The Magnificent St. Johnsbury Library and Art Gallery
Recently I visited my niece in St. Johnsbury, Vermont. It was my first time there and I was duly impressed. This is a quaint, and almost unspoiled, town that pride’s itself on retaining elements of days gone by.
Perhaps the most outstanding example of this is the Athenaeum, a Second Empire style edifice that was a gift to the people of St. Johnsbury from Horace Fairbanks in 1871. The Fairbanks were the inventors and manufacturers of the world’s first platform scale and it was with the wealth from this enterprise that they were able to retain architect John Davis Hatch III to design the building.
The Fairbanks were also able to obtain an extensive collection of art works ... including an impressive group of landscapes by the Hudson River artists. This first class collection is housed in the art gallery section of the library and is open to the public for a small fee.
I was particularly impressed with the interior of the library. Almost every room has ornate circular stairs, either wooden or metal, that enabled the patrons to reach the top shelves. These are all cordoned off now, due to fire and safety regulations, but they are a delight to see.
The Children’s Library boasts delightful wall murals by a local artist and depicts scenes from famous children’s books. Any child able to sign his/her name can get a library card...a nice inducement to get youngsters into the habit of using the library.
As Horace Fairbanks said, in 1971, “My highest ambition will be satisfied and fullest expectations realized, if now and in the coming years, the people make the rooms of the Athenaeum a favorite place of resort for patient research, reading and study.”
He would be pleased to know that my niece, who is new to the area, is doing exactly that.
The Athenaeum has been designated a National Historic Landmark and is a private, nonprofit public library and art gallery. Be sure to put it on your list of “must sees” if you ever get to the area.