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St. Johnsbury History: A Wedding At Brantview, Jan. 17, 1888 - Peggy's Post Jan '24

The St. Johnsbury Caledonian of Jan. 19, 1888 begins with the announcement of the Fairbanks/Blodgett wedding. It reads, “”Brantview,” the beautiful home of Col. Wm. P. Fairbanks, was on Tuesday last, with its warm and cheery open fires, its profusion of rare flowers, and the general air of warmth and sunshine within, in marked contrast to the outer world, which was one of the coldest, chilliest days of the present winter.” For those not familiar with Brantview, it is now a St. Johnsbury Academy dormitory at the south end of Main Street. Prior to the construction of the mansion, the land had been part of Joseph P. Fairbanks homestead farm.

The bride was Almira Taylor Fairbanks, the oldest of three children born to Rebecca Pike Fairbanks and William Paddock Fairbanks, on Feb. 12, 1865. The groom was Herbert Wood Blodgett, son of Eliza Wood Blodgett and Elijah Blodgett. The write-up in the Caledonian reports that the affair was “semi – private” with nearest relatives of both the bride and groom making up most of the guests. The ceremony took place at high noon and was performed by the Rev. Edward Fairbanks, uncle of the bride.

The Caledonian described the bride; she “wore an elegant white silk and held in her hand a choice bouquet of lilies of the valley and white lilacs.” That very dress is now on display at History & Heritage; please play close attention to the waist! Some time before this exhibit happened, while eating lunch in the summer house at History & Heritage, a car stopped and a woman approached and wondered if we might be interested in her Great-Grandmother Almira Fairbanks’s wedding dress. Jami Bascom went back to her car with an affirmative answer! Several months later, we received not only the dress but quite a collection from the Blodgett family as well. Jami’s grandparents were Donald Sr. and Bertha Silsby Blodgett. Some of you may remember Bertha as a member of the North Church Choir for many years.

Brantview, the home of William and Rebecca Fairbanks, was built in 1884 and designed by architect Lambert Packard. It remained in the family until October of 1931 when Almira’s younger brother, Joseph (1881–1964) gave the mansion and 30 acres surrounding the home to the Academy. It was donated as a memorial to his mother, Rebecca P. Fairbanks.

Almira had a younger sister, Mabel Rose (1871–1955) who later became the wife of Birney A. Robinson. Almira’s early education was at the private school of Sarah Ann Colby, wife of Academy Principal James K. Colby. She was a graduate of the St. Johnsbury Academy in 1882 and then attended Smith College for one year. She completed her education through private coursework in Boston because of poor health. She returned after her education and then came the marriage in 1888. The new couple lived in a home called Fern Hill off of Western Avenue. The home used to be at the area known as South Park overlooking Western Avenue, and was taken down when it was last owned by the Barney family. Almira and Herbert had one son, Donald, born June 6, 1895. Sadly, Donald was only 8 years old when he lost his Mother. Almira was not blessed with good health and at the age of 38, she passed away in Marblehead, Mass. of pulmonary tuberculosis, July 26, 1903.

Herbert assisted his father, Elijah, town clerk and treasurer. When his father died in 1905, he took over the position until 1909.

I remember talking to their son, Donald, many years ago in Mt. Pleasant Cemetery. I was curious of what he knew of his grandfather, William P. Fairbanks. He would not have remembered him personally as he died the year Donald was born. The curiosity was born out of the separation of William and Rebecca in the same year Almira was married. The story did not make headlines in St. Johnsbury, probably of the wishes of the family. William left and became engaged with the Fairbanks Company of New York. Donald really knew very little of his grandfather as little was offered about his departure and his life in New York. The unveiling of William was discovered by two participants in an Elderhostel program offered by the Academy in 1983. The women were from Mount Vernon, New York, which was where William was rumored to have lived. I said if they ever wanted something to do———. Long story short – they found the home that he had lived in on Rich Avenue, his second marriage license to Flora Sylvester (originally from St. J), his death certificate in 1895 at the age of 54 and a record of burial at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx. I have visited the gravesite and seeing the gravestone believe him to be there! Another piece from the Caledonian was the fact that Almira & Herbert, along with Edward Fairbanks, brother to William attended his service in New York.

I have always been one that chooses to connect the dots in history; I remember it better in its story form. When I look at Almira’s dress, I think of the mansion, her parents and siblings and the laughter and tears that flow through everyone’s family history.

Please do stop by at 421 Summer St. and see what History & Heritage has to offer, until June we are open Monday – Wednesday. Visit our web site, Facebook page or call us at 802-424-1090. 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 a 501(c)(3) status.

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