Welcome to the February edition of the St. Johnsbury History & Heritage Center. The organization’s purpose is to acquaint you with its mission to preserve the town’s rich history, highlight the legacy of those who have gone before and show how our past has shaped the future. The current status of the Armory is that we are anxiously awaiting the results of the Brownfields study, hopefully by the middle of next month.
How many people who have traveled up or down Western have wondered what the Elks’s Home used to be? It certainly does not resemble a typical B.P.O.E. of today. Formally known as Pinehurst, it is one of several stately looking mansion-homes, which gives one pause as to who might have occupied them in yesteryear. Pinehurst was built in 1852 by Horace Carpenter for the Horace Fairbanks family. Horace was the son of Erastus Fairbanks, head of the E. & T. Fairbanks Scale Company, former governor of the state of Vermont, and remembered for giving the St. Johnsbury Athenaeum to the town of St. Johnsbury.
Back to the mansion. Many years ago I had the privilege of interviewing Vera Montgomery Whitney and her brother Milton Montgomery. Their father had come from Canada and worked as a laborer. Over time he became the coachman for the Fairbanks family and later was in charge of everything, thus the memories of his children. I return to this interview to describe the splendor that was Pinehurst’s. There were three greenhouses on the property which contained the grape house, the palm house and the orchid house, along with multiple varieties of flowers. Milton remembered that “when the weather opened up, they’d have help from the Fairbanks Shops and move the palm trees and everything out around the property. They were in huge tubs with handles on the sides. They’d run a rail through each side and then two or three men would walk them right out.” Varieties of flowers and palms graced the sanctuary of the North Church on many a Sunday.
Both recalled the upkeep of the grounds; for many years the lawns were mowed by men and Vera recalled when a horse was used, “They had this new fangled mower drawn by a horse. They had these big leather boots to put on the feet of the horses so they wouldn’t punch up the lawn. People would go along and sit on the fence and watch them mow the lawn down by the fish ponds.” (Located in back of the present gas station on Western Ave.) Milton remembered “Old Ted, (a horse), when he got those boots on he felt so proud he’d pick up his feet.”
As to the interior, Vera recalled the dining room: “It was a big room, had a fireplace, there was a big bow window, I think four windows in that, which went towards the West and on the East side was an enormous, imported Italian sideboard – all carved.” She remembered “the double parlors with the fireplaces, the library with all the books and what they called the little study. Off the study was a bathroom and that was where the downstairs girl arranged the bouquets the gardener brought up.” There was a beautiful stairway that they understood was designed in Italy, with a bear rug at the foot of it. Milton recalled, “I always liked to come in and take my shoes off and walk on the bear rug.”
The front porch held a memory for Vera, “There were wicker chairs that had a big hood up over and then little glass windows on each side of the hood. They would sit out there in the sun, but turn their chairs for whatever way the wind was blowing; they could sit out there and read or study and not be in the wind.”
Greenhouses, multiple carriages, fish ponds, deer park and pasture for cows on Summer Street were all part of the grounds of Pinehurst. Horace and Mary Elizabeth had two daughters that survived infancy. Isabel married Albert Farwell and died at a young age; Agnes married Ashton Willard and they had one daughter Theodora who inherited Pinehurst in 1920.
In June of 1920, Theodora sold the entire property to Maple Grove Candies, Inc., a cooperation which had been formed in January which included as incorporators and stockholders the originators of Maple Grove Candies, Katherine Ide Gray, Helen Gray Powell and Ethel McLaren. George Cary and Gertrude Franklin and three New York ladies were also part of the cooperation. In December of 1920, the Deer Park section was sold to Gertrude Franklin and the remainder of the large property was sold to George Cary. The buildings and entrance remained and the buildings became known as the Maple Grove Inn and Tea Room. In the Caledonian of July 5, 1928, Arthur Stone, in a speech to the Rotary Club reported that the Inn served 13,000 people in 1927; employed 80 people and shipped out 280,000 packages.
Unfortunately, the buildings were heavily mortgaged to the Passumpsic Bank and eventually were foreclosed on in 1935. In July of 1945, St. Johnsbury Academy took possession and used the building for two years as a dormitory. Completing the full circle of this property was its sale in October of 1946 to the local Elks lodge. What stories can be found in the properties of early St. Johnsbury. You know for the most part, things are never frozen in time but it sure would be fun to roam the original Pinehurst home and grounds!
St. Johnsbury History & Heritage is a non-profit with 501(c)(3) status. Please check out our web site, stjhistory.org for more information and past articles and upcoming events. Our phone number is 424 – 1090 and our office is located in the Summer Street School building.