A museum like no other – Shelburne Museum, VT

Heading into Vermont, our minds and plans were fixated on yummies like ice cream and cheese (more on that later).  Little did we know that the museum our friend Don from Ohio recommended to us was the real gem.  We had been to so many museums in our travels that we thought, “how different can it be?”  Well, we found out after spending an entire day there – from opening to closing!  For $22 per adult, you can explore and enjoy the museum for two days – and it could take that long if you are really into the many varied items they have on hand.  We did it in one day, but we were exhausted from being on our feet for 7 hours straight.

Shelburne Museum

Shelburne Museum is a museum of art and Americana located on 45 acres in Shelburne, VT.  Over 150,000 works are exhibited in 39 exhibition buildings, 25 of which are historic and were relocated to the museum grounds.  All collections are exhibited in a village-like setting of historic New England architecture, accented by a landscape dotted with colorful flowers.  It is an unconventional but very well done collection.

Inside the 48 acre museum grounds
45-acre museum grounds

Electra Havemeyer Webb (1888-1960) was a pioneering collector of American folk art and founded Shelburne Museum in 1947.  She had been collecting 18th- and 19th-century buildings from New England and New York in which to display her collection, even relocating 20 historic structures to Shelburne.  On the grounds we saw the relocated houses, barns, a meeting house, a one-room schoolhouse, a lighthouse, a jail, a general store, a covered bridge, and oh yeah, the 220-foot steamboat Ticonderoga.

Shelburne Museum
View of the collections of houses, barns and buildings as seen from Colchester Reef  lighthouse.

The restored 220-foot steamboat Ticonderoga is a National Historic Landmark and one of only two remaining walking beam side-wheel passenger steamers in existence.  Just the story of how this boat was moved here is amazing.  It took months to dig a two-mile channel, fill it with water and then pull the boat along with a pair of locomotives. It was such a lovely sunny day to walk around the museum grounds, and we were fortunate to catch one of the 2 tours of the Ticonderoga – we just happened aboard at the right moment!

restored 220-foot steamboat Ticonderoga
The 220-foot steamboat Ticonderoga, built in 1906 and restored in 1955.

The thousands of pieces displayed in each restored house, building or barn are astonishing.  We have never seen anything like it – the general store and apothecary (pharmacy) are by far the most complete and authentic we have seen.  Just the construction of the round barn and horseshoe-shaped barn are amazing, not to mention the huge collection of hundreds of carriages and sleighs stored within them.  Whatever passion, interest or obsession you may have, this museum seems to cover them all.  Below are pictures of just some of the collections.

Horseshoe Barn
Horseshoe Barn contains the carriages, wagons and sleighs of different eras.
One of the many carriages on display

The rich collections pictured below were housed in separate buildings or houses.

Covered Bridge
Double-lane covered bridge with footpath
Quilt Collection
Huge and colorful quilt collection

On display in the weaving building is a rare 1890s Jacquard Loom, which used punched cards to create intricate designs in the cloth.  These punched cards are actually the pre-cursors to punched cards used at the beginning of the computer revolution.

Folk Art
High-end folk art collection
80-foot-diameter Round Barn
80-foot-diameter Round Barn of 1901, restored and moved here in 1986
Round Barn
Dozens more carriages inside the Round Barn – Steve is becoming a big fan of carriages!

A horseshoe-shaped structure called the Circus Building was constructed in 1965 and was designed to showcase a 4,000 piece hand-carved miniature Arnold Circus Parade.  The collection stretches nearly the full length of the building’s 518 feet.

Arnold Circus Parade
Arnold Circus Parade on steroids
Arnold Circus Parade
These miniatures ran the entire length of the building!

Finally, an intricate 3,500-piece miniature three-ring Kirk Bros. Circus is displayed at the end of the building.  Absolutely amazing display!

Kirk Bros. Circus
Miniature three-ring Kirk Bros. Circus

Whew…there was so much to see and gawk at!  And if you feel cultured and into fine art, there was a building for that, too – but photography was not allowed and the high-end collection was closely guarded.  After seeing all of it in seven hours, you may ask if we have a favorite among the collections?  I would say no, it was so diverse, so interesting and so fascinating that we could not really pick a favorite.  And I have not  even mention everything we saw, so if you happen to be in Vermont, make Shelburne Museum at the top of your list.

By 5pm we were exhausted and ready to sit down by the campfire to enjoy our wine and Vermont cheeses.  Ahh…the cheese in Vermont – stay tuned.




  1. Looks great. If you pass thru Michigan, you may want to stop at the Henry Ford (Museum) in Dearborn.

  2. Wow…what a day. I would have had a very hard time moving from one exhibit to another…I sort of get stuck in a spot sometimes and forget the time! Great pictures and descriptions.

  3. I grew up in Vermont and the Shelburne museum was a yearly field trip in school for many years. It wasn’t until I was much older that I realized just how lucky I was to have this amazing museum right in my backyard. As a kid I was fascinated by the Ticondaroga and as an adult the Apothecary was always my favorite. So glad you got to visit one of Vermont’s best attraction!

    • Wow, you are indeed fortunate to have access to it annually. I find Electra a rather interesting woman with an eye of things of value. We were glad we listened to our friend and made a go for it.

  4. What an interesting museum. Al would have been stuck at that gun collection…..me, I’m always fascinated with architecture and would love those buildings. Perhaps a trip east might be in order!

  5. Your posts are always so interesting and so well documented with your lovely photos. It would seem you’ve convinced Ingrid. She told me she wouldn’t travel east of the Mississippi. Well done!

  6. What a wonderful museum. It is almost too big to enjoy. I loved the horse shoe shaped barn. Coming from an area of the country filled with covered bridges, I was surprised to see a double lane bridge. Never seen that before. How cool!

    That three ring Kirk Bros. Circus miniature display was amazing. I would have loved that.

    If you do end up going to St. Andrews, New Brunswick, make sure you stop at the Teddy Bear Coffee Shop in town. They make the best scones ever. The owner’s husband worked and worked to come up with a moist scone recipe. Boy, did he ever! The owner was the best coffee maker. She would make my coffee from my directions just like Starbucks. She even remembered me from a previous visit the year before. I guess when you get coffee every morning that helps the memory.

    Have a wonderful time in New England and the Maritimes!! It is an awesome area.

  7. This is our kind of museum … love these outdoor museums where you get to wander around buildings and get a sense of those times.

  8. Just started reading your blog, we’re headed to Vermont in the fall and will be sure to look for this museum, sounds fascinating. We’re also headed to Alaska next summer, so will be sure to read about your trip. Safe travels! Brenda

    • Be sure not to miss this one and have more to tell in my next blog. Too bad we will miss the turning of the leaves that Vermont is known for but I think we will see them on our way down south.
      Feel free to email me if you have any questions about Alaska Ill be glad to help. There is so much to tell.

  9. Another wonderful location to add to our Bucket Book! Thanks for the information! And Brenda, you can review our blog as well for Alaska information. We are enjoying the last month of our four month stay. It’s a battle to get here, but it is beautiful. I read the Lowe’s RV Adventures faithfully last summer while they traveled through.

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