Updated: Apr 18
Welcome to the August 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. At the present time, the Center is open Monday through Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. thanks to a wonderful staff of volunteers.
Please mark your calendar for September 16th from 10 – 4. For the Colors of the Kingdom Event, we will host a mini Craft Day with demonstrations ranging from quilting to pump log boring. 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. The carriage barn is a work in progress and overflowing but the horse drawn vehicles and the ice cutting exhibit are ready for your visit. See what two closets have turned into!! The Carriage Barn has a wagon platform scale up and weighing while other scales begin to take their place in the exhibit space. The St. Johnsbury Players are celebrating 80 Years of performing and have a wonderful exhibit to help you remember players past and present: costumes, props and all kinds of memorabilia. 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.
Out of the Darkness and Into the Light
This year’s History & Heritage’s Ghost Walk celebrated the 175th Anniversary of St. Johnsbury Academy. Straight out from the Chapel, in the vicinity of the towering spruce tree we found the founders of the Academy. The Fairbanks brothers Erastus, Thaddeus and Joseph P. told of their idea for this school and how they got it started in 1842. Not far away we found James K. Colby, the first Principal and teacher at the Academy. He started his work in a house just south of the courthouse (not there anymore) in December of 1842. The spire- shaped granite monument was erected in his memory by the Trustees of the Academy – must have had favorable approval in getting the school started! Colby was from Derry, New Hampshire. Present day Headmaster Tom Lovett’s portrayal of Colby’s early days at the Academy made me think they might be soul mates in their beliefs about the well being of the whole student.
Henry Clay Ide emerged as a two- year Headmaster and trustee; other trustees portrayed were Doctors Frank Farmer and son Doctor Howard Farmer. They were remembered by the third generation Jim Farmer from Newton, Mass. Right beside the Farmer lot is the Cramton lot with Dorothy Cramton who was one of the first of three women trustees elected to the Academy Board. Two other “ghosts” were Headmaster Elwin Twombly and beloved math teacher Lucille Byrne.
Now that Brantview is under renovation, we met the lady of the house, Mrs. Rebecca Fairbanks and keeping her company was her oldest daughter Almira. Almira Taylor was one of three children born to Rebecca and William Fairbanks. It is here with Almira that I want to spend a little more time. Almira’s life spanned from 1865 – 1903 which peaked my interest – what happened to give her such a short life?
To begin at the beginning, Almira’s mother was Rebecca Pike of Waterford who married William P. Fairbanks – son of Joseph and Almira Taylor Fairbanks. Yes, young Almira was named for her grandmother! Almira and Joseph had one other son, Edward who served as minister of the South Congregational Church for many years. Brantview was the home of William and Sheepcote was the home of Edward.
Rebecca and daughters is from the Leahy Library, Vermont Historical Society, Barre, Vt.
Young Almira had two siblings, Mabel born in 1871 and Joseph born in 1881. Almira’s early education was at the private school of Mrs. James K. Colby (Principal Colby’s wife); she graduated from St. Johnsbury Academy in 1882 and continued her at education at Smith College in Northampton, Mass. She returned to St. Johnsbury and on January 17, 1888 she married Herbert W. Blodgett. The marriage took place at Brantview. The Caledonian reported that it was a semi- private wedding at high noon with the full Episcopalian service performed by her Uncle Edward T. Fairbanks. Almira had one son, Donald, who was eight years old when she died. After further research by Joanne Bertrand, we found that the cause of death was pulmonary tuberculosis. Her service was held at their home on 8 Western Avenue. Many years ago I took this black and white photo from the tower of Judge Barney’s house on South Park (gone now) looking towards the Academy. There are two houses before the Charlotte Fairbanks cottage and one is or was the Blodgett House – I can’t be sure which house but they are both gone now. Son Donald married Bertha Silsby who was a long time member of the North Congregational Church choir – a wonderful lady. Almira, Herbert, Donald and Bertha are in Mt. Pleasant Cemetery.
And last for the observant onlooker of the grave site of Rebecca Pike – the monument says she was the wife of William Fairbanks but William is not there. In 1888, William gave up his position with the St. Johnsbury branch of the Scale Company and left for New York. In the June term of Caledonia County Court in 1893, a divorce was issued. In October of 1893, William married Flora Hoyt Sylvester. They resided at 53 Rich Street in Mount Vernon, New York. William passed away at his home on December 15, 1895 of heart failure. Edward, his brother, along with Almira attended the funeral in New York. His final resting place is in Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx. I have seen his grave site and his marker.
Almira’s death notice in the Caledonian, says –“ In her death this town has lost one of its brightest and most charming young ladies and the immediate family and the relatives will receive the sympathy of many friends here and elsewhere.”