St. Johnsbury Athenaeum
Horace Fairbanks founded the St. Johnsbury Athenaeum with the support of local Vermont residents in 1871. This late Victorian, French Second Empire style building, notable for its tall arched windows and intricate woodwork, initially housed several pieces of art that Fairbanks collected. Much of the art was from different American painters, and he eventually collected enough to add an art gallery to the main building. The Athenaeum’s art gallery, “the oldest unaltered art gallery” in the United States, now serves as a public library for the town of St. Johnsbury. Its book collection has grown from 8,000 volumes in the 1800s to over 45,000 books, magazines, newspapers, videos, audio books, and more. The Athenaeum was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1996.
Backstory and Context
The St. Johnsbury Athenaeum was founded in 1871, after Horace Fairbanks presented his plan for the Athenaeum to the people of Vermont. Horace Fairbanks was a partner and future president of the E. and T. Fairbanks company, a scale manufacturing company that influenced the growth of St. Johnsbury, as well as the Governor of Vermont from 1866-1868. The building was designed in the French Second Empire style by a New York architect by the name of John Davis Hatch III. The building is notable for its tall arched windows, intricate woodwork, spiral staircases, and a mansard roof.
the works of a number of different American painters, and also obtained
classical paintings during his visits to Europe. In 1873, shortly after its
opening, Fairbanks added an art gallery to the main building. The design of the
gallery was mostly inspired by the purchase of Albert Bierstadt's panoramic painting The Domes of
the Yosemite, which occupies
the back wall of the gallery. The roof window above the painting adds light
onto the beautifully crafted work of art.
The Fairbanks family added to the gallery in order to create what is now about 100 different works of art. Most of these additions came from painters at the Hudson River School, an art fraternity featuring such reputable artists as Asher B. Durand, Jasper Cropsey, Sanford Gifford, Samuel Colman, and Worthington Whittredge.
The Athenaeum's art gallery is "the United States' oldest unaltered art gallery still standing," according to Time magazine. The Athenaeum retains its style in order to give off a look of authenticity. Paintings, busts, and bookcases are all presented in the same way they would have been during the 19th century. The Athenaeum's book collection, which originally consisted of 8,000 volumes, now extends close to 45,000 volumes. The library contains physical books, magazines, newspapers, DVDs, audio books, pamphlets, and more. The Athenaeum acts as St. Johnsbury's public library, but remains a private corporation governed by a board of trustees. The town provides the library with 20% of its annual budget. Today, the Athenaeum, in all its authenticity, stands as a reminder for the contributions of St. Johnsbury as well as Mr. Horace Fairbanks. The Athenaeum was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1996, one of only eighteen in Vermont.
Avery, Kevin J.. The Hudson River School. metmuseum.org. . Accessed May 01, 2018. https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/hurs/hd_hurs.htm.