Updated: Apr 18
Welcome to September’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 for just a little while longer while we prepare to move to our new permanent home at 421 Summer Street. The 250 Club achieved its goal making it possible to buy the property and we did just that on August 29th! Thanks go out to all who helped us achieve this milestone. 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. Please 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.
SUMMER STREET SCHOOL
The former Summer Street School that stands at the corner of Winter and Summer Streets was dedicated in August of 1864. Many of its Alumni (both teachers and students) remember well its place in their early grade school days. It was not the first school to occupy that site; in 1856 it was voted to build the first one, (District 1). This building was outgrown rather quickly due to the growth of the scale factory and moved north on Summer Street to allow for the present day building. Prior to the Summer Street location, there was a school that should have been on wheels as it traveled up and down the Plain (Main Street) in the earlier days.
Quoting from the book, 150 Years of Progress 1937 – “ The school was built on land donated by the Fairbanks Company and was one of the finest in its day, boasting at the time “improved methods of heating by furnace, ventilation and ample room for 400 pupils.” This school was to serve as a primary, intermediate and high school. The idea of this public high school lasted six years and then the 27 students were transferred to the Academy.
Growth overtook District 1 again and in 1881 it was voted to build yet another building on the east side of Summer Street. The east side revealed quicksand and so another vote was taken that called for the building of another school just north of the existing building. The house on the site was moved and the new school was completed in 1883. The picture shows the two buildings. It served into the late 1940’s when it was condemned and torn down.
While the building to the north was being built, the one to the south suffered a serious fire in November of 1882, leaving the brick shell standing. There was no vacation for the students for the fire was on a Friday and by Monday, they had all been placed in schools in various places. Amazing too was that the rebuilding took just a little over three months!
In July of 1912, the school board put forth the need for a new central school building with an assembly hall and facilities for manual training and domestic science for upper grade students. The least expensive solution for this need ended up being an addition at the rear of the Summer Street South Building. By 1914, the Caledonian reported that manual training and domestic science classes were being taught in the 8th and 9th grade boys and girls classes. Sewing was taught to grades 5 through 7. If you are curious about the 9th grade of elementary school – it was discontinued in 1917 when a Junior High for 7th and 8th was instituted in the North Building.
The view from Main Street of Summer Street School is unobstructed 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.” In June of 1864, the ground was graded and was called Central Park – most often it is referred to as the school common.
Three generations of my family had Summer Street as part of their education. The memories are different for all but I remember where the bell rope was, the blackboards were the real thing, the stairs creaked, when we had to “go” – we asked to go the basement and we played marbles at recess! The “addition” of the South Building has been the home for the St. Johnsbury History & Heritage while looking for a permanent home. We are most grateful to Lorraine and Jim Impey for allowing us space in this beautifully preserved building. We will be just three doors down (south).