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St. Johnsbury Athenaeum

Location: St. Johnsbury, Vermont

Funded by: Horace Fairbanks

Period: 1871

National Historic Landmark

Horace Fairbanks

The gallery of the Athenaeum is considered to be the oldest unaltered art gallery in the country and the rest of the building retains a remarkably high degree of original fabric. Original furniture, decorative paint schemes and light fixtures are still extant throughout the building and it was the owner’s intent to restore any missing features while continuing its use as a fully functioning public library. 

Before this work could commence, the firm prepared a historic structure report documenting the history of the building, existing and original conditions, and the problems of repair. Using a full complement of historic photos, as well as field investigation, the research team was able to determine plans for original furnishings, lighting and finishes. The report included a description of original materials, finishes and features that surveyed their significance, condition and problems of repair, as well as all of the building systems. 

In addition, a code analysis for fire-safety and egress, plus ADA compliance was performed.  MCWB worked closely with the staff to develop a program of additional space for technical services, public toilets and storage in the lower basement level that was formally unused.  The report provided recommendations for the restoration of the building in a series of phases, as well as concept plans for future expansion and cost projections for all of the work.


The initial phase of the work was for the total replacement of the mansard roof with new slate shingles and flashing along with restoration of the gutter and leader system. The second phase involved the reconstruction of the original main entrance and the design of historic exterior lighting fixtures. The third phase consisted of a total renovation of the interior with partial funding by a Save America’s Treasures Grant from the National Park Service. This work included ADA upgrades with a new integrated exterior ramp to the lower level and insertion of a new elevator. Other work included the rehabilitation of original spaces, such as the main stairway, art gallery, library and second floor reading room with restoration of the original paint schemes. Completely new heating, electrical, sprinkler and fire alarm systems were inserted, as well as new lighting.  All new work was designed to be seamless, thus preserving the original features and fabric of the building.


MCWB completed the restoration of the four skylights over the historic art gallery to achieve more appropriate conditions for the works of art housed in the space.  The framing of the original main skylight was replaced and replicated in stainless steel and integrated with original sheet metal components.  The skylight was fitted with triple-layer UV electrochromic glass for controlling variable light levels, while still preserving the original character of the gallery space. 

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