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Why? – December 2013 Edition of History & Heritage

Updated: Apr 18, 2023

Welcome to November’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 while we seek a permanent home. We are currently raising money to purchase the former law offices of Primmer & Piper, 421 Summer Street. A 250 Club has been started where you can give a thousand dollars as an individual, a family, a business, a club, group or any other creative donation you might have. We have three months left to accomplish this. Please check out our web site at Our mailing address is P.O. Box 223, St. Johnsbury, Vt. 05819 and our phone number is 802 – 424 – 1090.


I remember one day when Taylor Reed was doing a story on the St. Johnsbury History & Heritage Center and learned that the two dedicated volunteers and myself were receiving no monetary pay for our efforts and he asked “Why are you doing it?” I can answer for all of us and for the Board that represents the Center. We believe in the preservation of the pictures, the papers, the audio tapes of interviews and talks and the objects that tell the story of the history of our town. We are committed to exhibiting these things and teaching the young and sometimes the old of what lessons can be learned from these collections. In doing this, we hope to create a sense of place that can only benefit ourselves and the town that we call home.

An example of two of objects is given to “illustrate” the why. One of the most prized possessions is the Fairbanks wagon, built by Thaddeus. Edward Fairbanks tells us in his history of St. Johnsbury that this wagon brought the family to St. Johnsbury in 1815. That wagon represents transportation and it speaks of the up and down sawmill blade and water power; it holds a lesson of the wheelwright and his assorted tools including the traveler, the reamer and spoke shave. A wooden spring under the seat made the ride more comfortable. The nails tell us of the blacksmith; the wheels tell yet another story of the many buggy jacks that were designed for removing a “tire.” And then there is the horsepower; its harness, the shoes, the commands, the food and on the lessons can go. In 1815, there was still the union of the maker and the tools. When Thaddeus sets up shop on the Sleepers River, we can follow the progression of the machines that would take over the working of the wood once done completely by the individual. Such a machine was the duplicating lathe of 1818. This wagon is an object of the past but paving the way to the future.

Within the last two weeks, another treasure from the past made its way to the History & Heritage Center. During that week, we were working to make a grant deadline which for me was like learning to speak all over again. A bit frustrated and with patience short, I saw the Fairbanks Mill truck pull up to the stop sign at the corner of Winter and Summer Streets with a corn popper sticking up over the back. Gazing up into the truck I knew again why we’re in this for the long haul! Maurice Colby of East St. Johnsbury had donated this piece of history. It is a cart, complete with wooden spoked wheels, that was pushed by the operator. A four sided container, three sides being of glass, sits on the top of the wagon. The heat was kerosene and a hanger provided support for the popper that was shaken back and forth by the operator. A wonderful metal teapot looking container hung from the top to keep the butter warm. Perley and Stella Moffat had operated this popcorn popper when the St. Johnsbury Band concerts were held at the corner of Eastern Avenue and Railroad Street every other Sunday. The cost was probably five to ten cents a bag. The Moffats had lived on Portland Street, across from Coles Redemption Center; the house is no longer there. The time period for the use of this popper was in the nineteen-forties. Mr. Moffat did not rely solely on the income from the corn popper as he worked for Menut & Parks on St. Marys Street. With a one horse wagon he delivered coal for the Company. At his destination, he would have a bag that he loaded with 50 – 75 pounds of coal and carried on his back to the customer. What a wonderful addition the corn popper cart makes and the student’s questions would run like this – What’s kerosene, the bandstand was where, and ending up with discussion of just what a ritual popcorn was on a Sunday night.

This latest addition along with hundreds of other objects provides the compelling story for the Center on Summer Street. Please join us at 421 Summer Street for an Open House from 1:30 – 4:00 p.m. on December 14th. The owners have graciously given permission to use the place in order to help raise the funds. We hope to see you there.

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