St. Johnsbury lies at the confluence of the Passumpsic, Moose and Sleepers Rivers and is the most populated town in the Northeast Kingdom. It’s conveniently located at the intersection of I-93 and I-91, just 45 minutes from the Canadian border.
In the mid-1700s, King George III granted a 39,000 acre tract of land on the Passumpsic River – including the whole of St. Johnsbury and parts of Concord and Waterford – to 39 petitioners. A charter was issued in 1770 in the honor of the Earl of Dunmore. The conditions of the grant required that grantees settle and cultivate the land within three years, and prohibited the cutting of pine trees deemed suitable for the Royal Navy. Seven years after the “Dunmore” grant, Vermont declared itself independent. There was conflict over respecting the right of lands granted under seal of neighboring states and it is believed that most of the original grantees settled elsewhere. In 1786, Vermont Gov. Thomas Chittenden made an official grant to Dr. Jonathan Arnold, a member of the Continental Congress, and associates. Arnold left Rhode Island in 1787 and, with six other families, built homes at what is now the center of town.
The new township was named after St. John de’Creveceur, the French consul in New York. This was done at the suggestion of Gen. Ethan Allen, a personal friend of St. John. The first town meeting took place in 1790 in the home of Dr. Arnold. According to the St. Johnsbury Historical Society, much of the town's heritage comes from the invention of the platform scale by Thaddeus Fairbanks, who established a business in 1830 that made the name "Fairbanks" synonymous with scales; and from George C. Cary, who founded the Cary Maple Sugar Co. in 1904. With the success and growth of the scale, maple sugar, and wood products industries, so grew St. Johnsbury. Due to its rapid growth, St. Johnsbury had become the Caledonia County seat in 1856. It also became a rail and highway junction, as well as industrial, commercial, and cultural crossroads of the region - a position in which it is firmly secure today.
Starting in 1850, railroads became a major factor in St. Johnsbury's growth and industry. Many cultural centers were built by the Fairbanks family including the Fairbanks Museum & Planetarium, a Museum of natural science and history (1891), and the St. Johnsbury Athenaeum (1871), which houses a library of over 45,000 books and includes a children's library. The adjoining Art Gallery (1873) is the oldest unchanged gallery of its type in the country. It has on display a collection of outstanding paintings by American and European artists, with special emphasis on works by the Hudson River School painters. Featured is "Domes of the Yosemite," the largest painting by Albert Bierstadt. For more than 150 years, St. Johnsbury Academy has offered local, regional and international students a comprehensive independent secondary school, widely recognized as an institution that develops character, academic excellence, and civic responsibility in its students.
Many settle in St. Johnsbury and surrounding sending towns for the purpose of sending their children to the Academy. Today, St. Johnsbury combines an energetic business district and beautiful historical buildings. The town has been recognized for its growing arts and cultural opportunities.