaning up of Lake Champlain.
Downtown Burlington is situated on a hillside overlooking Lake Champlain -- the sixth-largest lake in the U.S. The Winooski River lies along the city's northern boundary. Burlington has regular ferry service to New York State during the summer and autumn and an international airport with commercial service to major regional hubs. Train service to Boston and New York is available from Essex Junction.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 40.1 km² (15.5 mi²). 27.4 km² (10.6 mi²) of it is land and 12.7 km² (4.9 mi²) of it is water. The total area is 31.78% water.
As of the census of 2000, there are 38,889 people, 15,885 households, and 7,052 families residing in the city. The population density is 1,421.9/km² (3,682.0/mi²). There are 16,395 housing units at an average density of 599.4/km² (1,552.3/mi²). The racial makeup of the city is 92.27% White, 1.78% African American, 0.47% Native American, 2.65% Asian, 0.02% Pacific Islander, 0.54% from other races, and 2.27% from two or more races. 1.40% of the population are Hispanic or Latino of any race.
There are 15,885 households out of which 21.3% have children under the age of 18 living with them, 31.4% are married couples living together, 10.0% have a female householder with no husband present, and 55.6% are non-families. 35.6% of all households are made up of individuals and 8.2% have someone living alone who is 65 years of age or older. The average household size is 2.19 and the average family size is 2.86.
In the city the population is spread out with 16.3% under the age of 18, 25.4% from 18 to 24, 31.0% from 25 to 44, 16.8% from 45 to 64, and 10.5% who are 65 years of age or older. The median age is 29 years. For every 100 females there are 93.2 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there are 90.7 males.
The median income for a household in the city is $33,070, and the median income for a family is $46,012. Males have a median income of $30,144 versus $25,270 for females. The per capita income for the city is $19,011. 20.0% of the population and 10.4% of families are below the poverty line. Out of the total people living in poverty, 19.4% are under the age of 18 and 10.5% are 65 or older.
The town of Burlington (comprising what are now the cities of Burlington and South Burlington) was chartered in 1763, but settlement did not commence until the 1770s when the Allen brothers built a fort at the falls of the Winooski. After the Revolutionary War a few settlers cleared land and began farming, and in 1787, Ethan Allen settled in the bottomland near the mouth of the Winooski River and built his home, which stands today. The first town meeting was held in 1787. The University of Vermont was established in Burlington in 1791 as the Agricultural College of Vermont on land donated by Ira Allen. Soon after the town common was set aside as public land and has survived as City Hall Park. By 1812, Burlington had become one of the leading ports in the nation, primarily as the main point for importing Canadian lumber, and had a population of 2000.
During the War of 1812 Burlington was the site of an army base and major military hospital, but did not play as important a role as other Lake Champlain cities such as Vergennes, Vermont and Plattsburgh, New York despite being so close to the Canadian border. Burlington was, however, the home of the United States fleet on Lake Champlain.
In 1823 the Lake Champlain Canal was opened and provided a continuous water route from New York City to Montreal via the Hudson River and Lake Champlain. With the opening of the canal, Burlington and Plattsburg became important ports, shipping lumber and farm products south to Albany and New York City and manufactured goods to the farmlands of Vermont and northeast New York State. By 1830, Burlington had begun to grow rapidly, and soon became the state's preeminent city. The large number of potential mill sites and its location on Lake Champlain at the western end of the main east-west travel route in northern Vermont meant that it was a natural site for the state's major industrial and commercial center and international commerce with Canada.
With the coming of the Rutland and Burlington railroad up from Rutland in 1849, Burlington's lumber industry continued to grow, and in 1862, when the Central Vermont Railroad reached Winooski, the dairy industry began in the area as farmers could now sell milk to other parts of New England and to Quebec. In 1864 the northwestern portion of the town became the City of Burlington -- the state's first incorporated city -- and the more rural portion of the original town was established as the new town of South Burlington. In 1885, the Winooski & Burlington Horse Railroad Company began the first streetcar service in the city, traveling from downtown across the river into Winooski, where there was access to the major railroad line traveling east.
In 1929, the end of streetcar service in Burlington was marked by an unusual "Abandonment Celebration", culminating in a trolley car being burned in the center of downtown. In 1997 The Philadelphia, one of Benedict Arnold's gunboats, was discovered after resting on the bottom of the lake since 1776. In the 1990s, Burlington began to reclaim its waterfront, which was dominated by underused and abandoned industrial buildings, but building into parks, trails, and other recreational resources, and returning the focus of the city to its beautiful waterfront with its stunning views of the Adirondacks.
Law and government
The city has a city council-mayor form of government, which is generally in a state of tension between right-of-center moderate Republicans and the left-of-center Progressive Party. U.S. Congressman Bernard Sanders was mayor of Burlington from 1981 to 1989; the precursor of the Progessive Party was formed to elect Sanders and then win sufficient seats on the city council to ensure passage of Sanders' agenda. The current mayor, serving his seventh term (2003-2005), is Progressive Peter Clavelle.
Burlington's climate is moderate for Vermont. There are four frost-free months in the summer and three months of almost entirely below-freezing weather in the winter. Annual precipitation is around 1 meter of rainfall equivalent distributed fairly equally over the year. Total annual snowfall is generally slightly over 2 meters.