Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Vermont: Fairbanks Museum St. Johnsbury

The Fairbanks Museum traces it beginnings from the personal collections of amateur naturalist, Franklin Fairbanks. The Fairbanks Museum has been delighting the residents of St. Johnsbury for over 100 years. Franklin hired architect Lambert Packard to build a museum of natural science. The result is a sandstone Romanesque building that resembles a castle with turrets as much as a museum. It was dedicated in 1890 and, by 1894, it had to be extended to accommodate the ever-growing collection.

Franklin, together with taxidermist William Balch, created a collection of mounted animals that to this day is the finest in northern New England. There is street parking in the area and we didn’t have any trouble finding a spot right across the street. Just a note, in Vermont they take crosswalks very seriously and as soon as you step into it all traffic will stop, it was a very nice surprise.

Entrance into the Museum was $8 for adults and $6 for children, under 5 are free with a family total of $20. The building itself is large but the museum compared to many we have visited is relatively small. Your attention is attracted right away by the magnificent bears. They are very realistic and one of them has a very ferocious snarl.

We found out right away that Brandon has been to the Natural History Museum in Boston and he was unimpressed by the fantastic collection of stuffed birds. I found the peacock to be quite outstanding and the owls were beautiful. The hummingbirds filled several cases and I had no idea that they came in that many colors and varieties. Brandon also was unimpressed by the bison; his comment was "I have seen bigger," and the moose left him cold. Rest assured however, this museum isn’t a bust, we got his attention back as soon as we got to the bald eagle and the Bengal tiger.

The second floor is reached by climbing some very steep circular stairs and is not for the faint of heart or the bad of knees. Here we enter a totally different world. Beginning near the north end on the east side we came across a fine collection of dolls and historic toys. There are over 1000 dolls and accessories. Some of them are baby dolls and others are ethnic dolls. About 750 of these dolls were donation to the museum by Marguerite White

There are small collections of items from Egypt, India, and many other countries. Being a typical boy, Brandon was enthralled by the exhibits of weapons. Daggers and sabers and also some fine guns. The second floor consists of two balconies that overlook the lower level. On the west side we have historic items. There are early maps of St. Johnsbury and also a nice exhibit of St. Johnsbury’s role during the Civil War. Among their treasures are the drumsticks of a 12-year-old named Willie Johnston who enlisted as the Company D Vermont regiment's drummer. At age 13 he was awarded the nation's highest honor.


  1. We just returned from our usual week in Vermont in the beginning of August. Making a note to check this out. We have passed through St. Johnsbury but haven't really explored the town. Will add this to next year's list! Thanks for posting, looks great!

  2. This is a sweet old fashioned museum that has a lot of interesting stuff. We didn't visit the planetarium so that is there too.