Welcome to June’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 the Summer Street School building while renovations are being made before we move to our new permanent home at 421 Summer Street. It took a community along with friends and alumni to make this dream a reality. We encourage your support in making this historic home a wonderful place for exhibiting, preserving and collecting St. Johnsbury’s history. The first of our cabinets, made at Lyndon Woodworking, arrived the end of May. They will provide visual access to the collections while providing a safe environment for these treasures. More cabinets are in production. We have sent out our first newsletter updating members and contributors. We hope to move our new office at 421 Summer St. in the next month and are anxious to be open by early fall. Check out our web site at www.stjhistory.org and our Facebook page. Our mailing address is P.O. Box 223, St. Johnsbury, Vt., 05819 and phone number is 802 – 424 – 1090.
Riverside Canoe Club
As summer finally arrives, it is a good time to visit summer recreation of yesteryear. The Passumpsic River was a popular place for boating – between Paddock’s Village (Arlington) and the Center. Claire Dunne Johnson’s book, I See by the Paper…, mentions the popularity of boating in an 1890 article entitled “St. Johnsbury’s Boatmen:”
“Boatmen are beginning to find out that the Passumpsic River between Paddock’s Village and the Center is a very picturesque stream. Already there is quite a large number of pleasure boats along its bank, and there are many who enjoy a moonlight ride. The latest acquisition is a new steam launch owned by C. H. West. It came from Barton, where it was used last year on Crystal Lake. It is a very pretty little craft, capable of carrying 12 persons in safety, and draws only 13 inches of water….”
In the St. Johnsbury Caledonian of May 20, 1908, we read of the formation of the Riverside Canoe Club. The canoe enthusiasts numbered from 15 to 18. Plans were made to rebuild the present boat house to hold twice the number of canoes and to build a new float. Looking at the postcard of the Club, the boat house would have been on the left as you went over the Arlington Bridge coming from Railroad Street. Notice the pleasure boat near the float of the boat house. You will also notice the absence of life jackets!
This Club suffered a tragedy on Memorial Day of May 1912. Lewis Kimball and Herbert Smythe were joined by Herbert’s sister, Helen, and Helen Ellis for an outing on the Passumpsic. They were warned that the river was swollen and the current swift. Mr. Clark having warned of the conditions gave them a canoe about two in the afternoon. The girls got in the canoe from the shore above the normal boarding at the float the because of the river’s condition. Mr. Kimball reported later that the girls had tried to get a canoe in the forenoon and Mr. Clark had refused them.
All seemed to go well until they approached the rapids just above the Hastings bridge, when the canoe swerved and overturned sending all into the Passumpsic River. Remember that the Paddock’s (just below the boat house) and the Hastings Bridge were both covered bridges at the time. Herbert tried to reach shore with his sister while Lewis tried to hang onto Helen Ellis. Lewis would be the only survivor of that outing, being pulled ashore by Wallace Reihards. The current being so swift, there was little anyone could do to save them. The bodies of Herbert and Helen Ellis were found the next day, whereas Helen Smythe took several days to be found.
The girls were both students at St. Johnsbury Academy. Herbert Smythe was in the dry goods store business with his father – Lougee & Smythe. Lewis Kimball would raise a family in St. Johnsbury on Spring Street, and Virginia (Johnson) and Larry Kimball were the children of Bernice and Lewis.
In 1888 the drowning of John Belknap, talented blacksmith, on the Passumpsic, prompted a letter to the Caledonian from a lady that lived on the banks of the Passumpsic and recalled 17 drownings by this date in St. Johnsbury. As you have just read, the number rose yet again.
The Canoe Club continued until the flood of 1927 when the flood washed the boat house away along with both the Hastings Bridge and the Paddock covered bridge. On a good day, it must have been a wonderful outing, with the round trip to the Center and back around five miles.