Two great places to visit while in Burlington are the Shelburne Farms and the Shelburne Museum. Both are located in Shelburne (on the outskirts of Burlington), and are separate entities but there is a family connection that links them.
Because I’ve lived in cities all of my life, I’m very interested in farms, how they are run, what the day to day life is like etc. I’d read that the Shelburne Farms was an interesting place to visit, and convinced Hector to go.
We took a guided tour of the farms (you can also tour the property via various walking trails). This tour takes you around the property on a wagon pulled by a tractor, pretty charming. And the tour guide provides information about the farms’ interesting history.
In a nutshell, 3,800 acres of land, located on the shores of Lake Champlain was purchased in the 1880’s by Dr. William Seward Webb and his wife, Eliza ‘Lila’ Vanderbilt Webb, who had inherited $10 million from her father, William Henry Vanderbilt.
They’d planned to create a model agricultural estate and their plan was initially a success. In addition to a horse breeding facility, the property had a dairy, a pheasantry, a piggery, yachts, golf links, 25,000 square feet of greenhouses, state-of-the-art electrical and communications systems, and hundreds of employees.
Around 1910, the farm operation began to shrink, and the couple’s heirs (Dr. and Mrs. Webb’s children) struggled to make it profitable. They sold and leased various parcels of the land. As they continued to struggle to maintain the estate and pay taxes, they considered selling some parts to big companies.
At this point, their children (Dr. and Mrs. Webb’s grandchildren) came up with a plan to create a non-profit, which they founded in 1972. The remaining 1,400 acres of the farm are now used for conservation education “to inspire a sense of stewardship around the environment”.
The organization offers education programs for students, teachers and others. Children of all ages can learn about sustainability and their connection to the natural and agricultural world. Much of the land is under conservation easements, and there have been various renovations and rehabilitations of the buildings.
The non-profit is funded through tours such as the one we took, sale of the (delicious) cheese made on the farm, the gift shop, the inn that is now located on the original family residence and the programs.
The tour includes a partial tour of the inn and its grounds and provides an insight into their cheese making and their programs.
One of the children’s programs has the children harvest vegetables from the garden, milk the cows and make cheese, grind wheat berries and make dough, then make a pizza with their fresh ingredients.
The grounds of the farms are lovely and have a gorgeous view of Lake Champlain. A fascinating place.
In 1913, James Watson Webb, the oldest of the four children of Dr. William Seward Webb and Lila Vanderbilt Webb, married Electra Havemeyer. The couple received the southern portion of the Shelburne Farms estate as a wedding gift.
Electra (great name!!) Havemeyer Webb founded the Shelburne Museum at this location. Electra’s parents had been collectors of European and Asian art. Electra became a collector in her own right, but with a focus on American art and architecture. The Shelburne Museum “is one of the nation’s finest, most diverse and unconventional museums of art, design and Americana”.
Electra collected 18th and 19th century buildings from New England and New York and relocated more than 20 buildings to Shelburne to house the museum collections. The museum has a total of 38 buildings (25 are historic) housing 150,000 artifacts.
We decided to visit the Shelburne Museum after reading about it on fellow fulltimer, blogger, island girl and new friend, Mona Liza’s blog. She and her husband visited the museum this last summer and wrote an intriguing post about it.
The collections are truly amazing and include:
About 225 carriages and horse-drawn vehicles from the late 18th to the early 20th centuries, including a Conestoga wagon, a wide variety of sleighs, a “school bus”, stagecoaches and farm and trade vehicles.
A 1946 gift of 28 elegant carriages from the estate of Dr. and Mrs. Webb was what prompted Electra Havemeyer Webb to create the Shelburne Museum.
The barns where the carriages are housed are also quite unique: one, a 1901 80-foot diameter round barn, is one of only two dozen built in Vermont, the other, a horseshoe-shaped barn, completed in 1949, was modeled after a unique horseshoe-shaped dairy barn in Georgia. It’s 283 ½ feet long and 32 feet wide.
We’ve never seen such a complete cross section of carriages and sleighs with all their different uses. Formal ones, sporty ones, public transport, business uses. It is also interesting to note many design details that carried forward into the age of motor vehicles.
Then there is an exhibit devoted to the golden age of the circus in America. The horseshoe-shaped building that houses the collection was conceived in 1950 and constructed on site in 1965. Its unique shape was purposely adapted to the artifacts it contains.
The main display that runs the length of the building is of a hand-carved miniature Arnold Circus Parade, measuring 525 linear feet. It’s carved on a scale of one-inch to one-foot and is the equivalent of one of the two-mile long processions that used to travel routes up to ten miles long.
This miniature recreates the pomp and pageantry of the extravagant processions that once heralded the arrival of the circus during the Golden Age of the circus between 1870-1950. It took the artist 25 years to create with the help of five assistants. Wow!
The building also houses antique circus posters and a complete set of beautifully restored carousel figures.
And an intricate 3,500-piece miniature three-ring Kirk Bros. circus, which is considered a masterpiece of American folk art. A brakeman for the Pennsylvania railway created it during his work breaks for his four children. He used a simple penknife and foot-powered jigsaw and spent forty years to complete it!
There is an operating vintage 1920s carousel outside. Something about carousels brings back happy memories of my childhood :).
Then there is the Ticonderoga, a 220-foot Lake Champlain steamboat that’s a National Historic Landmark. Electra had not intended to collect a steamboat, but she was persuaded to save it from the scrap heap. And she spent millions relocating it to the museum and renovating it to its 1923 glory.
What was fascinating to us about the Ticonderoga was how luxurious it is. The boat was basically a ferry that made day trips across Lake Champlain from various points in Vermont to various points in New York. But it existed during a more glamorous era.
The woods, fabrics and other materials are luxurious. The Ticonderoga is the last walking beam side-wheel passenger steamer in existence.
Thank you, Electra for rescuing and preserving this beautiful example of another era.
A railroad exhibit with a 1915 10-wheel steel locomotive, a fully equipped railroad station and telegraph office and a private luxury railcar used by Dr. Webb and tons of other railroad themed items.
A log cabin designed to resemble an Adirondack hunting camp. It contains lots of game heads, hunting trophies, woodcarvings, and Adirondack-inspired furniture.
A fully stocked general store with a barbershop, post office and taproom and an Apothecary Shop with patent medicines (still contained in the flasks) and medical equipment. Amazing!
The Electra Havermeyer Memorial Building – furniture, art, even original molding from the founder’s New York City apartment were relocated to a faux house built for the purpose of showcasing them. Some excellent old west bronzes were on display in one of the rooms.
An antique toy collection.
A weaving and quilting display.
They even had a covered bridge!
We spent almost an entire day at the museum and didn’t see everything. For example, we didn’t see the firearms collection which apparently is pretty extensive. And we missed a number of art, furniture, and decorative arts collections because we simply ran out of time.
We left right at closing. The tickets to the museum are good for two days, and, even though we managed to see quite a bit in one day, we can certainly understand why!