browser icon
You are using an insecure version of your web browser. Please update your browser!
Using an outdated browser makes your computer unsafe. For a safer, faster, more enjoyable user experience, please update your browser today or try a newer browser.
Our Great American Adventure Website Logo

Shelburne Museum – Day One…

Posted by on September 6, 2015




THIS PLACE IS SPECIAL! Museums often bore me to tears. But not this one! Located in Vermont’s scenic Lake Champlain Valley near Burlington, its 38 exhibition buildings and their contents constitute one of the nation’s finest and most well known museums. Most of the buildings are historic, and were relocated to the Museum grounds. There’s so much here of interest that we’re going to spend two afternoons exploring it. And if we ever return to Vermont, this will be at the top of the list of places I want to visit again, because even in two visits we’re not going to be able to see all the exhibits that interest us.

ABOUT THE MUSEUM. More than just an eclectic repository, the Shelburne Museum celebrates three centuries of American ingenuity, creativity and diversity. Here, folk art, antique tools, duck decoys, carriages and circus memorabilia are displayed on the same grounds as scrimshaw and paintings by such U.S. artists as Winslow Homer and Grandma Moses. The Shelburne is widely recognized as one of our nation’s finest museums.


The Museum campus is huge…45 acres to be precise.  And the collections are housed in buildings strategically placed throughout all that space. Fortunately, there is a shuttle which continually runs throughout the grounds and provides much needed transportation to weary patrons who would otherwise be trudging from one exhibit to the next. The grounds are well maintained and the buildings are diverse.  Here’s a sample. (Click on an arrow or bubble to advance the slide show.)


THIS IS SPECTACULAR! This is the collection that initially drew me to the Shelburne museum. I learned of the circus posters here on display years ago when I began collecting and framing prints of them. At that time, the idea for our Great American Adventure had never even crossed our minds, but I recall thinking that some day I’d love to visit the museum where the originals are on display. And all these years later, here I am. As you’d expect, the carvings and the posters are all displayed under glass. Consequently, my photos are compromised, but I’ve posted some of them anyway so you’ll get an idea of how spectacular this exhibit really is.

HAND CARVED CIRCUS FIGURES. When I purchased our admission tickets, I mentioned to the docent who assisted me how much I was anticipating a chance to finally see the circus exhibit. She told me that the two hand-carved wood circuses are among the most popular exhibitions at Shelburne: The Roy Arnold Circus Parade and the Kirk Brothers Circus. The Arnold Circus Parade has nearly 4,000 figures. It was made between 1925-55 and forms a parade over 500 feet long. The one-inch-to-one-foot scale figures include a myriad of clowns, acrobats, animals, and circus wagons that evoke the heyday of the circus era. The Kirk Brothers Circus is a miniature three-ring circus with audience comprised of over 3,500 pieces. Edgar Kirk (1891-1956) fashioned the figures over 40 years using only a treadle jigsaw and penknife.





Shelburne Museum has more than 500 circus posters dating from 1870 to 1940. The imaginative, bright-colored posters advertise Barnum and Bailey, Ringling Brothers, and other major shows. Creepy clowns, flying acrobats, performing cats…circuses were big business at the turn of the twentieth century. These hand painted posters are historic documents. The old style circus is disappearing. In many places, live animal shows are no longer tolerated. And in my view, that’s as it should be. If you’ve read my reflections page, you know how strongly I disapprove of animals on display. But I can still enjoy this exhibit. I oppose the institution of slavery as well, and I’m still interested in learning about it, and visiting the southern plantations in our country. Without learning about something it’s nearly impossible to learn from it.







The Steamboat Ticonderoga is way too large to be housed in a building. Rather, the 220 foot vessel occupies a prominent outdoor position near a landscaped hill, as if to shout its presence to all passersby. It’s not to be ignored.  The steamboat is the last side-wheel passenger steamer in existence. Built in Shelburne in 1906, it operated until 1953 as a day boat serving ports on Lake Champlain along the New York and Vermont shores. In 1955, Ticonderoga was moved two miles overland from the lake to the Museum campus, in a remarkable engineering effort standing as one of the great accomplishments of maritime preservation. Today, the Ticonderoga exhibit portrays shipboard life in the 1920’s. The staterooms, dining room and elaborate fixtures recall the old-fashioned elegance of steamboat travel.


On our last exhibit stop of the day, we stepped inside a building that houses the Collection of Vermont Firearms. Not only was the collection interesting, the docent, a local high school social studies teacher, was anxious to share his knowledge of history with us. And he was knowledgeable not just about the firearms, but seemingly about all of the collections and exhibits at the Museum. Wow! And the building was air conditioned, which was nice as the temperature outside was pushing 90 degrees! Here are a few photos of the collection.



I asked the Social Studies teacher if he had any idea of the amount of insurance the Museum carries just on the firearms in this one exhibit. He informed me that “policy” dictates that he not even speculate. But he did disclose that a certain rifle alone was valued at $500,000. And there are a lot of rifles in this collection!


Hunting rifles, target rifles, pistols and military weapons from the Mexican – American and Civil Wars are included in this collection, along with other unique pieces such as a cane gun, favored by poachers who wanted to conceal their intentions. There’s also a “greatcoat pistol” designed to be easily hidden in an overcoat. Many of the guns feature ornate silver and brass inlays.


This rifle is apparently the historically most significant piece in the collection. Maybe some of you guys will recognize it and understand why it’s such a prize.


OK. That’s enough for today. I’m tired of writing and you’re probably tired of reading. It’s a pretty impressive museum, though, isn’t it? We’ll visit again tomorrow and see a few more collections. Hope you’ll join us then.


Comments are closed.