In 1883, the local St. Johnsbury newspaper The Caledonian used the description “a very fine house” for the Fairbanks family residence named Brantview, the construction of which was completed on the present-day Academy campus in 1884. In 1931, Brantview became an Academy dormitory (for girls and, later, boys). Now the former Fairbanks residence needs to be saved.
In 1931, Col. Joseph Fairbanks (grandson of Joseph Paddock Fairbanks, who with brothers Erastus and Thaddeus founded St. Johnsbury Academy in 1842) gifted Brantview to the Academy for use as a resident dormitory for students. The building had been Joseph’s home as a child, as he grew up there in the late 1880s with sisters Almira and Mabel. Their parents William Paddock and Rebecca Pike Fairbanks built the “high-style” home in 1884; it was inspired by the William K. Vanderbuilt mansion on Fifth Avenue in New York City, also an example of elegant high-style architecture and likely familiar to the Fairbanks from visits to New York (where Fairbanks & Company had an office). High-style is the phrase used for the cutting-edge architecture of a given period—au courant or a la mode are synonyms.
Named Brantview by Rebecca Fairbanks after an estate she admired in the United Kingdom, the house was a gorgeous example of Chateauesque architecture for that period, designed by Lambert Packard, the designer for E. & T. Fairbanks Company in St. Johnsbury whose buildings included the Fairbanks Museum and Planetarium, North Congregational Church and the former St. Johnsbury YMCA.
An account of the building of Brantview published by the Vermont Union in 1884 read, “It stands upon an eminence commanding a sweeping view of the beautiful Passumpsic Valley, north and south, really one of the most charming views to be obtained in northern Vermont.” A similar account of the residence published in the Caledonian in 1883 read, “The house will be built of brick, two full stories, with high slate roof. The house will face the north, a wide hall running directly through on the first floor from north to south. On the east side of this hall are to be a reception room, drawing room, library, with conservatory on the south-east corner. On the west side of the hall are to be a private room, stairs, elevator and dining room; the latter fronting south.” A description that fits to this day—Brantview, structurally unchanged through time, in all its glory!
As stately and well-cared-for as Brantview remains today, however, critical updates and structural maintenance are needed on the 129-year-old building. The last major renovations occurred in 1977 and the 1990s, with particular maintenance attention to the wood and plaster ceilings. In the 1990s, rooms were divided and expanded and bathrooms were installed in the basement, near the laundry area. One maintenance concern at that time was that the building be reinforced so that vibration from nearby Interstate 91 would not cause any damage, said former Headmaster Bernier Mayo.
In the intervening years, about 1,000 Academy boys and dozens of faculty and staff proctors (and their families) have called Brantview home. The building remains in good condition, thanks to regular safekeeping by the Academy maintenance crew; but upgrades are needed to preserve the home for another 130-plus years and thousands more resident students. Now is the time to save Brantview. A multi-million dollar renovation—a new slate roof, new wiring and infrastructure systems, a new heating system and insulation—is planned to save and preserve the building for future generations of Academy students.
Abiding by the words in Fuller Hall: “We will transmit this school not less but greater and more beautiful than it was transferred to us.”