St. Johnsbury is a small town of around 7,500 people in northeastern Vermont. It’s the largest town in Vermont’s “Northeast Kingdom,” which should give you an idea of the rural nature of this region. There are a number of historic buildings here, the most notable being the St Johnsbury Athenaeum, and the Fairbanks Museum.
The Fairbanks is a combination natural science museum, history museum, and planetarium housed in a red sandstone 1890 Richardsonian-Romanesque style building. It is also a local weather forecasting station, broadcasting its predictions on Vermont Public Radio stations, and three local newspapers. The museum was built on property owned by local business magnate Franklin Fairbanks, to display the family’s growing collection of items and artifacts, making them available for public enjoyment. The museum has been operating continuously almost the entire 130 years it has been open, save for the four months it closed in 2020 due to the Covid epidemic.
We visited in the early 2021 summer. Started our tour with a loop through the butterfly house, then into the main building to take in the collection of taxidermy, various cultural artifacts and curiosities, the frighteningly huge model of a dobsonfly, enjoyed a viewing in the planetarium (I love planetariums very much), then I bought a tiny carving of a loon in the gift shop (I’m quite fond of loons as well).
As we walked on the creaky 19th-Century wood flooring on the mezzanine level we looked down onto the tigers, bears, elk and buffalo down below, as well as up into the vaulted hardwood ceiling, we felt transported in time, feeling like we could be a pair of Victorian era tourists enjoying the wonders of science of that time.
Then back down the hill to the dirt parking lot, and off to see what options were available for a sandwich after 5 o’clock on a Sunday in St Johnsbury, VT. The answer – not many. Small-town Vermont closes early, and isn’t usually open at all on a Sunday.