St. Johnsbury Trade School History – May 2017 Edition of History & Heritage

St. Johnsbury History & Heritage Center

Welcome to the May 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.  At the present time, the Center is open Monday through Wednesday from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., thanks to a wonderful staff of volunteers.

Beginning in June our hours will be 10:00 – 4:00 Monday through Saturday. Please mark your calendar for the August Ghost Walk. It will be the 19th at 7:00 p.m. at Mt. Pleasant entrance.  This is your establishment and we encourage your support in making this historic home a wonderful place for exhibiting, preserving and collecting St. Johnsbury’s history. The carriage barn is a work in progress but the horse drawn vehicles and the ice cutting exhibit are ready for your visit.  Progress  is happening on different projects in the Center with two closets being readied as exhibit spaces; reception area having maps hung and a new case filled with early St. Johnsbury artifacts; stain glass windows lit and basement storage improved with lighting, shelving and climate controls. The Carriage Barn has a wagon platform scale up and weighing while other scales wait for their place in the exhibit space.  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.

This month’s article is from a presentation made by Andy Dussault at the Annual Trade School Alumni Reunion in 2003.

ST. JOHNSBURY TRADE SCHOOL HISTORY: 1918- 1970

The vision of an educational curriculum for non-college bound students surfaced many decades prior to the advent of the vocational program at E. & T. Fairbanks, Co. in 1918.

At the dedication of the Fairbanks donated Academy Hall in 1873, then Headmaster Homer T. Fuller stated that the founders of the Academy pictured a school that would “offer facilities for good practical education for such as may not care for the college course”.

In the Town Report of 1895 William Kelly, Superintendent of Schools, wrote that, “The fact that no particular provision is there made for those courses which prepare the student for a mechanical or mercantile life, leads me to feel that a community where find employment so many skilled mechanics and which is the center of business interests so extensive would naturally approve of some such course as is here suggested.”

In the 1884 St. Johnsbury Academy catalogue geology, mineralogy and surveying were part of the scientific courses offered.  The 1900 catalogue promotes the Commercial Department, which is a “working department” offering shorthand and typewriting.

In 1912 an “Industrial Training Program” was offered until the 1918 opening of the Fairbanks Vocational School.  The equipment and machines included “one 12” buzz planer, one 36” band saw, one 72” speed lathe, five 55” speed lathes, and one 36” grindstone.”

Mr. Kelly’s plan was adopted as a result of the passage of the 1917 Smith-Hughes Act which obligated the federal government to pay one-half of the teaching expenses for vocational education if a program was created.  The result of this Act, along with the need for skilled workers during World War I, enticed E. & T. Fairbanks Co. to provide a schoolroom, land and to pay the students twelve cents an hour for actual shop time.

The St. Johnsbury Republican of Aug. 7, 1918, included an article entitled Learn and Earn  by Leon H. Beach, state Director of Industrial Education., which said, in part, “Think of the splendid opportunities there are today for men with a technical education. Your ‘made in America’ must and will take place of ‘made in Germany’ ”.  (Note:  World War I was still raging on) The all-day co-operative high school opened on Sept. 3, 1918 under the leadership of Stanley J. Steward who was the principal until 1923.

The original building, (probably erected about 1854) which had accommodated the Italian immigrants who came to this country to lay the water works, and known as the Casino, was partially remodeled in 1919, and in 1925-6, the Fairbanks Company expended $7000.00 for additional remodeling.  This building was below the present St. Johnsbury School (formerly Trade School).

The first Vocational School graduation was held in Athenaeum Hall on June 14th of 1922 with ten students receiving their diplomas.

In 1923, due to Federal government dictates, only ten percent of the population could be employed at the factory.  So, the school was obligated to include training for employment beyond Fairbanks’s.  This was the impetus to create a separate Trade School, which included a “week about” system – the students would work one week and attend classes the next week.

G. Maynard Trafton replaced Mr. Steward in the fall of 1923 as principal of the Vocational School.In 1924 the school had an enrollment of 45 students.   “In the fall of 1924 we gave the first intelligence test given in the State of Vermont.  It was the old Army Alpha test and was the subject of discussion at the Tri-County Teachers’ Association meeting.”  (Trafton)

Raymond Bennett who graduated in the 1922 class was noted as being the head of the tool room at Fairbanks in 1925. It was announced in 1928 that 40% of the graduates since the school’s inception were employed at Fairbanks, while in 1932 the school was having problems apprenticing students because Fairbanks preferred to give all of the available jobs to remember, we were now deep into the depression.  Consequently, school classes became full time.

In a 1933 presentation to the Rotary Club, Principal Trafton spoke about the advantages of consolidating with the Academy: “There was a tract of land containing twelve acres which I wanted the town to buy, and did succeed, with the help of others, in getting the Selectmen to vote on this purchase at Town Meeting.  I introduced the need.  I pleaded for Town ownership and won.  The cost was $12,000.  All this happened before the Depression.  My best friends kidded me about this, calling it “Trafton’s Folly”. (Trafton)

An enrollment of 77 students in 1938 required more jobs for the work-study program than were available.  It was proposed that St. Johnsbury needed larger facilities completely equipped that would be relative to local industries.  In a presentation to the St. Johnsbury Business & Professional Women’s Club, on November 9th, Principal Trafton spoke about the possibility of a new trade school, which he said should accommodate 150 students.

The enrollment of 81 students in 1939 resulted in the establishment of a special committee – at town meeting – to investigate our trade school needs because the Vocational School building had been outgrown.

By a two to one margin the voters of 1940 approved the building of a new Trade School on the site of the Elmwoode estate of Henry Fairbanks on Western Avenue.  The new building was to replace the Vocational School and the Fairbanks Village School.  Ground breaking ceremonies were held on March 1, 1941.  The new school was dedicated on April 22, 1942 and occupied the same month.  The federal government’s Fair Labor Standards Act was the main force to build a new school.

Everett Winslow served as principal for the 1941-1942 school year. Mr. Trafton returned as principal in the fall of 1942, after being a member of the University of Vermont faculty. In 1945 a record enrollment of 50 freshmen started the new school year, while September 1946 opened with a full capacity student body of 120.

In 1946 St. Johnsbury welcomed Lewis J. Streeter as St. Johnsbury Trade School’s fourth different and final principal who served until the closing of the school in 1970.

The 1950 proposal for a Junior High and gymnasium – auditorium was voted on favorably in November by a 1,334 to 375 margin.  This portion of the physical plant opened in 1953.

The Vermont Life spring issue of 1951 confirms that “the town of St. Johnsbury maintains Vermont’s only four year Trade School as part of its public school system”.

The Vocational/Trade School of St. Johnsbury was truly the predecessor to Vermont’s current technical education centers.

Vermont Life continues by saying, “In these days when some young men are satisfied with an ambition to achieve a white collar job and “security,” it is encouraging to take notice of a Vermont educational institution that is developing a cadre of trained as well as educated young men to do some of the hard work of the state.  The work that entails technical skill, persistence, physical strength and self-reliance will never get done if we neglect to prepare young men to assume this responsibility and accept it as another good sound Vermont way of life.”

How do you view this 1951 quote today?

  1. At the November 1956 Open House it was announced that the Trade School student population represented 46 towns.

  2. During the fifties vocational education of prior decades was changing to the more conventional high school system due to recommendations by the Vocational Division of the State Department of Education.

  3. Federal guidelines of the sixties required a student’s school day be divided evenly  – three hours in shop, three hours in academic classes.

  4. The National Vocational Act of 1963 provided matching state funds for the construction, equipment and teacher salaries for vocational centers as we know them today – vocational centers with a comprehensive high school.

With the enrollment growth of the mid-sixties the Trade School outgrew its physical plant and the shops and equipment were not up to standards.  So, with the enticements offered by the National Vocational Act of 1963 and the requirement of the Secondary School Standards Act of 1968, for an industrial arts course to be in a secondary school’s curriculum, the Academy and Trade School needed each other to satisfy the law.  In 1970, the St. Johnsbury Trade School was terminated with the advent of the Area Vocational Center at the Academy.

Nancy Bellefeuille attributes this statement to Mr. Streeter: “Due to a change in philosophy of our State Board of Education and most educators, it became essential for vocational education to be incorporated in which is known as a comprehensive high school.  The administration of vocational education has been transferred to St. Johnsbury Academy.”

In the 1969 Annual Town Report, Superintendent of  Schools, Theodore Sargent stated, “In regards to Lewis Streeter who is retiring this year after twenty-four years as principal of the Trade School, may I report  I have met but few educators so devoted to helping youth find their niche in life as this man.”

I’m proud that I graduated from the Trade School.

Prepared by:

  1. Andrew J. Dussault,  St. Johnsbury Trade School  1957

  2. Gertrude Sylvain Dussault, Mt. St. Joseph Academy   1961

The information for historical review of the Vocational/Trade School was gleaned from many sources and included:

  1. “I See by the Paper…” by Claire Dunne Johnson

  2. “I See by the Paper, Vol. II  by Claire Dunne Johnson

  3. The Development of Vocational Education in St. Johnsbury by Nancy Bellefeuille

  4. The Caledonian-Record

  5. The St. Johnsbury Republican

  6. 1970 TRADE WINDS – Trade School yearbook

  7. St. Johnsbury Athenaeum

  8. Town Reports/Financial Exhibits

  9. Autobiography of George Maynard Trafton

  10. St. Johnsbury Academy archives

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