|On May 17th of 1893 the land on the South corner of Farrar St. and North Main St. in
St. Albans, VT was sold from Isaac Borley (big in New England Insurance) to W. B. Fonda for $1,500. |
Born in 1846, WB Fonda (born William Beecher Fonda) 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, the
market being in all parts of New England. He later got into lumber and fuel oil before becoming
head of the Willard Manufacturing co., a business known for overalls, work clothes, sport clothing and
2 years after buying the property on North Main Street there was a big fire in St. Albans which originated
in the Fonda Lumber yard. Most of the city went up in flames. Damages were estimated at half a million
dollars and 400 people were without homes. I'm pretty sure that WB Fonda was too busy to have built
our house around this time.
In 1902 the new library was built in town. The style of the mantle and fireplace is almost exactly like
the one in our house at 215 North Main. The library was also built by the WB Fonda co., It would be interesting
to find the other buildings built by him and his company in order to compare details such as this.
At the age of 60 In 1906 Fonda married Annie B. Smith, the daughter of J. Gregory Smith, Governor of Vermont during the Civil
War. He died 11 years later in February of 1917, but three years before his death he deeded the land to Ruth Cushing on
March 25th, 1914 for the sum of $2. More interesting than the price is the fact that her husband, John T.
Cushing isn't mentioned on the deed yet the census of 1920 has them both living here with their 2 sons; 4
1/2 year-old William and 2 1/2 year-old Whitney. Also listed on the census is a 20 year old servant, Corinne Bushey.
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 that the deed even mentions "buildings thereon" and the fact
that the property is numbered "215 North Main Street". Did Ruth buy the land in 1914 with the agreement that
they were going to pay WB Fonda to build them a house on the property? It would explain the low cost of the
land but 1914 seems rather late to have built what is essentially a Shingle Style, asymetrical Queen Anne type
Victorian house. You never know and I have no proof one way or the other. For all I know the history of the
house really starts with Ruth and her husband John.
Ruth and John were married October 17th, 1913, not long before they bought the property at 215 North Main St.
Ruth Marian was the daughter of William H. Ellis of St Albans, Vermont.
John Thayer Cushing was a newspaper man and was editor of the St. Albans Messenger while living here in town.
He was Born on October 24th in 1887 in Lowell, MA. John graduated from Dartmouth College and West Point. He
was 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.
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. This may
explain the marks of a baby grand piano on the floor of the parlor!|
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.