Jumping For Joy
On Thursday Dec. 12 at 3 p.m., the St. Johnsbury History & Heritage Center will celebrate the newest publication of St. Johnsbury’s history. Dan Swainbank has written Fairbanks: The Family that Created an Industry, Built a Thriving Town, Endowed it with Cultural Institutions & Led the State of Vermont. The title of the book should suggest to the reader – finally between the covers of one book I might find who’s who; which home was whose; who gave what; who did what; the ups and downs of the E. & T. Fairbanks Company and where did they all go? Yes, you can and yes, this is the first book that does this for the St. Johnsbury Fairbanks family.
A few years ago, Dan came to me, and said that he needed a project and what did I think of writing a book about the St. Johnsbury Fairbanks connection? Personally, I love “no brainer” questions, so I gave him my blessing and away he went to begin his new project. Dan and I are of an age, having gone to Claire Moore’s kindergarten class at Underclyffe too many years ago, graded school at Summer Street , and started The Academy together. Although he did not finish there, I have forgiven him and we do include him in the Class of ’65 reunions. He did go on to marry my favorite cousin, Mary Ide! All this history I share is to say that I know that if Dan takes on a project, he will complete it and do a great job.
This will be Dan’s third book, having authored Mr. Vail is in Town: Theodore N. Vail, AT&T and His Lyndon Legacy and The Farr Disease. Dan, an English teacher, retired from Lebanon High School in New Hampshire. He enjoys researching his topic as well as writing. His research has been extensive in this project, including meeting with members of the Fairbanks family; interviewing heads of institutions and searching their archives; reading other writer’s works on the scale business; seeking financial sources to see what went wrong within the company; interrogating other historians for their take; and seemingly leaving no rock unturned to give us the complete history and where that legacy is today.
At History & Heritage, in the barn, there is a wagon and a platform scale set up and weighing the wagon that sits on it. It is the invention that put St. Johnsbury on the map. I tell students and visitors that if you placed this object in the middle of Main Street, you could draw strings to so many places that are there because of this object. Strings would lead you to the Court House, to the Fairbanks Museum, to the Athenaeum, to the North & South Churches, to the Academy, to the Railroad and on and on.
Dan’s illustrated book will provide answers or draw “strings” to all kinds of Fairbanks Family questions that make up the history of this town; leading you first to the Sleepers River where the Fairbanks set up their first home and livelihood. It will explain about Underclyffe, the mansion of Franklin and Frances built in 1872, gone in the 1930s, but why? Brantview was built by Rebecca and William Fairbanks but where did William go? Where is the most prominent St. Johnsbury company building still standing today? Who were the two Fairbanks Governors of the state of Vermont? How did the E. & T. Fairbanks Company grow and what were the growing pains?
Please join us as we “jump for joy” over Dan’s book that encompasses the whole story of the Fairbanks family that has left a lasting legacy on the town of St. Johnsbury. Dan will share a few words about the project and happily sign your purchase.
About The History & Heritage Center
The purpose of the monthly History & Heritage column 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 St. Our winter hours are Monday through Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. thanks to a wonderful staff of volunteers. Please stop in and check out the new permanent St. Johnsbury Town Band exhibit. Join us at 421 Summer Street our Holiday Open House on Dec. 14, from 1 p.m. – 4 pm. Crafts, music and refreshments for all.
This is your establishment and we encourage your support in making this historic home and barn a wonderful place for exhibiting, preserving and collecting St. Johnsbury’s history. Browse our web site at www.stjhistory.org and our Facebook page. Our mailing address is 421 Summer St., St. Johnsbury, Vt., 05819 and phone number is 802-424-1090.
Peggy Pearl is the director at the St. Johnsbury History & Heritage Center.