Vermont: Green Mountains hold many treasures

By Susan Eberman – For Antique Trader

Electra Havemeyer was born with a silver (sugar) spoon in her mouth. Her father, Henry O. Havemeyer, was the president of American Sugar Refinery Co. She and her mother, Louisine, joined him on frequent trips to Europe where her parents added to their impressive art collection. Her parents encouraged Electra to become a collector, but they were shocked when her first purchase was a cigar store Indian. Little did they realize this was the start of a major American folk art collection. In 1910 Electra married Vanderbilt heir and Vermont native J. Watson Webb, who shared her passion for collecting. After 40 years they had amassed over 125,000 objects, which they displayed in their Vermont mansion, an even larger estate on Long Island, and a large New York City apartment. When Electra wanted to display their holdings, they bought land in Shelburne and began acquiring run down buildings throughout New England to house their collections. As the buildings were restored, the collections were moved into place. The museum opened in 1952 and “Electra’s hobby” became validated as visitors from all across America appreciated the treasures.

Today, 37 historic buildings house one of America’s finest museums. Open May 1 thru Oct. 31, Shelburne Museum showcases extraordinary collections of folk art, antique tools, scrimshaw, toys, glass, pewter, quilts, circus memorabilia and music boxes, to name but a few. It’s also home to the 220-foot steamboat, the S.S. Ticonderoga, which turns 100 this year. Special centennial celebrations are scheduled for July. Other 2006 special exhibits include Quebec country furniture, weathervanes, paintings by Georgia O’Keeffe, Tasha Tudor art, kaleidoscope quilts and contemporary furniture designed for Knoll Inc. by architect Frank Gehry.

A National Historic Landmark, Rokeby Museum is one of America’s best-documented Underground Railroad sites. Four generations of the Robinson family lived here from 1791 until 1961 when the home became a museum. Today, family furnishings, clothing, art, agricultural implements and a vast library are on display. The library includes over 10,000 letters written over two centuries that document the comings and goings of fugitive slaves, friends, relatives and farm workers.

United States Presidents
On Aug. 3, 1923, Vice President Calvin Coolidge was visiting his family home in Plymouth Notch when he learned that President Warren Harding had died. He was quickly sworn in by his father, a notary public. Today, the President Calvin Coolidge State Historic Site preserves the simple frame childhood home of our 30th president exactly as it was that night. The 2006 season, which runs from May 27 thru Oct. 15, includes a special exhibit, Five Years in the White House: Landmarks of the Coolidge Presidency.

The President Chester A. Arthur Historic Site in Fairfield maintains the reconstructed childhood home of our 21st president. It also includes the Baptist Church where his father was the preacher.

Located on 412 picturesque acres near Manchester, Hildene was the summer home of Robert Todd Lincoln. The firstborn child of Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln, he was the only one of their four sons to live to adulthood. After serving as Secretary of War for President James A. Garfield, he made his great success in the business world as president of Pullman Palace Car Co. from 1897 to 1911. In 1905 he built this 24-room Georgian Revival mansion, which remained in his family until 1975. Of special interest is a 1,000-pipe Aeolian organ believed to be America’s oldest residential pipe organ with a player attachment that is still being played regularly at its original location. An active schedule of special events includes major antique shows every July and September.

In 1875, the 32-room Wilson Castle was built on 115 acres in the heart of the Green Mountains. The owner, Dr. John Johnson, had married a wealthy invalid and used her money to finance its construction. When she died, Johnson was unable to pay taxes and the home was repossessed. There were 16 owners between Johnson and retired U.S. Army Col. Herbert Wilson, who purchased it in 1939. Five generations of the Wilson family have lived here, and the home remains in the Wilson family. Its current owners give public tours from Memorial Day through Columbus Day. Tour highlights include 84 original stained-glass windows and lavish European and Asian furnishings that Wilson acquired on his world travels.

The American Precision Museum, a National Historic Landmark, preserves the heritage of the mechanical arts. It houses the largest collection of historically significant machine tools in America. Collections include measuring devices, typewriters, firearms, hand tools and scale models.

Visit the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum to see a complete overview of the region’s maritime heritage. Displays include antique boats, ship models, a working blacksmith shop and a full-size Revolutionary War gunboat.