Welcome to February’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 our new permanent home at 421 Summer Street as of August. We officially opened our doors to the public on November 1st. We are still a work in progress but it was time for us to show you what your volunteer efforts or monetary gifts have accomplished. For the present time, the Center will be open Monday through Wednesdays from 10:00a.m. to 4:00 p.m. As we build our volunteer base and spring nears, we will open more days. 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. Our current goals for 2016 are the moving of the collections from the Museum; reception area installation: opening the carriage barn showcasing horse drawn vehicles; and the installation of a permanent platform wagon scale. 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.
Miller & Ryan
The vehicle of yesteryear that we get questions about is usually a Ryan sleigh. They know this because of a little metal tag on the back of the sleigh denoting the maker. Often times there is no tag as it has been removed, often stolen. To answer questions about John Ryan, one needs to begin with the establishment of John D. Miller – Miller Carriage Company. His company was located down by the now Railroad Depot -Welcome Center and shows on the F. W. Beers Atlas of Caledonia County – 1875. The power for his business and several others was supplied by water from the Passumpsic River and a dam east of the railroad depot.
John Miller came by his talents naturally as he had his father and two uncles before him. They had shops both in Lyndon and Brattleboro. John was raised in these shops and took his talents to St. Johnsbury around 1862. In an article by the Caledonian in 1880 reporting on St. Johnsbury’s Industries, it states that John Ryan has been his partner for thirteen years.
At a earlier time Mr. Miller employed a large number of men to turn out as many as 200 buggies and 50 sleighs in a year. This would yield about $25,000 annually. The manufacture of the horse drawn vehicles involved the skills of distinct fields such as the blacksmith, the wheelwright, general woodworker, a painter and trimmer. It was said that John Miller’s brother Norman knew the manufacture of wheels and had 35 years of experience behind him.
At the time of 1880 article, Miller and Ryan employed eight men who were making new carriages and repairing old and had all the business they could handle. A Mr. Grout, a trimmer, and a Mr. Crosby, a painter, were listed by name as well as brother Norman and the two partners. The carriages sold almost everywhere including orders from Minneapolis and Redwood Falls, Minn. where eight were ordered. In 1879, they had built 120 wagons which ran the gamut from express wagons, meat wagons, lumber – both single and double and all styles of buggies. Last rides were provided by Miller & Ryan as they made hearses too! In an earlier time, the Millers had made coaches, many of which were shipped to the southern states.
Miller & Ryan were not the only game in town; George Heon & Co. was another manufacturer and even Thaddeus Fairbanks made wagons when first he came to town. The Ryan name tag does seemto turn up the most often and their longevity in the field of manufacturers seems to have gained them a good reputation.
In a barn in St. Johnsbury, there is a Ryan wagon that had the nickname “rattler” and if you just move one of the wheels back and forth – you understand why! At some point in time, the manufacturers of these carriages and sleighs moved to the corner of Railroad and Portland Street. An ad in the Directory of St. Johnsbury, Vt. 1891-92 reads at the bottom “New manufacturing Corner Railroad and Portland St.”
Around 1918, Ryan had sold out and a different “horse power” resided there. With the help of Gary Ely, who has viewed that site from Caplan’s for years – it was the Ford Corner Garage, Story’s Service Station, Byron’s Mobil and now Champlain Farms. In a few months we hope to have a Ryan sleigh for you to view in our renovated barn.