I can remember way back, when I was a kid, my Gramma Johnson saying, “Oh dear, here come the black-eyed susans – summer’s almost gone.” She was referring to the flowers and the time was August and we were usually on our way to Newark Pond and their camp. I remember her saying that because it reminded me that soon school would start and I was not ready! But even now – way past schooling, every time I see the flowers, I am reminded! Well, here we are in August and the sun is setting before eight and the start of school is right around the corner. I think my memory serves me right that we started after Labor Day – not August like they do now. The other big change from when I went to school is that grades PK & K – eighth are all headed for the same building! Gone is the Center School, Arlington, Portland Street, Summer Street and many others!
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the St. Johnsbury School and all elementary grades under the same roof. St. Johnsbury History & Heritage has chosen to make note of the anniversary with an exhibit of St. Johnsbury’s school history, which will open in September. On Saturday, August 20th, our annual Ghost Walk will feature some of the town’s former educators.
The education history of St. Johnsbury takes us back to a time when the districts numbered 17 at one point. Every district was responsible for their own school. Each district chose a prudential committee to oversee the operation of the school, including hiring the teacher, making sure of the wood supply for heating and janitor services. Members of the committee were expected to visit the school periodically to keep an eye on how things were going. This system existed until 1892 when the state legislature passed a law that required the whole town to be one district. Too many variations in ideas and procedures made for the passage of the law. One example was that one district allowed Bible readings while another did not. Some of the districts included the Center, Cole Corner, Summerville, Clay Hill, East St. Johnsbury, Pierce’s Mills, Parks District, Chesterfield Hollow, Bible Hill, Stark, Goss Hollow, Spaulding Neighborhood, Four Corners, Paddock Village, Fairbanks Village and the Plain. Some of the buildings are gone, others are homes and some serve other purposes such as the American Legion on Maple Street, offices at Summer Street and Arlington & Portland still serving as educational facilities (Arlington and Cornerstone).
All the buildings have stories to tell, but I will write of Summer Street as it has an interesting history. In 1856, a vote was taken to build a larger school at the intersection of Summer and Winter streets. The previous building had been outgrown with the increase of the population due to the Scale Company. The old building was moved north on Summer Street where it was reported to have served as an armory and now apartments. In August 1864, a new brick building was dedicated. More room was needed by 1881 and it was voted to construct another building on the east side of Summer Street. Plans changed when quicksand was struck and another vote passed buying the property to the north of the current school. The new building was completed in 1883 and served until the 1940s when it was condemned and torn down. If you happen to be looking at early class pictures of the Summer Street schools, you need to check carefully as to what building they are in front of! The picture in this article shows the different entrances.
In 1882, the building to the south suffered a serious fire, leaving only the shell standing. History tells us that the fire occurred on a Friday morning, with all students in other schools by the following Monday. The rebuilding took just over three months. Another interesting fact about the building is that it has an unobstructed view out to Main Street. The reason for this is due to the open area being deeded to School District 1 on November 28, 1863, by Charles S. Dana, Esquire, for consideration of $1,200, “to have and to hold, etc., on condition that no building is erected on any part of said granted premises.” Charles and his family lived right next to what became known as the school common.
Every district has a story and once the exhibit is completed, and you have viewed it, you may find yourself out on the roads looking for the sites of the former schools! In the meantime, put on your best walking shoes and join us at Mt. Pleasant Cemetery at 7:00PM as we visit past teachers whose goal it was to educate us.
We hope you enjoyed this month’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 at 421 Summer Street. We are open: Monday – Saturday from 10 – 4, for the months of June through September. This is your establishment and we encourage your support in making this historic home and barn a wonderful place for exhibiting, preserving and collecting St. Johnsbury’s history. Watch for our new 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.