Ramsay Park – February 2012 Edition of History & Heritage

Credit and thanks goes to The Caledonian-Record who published this article on February 1, 2012.

St. Johnsbury History & Heritage Center

Welcome to the 2012 column of the History & Heritage Center. Our purpose is to acquaint you with our mission to preserve our 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.

To bring you up to date, the Armory continues to be our focus as the Center’s new home. The mold problem awaits more funding to be finished. An application for a Brownfields phase 1 study has been submitted to check for any hazardous waste issues. The History & Heritage Center has an office in the basement of the former Summer Street School, and that is where I can be found; should you wish to call, the number is 802 – 424 – 1090.

Perhaps the first thing to get established is the spelling; if you look the name up in the Edward Fairbanks, Claire Dunne Johnson and Peggy Pearl’s history of St. Johnsbury – we are all wrong! I came across the name in St. Johnsbury’s Soldiers’ Record using an “a” instead of an “e”. My dictionary became the Mt. Pleasant Cemetery where straight out from the chapel under the shadow of the tall spruce, the Ramsay’s are resting.

A few weeks ago, a skating rink was dedicated at Ramsay Park and more than one wondered where the name originated. Captain James Ramsay entered St. Johnsbury’s history in 1817 when he came and took over the grist mill on the Passumpsic River previously built and run by Arnold family. This area of town was formally known as Arnold Mills, Ramsay’s Mills, Paddock Village and now Arlington. Captain James was remembered in Edward Fairbanks’s Town of St. Johnsbury history:

“Ramsey was a character, a large, bony Scotchman, with a fund of droll stories which he delighted to tell to the neighbors and over which he would shake with honest laughter.”

When Ramsay took over the grist mill, he added a small building where his family resided. He also set up a carding machine in the home. In 1820, Ramsay along with Allen Kent built a new sawmill; this was later sold to Hiram Jones and Sargent Bagley. The Captain entered the business of making spinning wheels next. The sheep population was much higher in most counties than the people and business was booming. The following was an ad for his product:

            Improved Patent Accelerating Wheel Head $1.13 each

            Manufactured by James Ramsay

            Cast Steel Set in Brass

            Will Require Frequent Oiling

            Spinning Wheels of every kind;

            Quilling Wheels, reels, shuttles,

            And Spools may be had at the

            Shop in St. Johnsbury, Caledonia County, Vermont

            All warranted good or no sale.

The building where the wheels were manufactured was the former Elements Restaurant beside the Passumpic River.

Captain Ramsay built a brick house between Mill and Railroad Streets, approximately where the Merriam-Graves building is today. This house may well have been a stop on the Underground Railroad for Ramsay was against slavery. It was thought by neighbors that his house was a station as the slaves made their way north but no proof existed until the home was torn down in 1930. During the demolition, instead of one cellar, there were two; another existed below the customary one – an area with no windows proved the neighbor’s suspicions to be true.

In 1852, Ramsay deeded a piece of land (where the Advent Christian Church stands) on the west side of Pleasant Street, in trust “for the use and benefit of the Wesleyan Methodist Society or any other society of Methodists whose influence is exerted against the institution of Slavery as it now exists in the United States of America.” To this cause the Ramsay’s son Lt. John, member of Company C was killed in action at Savage Station, Va. June 29, 1862.

On February 28, 1844, a gift deed by James Ramsay and Hiram Jones conveyed to the inhabitants of Ramsay’s Village the park land at the foot of Pleasant Street. “Said Premises are conveyed to said inhabitants…as a common…and so long as the said Village shall be known and distinguished by the name of Ramsay’s Village, said inhabitants shall freely enjoy the land.” Interestingly, there was a condition….”…whenever said Village shall be known and distinguished by any other name, said land shall revert to the heirs of said Ramsay and Jones,…” Hopefully the fact that the Park is so named for him would suffice today!

I am puzzled still by the spelling in the documents and the Beers Atlas of 1875 showing the plot as Ramsey’s Park. I have chosen to follow the lead of the gravestone for my spelling. When the History & Heritage Center houses its collections, one will be able to see a “Ramsay – Ramsey” spinning wheel.

Copyright © 2011 St. Johnsbury History & Heritage Center – All Rights Reserved

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