The extraordinary 45-acre Shelburne Museum, nine miles south of Burlington, showcases the priceless artifacts, from America and abroad, collected by Electra Havemeyer Webb (1888-1960) and her parents – totalling 100,000 objects in all.
The museum is renowned for the sheer variety of the exhibitions on show, which are housed in 39 buildings, many of which were moved here from other parts of New England to ensure their preservation. With the 220-ft Ticonderoga steamboat on the grounds and paintings from Manet, Monet and Degas, it is Northern New England's most significant art and history museum.
History of Shelburne Museum
Coming from a home with parents who were European and Asian art collectors, it is not surprising that Electra Havemeyer Webb would want to follow in their footsteps. However, from the tender age of 19, she knew she wanted to collect objects that were rooted in American History.
In 1947, Electra founded Shelburne Museum as a place to showcase her family's assemblage of horse-drawn carriages. She spent several years locating 18th- and 19th-century buildings from New England and New York. Then, she had them relocated to the museum grounds as places to display the one-of-a-kind items she was curating.
This unconventional museum opened to the public in 1952 with an eclectic collection that ranged from folk art to fine art and architecture to transportation exhibits. Today the museum's collection has grown to include over 100,000 pieces.
After Electra died in 1960, her children built the Electra Havemeyer Webb Memorial Building. It includes a gallery of Impressionist paintings shown in six-period rooms that were relocated from her family's 1930s New York City apartment on Park Avenue.
In 2013, the museum opened the new Pizzagalli Center for Art and Education. Far more modern than other buildings on the grounds, this contemporary exhibition center and learning space has two 2500 sq ft galleries, an auditorium and an education studio.
Environmentally conscientious, Shelburne Museum intends to be fully powered by renewable energy by the end of 2021, when the final two solar arrays are constructed on the property.
Buildings and collections
Shelburne Museum's diverse collections fill its 39 exhibition buildings. Knowledgeable guides staff most of them. The impressive structures include a sawmill (1786), a blacksmith shop (1800), a one-room brick schoolhouse (1840), a covered bridge (1845), a lighthouse (1871), a luxury rail coach (1890), a classic round barn (1901), a railroad station (1915) and the Lake Champlain side-wheeler steamship Ticonderoga (1906).
The horseshoe-shaped Circus Building houses the 500-ft Arnold Circus Parade with 4000 figurines. There are also hundreds of vintage circus posters, including those from Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Outside, an operating 1920s carousel offers free rides every 15 minutes.
Shelburne Museum Gardens
There are more than 20 meticulously landscaped gardens on the museum grounds. As a result, there’s always something in bloom to admire, from the Main Entrance Garden to the Circus Building's Daylily Garden.
In the early spring, the lilacs are in bloom, welcoming visitors back for the season. Several hundred peonies in 25 varieties will be flowering in the J. Watson Webb Jr. Memorial Peony Garden shortly after that.
Filled with perennials, Alyssia's Garden can be found just outside of The Schoolhouse. It’s great for kids, with a swing set and slide to play on. Culinary connoisseurs, meanwhile, will enjoy the 1820s heirloom vegetable garden at the 18th-century Dutton House, the first dwelling to be relocated to the museum’s grounds.
Planning your visit
Allow at least half a day for your visit. Opening hours vary by season: check the museum’s official website before visiting. Shelburne Museum is a member of the North American Reciprocal Museum Association (NARM), and therefore offers free admission to members of museums that participate in NARM.
The Museum is large and spread out. Buildings are accessed by paved walkways that wind their way through the grounds. There’s a free shuttle that drives around the property so you can hop on and off whenever you want. They also have wagons available free of charge to pull the kids around.
Shelburne Museum hosts several concerts throughout the summer season. Everyone from Ray Lamontagne, Bonnie Rait, Elvis Costello, Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson have played on the Green.
On-site dining is available at the Weathervane Café, which serves sandwiches, grilled items, and snacks. You can also bring your lunch. There are picnic tables set up near the Café, plenty of lawn space and an open-air lounge area at Shaker Shed.
There are several daily tours and demonstrations at the Museum. They are free with admission, and no registration is required. Be sure to save time to check out the museum store located at the Diamond Barn.