Community protects historic property in the heart of St. Johnsbury

ST. JOHNSBURY, VT — After a whirlwind, two-month fundraising campaign, the community of St. Johnsbury and the Vermont Land Trust have raised enough funds to protect Observatory Knob, a scenic 117-acre property within walking distance of downtown.

The effort to protect this land, used by the community for over 100 years, got a major boost this fall when the Vermont Housing & Conservation Board awarded a $200,000 grant to acquire and protect the land. Other donors included the Town of St. Johnsbury, the Passumpsic Savings Bank, Community National Bank, Northern Vermont Regional Hospital, the Vermont Community Foundation and more than 100 local businesses and individuals who contributed over $75,000.

“We were astounded by the outpouring of support,” said Tracy Zschau, Vice President for Conservation at the Vermont Land Trust. “In this moment of so much uncertainty, I appreciate the strength of this community to unite and protect what we love.”

When the private property went on the market in March 2021, the community encouraged VLT to help save it. The owners of the main property, Tetley Trust, supported this idea. They extended the timeline so that the community could raise the funds and sold the property for under the appraised value.

The effort was further strengthened when neighbor David Brown pledged to donate another five acres to the Town, including the summit of the Knob and the former site of an observatory. Thanks to a successful fundraising effort, the sale to the Town of St. Johnsbury was finalized on December 14, 2021.

“This will not only ensure the preservation of this historic site, but it will also provide an outdoor recreational asset immediately adjacent to St. Johnsbury’s downtown,” said Chad L. Whitehead, St. Johnsbury Town Manager.

In the 1880s this high point hosted an observatory, which was later destroyed by high winds. Today the land is regularly used by local camps, as a training site for the St. Johnsbury Academy cross-country team, for hiking and snowshoeing, and more. Hikers have filled more than ten summit logbooks over nearly 15 years. Additional trails and educational uses, including an outdoor classroom by the Fairbanks Museum, are planned.

“I have been an adjacent property owner for almost 50 years,” said David Brown. “For the last 13 years I have permitted hikers to use the trails on my land to access to Knob. We strive to find ways to make St. Johnsbury a wonderful place to live, and to make St. Johnsbury attractive to newcomers. The effort to save Observatory Knob can provide our town with a wonderful recreational resource.”


Photo: Kyle Gray