I’ve been to museums in New York, London, Paris, Cairo, Amsterdam, and Los Angeles, but I have never seen one quite like (or quite as expensive as) the Shelburne Museum. It’s the largest museum in Vermont, and statistics don’t lie, right? 39 buildings/structures, 44 acres of grounds, 400 bushes and trees, 150,000 objets d’art-–and on the day we visited, about 1,000 girl scouts in little brown vests festooned with patches and pins. Yes, it was a girl scouts convention, and the museum had opened early just for the girls in brown.
Shelburne Museum takes a unique view of what is and isn’t museum-worthy. It’s an interactive cross-section of Americana, taken through time. Boats, entire buildings, even a covered bridge have been painstakingly transported to the grounds from locations in Vermont, Massachusetts, and New York. These structures are then filled--with period furniture in some cases, with craftspeople working on projects with period tools, or in some cases, interesting artifacts that just don’t fit anywhere else. A 125-foot circus parade made of miniature figurines, for example, occupies the entire length of a circular barn. While the craftsmanship was nothing special, the parade is a fascinating look at the culture of a bygone era.
The historic "Stencil House", circa 1804, could have been the residence of one of Martha Stewart’s ancestors. Elaborate stenciled walls form the backdrop for hand made painted furniture, including a clock around whose face someone has accidentally painted numbers going from I to XIII. Oops!
The 1800 Blacksmith shop is a great place to watch a demonstration in progress. Just keep your hands and toes away from the fire and the red-hot pokers in it.
Although the Apothecary Shop was built for the museum in 1959, its contents are as authentic as they are fascinating. See how pills were made, what powders and salves were prescribed, and admire the fiendishly complex cash register.
One of my favorite sites was the Railroad Station, where a private rail car was on display. Unfortunately this luxuriously appointed car was closed to the public at the time. Oddly, the museum had stationed a docent outside it anyway. He had been standing outside the closed exhibit for several hours and was pretty grumpy by the time we met him. Grudgingly, he explained that wealthy city-dwellers used to have their own private cars hooked up to a public locomotive for trips up North. Some had private railway stations built near their summer homes so they could disembark and finish their trips by horse and carriage.
These few sites are just a sampling of what you and your family can visit at the Shelburne Museum. The old Jail, steamboat Ticonderoga, working Sawmill with waterwheel, and Lake Champlain Lighthouse are just a few of the other exhibitions we visited-–and we only saw about half of it!
Hours of Operation
$10 adults/$5 kids
Select buildings open only
$17.50 adults/$8.75 kids
All buildings open