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Music Hall – June 2018 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 summer hours are Monday through Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. thanks to a wonderful staff of volunteers. The Saturday afternoon time 1 – 4 is a hard slot to fill so there may be times that Saturday 10 – 1 is your best bet! August 25th at 7:00 p.m. Please join us on the 25th of August for our annual Ghost Walk at Mt. Pleasant Cemetery at 7:00 p.m.

 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.

Music Hall

“Where was the Music Hall” is a frequently asked question.  The quick answer is, right where the Colonial Apartments are now, but the long answer is quite interesting. The first use of that space seems to be that of a building owned by John and Luther Clark who had a potash and pearl ash factory there. From this beginning we then move forward to 1877 when talk had begun regarding a new Congregational church – this would be the present day North Congregational Church, now known as the United Community Church.  But what to do with the present white, wooden, Christopher Wren type architecture building? Horace and Franklin Fairbanks provided the solution as they had bought the corner lot where the Colonial Apartments are. They offered the lot rent free to the church to set the building on until a new use could be determined.

On July 10, 1877, placed on rollers, the church moved across the street under the direction of Captain E. H. Stone.  This was the second time a church had left this site on rollers. The first building that had been outgrown left in 1847 for a longer trip down Main Street to just south of where the Court House would be.

Back to the 1877 move; along with the need for the large stone church was another building need – that of a large hall to accommodate the number of folks the Young Men’s Christian Association hoped to attract to its cultural events. This would include lectures by famous speakers and concerts by the best of musicians. Here would be the “new use” for the old church – the Fairbanks brothers offered it to the Y. M. C. A. if it could raise the funds to convert the building into a good public hall. A successful drive was held with pledges of 14 thousand dollars raised and on November 20, 1884, the new “Music Hall” was opened. The design of the remodeled structure was by Lambert Packard; the builder was W. J. Bray and the decorating was done by Lyndon Arnold. Claire Dunne Johnson in her first volume of “I See By the Paper” tells of Packard’s trouble in planning for the acoustics. He reportedly attended a concert in Boston by a group of bell ringers who he consulted as to where he could find the concert hall with the best acoustics. Marblehead was their advice and he followed up and incorporated their success into the Music Hall here. Seating capacity was 1102 chairs at a cost of two thousand dollars. Each chair had a wire hat rack underneath and a cane and umbrella rest. Underneath the hall were three stores with large plate-glass windows and fine entrances.

The first concert was that of musical entertainment given by the Ladies’ Club of eleven voices led by Mrs. P.F. Hazen and a men’s chorus of 40 voices accompanied by a full orchestra under the direction of William H Herrick. The lecture series at the Music Hall would include speakers such as Edward Everett Hale, General  Joshua Chamberlin, Horace Greeley and Henry M. Stanley.

In August of 1909, the name of Music Hall was changed to the Colonial Theatre under the new lessees Fox & Eaton.  They promised to provide musical comedies, minstrel shows and the Lyman Howe Moving Pictures.

May 23, 1924, this building burned to the ground destroying the theatre, the Stanley Furniture Store and the Red Cross Headquarters.  Five stained glass windows of the Episcopal Church were damaged and was the side of Katherine Bingham’s Studio.

In 1928, the largest building project of the year was announced – the Colonial Apartments. Announced as a four story, it grew to five before it was finished. Every site usually has more than one story as is the case with the corner of Church and Main Street.

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