Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A.A. History Inquiry about Dr. Bob and St. Johnsbury VT

[The following is a very informative letter just sent to an inquirer in St. Johnsbury wanting to interview us on our knowledge of St . Johnsbury Vermont and the relationship of A.A.'s Dr. Bob and the Judge Walter Smith family to the historical importance of this little village. The letter was prepared by my son Ken and is based on the numerous investigative research trips regarding Alcoholics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous History and Dr. Bob, co-founder of A.A.. Readers will find it an excellent starting point for Dr. Bob details. God Bless, Dick B.]

Thank you for writing to my dad (Dick

My dad and I live on the Island of Maui in Hawaii. We did research in St. Johnsbury in October 2007, June 2008, and September 2012. Taylor Reed wrote an article about my dad's and my October 2007 research trip to St. Johnsbury in the October 12, 2007, issue of The Caledonian-Record:

Maui is on H.A.S.T. ("Hawaii time"), which is currently five hours earlier than E.S.T., so 5:00 p.m., your time, would be noon, our time. We might be available for an interview via Skype, if you would like. Please let us know by email if you would like to try to set that up.

There are several people we have met or have learned of during our trips to St. Johnsbury who could also be of help to you concerning Dr. Bob:

1. Joanne Bertrand, former archivist at St. Johnsbury Academy. She helped my dad and me do research in the St. Johnsbury Academy archives downstairs in the Grace Orcutt Library during our St. Johnsbury research trip in June 2008. The librarian at the Academy told us in September 2012 that, although Joanne no longer works in the library, she is still lives in St. Johnsbury and is listed in the phone book.

2. Lisa Von Kann, Library Director, or Shara McCaffrey, Assistant Librarian [and (former?) President of the St. Johnsbury Historical Society] at St. Johnsbury Athenaeum. They both helped my dad and me a great deal when we did research at the Athenaeum in June 2008 in association with our book, Dick B. and Ken B., Dr. Bob of Alcoholics Anonymous: His Excellent Training in the Good Book as a Youngster in Vermont:

3. Peggy Pearl, director of the St. Johnsbury History and Heritage Center: We have not met Peggy, but we sent her a copy of our book, Dr. Bob of Alcoholics Anonymous, while she worked at the Fairbanks Museum in 2008.

In the meantime, here is some background information I prepared for a friend who visited St. Johnsbury in 2009.

There are four key buildings which figured importantly in the Christian upbringing of Robert Holbrook Smith, "Dr. Bob"--cofounder of Alcoholics Anonymous: Dr. Bob's Birthplace and Boyhood Home (297 Summer St.), North Congregational Church (1325 Main St.), the St. Johnsbury Athenaeum (1171 Main St.), and the St. Johnsbury Academy (1000 Main St.). They are all within walking distance of each other.

** Here is an overview, "walking tour" of St. Johnsbury my dad has prepared:

** For background on the significance of these four places in Dr. Bob's upbringing in St. Johnsbury, I strongly encourage you to read as much as you can of Dr. Bob of Alcoholics Anonymous: His Excellent Training in the Good Book as a Youngster in Vermontby Dick B. and Ken B.

"Dr. Bob's Birthplace and Boyhood Home" is located at 297 Summer Street.

(It's address was "20 Summer Street" during Dr. Bob's youth.) It is currently owned by a hospital, andthe "Kingdom Recovery Center" oversees some or all of what happens there. Here is their new web site:


. I strongly encourage you to contact Erin S. Campbell, the Volunteer scheduling and Activity Coordinator at Dr. Bob's Birthplace in advance so that you can connect with her when you arrive. She is aware of Dick B.'s research work. (There is a form you can use on the Kingdom Recovery Center web site to contact her. She also has a Facebook page.)

North Congregational Church, St. Johnsbury: 1325 Main Street:


Istrongly encourage you to note the office hours on the web site and to contact Pastor Jay Sprout in advance so that he can tell you about the Dr. Bob Core Library at North Congregational Church when you arethere. ** I (Ken B.) personally delivered more than 1,840 pages of historical materials to Pastor Jay Sprout as we were leaving town after our second research trip in June 2008. The papers were segregated into U.S. Postal Service Priority Mail Envelopes inside a bankers box. The copies were from our work in the North Congregational Church archives, the St. Johnsbury Athenaeum, the St. Johnsbury Academy archives, andthe Vermont State Historical Library in Barre, Vermont. (The papers have since been put in binders which are on the book shelves which are part of the Dr. Bob Core Library.) The Dr. Bob Core Library is located on some of the book shelves in the room where there is a piano. (It is not the main church sanctuary.) There should be about three other black, three-ringed binders with papers about St. Johnsbury, and also a number of old books. In addition, there may still be a box of mydad's books there which areavailable for people to take for free. Any details you can provide us--especially in the form of sharp digital pictures which you can send to us as attachments to email messages--would be greatly appreciated.

There are two books relating to the history of North Congregational Church which could give you insight into the involvement of Dr. Bob and his family in the church: (1) Manual of the North Church, St. Johnsbury, Vt. 1877; and (2) Arthur F. Stone, The History of the North Congregational Church of St. Johnsbury, Vermont: 1825-1942. Photocopies of key pages of one or both of those books may be in the papers in the Dr. Bob Core Library at the church, in the church archives, or at the St. Johnsbury Athenaeum.


The St. Johnsbury Athenaeum. 1171 Main Street

This building was given to the Town of St. Johnsbury in 1871 by Horace Fairbanks--one of the two members of the Fairbanks familiy who was a governor of the State of Vermont. It served as the library for the St. Johnsbury Academy during the time Dr. Bob attended (1894-1898).

You might want to call ahead andarrange to meet with Lisa Von Kann, the Library Director, or Shara McCaffrey, the Assistant Librarian. They areboth very knowledgeable about the time period from 1875 (the "Great Awakening" of 1875 in St. Johnsbury) to1898 (when Dr. Bob graduated from St. Johnsbury Academy).

There is a locked glass case of very rare books about the Town of St. Johnsbury on the first floor. If you have time, you might want to ask to see them.

The Caledonian Record newspaper is available on microfilm upstairs. (I made many copies of pages of this newspaper from February 6, 1875, through the end of August 1875--the main period of the "Great Awakening" of 1875 in St. Johnsbury--which are in the Dr. Bob Core Library in North Congregational Church.)

The St. Johnsbury Academy: 1000 Main Street.


There is a picture of North Hall andSouth Hall of St. Johnsbury Academy--as they looked when Dr. Bob attended St. Johnsbury Academy--on the back of Dr. Bob of Alcoholics Anonymous. North Hall burned on March 6, 1956, and was replaced by Ranger Hall. South Hall also no longer exists in its original form.

I strongly suggest you contact Mrs. Joanne Bertrand, former archivist at the Grace Stuart Orcutt Library of St. Johnsbury Academy. She lives in St. Johnsbury--as of September 2012--and the Academy's librarian told me she is listed in the St. Johnsbury telephone book.

The authoritative book on St. Johnsbury is: Edward T. Fairbanks, The Town of St. Johnsbury, Vt.: A Review of One Hundred Twenty-Five Years tothe Anniversary Pageant 1912. It is available in "Full View" via Google Books:

You will find Dr. Bob's parents mentioned by name in thatbook.

Please let me know if you have any further questions.

Dick B.'s son, Ken
Cell: 1-808-276-4945

Dick B.'s main Web site:
Dick B.'s email:
Dick B.'s H/O tel.: 1-808-874-4876


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