Horace Carpenter – By Name and Profession! November 2021 Edition of History & Heritage

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 – Wednesday 10a.m. – 4p.m. At the present time we are requiring the wearing of masks. This is your establishment andwe encourage your support in making this historic home and barn a wonderful place for exhibiting, preserving and collecting St. Johnsbury’s history. Browse 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.

The latest exhibit at the History & Heritage Center features a collection of woodworking planes that belonged to Horace Carpenter and were used in the building of several homes and buildings in St. Johnsbury. This exhibit was researched and put in place by volunteers Beth Williams and Sally Fishburn.

Horace Seaver Carpenter was born in Taunton, Mass. on February 17, 1811. Two years later, the family moved to Chelsea, Vermont. Horace chose not to follow in his father’s footsteps as a farmer; in 1832, he left the farm to become a carpenter. The first building that Horace is credited with was the Orange County Courthouse, built in 1847 in Chelsea. The second was the Universalist Church in Washington, built in 1848. The style of both was Greek Revival. It was from this area, Washington, Vt. that he married Rachel R. Barron in 1836 and from that union came seven children. Rachel died in 1879 and Horace married Helen Parker of Lyndon, Vt. in 1882. Just an added note of interest, two sons were in the Civil War. Frederick was a musician with the 3rd Vermont Regimental Band. Joseph, a Captain in the 4th Vermont Regiment, died the first day of the Battle of the Wilderness. His remains were interred on the field but almost 14 months later, they were brought back to Mt. Pleasant Cemetery.

Horace’s first building project in this area was the home of General E. B. Chase of Lyndon, Vermont in 1850. This was the site of the former Colonnade Restaurant. Horace made his home in St. Johnsbury in 1853; he bought a house built by James Foy at 11 (now 222) Summer Street. He resided there until his death in 1902 at the age of 91.

Horace’s accomplishments as a builder in St. Johnsbury started out rather impressively with the South Congregational Church, Horace Fairbanks’s residence, Pinehurst, now the Elks Lodge on Western Avenue, and the Caledonia County Courthouse in 1856. In 1859, Horace purchased 26 acres of land west of Spring Street from Moses Kittredge. Around 1870, Spring, Winter and Cliff Streets were laid out on this property, creating 23 building lots. Horace built houses on seven of those lots and sold the remaining lots in 1889. Looking at the Beer’s Atlas of Caledonia County of 1875, you can be impressed with his holdings.

There are homes on Main Street, Cliff Street, Summer Street, and Spring Street that are identified by photos and a map in the exhibit. His last work was the woodwork and finishing of the interior of the Passumpsic Bank located on Main Street in 1884.

In 1860, Horace opened a millwork company in the Old Steam Mill building, located in the rail yard. Joined by his son Charles, they manufactured sashes, blinds and doors as well as “Board Planing.” An 1869 ad read, “The subscriber will do BOARD PLANING at the OLD STEAM MILL, in lots of 500 feet or more, at ONE DOLLAR per THOUSAND.”

In The Handplane Book by Garrett Hack, “The concept of a plane is a simple one – a chisel wedged into a solid body – but the tool takes many different forms.” The chapter goes on to say that classes of planes may “be broadly grouped according to the work they perform: truing and sizing stock, cutting and fitting joints, finishing or smoothing surfaces and shaping.” The collection of Horace Carpenter’s planes was acquired by Wesley Steele, who we believe obtained them from the estate of Horace. The collection contains 3 bench or smoothing planes, 15 joinery planes, 13 molding planes, including 1 cornice plane and 1 sash plane. Sally calls this a reasonable collection for a joiner/carpenter, but had he been a furniture maker, the collection would have been more extensive. Most who look at these and might not know how they were used would have to say, they are beautiful to look at. Sally appreciates everything about them, including knowing how to use them. Sally provides the visitor looking at Horace’s individual planes with an example of what it does.

Under “Recent Deaths” in a local newspaper, it was written that “Mr. Carpenter was for many years known to all as one of the strongest and best citizens of St. Johnsbury, a man of noble character who could always be relied upon. He was strong in the community and the church, one who never failed to do what he thought to be his duty. His disposition was kind and sympathetic to those in trouble, and genial and social to those whom he met in the everyday walks of life.” He certainly left wonderful examples of his talent in many St. Johnsbury homes and buildings.

This exhibit is pleasing to the eye and very informative to the everyday visitor. When Covid decides to lessen its hold on our public programs, we hope to have Sally do a “show and tell.”

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