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A Family Visit to the Shelburne Museum

The scope of Electra Havemeyer Webb's collection of Americana, displayed at the Shelburne Museum, just south of Burlington, Vermont provided our family with a whimsical historical look at her life and loves, as well as life in various eras throughout Vermont.

The museum grounds, purchased by Electra in 1947 to house her growing collection of 18th, 19th and 20th century items including every-day things, decorative arts, furniture, quilts, samples and textiles, tools, toys, carriages, railroad cars and the National Historic Landmark Ticonderoga Steamship together with period and replica buildings offered a glimpse into by-gone days, in a beautiful New England style setting.

The unusual Round Red Barn welcomed us with a short introductory film before entering the museum.  We recommend that you take the time to watch the film.  

While most of the museum is designed for viewing only, special Touch & Learn and Look & Learn stations offer children hands on activities and objects.  

The displays and buildings at the museum are categorized based on themes including:

  • Decorative Arts

  • Demonstrative Sites

  • Fine Arts

  • Folk Art

  • Exhibitions

  • Gardens

  • Historic Houses

  • Historic Public Buildings

  • Tolls and Work Sites

  • Toys & Dolls 

  • Transportation

Before we headed out to explore the museum, we highlighted those exhibits of special interest to our family on the museum map.  

Following the museum map to the left upon exiting the Red Barn, here are our family tips for must see exhibits at Shelburne Museum:

The 1920 Vintage Carousel, located by the Circus Building, operates when the weather permits, and is a favourite with all the children that visit the museum.  Sometimes one ride isn't enough.  

Built on site in 1965, the Circus building was designed to accommodate a 500 foot carved miniature circus parade.  At the entrance of the unique U shaped structure is a miniature circus display while antique carousel figures line the wall opposite the parade.  

Our children enjoyed exploring the Rail Car Grand Isle. Although not highlighted as a special interest exhibit for children on the Museum map, the grandeur and quaint sleeping quarters earned the exclamation "I'd like to sleep in there, it looks like fun!".

The 10 wheel steam locomotive is a must-see for all train enthusiasts.

When we crossed the train tracks, the Famous steamship Ticonderoga comes into view. 

Built at a still-operating ship yard on the Shelburne Peninsula, this side-wheel steamboat cruised the waters of Lake Champlain offering passengers luxury and scenic views along the journey.  Tour the lower deck galley kitchen.   Don't miss the touch and learn exhibit in a passenger cabin.  Can you guess who the passenger is?  We did.  Follow the clues.

The lighthouse, moved from Lake Champlain to its present location by Electra, provides some insight into the life of a lighthouse keeper in the late 19th and early 20th century.

An absolute must visit for children is the Owl Cottage Family Activity Center.  The Center offers families a place to relax and explore activities related to museum exhibits.  Children can try on clothes from other eras or play old fashioned games and enjoy the books offered for family enjoyment.  Simple art projects are offered during July and August.

If you timed your visit right, your family will be ready for lunch and enjoy the selections offered at the cafe.

After lunch we headed over to the General Store.  What fun we had trying to guess what some of the items were used for.

At to the Blacksmith Shop we were afforded an opportunity to watch the tradesman at work over the hot coals.

The Horseshoe Barn and Horseshoe Barn Annex contain an amazing array of horse-drawn vehicles including a sleigh to take children to school in the winter, a gypsy wagon and a hearse that converts from wagon to sleigh.

Be sure to take the kids into the jail and ask them to imagine being locked in there.

Next Stop - Toy Shop and Variety Building.  There is a Touch & Learn display with two antique banks as well as displays of toys that all kids will enjoy in both these buildings, including miniature transportation toys, dolls and dollhouses.

Children can get a glimpse of what school was like in 19th Century Vermont at the Touch and Learn exhibit in the Schoolhouse, and then head out back to play in the garden.

The life of a young family is depicted at the Settlers' House and the hands-on exhibition adds to the feel of 1795.

Before heading to the 1950's House Exhibit, we took a quick stop to the Memorial Building furnished from the rooms of Electra's New York City home.  Activity Hint - see if the kids can follow the stair handrails from end to end.  Surprisingly it is one continuous railing.

Our last stop before the Museum Store was the 1,000 square foot 1950 ranch style house.  For people who lived during this era it provides an interesting look back to this time.  For the kids, the garage houses some of the games of the 50's.

Well, that was our visit to the Shelburne Museum.  We had visited the Museum in 1992 when our oldest son was just 2 years old and enjoyed it then.  It was different this time with the kids actively participating in the experience and definitely a worthwhile excursion for all families. 

For more information on the Shelburne Museum go to Vermont Family Attractions

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The Vermont Teddy Bear Factory lets Kids See How Bears are Made and then Make a Friend for Life

Tour Lake Champlain on the Spirit of Ethan Allen II

Explore the Children's Farmyard at the Majestic Barn of Shelburne Farms

There are Plenty of Ways to Enjoy Lake Champlain in Burlington Vermont

Stowe, Vermont - Summer Activities Rival Winter Season

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