The history and charm of small-town St. Johnsbury in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom can’t be beat! Shopping downtown, great dining opportunities, outdoor recreation, a fun arts scene, and even a public planetarium. There is no need to travel far, St. Johnsbury has what you’re looking for.
If you’re in need of a quick pick-me-up, be sure to stop by the Café at Gatto Nero Press. Delicious espresso drinks, hot chocolate, baked goods (including gluten free), smoothies, ice cream and milk shakes – all nestled inside an intaglio printmaking studio and gallery. The artists are often working on their creations as you’re sipping your latte. My son loves to watch the creative process. Oh, and he’s a fan of the donuts!
The St. Johnsbury Farmer’s Market is a cornucopia of flavors, sounds, and smells. My son’s favorite part is grabbing some kettle corn and watching the live music. My husband can’t get enough of the jerk chicken from Genuine Jamaican, and my first stop is always Auntie Dee Dee’s Baked Goods (I’ve never met a carb I didn’t like). You’ll make every member of the family happy with a trip to the farmer’s market- plus, you can grab some fresh, local produce and meat to bring home for dinner. There’s even a winter market two weekends per month, so you can get what you love year-round!
St. Johnsbury is a fun location for year-round outdoor activities. Check out theLamoille Valley Rail Trail, a four-season recreation trail that lies along the former Lamoille Valley Railroad. Hike, bike, snowmobile, snowshoe, ski – however you do it, check this trail out. It’s still growing, too. It will eventually reach across the whole state. You’ll pass many smiling faces along your trek.
Another can’t miss location is Dog Mountain and the Dog Chapel! Stephen Huneck’s gallery sits on 150 acres of mountain and forest that are always open to humans and their dogs – even if the gallery is closed to the public. You’ll find dog ponds, snowshoe and hiking trails, and a welcoming atmosphere for your kids and dogs to run off some pent-up energy. There’s a dog chapel where you can pen and display a memorial to your beloved pets on the remembrance wall, or even host or attend a dog party or dog wedding.
The Fairbanks Museum & Planetarium is my son’s absolute favorite place to explore. We go weekly and I find something new to be fascinated with every time we visit. The first floor is a collection of thousands of taxidermy items — birds, mammals, reptiles, and more. Upstairs houses gorgeous examples of different kinds of butterflies, as well as many artifacts from around the world. Ever wonder how many bugs it takes to make a mosaic of a famous American General? Well, you can find out at the Fairbanks Museum! You may even catch Mark Breen or Steve Maleski, the “Eye on the Sky” guys from VPR, while they are hard at work.
The museum is home to the state’s only public planetarium. You can catch one of the daily planetarium shows or full-dome movies (usually best for kids 8+, but they occasionally have preschool shows as well!).
Want to save a bit of cash? Visit The Kingdom Taproom kids eat FREE from the kid’s menu on Wednesdays! We are always excited to visit The Kingdom Taproom to grab a bite to eat. They offer a fresh menu using local ingredients, and their staff is so great with kids. Live music, cozy atmosphere, and a full belly are where it’s at.
Don’t miss the annual Pet Parade! Each spring, people from far and wide get their pets of all shapes and sizes decked out for this comical event! A parade through town of dogs, horses, goats, and llamas- the list doesn’t stop there. It’s an exciting (and hilarious) sight for kids of all ages. Anyone can participate, so show off your own pets in this unique parade.
St. Johnsbury History
A Few Characteristics
St. Johnsbury is the Shire town of Caledonia County. St. Johnsbury sits at an altitude of 697 feet, 72*, 01′ West and 44* 25′ North. Bordering towns are Waterford, Kirby, Lyndon, Danville and Barnet. The Town lies about 45 miles south of the Canadian border and has an area of about 21,000 acres. The population in 1995 (U.S.Census of Population & Housing Estimates) is 7,741, with 3,596 year round housing units and 19 seasonal units.
St. Johnsbury is located at the confluence of the Passumpsic, Moose and Sleeper’s Rivers. The Town is marked by a sharp difference in elevation. The principal business district is concentrated on Railroad Street in the Passumpsic Valley. Main Street, which runs parallel to Railroad Street, lies on a broad plateau, known as the Plain. Fine homes and prominent public buildings line Main Street. The two levels of the Town are connected by the steep and winding Eastern Avenue, also lined with businesses. The town is the largest in northeastern Vermont and has more diverse interests than commonly found in other towns in this area. The long-term presence of particular industries has influenced the evolution of the Town’s social character and architectural style.
St. Johnsbury flourished as an industrial town at the height of the Victorian era. Many consider St. Johnsbury the quintessential Victorian, industrial city, including the paternalism of the Fairbanks family and its anti-union attitude. In 1891 St. Johnsbury Illustrated was printed, a review of the town’s business, social, literary and educational facilities that provides glimpses of the Town’s picturesque surroundings.
The completion of Interstates I-91 and I-93 has made the area more accessible, causing real estate costs to rise.
King George granted the first charter in 1770 to Bessborough, later changed to Dunmore. There were few settlers until 1786 when Governor Chittenden granted a charter to Jonathan Arnold from Rhode Island. Arnold and his partners were from the same group of people that were granted a charter for Lyndon ten years before. The first settlers were four men of the Adams’ family, two Trescotts and one each of the Cole, Doolittle, Todd and Nichols families. St. Johnsbury’s first town meeting was held in Dr. Arnold’s house on June 21, 1790. The first US Census in 1790/91 lists 34 families and 143 inhabitants. There was a steady growth in population during the next century, 663 in 1800, 1334 in 1810 up to 7010 in 1900. In 1792 St. Johnsbury and other towns were set off from Orange County to form the new Caledonia County. In 1856 the County seat was moved from Danville to St. Johnsbury.
The Vermont Legislature granted St. Johnsbury permission to become a city, but the voters declined. The town operates with selectmen and a manager.
What’s In A Name?
St. Johnsbury was named for Michel Guillaume St. Jean de Crevecoeur, also known as J. Hector St. John, author of Letters from an American Farmer. St. John was a friend of Washington and Franklin, as well as a correspondent of Ethan Allen, and had an enthusiasm for the Republic of Vermont and for place names. He suggested the names Vergennes, Danville and St. Johnsbury. Realizing that several places already bore the name of St. John, J. Hector suggested the longer name, St. Johnsbury, which remains the only place with that name in the world. St. John became a naturalized citizen of the new country and in 1793 he was appointed to the post of French Consul in New York City.
Dr. Arnold, a surveyor, and a crew were surveying along the West Branch of the Passumpsic where the scale factory was later built. As the story goes, when the group traveled away from the river, they left their provisions, including certain necessary stimulants, with Thomas Todd. When they returned, Todd was rolled up against a log on the riverbank, sound asleep. Arnold woke him with a loud shout and made a proclamation, “let this branch be known forever by the name of Sleeper’s River.”
The station area of the Canadian Pacific Railroad was called Centervale. Also, before the village of St. Johnsbury engulfed them, there were the districts of Fairbanks, Paddock and Summerville all named for prominent business people of the era. During the last years of the 19th Century, the area in East St. Johnsbury near the railroad station was known as Griswold Station, for the stationmaster. On the Danville town line there was a village called Goss Hollow, named for David Goss who built the mills on the Sleeper’s River. The Plain, the upland pasture in the village, was once known as the “Gates of the Kingdom.” There was also once a hamlet called Coles Corner, a common St. Johnsbury family name.
For more about St. Johnsbury’s history, please contact the St. Johnsbury History & Heritage Center.