Our story starts with WB Fonda (born William Beecher Fonda in 1846) who came to St. Albans in 1870 looking to find his fortune. He found it in the Lime business operating six kilns, about four miles from St. Albans. At one time it was said that his business produced about 120,000 barrels of lime annually. Later he got into lumber and fuel oil before becoming head of the Willard Manufacturing co., a business known for overalls, work clothes, sport clothing and suits.

In 1895 a fire consumed much of downtown St. Albans, a fire which originated in the Fonda Lumber yard. Most of the city went up in flames from Lake Street to Kingman Street. Damages were estimated at half a million dollars and 400 people were without homes. Despite this fact, between 1893 and 1895 W B Fonda bought much of the land surrounding his estate on Farrar St. and began building. The house at #21 Farrar St. was built for his head caretaker, Abraham Ladue. He also built a tenants cottage at #13 Farrar St.

On May 17th, 1893 the land on the South corner of Farrar St. and North Main St. in St. Albans, VT was sold from Isaac Borley to W. B. Fonda for $1,500. Newspaper clippings exist in the Burlington Free Press showing Isaac Borley had been advertising lots for sale all around High, Messenger and Farrar Streets starting late in 1894 and all through 1895 for $200-300 a lot. It seems that, before he began selling off lots, WB Fonda paid him $1,500 for the land on Farrar St. between North Main St and Messenger. Fonda, it seems, broke the land up into six different house lots selling the most Easterly of the five (from #10 Farrar up the hill towards Messenger) keeping only one lot; the one on the corner of North Main St. and Farrar St. On this lot he built a house for his niece, Marion Bruce, and her husband, Benn Burton Perkins.

The 1880 Census for Ward 1 in St. Albans shows an 11 year old Marion Bruce living with her sister, Gertrude E., her mother, Florence H Fonda Bruce, and her uncle, W. B. Fonda in the large house on the North corner of North Main and Farrar. In 1880 this house was FULL of Fonda family members including W.B.'s other two sisters, Gertrude and Blanche, his brother Frank W. and his two children, his mother, Thankful (yup, that's her name), and three servants. 13 people in total all within view of the empty corner southern lot on the corner of North Main and Farrar St.

The 1890 Census for the US was destroyed by a fire in 1921, so I cannot tell where anyone was living during that time. I have to imagine that Marion continued living with her extended family up until she came of age to marry B. B Perkins, who was a jeweler in St. Albans. The censuses of 1900 and 1910 shows Mr. and Mrs. B. B. Perkins living next door to Uncle W. B. Fonda on North Main Street in a house that hadn't existed at the time of the 1880 Census. I'm guessing that, around the time W. B. Fonda was selling off Easterly lots of Farrar St. in 1893 that he was also building the house that would take the new address; 215 North Main Street. I therefore give the house a build date of ca. 1895. It is a shingle style, asymmetric, Queen Anne Victorian and quite fashionable for the time.

Benn Burton Perkins was the son of Hiram Edward Perkins who was lieutenant in the St. Albans Ransom Guard (a local militia that later became Company C 1st Vermont Infantry during the Civil War) and friend of General George Stanard. He went on to become Captain of Company F, 8th Vermont Infantry and, on April 9, 1863 was promoted to Major of the 1st Louisiana Native Guards (later the 73rd U.S.C. Inf); a regiment composed of free colored men. He commanded this regiment during the famous Red River campaign.

B.B Perkins had been with Marshall Bros., a jeweler in Rutland, Vt, for a few years when, in 1893, he left them and purchased a jewelry store in St. Albans, Vt. The copartnership existing between Charles Wyman and JD Wyman under the firm name of Charles Wyman & Son on 119 Main St St Albans Vt was dissolved by mutual consent on March 20, 1893. On the same day Charles Wyman, John D Wyman and BB Perkins formed a new partnership to continue the business at the same place under the firm name of Charles Wyman & Co. Around 1901 B. B. Perkins takes over the entire firm and the company becomes B.B. Perkins & Co.

B.B. Perkins was certainly a man about town in St. Albans at the turn of the century. He was a member of the "Sons of Veterans", a civil war group, and was one of the few men in town with an automobile. In June of 1908 the Burlington Free Press wrote "Yesterday was a red letter day in the lives of the children of the Warner home, for they were given their annual automobile outing. Ten machines were furnished by B. B. Perkins, L. S. Tillotson, E. C. Smith, John P. Rich, J. C. Leslie, J. Gregory Smith, J. J. Thompson, H. A. Dunbar, Dr. C. S. Campbell, W. B. Fonda and F. E. Chamberlin, the 25-mile trip being to Highgate Falls, Swanton, St. Albans Bay and back home." That list includes two former governors of Vermont.

Later in 1908, on December 20th, a fire at the St. Albans Messenger plant resulted in damages to the B. B. Perkins store as well in the amount of $21,500 of which insurance only paid $15, 600. Within a couple of years Mr. and Mrs. B. B. Perkins picked up roots and moved up and down the East Coast. He set up a shop in Boston, there are some reports of them being in Rhode Island and in April of 1911 the Burlington Free Press reported that "General Manager G. C. Jones of the Central Vermont Railway has leased the B. B. Perkins place on North Main street, to which he will move May 1". A postcard from "A. Jones" addressed to Mrs. B. B. Perkins at "The Colonial" in Bangor, Maine is of a photo of the house at 215 North Main St and the message to Mrs. Perkins reads "This much look familiar and good to you. Everything is as fine as silk thanks to you".

On Nov. 13, 1913, the Free Press reported that "M. T. Lawrence has moved his family from the B. B. Perkins house on North Main street to Major S. H. Wood's tenement house on the same street." They later reported on Nov. 27th that "B. B. Perkins of Providence, R. I., is visiting in this city where Mrs. Perkins has been for some time". Finally, on March 25th, 1914, the Free Press reports "The property known as the B. B. Perkins place on North Main street has been bought by Mrs. John T. Cushing. The place will be taken over April 1". At no point in any of these lease or sale notifications does it say that B. B. Perkins or his wife own the house on North Main street, they just state that the house is associated with the name. And that is because the land was never transferred over to the Perkinses. It stayed in the name and estate of W. B. Fonda, their uncle.

In 1906, at the age of 60, W. B. Fonda married Annie B. Smith, the daughter of J. Gregory Smith, Governor of Vermont during the Civil War. Fonda died 11 years later in February of 1917, but three years before his death he deeded the land to Ruth (Ellis) Cushing for the sum of $2. Why so low? I don't know, and why was the house sold to Ruth and not her husband John in an age where most land transactions happened between men? I also don't know. Though I do know that Ruth grew up just a few houses north of the Fonda estate in the house of her father, William H. Ellis, also on North Main Street. The deed from WB Fonda to Ruth doesn't mention the presence of any buildings on the land but rather the "same lands and premises" deeded to him by Isaac Borley 20 years earlier. It's not until the property is again sold in 1946 to John Willson that the deed even mentions "buildings thereon" and that the property is numbered "215 North Main Street". It is because of all this that I had a very hard time figuring out when the house was built and who lived there. The census of 1920 shows both Ruth and John living here with their 2 sons; 4 1/2 year-old William and 2 1/2 year-old Whitney. The census also shows living with them their 20 year old servant girl, Corinne Bushey. On that same 1920 census, if you scroll up just a little, you'll see the listing for their neighbors to the North; WB Fonda and his family, including his niece and nephew Mr. and Mrs. B. B. Perkins, living right next door to their former residence.

Ruth and John were married October 17th, 1913, not long before they bought the property at 215 North Main St. Ruth was a musician acting as piano accompanist to the St. Albans Glee Club and accompanying string players and singers in concerts around the city. In April of 1915, the Burlington Free Press reported that "ten of the piano pupils of Mrs. John T. Cushing delightfully entertained their parents and other friends with a recital at the home of Mrs. Cushing on North Main street Thursday evening". This would explain the markings in the floor of the parlor of a piano being rolled around! I was careful not to sand those out too much.

John Thayer Cushing was a newspaper man and became editor of the St. Albans Messenger in September of 1912. He was Born on October 24th in 1887 in Lowell, MA. John graduated high school in New Hampshire in 1904, from Dartmouth College in 1908, then went on to attend and graduate from West Point. He was lieutenant and quartermaster of Company B Vermont National Guards. Through his experience and work with the St. Albans Messenger he went on to become a member of the management of the Hearst Newspapers when he died in Chicago on September 24th, 1938. He was at one time Publisher of the Boston Daily Record, Publisher of the Washington Herald and Times, delegate to the Republican National Convention in 1916, and Assistant Secretary of the 1920 Convention. He served in the U.S. Army and in U.S. Navy as a Reserve Intelligence Officer.

Over the course of working on and renovating this house I have found evidence of the Cushing's lives at 215 North Main St. While renovating a bedroom I found some chamfered blocks of wood behind a wall. On one of the blocks were scribed the names of the Cushing's 3 children with their ages at the time the work was done. I was able to track down the grandchildren of Ruth and John's daughter. These grandchildren furnished me with photos of the exterior of our house from different points in time as well as photos of the interior of the house with kids lounging in chairs, the family in front of the fireplace, and formal portraits of the family in various configurations. It was while the Cushings owned 215 North Main that a sun-porch was added to the back-side of the house changing the shape of the house as it appears in fire insurance maps of St. Albans in the 1920s.

John Cushing owned a 1923 Franklin

John and Ruth didn't stay put for very long as they appear in the 1930 Census for Washington, DC, while in the 1930 Census for St. Albans it appears that 215 was being rented to Arthur J. St. Antoine, his wife Beatrice, and their son Theodore. In the census Arthur is listed as a merchant in a piano store.

After John died in 1938, Ruth continued to use the house at 215 North Main as a summer residence. But in 1946 Ruth sold the house to John Fonda Willson and his wife Fanny for $1. The house just seemed to keep depreciating! This is the first time that there is a solid mention of "lands and buildings thereon" and the first time that the number 215 North Main Street shows up in a deed. I haven't found the relationship from WB Fonda to Ruth Cushing in order to explain the $2 sale, though knowing that John Fonda Willson was directly related to WB Fonda explained the reciprocal $1 sale price in 1946.

I had a chance to speak with John about the house in 2006 upon learning he was still living in town. He and his wife sold the house in the 1960s to a woman from Quebec named Mrs. Menard. You'll hear her name come up quite a bit when we get into the house and what was done to it. Sadly, John died in 2007 and so I only got one shot at a conversation with him. The following is from his obituary in the St. Alban's Messenger, it's also readily searchable online so I'm not giving anything away here;

John Fonda Willson attended Bellows Free Academy in St. Albans, Phillips Exeter Academy, and graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Dartmouth College in 1940.

After teaching school in Wisconsin, at the outbreak of World War II, he enlisted in the American Field Service, serving in the British Army as an ambulance driver in the Middle East. Upon discharge, he returned to the family business, W.B. Fonda, Co. From 1957 to 1986, he was co-owner of A.L. Barkyoumb Co., Inc., a wholesale grocery business. John married the love of his life and his best friend, Fan Garrison, on Feb. 12, 1944, at The Little Church Around The Corner in New York City, a wedding featured in Mademoisellee magazine. John held leadership positions in many local and state associations. He served as a member of the State Board of Education and the Bellows Free Academy Board of Trustees. He was an alderman in St. Albans. He was a member and longtime Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Franklin-Lamoille Bank. He loved the game of golf, which he played and followed for 76 years. He was a member of the Champlain Country Club, the Vermont Seniors Golf Association, and a charter member of the Vermont Golf Association.

What makes this house at 215 North Main Street so interesting is all of the very interesting people who have lived here over the years. As I look at past renovations and alterations I can't help but try and guess which family had the work done and why. It's a big reminder that we don't really own our houses, we're just borrowing them until the next family comes along. It's mine now, but it's theirs later. I just hope we can put something together here that's satisfying to all the generations who come after us.