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Pythian Block – February 2019 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 winter hours are Monday through Wednesday from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. thanks to a wonderful staff of volunteers. Please stop in and check out the WWI exhibit as well as our newly acquired painting of the Rev. Sumner Clapp who was the first minister at the South Congregational Church as well as father to Frances who married Franklin Fairbanks.

This is your establishment and we encourage your support in making this historic home and barn 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.

Pythian Block

Sometimes a column is written because of a new acquisition; in this case it was a small black and white photograph of the fire that destroyed the first Pythian Block in March of 1895. All these years I have been looking at and passing by the second building on this spot built by the Knights of Phythias. The Pythian Block is the brick building on Eastern Avenue and Prospect Avenue. Many may remember the real estate office of the Wheelocks, Ellis Paint & Wallpaper store, Cowles Press and law offices of John Swainbank and Larry Kimball, among others occupying that building.

Third brick building down on the left – note the tower!


Edward Fairbanks tells us that the Apollo Lodge No. 2 of the Knights of Pythias was organized with 48 charter members and it was here that the Grand Lodge of Vermont was instituted in 1888. The organization made their building plans known in 1892 with plans being drawn up by architect Lambert Packard. Plans were completed the following year with Charles LaChance the contractor. Plans included a tower at the southern corner rising 80 feet. On Eastern Avenue the building would extend 75 feet and be four stories high. The ground floor would have space for stores, the second would have multiple offices with an iron balcony extending around this floor and the top would be a hall for the Knights as well as space for their offices and a kitchen.

Prior to the Pythian Block, old pictures show a wooden structure which housed a hardware store run by Charles Carpenter. This building was mover to the back and faced on Prospect avenue.

The pace was fast for the erection of this building; late March of 1893 saw the completion of the plans, by early October the block was up and covered and the brick work was nearing completion in November! February 27, 1894 marked the building dedication by the Knights of Pythias with the building costing $16,000. Twelve months and twelve days later the building was in ruins from a fire on  Sunday, March 10th. According to the Caledonian of March 15, 1895, there was considerable smoke without much flames and many were hopeful that all would not be lost but after two hours flames shot out of the building, the tower collapsed inward and “at about 8 o’clock the front wall fell over into Eastern Avenue, the bricks tumbling promiscuously around the firemen’s feet.” By the next day, the photo shows what remained.

Allen Hodgdon’s book “The Life, Times and Works of Lambert Packard, Architect”  starts and completes the resilience of the Knights of Pythias. In early May of 1895, the brick masons had the first story of the new building completed. Horace Randall was awarded the contract to rebuild. J. M. Foy was in charge of the carpenter work. In January of 1896, the Pythians dedicated their new hall. One of the new residents of the building was Lambert Packard himself!

Allen’s book adds a 1938 hurricane story to this building. Damage was caused making it necessary for the removal of the fourth story of the brick tower.

Today the building is owned by Diane and Marc LaRose who have made many improvements to restore the building closer to its original look. This has included removing aluminum siding, repointing brick and new awnings. The building includes the businesses of Armstrong’s Better Hearing, All  About Flowers, Gato Nero Café along with an art gallery of Bill and Kim Darling. The owners make their home in the building where they have an eye on Eastern Avenue. As one journeys up or down Eastern Avenue – we can thank the Knights of Pythias for not allowing a fire to defeat them.

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