Welcome to the October edition of History & Heritage. Our purpose is to acquaint you with our mission to preserve the town’s rich history, highlight the legacy of those who have gone before and show how our past has shaped our present. We are a non-profit with 501(c)(3) status.
We are located at 421 Summer Street. At the present time, the Center is open Monday through Wednesday from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. thanks to a wonderful staff of volunteers. This is your establishment and we encourage your support in making this historic home a wonderful place for exhibiting, preserving and collecting St. Johnsbury’s history. The carriage barn is a work in progress but the horse drawn vehicles and the ice cutting exhibit are ready for your visit. The installation of a permanent platform wagon scale has begun. On November 11th at 7:00 p.m. at the United Community Church (former North Church) there will be a Veterans’ Day Concert featuring the St. Johnsbury Town Band. The concert will feature historic military music including music of World War I. Check out our web site at www.stjhistory.org and our Facebook page. Our mailing address is 421 Summer Street, St. Johnsbury, Vt., 05819 and phone number is 802 – 424 – 1090.
A New Resident in the Carriage Barn
On October 12th, another historic wagon joined the fleet at the St. Johnsbury History & Heritage Center. This one horse wagon was owned by the E. T. & H. K. Ide Company. The Ides’ milling history began in Passumpsic in 1813 by Timothy Ide who bought the grist mill. Timothy’s son, Jacob succeeded him and the mill grew larger under his watch. Jacob then turned it over to his sons Elmore Timothy and Horace Knights in 1860. In 1879, St. Johnsbury became the headquarters for the E. T. & H. K. Ide Company. A new mill was constructed on Bay Street in 1905, following fires at both the one in Passumpsic and a later one at Lyndon Falls. The St. Johnsbury location consisted of about three acres on Bay Street between Portland Street and Eastern Avenue.
This land was partially swampy but reclaimed for new buildings, that included the elevator building (1900) which rose fifty feet and consisted of four floors of fifty by eighty feet The 1905 mill was placed
beside the elevator building; the size was 24 feet by 32 feet and it was built of cement blocks. According to the written memory of William Adams Ide, the foundation was as expensive as the building. “It was necessary to drive piles 25 ft. to bed rock. The piles were capped with a thick cement wall to complete the foundation.”
Adjoining this were the coal sheds with bins capable of holding fifteen hundred tons of coal dumped from railroad cars. Here is where we pick up the history of the wagon. In 1981 I had the privilege to interview Perley Russell for a story with The Caledonian Independent. He was just shy of his 101st birthday and what a past he could recall! His work history included working for the Ide Company, drawing coal with his team. In his words – “They (Ide’s) had two one horse wagons. They gave them all the short hauls. And I’d have to haul all the coal up on the Main Street for the same price, but they wouldn’t let me draw any down below. They’d do that with the one horse. I got four dollars a day for a pair of horses – for me and a pair of horses.” What became of the two wagons?
Fast forward to 1975 when Tim Ide received a call from Wallace Clifford out in North Danville (Terry Clifford’s now) telling him that Ide’s had a wagon out there and what would he like to do with it? Will Clifford had bought the last horse from E. T. & H. K. Ide years before and they had delivered the horse pulling the wagon. The wagon was parked in a shed until the shed needed to come down. Tim inquired as to the price of the wagon and informed that it was Ides’ – name was all over it! Back home the wagon came; it enjoyed a couple of parades, appeared for a Craft Day or two, was displayed over the years and then settled into retirement in one of the sheds.
Full disclosure would reveal that Tim and I are cousins; that my brother John had driven the wagon with his horse Wallace and that my grandfather, Fred Johnson, had run the coal business at Ides’ for years. A piece of trivia added here as my Mother remembered as a young person her Father, Fred, apologizing for coal costing eleven dollars a ton! I never lost sight of the wagon and Tim thought the time was right for a place of honor in the Carriage Barn. The Ide Company had closed its doors in 2001.
On the morning of October 12th, Tim, Chris Dussault and I moved a pile of cribbing to make the escape possible. Next best thing to a horse was Roland’s Wrecker with Mary at the helm. From Bay Street to Summer Street she came and after literally blowing and sweeping off years of dust – she was rolled into the Carriage Barn. We are so grateful to have yet another great piece of St. Johnsbury’s history housed for all to see. Most of today’s youth will have to have “coal” explained to them as well as the delivery but with this wagon, it can be done!