Welcome to January’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 instillation: opening the carriage barn showcasing horse drawn vehicles; and the instillation 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.
North & South Congregational Churches
I have often wondered if the visitor or new resident has ever pondered the presence of a North and South Congregational Church. I am sure that time has created interesting stories as to why two churches but I would like to add an historical aspect to the mix. When one goes back to the beginning of the Congregationalists in St. Johnsbury, it doesn’t take long to read about the First, Second and Third Congregational Church. The First Congregational was formed in November of 1809 in the Centre village (St. Johnsbury Center). The Second Church was a colony from the first in April of 1825 and located on the Plain (Main St.), in a small house renovated and located near the head of Maple Street. The Third Congregational was formed in East Village in 1840 (East St. Johnsbury). Ironically all had about twenty members when they were started.
After meeting for two years at the head of Maple Street, a second building of the Second Congregational Church was erected during the summer and fall of 1827; this sat on the site of the present North Church. In 1847, it took a ride down Main Street, just south of the Court House and became a boarding – house for the Academy. This building had become inadequate to hold all that wished to attend. On this same site in 1847, a new church was built to house the growing number of worshippers. This is the one you are looking at in the picture with this article. At a quick glance, I am sure it is thought to be the South Congregational Church. The Church faced Main Street, as did the pulpit. The cost was reported to be seven thousand dollars.
The same problem of space would face this building but rather than replace yet another building it was decided to have another Church down the street. The South Congregational Church was organized in October of 1861. The numbers were sixty-one who had been dismissed from the Second Church. Special exceptions were extended to the more elderly that did not think they could emotionally leave their church. The location decision was somewhat determined by the Academy and their growing enrollment and the proximity to Fairbanks Village that was growing in population due to the manufacturing of the scales.
The Rev. Sumner Clapp was the first minister of this newly formed South Church. His ministry covered four years during a very anxious time for the newly established church. Edward Fairbanks referred to him – “He was patient, laborious, sympathetic and sunny, a sound but not remarkable preacher but full of sincerity and good sense; practical in applying Bible truths and much loved by the people.” His daughter Frances would go on to become the wife of Franklin Fairbanks.
With the forming and naming of the South Church, it seemed only fitting that the Second Church should now be called the North Congregational. In July of 1877, this Second Church would leave its site and roll over to where the Colonial Apartments are today, because construction was begun on a much larger stone edifice that stands today. The relocated church would be renovated and become known as the Music Hall until fire destroyed it in 1924.
On a lighter note to end, I, as I presume many are, am a byproduct of both North and South. My Mother, Lucia Johnson was brought up in the South Church and my Father, William was of the North Church. My Mom always had a saying about their decisions – “We always talked things over before we did it Willie’s way!” So guess what church I attended!
Happy New Year.
Peggy Pearl and the folks at History & Heritage