Welcome to this month’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 at 421 Summer Street. Our winter hours are Monday through Wednesday from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. thanks to a wonderful staff of volunteers.
We will be closed the week of Christmas – December 25th, 26th and 27th. St. Johnsbury History & Heritage wishes you all the best of the Holiday Season. Hope to see you in 2018!
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. 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.
Sarah W. Baker French
This piece is a follow-up to the last column written in November (November 22nd Caledonian Record). Dana Gray had asked me about writing of early Christmas memories of St. Johnsbury. After that piece I stumbled upon “A Reminiscence” written by Sarah W. French, which was about the South Church Christmas of fifty years in the article I wrote. I asked my right hand silent partner, Jennifer Paine, here at History & Heritage to see what she could find out about Sarah. Besides being highly organized, and dedicated, she is a super sleuth on the computer! Her results were; Sarah was born to Olive Baker and Elvira Eastman in Lancaster, N. H. in 1836. She married Henry French, son of Asa and Laura. Asa was a Probate Judge for years. Sarah and Henry had two children, Laura and Frank. In 1884, the South Church Directory listed the family as members of the South Church. Mt. Pleasant Cemetery is their final resting place. I am typing this remembrance just as I found it. Enjoy the writing, the gifts and the times of 1863.
“Fifty years ago People in St. Johnsbury spent little time in merrymaking, or in social functions of any kind. The country was in throes of the Civil War and there were few families where there was not a vacant chair and anxious hearts awaiting news from the battle fields. Pink teas, luncheons or seven course dinners formed no part of social life and busy women spent much time making garments, rolling bandages, and scraping lint for wounded soldiers.
Not withstanding all this, it came to the minds of some of the kind people of the South Church that it was not right to shut out the children from the joys that rightly belonged to them. “Let us make the coming Christmas a happy time.” The plan was heartly endorsed endorsed and soon took shape “It shall be a Christmas in the Church.” There were no department stores or art stores from which we might make choice of gifts and so loving fingers wrought and the needles flew merrily in willing hands and the pile of gifts grew apace.
It would be pleasant to mention the names of those who worked so diligently and lovingly to make our first Christmas Tree a success. The names would be strange to most of you, but I cannot forbear to mention the mother of Doctor Fairbanks and her sunny-hearted sister, the wife of our Superintendent, Mr. Ephraim Jewett who gave such practical help all the way, also Mr. & Mrs Thadous Fairbanks whose gererous gifts made possible many things we couldnot otherwise have done.
As the time drew near Mr. Jewett began to fear we might be lacking things to go around. So he made a hurried trip to Boston where he invaded toy shops, and book stores, confectioners and fruit dealers, and when he returned we could see the successful conclusion of our labors.
The tall fir trees found their places in front of the pulpit, and verily fir trees never bore such fruit before, at least in St. Johnsbury. And now a strange thing has happened and all members of the South Church Sunday School were children, some indeed of a larger growth, for there was to be no age limit in the bestowal of gifts. Christmas was cold as Christmas should be and the hills were white with snow and Christmas Eve found the South Church full of happy expectant children and equally happy grown folks.
The trees fairly groaned with their burdens and underneath stood a huge basket filled with, oranges, a great treat in those days, for Florida and California had not emptied their treasures of fruits into our markets and our oranges came from the Mediteranean or the West Indies.
Our pastor was a bachelor and was a target for many gifts, books for his library, a dressing gown and slippers enough for a centipede. The Superintendent received a gold headed cane such as Superintendent are apt to have. Teachers had books and the children just those things that children love, toys and games for the winter evenings, story books and boxes of candy.
Bright eyes and shining faces showed their appreciation of the gifts and when the senior class of elderly men led by Mr. Colby of blessed memory, with Deacon Arnold Hutchinson, Levi Harlow and Francis Brigham received copies in most effulgent colors of the choicest of the nursery classics, “The Hare and the Tortoise, Little Red Riding Hood” and others. Their faces were wreathed in smiles and I do not believe an Encyclopedia or a Webster Unabrige Dictionary would have been more acceptable.
The candles burned low as we wished one another a Merry Christmas and wended our ways home.
And so it was that the South Church in 1863 celebrated the birthday of our Lord.”
Sarah W. French