Updated: Apr 18
Welcome to the November edition of the History & Heritage Center. 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.
While searching for a permanent home, we have an office in the Summer Street School building. Our phone number is 424 – 1090 and our mailing address is P.O. Box 223, St. Johnsbury, Vt. 05819. Please check out our web site, stjhistory.org for additional information and updates. Have a good Thanksgiving everyone.
A frequently asked question on Railroad Street concerns a statue located above the sign identifying the current location of Cantina Di Gerardo. The granite statue is known as ‘Hope’; her left hand is resting on an anchor and her right hand is raised with the index finger pointed up towards the sky. Often times ‘Hope’ can be found in cemeteries atop a family monument. In Mt. Pleasant Cemetery, there are three variations of ‘Hope’ on the highest point of the cemetery; ironically they are almost on a diagonal line with each one depicting a different family. Two are of granite and one of marble with the one in marble in the middle. The Railroad Street statue was placed there in memory of James Mitchell who was lost in a fire on that building site.
The year was 1892, on Sunday, October 27th when an explosion was heard in the basement of what was the then Lougee & Smythe dry goods store. Winds from the north fanned the flames southward destroying the Ward, Merchant’s Bank, the Daniels and the Calbeck and Drouin (north) blocks. The Griswold and Pearl (yes, a relative) grain business, to the east of the Ward block, did not escape the fire’s fury. Two people in the Caldbeck Block lost their lives; one was James Mitchell, an employee of Matthew Caldbeck; the other was a Mrs. Marshall, both lived in an upper tenement. The Vermont Union, a weekly newspaper published in Lyndonville reported that Mrs. Marshall was being carried to safety when she broke free and returned out of concern for Mr. Mitchell. She was last seen at an upper window; both were found later overcome by smoke.
Thirty families were burned out and approximately sixteen businesses were lost. One can get a flavor of the business district when reading the following lost businesses which included the Merchants Bank, O. S. Abbott, shoes and boots; T. C. Spencer, jewelry; C. D. Bagley, drugs and medicines which included Bagley Dandelion Co. which made a Bagley’s Dandelion Compound which was a popular sarsaparilla concoction at the time. William Daniels, meat market; P. Provencal, clothing; J. Roderer, cigars and tobacco; Sylvester and Gray, meat market; Lynch and Randall, eating saloon; Griswold and Pearl, flour and grain; Felix Gay, saloon; W. H. Moulton, paints and oils. Others that lost their places of work included Dr. Bricault; Dr. Prevost; Montgomery, lawyer; Sargent, insurance; Bernier barbershop; Knapp, livery and Balch, photography.
Ward, Merchants Railroad St.
Randall, Johnson, Drouin Railroad St.
When looking at the two pictures of Railroad Street, everything visible was lost in the Merchant’s Bank and Ward’s picture – Ward’s stood where the present day Union Bank is. In the Randall’s, Johnson’s and Drouin’s blocks picture, the Drouin’s was the one to the north that was lost. Note the large boot sign. With regards to the Griswold and Pearl building, to the east of the Ward Block (near the Railroad Crossing where Wine Gate is today), they were the largest flour and grain business on this side of the state and it was reported that they had 16,000 barrels of flour and 1,500 bushels of wheat along with large amounts of oats and corn that went up in smoke.
In the reconstruction, Matthew Caldbeck bought the Daniels’ lot next to his for $4,000 and within a month was rebuilding to cover both sites. Sixteen inch firewalls on the north and south walls were added to the new site. By February of 1893, the outside walls had been completed along with the placement of the statue ‘Hope’ over the main entrance of his new block. A reasonable guess would be that it was made by Carrick Bros. granite works, a St. Johnsbury business that had a specialty in statuary.
Now you know that all statues of ‘Hope’ are not in a cemetery at least in St. Johnsbury!