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Brightlook Hospital #1 – September 2016 Edition of History & Heritage

Updated: Apr 18, 2023

Welcome to the September 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 Saturdays from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. thanks to a wonderful staff of volunteers. Beginning October 2nd, hours will be 10:00 a.m. to 4:00p.m. Monday through Wednesday.  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 September 17, we brought back some of the traditional crafts for visitors to see and were encouraged by the turnout. 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.

Brightlook Hospital – #1

Brightlook Hospital was located on a hill on Summer Street opening its doors in 1908 and serving the town until 1972. The building now serves as apartments for residents. But this was not the first Brightlook Hospital!

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The first Brightlook Hospital was located on Western Avenue in what began as the home of Erastus Fairbanks. An approximation may date the home back to the 1830’s. Erastus was the oldest of the three Fairbanks brothers; the E. of E. & T. Fairbanks Company and the Governor of the State of Vermont twice, the second term being when the Civil War broke out. Looking at the 1875 Beers Atlas of Caledonia County, we find it at the corner of Cliff and Western Avenue,(these days Cliff and Western do not connect as Cliff Street ends at Central street, which meets Western Avenue), across from the Fairbanks Company. The 1875 listing is under C. M. Stone. Lois and Erastus Fairbanks had a daughter Sarah who made this place her home after her father’s death. She married Charles M. Stone, editor and publisher of the Caledonian.

Fast forward to January of 1899 when twenty-three citizens, fourteen of whom were resident physicians, formed an association to found, maintain and operate a hospital in St. Johnsbury. They adopted the name Brightlook. Interestingly the St. Johnsbury Hospital had already opened its doors in November of 1895. (This hospital building was at the end of Prospect Street and is now owned by the law firm of Downs, Rachlin & Martin.) A favorable lease was obtained from the Fairbanks Company and after alterations were made, the residence was already equipped with gas light and steam heat. The hospital opened in June of 1899 with five beds. On June 23, 1899, the opening affair was attended by a thousand folks who according to the Caledonian, enjoyed a pleasant evening with lights, flags and bunting showing off the grounds.

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Miss Anna Noyes of Kirby was the first superintendent of nurses, after graduating from Mary Fletcher Hospital School of Nursing. Unfortunately she did not have a long life and the job was taken over by Miss Sarah A. Crawford who organized the Brightlook Nurses Training School in 1900 with twelve students enrolled. In a short time the bed capacity was at eleven.

It was soon realized that there was a great deal of work that could be done by untrained women and an appeal was made to women of the area. In July of 1899, the Hospital Aid Association was organized with 65 women. Mrs. Rebecca Fairbanks was the first President. Rebecca’s husband was William and her home was Brantview.

This was a short term fix as the building proved inadequate, the location problematic and funds were short. In 1905, a meeting was held and funds were raised to build on Old Reservoir Hill. The former site and first Brightlook went back to being a residential building with three apartments. The west ell was removed in 1925-26 and it became a single home. In 1948, it was sold to the Ralph J. Mollica Post VFW which used it as a clubroom until its sale to the C. H. Goss Company. In 1957, it was razed. As I wrote in A Brief History of St. Johnsbury, the caption under the photo of it being torn down summed it up – “Where Hospital Was Born and Civil War Declared”.

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This home belongs on my list of places that I wished had made the test of time, it seems that being replaced by a gas station (no longer there) should not have been its fate but time marches on!

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