Welcome to May’s 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 in the Summer Street School building while renovations are being made before we move to our new permanent home at 421 Summer Street. It took a community along with friends and alumni to make this dream a reality. We encourage your support in making this historic home a wonderful place for exhibiting, preserving and collecting St. Johnsbury’s history. As the school year winds down so does our labor force. Students from the Academy’s Building trades and Electrical classes will have successfully moved the History Center forward with a fire alarm, lights, dropped ceiling, trim sheet rock and insulation in the classroom/meeting room; handicapped bathroom and outside ramp; and track lighting in the barn as well as a new stairway to access the second floor of the barn. It may have been a learning experience for the students but it was a gift for the History & Heritage Center – thank you Roo Mold and Mike Bugbee. Cabinets to hold the exhibits for display are underway at Lyndon Woodworking. Check out our web site at www.stjhistory.org and our Facebook page. Our mailing address is P.O. Box 223, St. Johnsbury, Vt., 05819 and phone number is 802 – 424 – 1090.
“Century” Steam Car, model 1900
I keep running into this picture in various places but usually without much information until I found an envelope with a newspaper clipping from both the Caledonian in October of 1950 and The Burlington Free Press of Nov. 1st 1966 (old photo contest). The caption in the Caledonian reports that this was one of the first automobiles known to be owned in St. Johnsbury. The driver was Charles Heyer and his wife was the passenger. Mr. Charles Heyer served the E. & T. Fairbanks Company for 40 years and was a Civil War Veteran. The picture was taken in 1901 as they were taking part in a parade at the old Caledonia County Fairgrounds. Following the Heyers is a chaise which was loaned by the Fairbanks Museum for the parade.
The old Caledonia County Fairgrounds in the photo was the area now covered by the Comfort Inn and the interstate. Taking a look back in Edward Fairbanks’s book, we find the Caledonia Cattle Fair of 1838 was held in St. Johnsbury on the Plain (Main Street area). It was reported that around 1500 attended with a plowing match held where the Methodist Church is today and the trotting course was “the street” (Main Street).
Next, in 1855, the Caledonia Fairground Company was organized and was a stock company which purchased the grounds above Paddock’s Village – where the Mt. Calvary Catholic Cemetery is today. No horseless carriages but the first balloon ascension left these Paddock grounds in 1856!! The individual was John Wise of Boston and according to Fairbanks he was airborne and in one hour and a half, he was in Stratford, N.H., a distance of 45 miles away.
October 11, 1857, the Caledonia Fair Ground Company was reorganized and negotiations were started to buy new grounds on the Passumpsic Road. After the purchase was made, a half mile track was laid out and floral hall was erected and the fair of September 28th & 29th, 1859 was the first to be held there. This was the location of the parade of 1901 with the “Century” car. The fairgrounds was witness to many things prior to today including the formation of the Third Vermont Regiment (Civil War) there at Camp Baxter utilizing existing buildings and adding more; 1921 saw a September fire wipe out all buildings except for Old Floral Hall and the dining hall. In 1930, the 83 year old fair ended and the rest of the land was deeded to the St. Johnsbury Academy for four thousand dollars.
As for the horseless carriage, the first that appeared on these fairgrounds was the Roper’s Steam Carriage in 1863. The first automobile seen in St. Johnsbury was August of 1899. The Caledonian of August 30th reported that William Hicks of Lowell, Mass. arrived in his Locomobile to visit an uncle. Gasoline was the fuel and the engine and boiler were under the seat. Boston to Littleton took only 18 hours. An average of 18 miles per hour was made on country roads. The cost was $750.
Just like stones in a cemetery, every picture has a story with history behind it. I will leave you with one last tie to the Heyers: their son Albert lived on 18 Cliff Street (corner of Cliff and and Underclyffe) with his wife Ruth. You “talked” to Mr. Heyer (who could neither hear nor speak) with a pad and pencil.
The History & Heritage Center will be open from 9 -11:00 May 30th of Alumni weekend so that visitors may see the site and the progress being made. We hope to see you there.