The first white man to set foot in the area was Stephen Nash with a party of men in 1755 on a scouting mission looking for Indians. The St. Francis Indians used a route including the Passumpsic River to attack settlements in the south. Nash found no Indians; but kept a complete diary of dates, places and observations as his party made its way up the Connecticut, Passumpsic and Moose Rivers.
Dr. Jonathan Arnold was a famous man in Rhode Island before he came into this northern wilderness in 1787 as prime grantee of St. Johnsbury. He authored and pushed through the Rhode Island legislature on May 4, 1776, an act withdrawing Rhode Island from King George's sovereignty, the first "Declaration of Independence" in the colonies. He was a surgeon in the Continental Army and he was a member of the Continental Congress from 1782 to 1784. He cleared much of his own lot in St. Johnsbury, built the first sawmill, did much surveying, built some roads and bridges, planted and harvested his own vegetables, oats and hay, and built the first frame house in town.
For over three generations the town of St. Johnsbury prospered and grew under the care, devotion and generosity of the Fairbanks Family. Joseph Fairbanks came to St. Johnsbury in 1815. His son Thaddeus invented the platform scale and with his brother Erastus founded the E. & T. Fairbanks Scale Company in 1830. A third son, Joseph worked with his brothers for a time. From this company sprang the genius and fortune that made St. Johnsbury an important economic crossroads well into the 20th. century. In the mid 1800's, iron ore, the chief material used in scale manufacturing, became difficult to find. Recognizing both a need and an opportunity, Thaddeus and Erastus created the first railroad routes that traveled east to New Hampshire and west to Lake Champlain, thereby enabling ore mined in Michigan to be exported to Vermont. The Fairbanks brothers also spurred the railroad route that ran north from White River Junction and completed the connection between Boston and Montreal. Erastus was a genius at sales and marketing, sending agents across the country and the world, selling so many scales of the highest quality that the Fairbanks became the scale by which all others were measured.
The Fairbanks were also involved in State politics. Both Erastus and his son Horace served as governors and another son, Franklin served in the Vermont legislature. Governor Erastus Fairbanks influenced the moving of the county seat from Danville to St. Johnsbury. Horace Fairbanks built the Athenaeum, his brother Franklin, the Museum, and the family founded the Academy and was involved with the building of churches and other Municipal buildings. The Fairbanks family created St. Johnsbury as the commercial hub and the cultural core of the area.
Robert Holbrook Smith (Dr. Bob) of St. Johnsbury along with William Wilson of East Dorset founded Alcoholics Anonymous in 1935.
Steven Huneck, sculptor and painter, creates funky furniture decorated with carved animals. Basically self-taught, his work is part of the permanent collections of the Smithsonian Institution, the Museum of American Folk Art in New York City and the Contemporary Museum of Art in Sydney, Australia. Fire destroyed his St. Johnsbury workshop and mill in 1996. (Burlington Free Press 7/11/97, 5B)
John Pitcher, nationally acclaimed naturalist and artist lives in St. Johnsbury. Pitcher is known for his exceptional design, color, and detail and intimate knowledge of wildlife and wild places, which brings life to his subjects. The artist is represented by Applejack Limited Editions of Manchester. (Times Argus, 6/25/95, 11)