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Caledonian’s Vintage Press Catches A Lift To Heritage Center Exhibit HallDad’s 4 By Forklift Takes 19th Century Press To New Home For Display

ST. JOHNSBURY — A 19th-century newspaper press rode through town on Tuesday aboard the tines of a Dad’s 4By forklift on its way to a new home at the St. Johnsbury History & Heritage Center.

The press belonged to The Caledonian-Record, but the newspaper decided to give it to the center, which plans to display the press as part of an exhibit celebrating the newspaper, which has been operating in town since 1837.

Men and machinery made the move of the 1,200-pound cast iron press possible on Tuesday. Heritage Center board member Bob Desrochers coordinated the press move out of the newspaper’s garage on Federal Street and into the center’s new exhibit hall on Summer Street. Desrochers is the project manager for the construction of the center’s new exhibit hall.

Dads 4 By owner Ben Gates made himself and his forklift available for the job at no cost to the center. With him was Ron Young, who works at Dads 4 By Tool & Supply.

Raised by the forklift and securely strapped to it, the 19th Century-built press rode up Eastern Avenue and onto Main Street past the 19th Century-built Athenaeum. The trip continued onto Church Street and then to Summer Street where it reached its final destination at the History & Heritage Center.

Gates was able to navigate the forklift close enough to the exhibit hall to extend the press-laden tines inside the building.

The press is just the second item of St. Johnsbury’s past to go inside the newly constructed exhibit hall. It joins two granite pillars salvaged from the former Notre Dame church on Prospect Street that was destroyed by fire in 1966.

Most of the work of the exhibition hall has been accomplished in less than 14 months since the foundation was put in place. It is expected to be complete, with items on display by the end of October.

It’s not the first time The Caledonian-Record was willing to part with the press for the purpose of having it displayed. It had been donated to the Fairbanks Museum, but it never made it out of storage there. In 1980, when the newspaper entered a parade float to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Fairbanks Scales, the press was retrieved for use on the float. After the parade, the press was returned to The Caledonian-Record and stored away.

Mark Smith, owner and former publisher, said he’s glad that the press has come out of storage and will be displayed as a part of the town’s history.

Roo Mold, Ron Young, and Bob Desrochers guide the press into the exhibit hall.

“Peggy had asked about it when she started her museum (History & Heritage Center),” said Smith. “I told her ‘sure’; better with her than collecting rust in the garage or going to the metal dump.”

Smith, the third generation of a family that’s owned the newspaper since 1919, said the press, which was retired from use long before his grandfather bought the paper, was brought back into service for a few days in 1927 when Vermont experienced a major flood that knocked out the power in St. Johnsbury. The press was used to make the flood news available to people.

Smith said that adds to the press’s historical significance. “I felt it has an interesting history because of its use in the floods and Peggy’s commitment to the history of the area makes her the right one to tell it,” he said.

The press bears the words F. Wesel M’F’G Co, 137, New York. The F is for Ferdinand, who came to the U.S. from Germany in 1866. According to information found online, he got his start as a machinist for R. Hoe & Co., a manufacturer of electrotyping and photoengraving machinery. He started his own business in 1880, and in 1889, he incorporated the F. Wesel Manufacturing Company. The F Wesel press acquired by the Caledonian at some point late in the 19th Century and soon to be displayed at the Heritage Center is what is called a “Washington” style press. The style became the most popular handpress in the U.S. in the 19th Century, online resources note.

Pearl said the exhibit featuring the press is more about celebrating the staying power of the newspaper in the community. “It’s an incredible story that you guys have been in business since 1837,” she said. “That’s amazing.”

She said that in addition to the press, there will be other pieces of technology from a bygone era displayed that will impress guests of the exhibit hall. “Wait till you see the typewriter,” she said. “I think it goes back to Stone (either Arthur or Charles).” Charles Stone began working for the Caledonian about 1850. He assumed ownership in 1857. With his son, Arthur, he ran the paper until 1909.

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