Story by Dana Gray at The Caledonian Record
Three of the women who worked on a St. Johnsbury historical timeline project gather in the St. Johnsbury History & Heritage Center on Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2023 to discuss the completion of a local history curriculum guide for use by area educators. From left are Patty Aubin, History Center Director Peggy Pearl (holding a copy of the curruculum guide) and Deb Smith. (Photo by Dana Gray)
ST. JOHNSBURY — An absence of resources to guide educators in teaching local history is now a thing of the past.
The St. Johnsbury History & Heritage Center has created the “History of St. Johnsbury Curriculum Guide” and is ready to share copies with area schools.
The guide takes learners on a chronological journey, from its distant past to the present day. The pages are gathered in a three-ring binder so that additional entries can be made as St. Johnsbury life continues.
There are currently 91 entries making up the town timeline, beginning with “Pre-1755,” an entry that notes the past presence here of Native American encampments and includes a photo of stone implements found in the town that were used by the natives. The final entry, for now, is an acknowledgment of the ongoing Fairbanks Scales business in town that began as E & T Fairbanks Co. in the 1820s.
The binder includes an alphabetized index and guidance for educators on how the material therein can satisfy state education standards in social studies.
Speaking from years of classroom experience, Deborah Smith, one of the volunteers who worked on the History Center project, said the guide can be implemented in many different subjects.
“I could see a literacy teacher in the middle grades using it to spark biographical research or an economics teacher in high school looking at the development of business in town,” she said. “Somebody studying transportation could look at the different methods (through the years).”
Now retired, Smith taught at St. Johnsbury schools for 40 years.
She was one of the volunteers History Center Director Peggy Pearl credited for the timeline project, which not only brought about the curriculum guide but also a timeline noted and pictured on multiple frames affixed to walls at the History Center on Summer Street. Additional key project helpers were Patty Aubin, Nancy Goodrich, Randee Leightcap and Jen Paine. Pearl also said Sharon Reihmer, Copies and More in Wells River and the Sign Depot were contributors to the effort.
The idea to create a timeline for visitors at the Center began not long after its opening at 421 Summer St. in 2015. Pearl and Aubin believed the effort began with some earnest in about 2018 and has grown since, now occupying much of two walls.
Deciding to present it in guidebook form came from the belief that area students should have a good resource for learning about their town.
In a letter of greeting in the curriculum guide, Pearl writes, “We are committed to the thought that understanding one’s town leads to better commitments as citizens and a deeper understanding of one’s roots!”
Pearl talked more about the importance of roots at the Center on Tuesday as she, Smith and Aubin reflected on the creation of the timeline and its implementation in the classroom.
“It’s the roots that you connect with,” Pearl said. “I mean, look at me; I’ve lived in Ryegate longer than I’ve lived in St. Johnsbury, but I was born here. I grew up here. I went to the Academy. This is where my heart is. You know, it doesn’t have to be where I sleep; it’s where those roots get established. I just think it’s essential. I think if you get the root system, then you get the caring.”
There are 30 copies of the guide ready to be deployed to area schools.
Smith called the entries within the guide a “jumping off point” from which educators can take an idea and go deeper with. She said, by design, the timeline isn’t too wordy, which made creating the entries extra challenging.
“We had to limit (each entry) to like 150 words,” Smith said. “How do you condense the history of the Caledonian-Record (started in 1837) into 150 words? So it’s basically just a snapshot, a jumping off point.”
Identifying the things to include on the timeline came from the depth of historical knowledge as to the impact of someone or some thing in the town’s history. Pearl also said members of the public sometimes bring up aspects of the past that the organizers recognize should be included.
Impact or “curiosity,” said Pearl, are determining factors as to what makes the timeline. She said she included the “Hope” statue in the timeline because it gets people’s attention from its Railroad Street perch.
“I said we should do it. Just because we get calls all the time. Can you tell me what that is? And why is it there?”
Page 61 of the curriculum guide notes that the placement of the Hope statue followed a devastating downtown fire on Oct. 27, 1892, in which two people were killed. In the building that was built to replace what was lost, the guide entry states, “‘Hope’ was installed over the new main entrance.”