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 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.
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.
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!
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.
The rich collections pictured below were housed in separate buildings or houses.
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.
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.
Finally, an intricate 3,500-piece miniature three-ring Kirk Bros. Circus is displayed at the end of the building. Absolutely amazing display!
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.