It’s time for another installment in the Then and Now column! Today I have the Athenaeum Public Library in St. Johnsbury, VT to share with you. I had the chance to visit this beautiful library last summer on a road trip. St. Johnsbury has about 7,500 residents today and is one of the larger towns in the area. It’s pretty close to the Canadian border, so many immigrants from Quebec settled there.
I have family ties to the town through my great great grandfather’s sister, Zepherine Couture, who eventually settled there with her husband, Onesime Boutin, after the family moved from Quebec. Most of the rest of the family continued on to Hartford, VT. Zepherine and my great great great grandmother, Philomene Veillet, are buried at the Mount Calvary cemetery in town, which was the only Catholic cemetery around at the time.
Then, in 1909
And now (in 2013)
All images are my own.
The card was mailed February 13, 1909 and reads “Many happy returns of the day.” From L.M.R. to Mr. Hugh Clogston, Pompanoosuc, VT. A birthday card, perhaps?
Well, the overhead wires are definitely new, but otherwise it looks pretty similar to 100 years ago. The Athenaeum opened in 1871 as a free art gallery and public library with a collection of 9,000 books through funding from Horace Fairbanks. The building was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1996.
Today, it is open six days each week and has eight computers available for patron use. The library loans out Kindles that sound like they are pre-loaded with books. It also has an archives related to the town history. The art gallery has about 100 paintings, double the number from when the library opened. Most are by American artists, but there are also some copies of famous European paintings.
Unfortunately, the Athenaeum laid off all of its library staff back in 2012, which is ridiculous and sad. More heartening, however, were the community protests of the layoffs and a few staff were later rehired.
The library and gallery were quite beautiful. Perhaps the most fun part of the visit for me was my conversation with the very friendly docent/staff person in the art gallery. As it turns out, he had lived in San Francisco back in the 90s and we had a great talk about the city. What a small world! The Athenaeum is definitely worth a visit if you’re in the area.
Currently reading: The Storied Life of A J. Finkry by Gabrielle Zevin
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