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What a Lifetime Remembers – October 2017 Edition of History & Heritage

Welcome to 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.  As of October 1st we have gone to our winter hours where the Center is open Monday through Wednesday from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. thanks to a wonderful staff of volunteers.

Please mark your calendar for November 11th for a Veterans Day Concert at the United Community Church (formally the North Congregational) at 7:00 p.m. The St. Johnsbury Town Band will highlight music from World War I in observance of its 100th anniversary of U. S. entry into the war. The concert is by donation and benefits the History & Heritage Center.  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 exhibits a working Fairbanks wagon platform scale among many other things.  See what two closets have turned into!! The St. Johnsbury Players are celebrating 80 Years of performing and have a wonderful exhibit to help you remember players past and present: costumes, props and all kinds of memorabilia. Check out our web site at and our Facebook page. Our mailing address is 421 Summer Street, St. Johnsbury, Vt., 05819 and phone number is 802 – 424 – 1090.

What a Lifetime Remembers

I used to marvel at what my Great Aunt Florence’s life spanned – she went from the horse and buggy to landing on the moon. She went from dresses to the fashion change where pant suits were acceptable for women although she never wore them! There is one other individual that stands out in this “remembrance” category and that was Perley Russell whom I interviewed back in 1981. He was 101 at the time and “sharp as a tack” in his mind.  In retrospect, my visit with Perley was one of the best history lessons I ever had. At the time of the visit, he was living with his daughter, Jean Riply, on North Avenue. Jean’s house had once stood on the north end of Main Street where the Estabrooks house is now. Warren Estabrooks bought the house and property from Dr. Hiram S. Browne in 1893. Desiring a much larger home, he had Dr. Browne’s house re-located to Warren Avenue now known as North Avenue.

Perley, born in 1880, moved to St. Johnsbury at an early age from Chesterfield Hollow in Kirby. He began the first grade where the American Legion is today on Maple Street. On July 4, 1890, he was one of the students from the Union School watching the laying of the cornerstone of the Fairbanks Museum. He recalled that the building had just been started but they had seats there for all. He also confessed to not remembering what they had to say!

Three years later, he was standing down at the railroad depot watching his father’s horses, all sixteen, pulling the Ide monument out of the railroad yard headed to Mt. Pleasant Cemetery. As to why his father, Marcus, had sixteen horses; he was the Superintendant of Streets for thirty- five years in St. Johnsbury and the horses were his – not the town’s. In the picture of the monument being moved, Perley is one of the young men in the front.

Ide monument being pulled by Marcus Russell’s 16 horses to Mt. Pleasant Cemetery – Perley is one of the young boys in the foreground.

After two years at the Academy, he stopped and took a job with Frank Scott’s Grocery on Eastern Ave. where the Star Theatre is today. There he made deliveries and took care of the horses, sometimes finishing up at nine at night.

“Job work” is a term he used in recalling some of the jobs he had with his horses. Brightlook Hospital opened its doors in 1899. Perley had hauled the brick for the building of this hospital from the brickyard where the Farm Boy Restaurant was in 1981 and is now the site of St. J. Auto. He also hauled brick for the building of the Armory in 1916 but this time the brick came on the train.

Cross Bakery located on Main Street where the Catholic Church is today was another “job work” as he used to haul flour. The flour arrived in barrels by rail – 300 hundred barrels to a railroad car; Perley could carry sixteen at a time in his wagon, two barrels wide and eight barrels long! To finish the Cross Bakery story with Perley is having to leave the horses behind for another mode of transportation. From 1926 – 1952, he worked at their new location on Railroad Street – just south of Caplan’s Army Store. He spent most of those years on a delivery truck leaving for work between five and six in the morning and not returning home until eight or nine at night. Near the end of his tenure there, he was earning forty dollars a week. I remember asking the cost of a loaf of bread; his quote was “when it went up to twelve cents, they kicked on it like the dickens.”

Cross Bakery on Railroad Street – Perley is third from the left – building is no longer there.

Another change in the landscape to him was where the Colonial Apartments are now; it used to be the Music Hall and shows would come in on the train. There would always be about three loads of scenery for the plays plus the assorted trunks that also came. Another “job work” was hauling coal when he worked for Ides with his team. Ides had two one horse jobs and they would have the short hauls. Perley would haul all the coal up on Main Street for the same price. Perley recalled, “I got four dollars a day for a pair of horses – for me and a pair of horses.”

There were many more remembrances but one more for now. At the age of twenty three he bought Mark Hovey’s ice business which was located where Wayne Ford was in the eighties and now Twin State Ford. A large brick house was located on that site with an icehouse just south of the site on the Passumpsic River.  He cut ice with horses and harvested blocks that were 24’’ by 24’’ and about 14 inches thick. They were pulled into the icehouse from a skid that went right into the water. Twenty layers of ice was the max and sawdust on the top kept them frozen for summer delivery. Perley had four ice wagons, two one- horse and two two- horse, which he used to deliver ice to residents on Saturdays, Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. The other two days were deliveries to meat markets. The ice sold for 40 cents per 100 pounds. Looking at the Passumpsic River flow in the winter these years – one doesn’t quite get the thickness of yesteryear!

The bottom of Hastings Hill – Route 5. House is where Twin State Ford is – Ice House is to the right, on the Passumpsic River and if you look to the left – one can see the Ross House that will become part of Mt. Pleasant Cemetery!

Perley was married to Maude Smith and they had six children; Jean Riply, Marion Sparrow, Dorothy Dawson, Raymond, Hazen and Reginald. Raymond and Hazen were widely known in Lyndonville.

Makes you wonder what the “Baby Boomers” will remember? Consolidation of all the graded schools in St. J.; merging of the North and South Congregational Churches; the French and Irish Catholics together; the hand held telephone which makes you walk funny; typewriter to computer ; absence of Woolworths, W. T. Grant and Randall & Whitcomb; no passenger trains – thoughts????

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