Updated: Jul 18
Welcome to the March edition of the History & Heritage Center. Our purpose is to acquaint you with our mission to preserve our 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.
To date, the armory continues to be our hope for the Center’s new home. The mold and asbestos problems have not been fully resolved. The Brownfields application for Phase 1 has been approved and is being grant funded. We have two other projects that are works in progress: a small exhibit of some of St. Johnsbury’s treasures in the Athenaeum (just inside the double doors) and a web site, stjhistory.org – we welcome your comments. The History & Heritage Center office is located in the basement of Summer Street School; phone number 802-424-1090.
St. Johnsbury Armory
The State Armory Board announced in April of 1916 that they were building an armory for Company D, First Vermont Infantry on Main Street. The new armory was to mirror two other armories, St. Albans and Bellows Falls, which had been built in the past four years. At this time, the Company consisted of seventy-three men and three officers. Prior to this announcement Company D had occupied different places in St. Johnsbury including Bertrand’s Hall on Railroad Street (first building south of Rite Aid). This was built in 1909 by J. E. Bertrand to be used as an armory and a public hall. Other places included the Stanley Opera House (Central Street) and the YMCA (Eastern Avenue) after 1914. Both of these places were destroyed by fires.
The property chosen after looking at three different locations was the former Burnham property located between the Union Block and the Episcopal Church. Captain Herbert Wilcox and Lieutenant H. N. Ladd of Company D took part in the inspection of possible sites on Western Avenue and Railroad Street before settling on the Burnham property. In the 1875 F. W. Beers Atlas of Caledonia County, the property is shown with four buildings on it. The buildings were bought and moved by Rev. John Wesley. Claire Dunne Johnson’s research in her book I See By the Paper – Volume 1 tells us that one building went to Green Street and the others went to Harvey Street, being the second, third and fourth houses on the left. She goes on to say that this was a second move for the first one on Harvey Street (former Knapp house) as it had stood where the Athenaeum is! In fact it had been occupied on the second floor by early photographer F. B. Gage that we talk of in December. The Burnham property was bought by the town and deeded to the state with the understanding it could be available for Town meetings and voting.
The Cummings Construction Company was the contractor after the houses were removed. B. G. Miles supervised the work; he had done the same with the Masonic Temple and the St. Johnsbury Annex as well as others.
As the armory neared completion, it was reported that amenities included lounging and reading rooms, billiard rooms, lockers, showers and dressing rooms were “conveniently arranged” and would make its occupants comfortable. The drill practice shed was 62.5 by 84 feet. Initially in this hall light was provided by six large tungstens, developing 1800 watts of power. The floor was hard birch and the area was heated by steam pipes along the walls near the floor.
A wide stairway led to the second floor where the officers’ quarters were located on the south side. On the north side was a reading room complete with fireplace. The basement was home to the mess hall and shooting range; space also provided a modern kitchen, two shower baths, toilets and dressing rooms. The woodwork was of hard pine, stained a dark oak color.
February 20, 1917 was the grand ball marking the formal opening of the armory. The drill hall was draped in red, white and blue colors and the crowd filled the hall as well as surrounding rooms. Sargent’s orchestra provided the music for the evening. The orchestra opened with the grand march at nine and closed with a good night waltz. So began the life of the armory on Main Street.
Guardsmen will remember its existence into the 1970’s; others will remember meetings and voting there; others will remember volleyball or basketball. It also provided a home for the police department and various other functions. Now the History & Heritage Center wants it to house, collect and protect the archives and artifacts that make up the town’s rich history – we want to provide education to students for them to feel a sense of place. What are its compelling points?
Location – right on the Plain – close to other town attractions
Space – not only to store but exhibit and teach with over five thousand objects
An historic landmark that can be adapted to today’s needs
Please support us in our vision and help make this a reality. It is a large task that will require voices, money, hearts and hands.