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Moving Forward – July 2013 Edition of History & Heritage

Welcome to this month’s 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.

Please check out our web site, for past articles, upcoming events, information and pictures. Our phone number is 424 – 1090 and our office is located in the lower floor of the Summer Street School Building. Our mailing address is St. Johnsbury History & Heritage, P.O. Box 223, St. Johnsbury, Vt. 05819

Moving Forward

This Month’s article will bring everyone up to speed with the St. Johnsbury History & Heritage Center efforts to find a home of its own. Many may already know that we have had to give up on obtaining the Armory; this was a bittersweet decision as there were many pluses to our obtaining it. These included location; size for the care and display of all the collections; education space; keeping a historic building going and a building that was not on the tax rolls. The negatives began with the mold and asbestos problems from a leaky roof and culminated with PCB’s in the paint on the lower floor. All the negatives provided for more questions and not enough answers and an undetermined amount of money and an indefinite timeline. The Board reluctantly agreed that these negative issues were reason enough to move to Plan B – another site.

Plan B brings up another negative that the Armory did not have – immediate money! We had hoped for the Armory for a dollar and then we would have raised money for retrofitting it for the uses of the History & Heritage Center. Place in hand would allow us to seek grant monies and start a capital campaign. Now we are faced with the need for seed money to obtain a place and then be able to go forward with a capital campaign. In other words – we need to prime the pump! Ever the optimists, we have an idea and the success or failure will depend on how residents, former residents and businesses react to the idea. We have begun to call it the 250 Club and we envision finding 250 people, clubs, businesses, etc. to contribute $1000 each to the site fund. This would be its own account and not part of a capital campaign. I personally believe it would allow more individuals to become a part of saving St. Johnsbury’s historic collections. If you as an individual could not afford the thousand dollar donation, maybe you belong to a book club, quilt club, exercise club, or whatever group that might be willing to collectively make the thousand dollar donation.

A Fairbanks wagon is among the thousands of items that reflect St. Johnsbury’s history that the town’s History & Heritage Center hopes to display for the public to appreciate.

The pace has been slow and the frustrations have almost overcome us but the commitment remains strong. In the collections (that number in the thousands) there is a Fairbanks wagon and stove that was made on the banks of the Sleepers River prior to the invention of Thaddeus’s platform scale. When you see just those three objects, mirrored in them are St. Johnsbury Academy, the Athenaeum and the Fairbanks Museum. When you look at the  hand molding planes that were used by Horace Carpenter who was just that, a carpenter and then look at the woodwork at the Elk’s Home and realize that they were used there; what a connection. A Ryan sleigh, a Belknap knife and a Ramsey spinning wheel speak to the craftsmanship of businesses here. A Moore & Johnson derby hat; huge scissors, pressman’s goose (flat iron) and patterns used by E. E. Underwood, speak of the styles of yesteryear. Atwood’s Imperial Kisses, Cross Crackers, Cary Maple Sugar Company speak of businesses that nourished the population and in some cases were traditions like “crackers and milk” on Sunday nights. Pictures, stories, newspapers, objects and people all remind us of the passage of time and help us understand the yesterday that got us to the today of St. Johnsbury.

A sense of place is a good thing to have; it establishes our roots and often the ties that bind. The teaching of local history can nourish that sense of place and the History & Heritage Center sees that as one of its major goals. The Center will introduce the visitor to the history of the Town and provide a deeper prospective of what went on here and why we have the Fairbanks Museum and the Athenaeum’s Art Gallery “way up here” in little old St. Johnsbury!

Granted there is probably never an ideal time to take risks but at some point, I believe we have to jump in – a time when risks have been minimized but not removed. The Board and staff have done due diligence in looking at various options for the Center, creating a business plan and doing a capital campaign feasibility study. Hopefully there will be many of you who will support this way forward.

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