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Weighty Impact Of Fairbanks Scales On Display At State Museum

Updated: Mar 16

St. Johnsbury History & Heritage Center Given Space To Showcase Fairbanks Collection In Montpelier

Thanks again to Dana Gray at the Caledonian Record for letting everyone know about our display at the Vermont History Museum!

The state’s history museum in Montpelier is featuring a key piece of St. Johnsbury’s past and present with a new Fairbanks Scales exhibit.

Located in the Pavilion Building in downtown Montpelier, the museum showcases the Vermont Historical Society’s collections and provides space for other historical societies to set up exhibits.

The opportunity was given to St. Johnsbury History & Heritage Center to occupy the revolving exhibit area at the state museum in a conversation between Eileen Corcoran, director of service and outreach at the Vermont Historical Society and Jennifer Paine, volunteer at the History & Heritage Center.

The center, which features exhibits at its home on Summer Street, had never set one up in the state museum. When Paine presented the idea to Peggy Pearl, director of the History & Heritage Center, they decided it was something they should do.

Focusing on Fairbanks Scales for the exhibit made sense because of its past and ongoing impact on St. Johnsbury. Built on Thaddeus Fairbanks’ invention of a platform scale, the E. (Erastus) & T. (Thaddeus) Fairbanks Company grew into a business with global outreach. The company’s success and the Fairbanks family’s benevolence led to significant investment in the town, with institutions that continue today, like St. Johnsbury Academy, St. Johnsbury Athenaeum and the Fairbanks Museum & Planetarium.

Fairbanks Scales helped put the town on the map; the growth led to St. Johnsbury becoming the seat of Caledonia County, and it helped bring the railroad through town.

Corcoran said she thinks the Fairbanks Scales story is an important part of the state’s history and one family’s influence on a town and the world.

“From little St. Johnsbury comes a world-changing product,” said Corcoran. “It’s an intriguing story for people to hear about it.”

Exhibiting Fairbanks Scales is nothing new for the people at the History & Heritage Center; they have an ongoing exhibit there. They have so many scales and scales-related items in their collection that none of the items in place in St. Johnsbury needed to be pulled for use in Montpelier.

“That’s the beauty of this,” said Pearl, “we did not have to disrupt the scale museum in the barn.”

In information Pearl shared with the Vermont Historical Society, she said the space in the museum in Montpelier is allowing them to feature even more of its Fairbanks collection.

On Tuesday, Pearl described the exhibit.

“All along the wall on three sides, well actually three and a quarter sides, we have images hanging, (among them) a watercolor of the initial plant showing it going through its stages of how big it got to be. We have awards that Thaddeus Fairbanks got. We have a case full of medals that were received for that invention from various places, and there are probably five or six cases that all have various scales, and then we have four large scales that are on pedestals.”

Pearl, her granddaughter, Molly Daniels, Paine and her husband, Mike, and Joanne Adams, and her husband, Kurt, put the exhibit together in three and a half hours on the Wednesday prior to the exhibit’s opening date of March 2. Pearl credited staff at the state museum for helping to make the installation go smoothly.

There will be a reception highlighting the exhibit in the Vermont History Museum on Saturday, March 30, from 1 to 3 p.m. Admission to the museum that day will be free.

The Fairbanks exhibit will remain on display through July 27. Each week, the museum is open to the public from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday.

Pearl said she is grateful for the chance to showcase St. Johnsbury to a wider audience, and she hopes it will bring attention to the History & Heritage Center here.

“We’re hoping it will get us out there and put us in the public eye and increase our visitation,” she said, “let people know we are alive and well in St. Johnsbury, and this is what we’ve got.”

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