Shelburne, Vermont | Could You Live Here?
A legendary family created two magnificent spaces in Shelburne, Vermont, that locals consider the best backyards in the country.
The summer storm comes out of nowhere.
Scientifically speaking, of course, it comes out of somewhere, possibly skidding through downtown Shelburne, Vermont, from nearby Lake Champlain, a stout body of water that bears watching. Its 435 watery square miles are dotted with islands, strewn with sunken ships, and possibly harbor a shadowy figure known locally as “Champ,” New England’s version of the Loch Ness creature.
The Lake–it deserves a capital letter–brushes up against Shelburne, just 15 minutes south of Burlington, and can be glimpsed here and there around town, like Waldo, where you least expect it. Or where money bought it. Seeded and watered with Vanderbilt money, 1,400-acre fairytale Shelburne Farms overlooks the Lake from a classic turn-of-the-19th-century country house turned inn, with views of sparkling water spreading beyond like a vast blue field.
Here in the downtown, however, there are no lake views, although there’s plenty of compensation. The pleasing jumble of clapboard buildings and brick facades feels like a hamlet. There’s the Shelburne Country Store, with jars of old-fashioned candy sticks lined up like colorful bundles of dynamite. Just a few doors down is the Flying Pig Bookstore, the kind of kids’ retreat that bookworm parents dream of. Across the street, ruddy brick encases Village Wine and Coffee, the local gathering nook that no self-respecting hamlet would be without.
But the rain is seriously pelting now. A biblical wall of water is falling from the sky, with only a small blue chip of promise in the distance. We need an ark, fast. Handily, the 220-foot steamboat Ticonderoga rises up ahead, from a sea of soaking grass. The Shelburne Museum’s broad, beamy showpiece blasts its mighty horn, or so I imagine. We dash for cover–everyone within sight of the huge boat has the same idea. Chased by a torrent, we flee across the gangplank like bedraggled rats regaining the ship.
It’s surreal, this museum right in the center of town–it’s literally like having your own personal museum on call. If you live here, you can buy a year’s family pass for $75 and come anytime the place is open: to explore the lighthouse, ride the vintage carousel, look at the Monets, explore the gardens, or just picnic in broad view of the Ticonderoga.
Thank you, Electra Havemeyer Webb, for your one-of-a kind museum, the most eccentric collection imaginable. For gathering buildings the way some people gather teapots, for collecting mechanical toys and quilts and circus posters. For organizing willing townsfolk to drag this behemoth boat two miles across land, from Lake Champlain, in 1955. It’s been a great port in the storm.
The sky cracks open, spilling blue. We’re ready to push on, deeper into this weird and wonderful landscape.
Busy U.S. Route 7 flows down from Burlington, seven miles away, past shopping centers and mom-and-pop shops that back onto fertile Vermont fields. The commercial congestion thins out closer to Shelburne, and then the road swings into town past a dense concentration of appealing cafes and shops, skimming along the border of the Shelburne Museum, with tantalizing glimpses inside–like a drive-by museum. You can’t see Lake Champlain from the village, but the town hugs Shelburne Bay, and there are wide water views from nearby Shelburne Farms (tucked away, off the beaten path, with a sign so discreet you can easily miss the turnoff). Shelburne Bay Park conceals a pretty one-mile path along the lake, with more trails to be found in town at La Platte Nature Park.
“There’s a strong sense of community here,” says Elizabeth Bluemle, a children’s author who’s been the welcoming face behind the Flying Pig Bookstore for 17 years. She points across the street to Village Wine and Coffee, noting, “That’s a real community gathering place, and they have incredible scones and muffins.”
Please Note: This information was accurate at the time of publication. When planning a trip, please confirm details by directly contacting any company or establishment you intend to visit.