Welcome to the April 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 our new permanent home at 421 Summer Street as of August. We officially opened our doors to the public on November 1st. We are still a work in progress but it was time for us to show you what your volunteer efforts or monetary gifts have accomplished. For the present time, the Center will be open Monday through Wednesdays from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.; please stop and see us. As we build our volunteer base and spring nears, we will open more days. 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. Our current goals for 2016 are the moving of the collections from the Museum; reception area installation; opening the carriage barn showcasing horse drawn vehicles; and the installation of a permanent platform wagon scale. 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.
The Sun has Set on the Sunset Home
A legislative charter granted the “Home for Aged Women of St. Johnsbury” on December 4, 1892. Five trustees, Charles M. Lamson, Theron M. Howard, Charles H. Stevens, John C. Clark and Wendell P. Stafford, made up this Board. A Board of Visitors (no less than seven, no more than twelve) was appointed by the trustees. These women usually represented the different churches. They provided the general running of the Home including the “appointment of the Matron, the oversight of the comfort of the inmates, the regulation of the domestic concerns.” For many years the Trustees were all men and the Board of Visitors – all women!
The first duty of the Trustees was to accept the property on Prospect Street that had been offered as a gift by Mrs. Isabel Poland Cushman of Boston. This was formerly the home of her father, Judge Luke P. Poland. This is not the Home you see there today. Entering Prospect Street from Main Street, on the Museum side, you would have seen another building (Chaloux home), Sunset Home and Notre Dame Church. The Poland Home was transferred January 3, 1893. After some renovations and repairs were made, the Home was opened for applicants in the spring. An admission fee of one hundred dollars remained the same for sixteen years and then increased to two hundred for St. Johnsbury residents and five hundred for non- residents. Seven women was the limit with the average between five and six women in the Home at one time.
Welthea Glines, one of the first residents of the “Home” is credited with calling it the “Sunset Home.” An act of Legislature in 1898 made the Sunset Home the legal title. Welthea’s obituary is a wonderful reason why all should have given copies of their life history upon entering the Sunset Home. She was born in Lunenburg on August 31, 1828; worked in Lowell, Mass., traveled abroad, taught, delivered mail by pony – more on the Ghost Walk in August at Mt. Pleasant Cemetery!
Probably the event that caused the most stir was the day Notre Dame Church burned on November 26, 1966. Looking at the picture, you can see how close they were to each other – approximately twenty feet. The residents were moved to the St. Johnsbury House while twenty one patients were being moved from the St. Johnsbury Hospital to Brightlook Hospital. That was one memory that would be hard to erase in time.
Through the years the Sunset Home provided a place for those that could not manage the care of their own homes. It provided a family atmosphere with meals served in the dining room but gave them independence of their own room and ability to do whatever their physical circumstances would allow. The Sunset Home struggled over the years with both finances and enrollment. The finances was a two edged sword sometimes with not enough money to accept those on a waiting list to not having enough folks wanting to enter. At one point, admission was extended to men. Despite the outcome, the Sunset Home provided a need for many from 1893 – 2016. Well done.
On the occasion of the thirtieth anniversary of the Sunset Home, a letter was read from Trustee Judge Wendell P. Stafford; the closing sentence read – “Here’s to the Sunset Home, and may its sun never set.” But set is has and as the Fairbanks Museum assumes custody of the building, one might wonder if the sound of laughter over a game of bridge, a missing piece of a puzzle found or conversation might linger there. The former “Live Museum” of the Fairbanks Museum was a source of entertainment; its front wall provided a resting place as they took daily walks and they were “watchdogs” for the well being of its neighbor.