St. Johnsbury has long been the cultural and commercial
center for a forested and mountainous corner of Vermont known as the Northeast
Kingdom, a distinctive name its residents use with pride. It stands at the heart
of the Passumpsic River basin, one of the largest tributary watersheds of the
upper Connecticut River. The largest of many hill towns in the region, "St.
J" is home to one of the finest collections of Victorian-era architecture
in northern New England. The Fairbanks family, whose legacy lives on in the
museum, library, and school they founded, shaped much of the town's industrial
and social history and the architecture of the vibrant downtown they helped
St. Johnsbury is the Waypoint community for an area that includes the Vermont towns of Lyndon, Danville, Barnet, Waterford and other towns in the Passumpsic River basin, as well as bordering Littleton, NH. St. Johnsbury's Waypoint Interpretive Center has found a fitting and handsome home in the 1883 Victorian railroad station on Railroad Street in the downtown.
The designated Byway routes in the St. Johnsbury area in Vermont are Routes 2 from St. J to Lunenburg, Route 5 from St. J to points south, and Route 18 from Waterford to Littleton. In New Hampshire, the designated Byway route is Route 135. Also designated is the section of Interstate 93 that links St. Johnsbury with Littleton, crossing the Connecticut River at a dramatic view just below Moore Dam.
St. Johnsbury's first settlement was established in
1787 on an elevated plateau of glacial origins overlooking the confluence of
the Passumpsic, the Sleepers, and the Moose Rivers. The Passumpsic continues
south through a picturesque valley to its confluence with the Connecticut River
at Barnet. There you can see the remains of ancient flood plain forests on the
so-called Nine Islands, whose number actually varies depending on the water
The Northeast Kingdom also includes the watershed of the Nulhegan River, which has been protected by the State of Vermont and the .The Conte Refuge embraces habitat in the four states of the Connecticut River watershed. Its web site and education centers offer a fascinating glimpse into the life of the river. For more information about birding and nature observation in the area, visit the Connecticut River Birding Trail.
The is northern New England's premiere museum of natural history. Established in 1889, it still follows its founder's vision to "stimulate understanding of the natural and human environments and their interrelationships, through programs, exhibits, services, and collections." With more than 18,000 square feet of exhibits and a planetarium the Fairbanks displays more than 150,000 objects from nature and cultures around the world. Look for comprehensive collections of northern New England's birds and wildlife, a spectacular array of large mounted mammals, and a remarkable photographic collection of snowflakes made in the 19th century by "Snowflake" Bentley, Vermont's singular student of snow.
The Museum also hosts the Douglas B. Kitchel Center for the Study of the Northeast Kingdom and the Fairbanks Archives Center, resources for inquiry, research, and understanding.
For a look at nature programs in the St. Johnsbury region, visit the Nulhegan Gateway Association.
Logging, wood products, dairy farming and maple sugaring
all are important parts of regional agricultural life. Maple
Grove Farm in St. Johnsbury hosts an exhibit
along with its product line. was formed as a dairy cooperative
almost eighty years ago. It started out making butter, then milk, and now produces
popular cheddars, which you can watch being made at the creamery in Cabot, VT.
Over in New Hampshire, the is a working museum that uses 24 inch stones to grind organic grain into waffle and pancake mixes and flours. The mill displays the progression of grist mill technology from the 18th to the 19th centuries.
In the 19th century, a single family emerged to dominate
both the industrial and cultural center of the town, the fortunes of the town
rose with the family. The Fairbanks family developed the first commercial platform
scale, which could weigh the bulky locally produced crops of hemp using a system
of levers. At first the scale was just an addition to their product line of
farm implements, but the scale business quickly grew to employ a thousand workers
in various shops, forges and foundries. When the railroads arrived in the 1850s,
the entrepreneurial family manufactured locomotives.
The railroads transformed a meadow below Main Street into a thriving commercial district of banks, shops and hotels on Railroad Street. Dozens of passenger trains passed through each day on their way to Montreal and Boston and points afar. A vibrant French Canadian community of mill workers grew on the slope between the upper and lower part of town. The imprint of all this is reflected in four historic districts in St. Johnsbury that retain the flavor of the times in which they were built.
The Fairbanks Museum, a gift of the Farbanks family to the community, is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Designed by local architect Lambert Packard in the Richardson Romanesque style, the building is characterized by massive stone work, towers, eyebrow windows, gargoyles and other stone carvings, and arches. The Museum is considered an extremely rare and virtually unaltered survivor from the nineteenth century. Interior as well as exterior features survive, including most of the built-in 1890's display cases and original collection.
In a much more rural setting, the in Brownington, operated by the Orleans County Historical Society, has been affectionately called "the attic of the Northeast Kingdom." Its collections are a cross-section of the material culture of farming communities that still convey the character of their founding in the 1700s.
Nearby Lyndon retains a number of historic covered bridges,
including the Chamberlin
Bridge and Schoolhouse
Bridge over the South Branch of the Passumpsic River, the Randall
Bridge over the East Branch, the Sanborn
Bridge over the mainstem of the Passumpsic, and the Miller's
Run Bridge over the stream of that name.
State historic markers in the area offer a glimpse into the past, where tangible reminders remain or where events may have passed without a trace.
The cultural heart of St. Johnsbury embraces several institutions created by the Fairbanks family. Just down the street from the Fairbanks Museum and Planetarium is the , a distinctive public library and art gallery declared a National Historic Landmark. The Fairbanks family gave the Athenaeum to the town in 1871. Its art collection now contains a number of Hudson River School paintings. Dominating the gallery is the magnificent canvas, about ten feet by fifteen feet, of the Domes of the Yosemite, by Albert Bierstadt. The artist visited St. Johnsbury often until his death in 1902, touching up the canvas from time to time.
Just down the same street a bit further is the St. Johnsbury Academy, serving both boarding students and local high school students. Its campus includes the High Victorian Gothic-style Brantview, formerly the Fairbanks home at the south end of Main Street. Six churches and the St. Johnsbury House Hotel complete the Main Street collection.
A First Night celebration highlights activities in St. Johnsbury's revitalized downtown, home to one of the oldest continuously operating town bands. The regional aura is enhanced by the periodic presence of hundreds of dowsers who attend an annual gathering in nearby Danville.
The work of local artist humorously celebrates the relationship between dogs and their humans.
Catamount Arts brings events to the area throughout the year; as does the Arts Alliance of Northern New Hampshire.
For more about Culture on the Connecticut River Byway
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In this region, the Connecticut River is impounded in
two reservoirs, which provide excellent opportunities for boating and fishing,
including ice fishing. Moore Reservoir, at 3,500 acres, is New Hampshires
fourth largest lake, and its largest undeveloped lake. The state line is inundated
here, and much of Moore Reservoir is actually Vermont waters. PG&E National
Energy Group maintains many access ramps and picnic areas around the reservoir.
Below Moore Dam, the Connecticut River immediately enters Comerford Reservoir, another eight miles of excellent boating and fine fishing for both trout and bass, all with memorable views of the Presidential Range of the White Mountains to the east. Below Comerford, the Connecticut River becomes narrow, the province of canoeists and kayakers. The Connecticut River Joint Commissions provide a series of maps which identify river access and describe other important aspects of boating and recreation on the river. They include:and
Over 100 miles of trails for four seasons are to be found in the Kingdom Trails of East Burke, where hikers and cyclists can view glacial Lake Willoughby and Canada from the slopes of Burke Mountain or explore classic Vermont scenery along the Darling Hill trails. Visit the Nulhegan Gateway Association's site for details on hiking, wildlife viewing, mountain biking, canoeing, bicycle touring, fishing, hunting, horseback riding, and camping opportunities in the region.
St. Johnsbury was the junction of several railroad lines the St. Johnsbury and Lake Champlain Railroad (running east-west) and the Connecticut and Passumpsic Rivers Railroad (north-south.) The enormous and many-gabled Canadian Pacific depot, built as a union station in the last quarter of the 19th century, presently houses the Rural Community Transportation system as well as several businesses. The rail line south of St. Johnsbury includes a number of historic steel truss bridges over the Passumpsic River.
For more about Railroads on the Connecticut River Byway
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Call 1-877-CTBYWAY for more information
Caledonia Farmers Market
Two locations: St. Johnsbury on Pearl Street behind Anthonys Diner, Howard and the Lions Den, Saturdays, May 20-October, 9am - 1pm, 802-626-8396 and on the Green in Danville, Wednesdays, mid-June - mid-September, 9am - 1pm, 802-626-8396
Littleton Farmers' Market
38 Cottage St., Littleton, NH. Senior Center. parking lot. Sundays, July - mid-October, 10am-1pm. Fruits, vegetables, eggs, syrup, goat cheese, dried flowers, sheep and llama wool, candles, jams and jellies. Rain or shine, 603-444-6561
19 Watkins Road, St. Johnsbury, VT 05819-8585
(Morris Mill Road, Danville)
July 15 - Oct. 31
Mixed vegetables-corn & tomatoes, farm stand
Too Little Farm
Peter & Elizabeth Everts
278 Cloudy Pasture Lane, Barnet, VT 05821
(between West Barnet & South Peacham, off Farrow Farm Road)
First week of August-Halloween
Farm stand, Vermont Woodland Ginseng
Peaslee Smith Vegetable Gardens
Barb Peaslee Smith & Matt Smith
6648 Route 102, Peaslee Farm
Guildhall, VT 05905
Mid-June - October 31
802-328-3879 or 328-4415
Vegetables, farm stand
Mountain Foot Farm
154 Blakely Road, Lyndonville, VT 05851
(1 mi from US Rt 5 on South Wheelock Rd, Lyndon)
Mid-May thru mid-Oct.
Vegetables, bedding plants, cut flowers, farm stand
St. Johnsbury, VT FIRST PLATFORM SCALE
After experimenting with new types of farm equipment, plows and stoves, Thaddeus Fairbanks invented the platform scale here in 1830. With his brothers Erastus and Joseph, he founded the company which still bears their name. Many St. Johnsbury public institutions were gifts of this talented family.
Two identical markers: U.S. Route 2, west of village at original factory location; U.S. Route 2, east of St. Johnsbury at the Fairbanks-Morse Co. office.
St. Johnsbury, VT ST. JOHNSBURY TRADE SCHOOL
Vermont's first and for many years only four year vocational school opened on Western Avenue on September 3, 1918. Needing skilled workers during World War I, Fairbanks, Morse & Co. started an all-day co-operative school where men could learn a skilled trade, earn money and obtain a high-school education. The original building, known as the Casino, was partially remodeled in 1919 and completely remodeled in 1927. The first out-of-town students arrived for vocational training in 1927. The "new" Trade School Building, built in 1942 on the site of Sir Thaddeus Fairbanks' estate, is currently the St. Johnsbury Middle School.
Principals of the Vocational/Trade School: Stanley J. Steward 1918-1923; G. Maynard Trafton 1923-1941; Everett Winslow 1941-1942; G. Maynard Trafton 1942-1946; Lewis J. Streeter 1946-1970
Located at St. Johnsbury Middle School, Route 5
Concord, VT FIRST NORMAL SCHOOL: Pioneer in Teacher
The first recognized school in America for the purpose of training teachers was conducted near here by the Rev. Samuel Read Hall, 1823-25. Practice teaching was employed with Lectures on Schoolkeeping which became in 1829, the first professional book for teachers (2.4 miles south at Concord Corner).
Located on U.S. Route 2, at Concord Corner Road.
Danville, VT THADDEUS STEVENS
Reconstruction Congressman spent boyhood near here. Thaddeus Stevens was born in Danville, April 4, 1792. After studying at Peacham Academy, he graduated from Dartmouth in 1814. As an abolitionist Congressman from the State of Pennsylvania, 1858-68, he led the radicals in shaping the Reconstruction of the South.
Located on U.S. Route 2, on the common.
East Concord, VT GEORGE LANSING FOX: One of the four Dorchester Chaplains
Called from his Gilman parish to serve as a Chaplain in World War II, First Lieutenant Fox died when the Dorchester was torpedoed in the North Atlantic. Giving his life jacket to a soldier, he perished with 3 other chaplains, in one of the most heroic acts of the War.
Located at Methodist Church.
Guildhall, VT VERMONT MAJOR CROSS-STATE ROUTE
U.S. 2 is the major highway between the Atlantic and Lake Champlain. It leads through St. Johnsbury, the maple sugar center, down the Winooski River to Montpelier, through the tallest mountains of Bolton Gorge to Lake Champlain at Burlington, University center and the states largest city.
Located on U.S. Route 2 to Lancaster, NH.