Best known for its connection with the Underground Railroad, the Rokeby Museum preserves the history of four generations of remarkable Robinsons. Ahead of its time in every way, the family was made up of Quakers, abolitionists and artists. They were also successful farmers. Patriarch Thomas R. Robinson was among the first agriculturalists to import Merino sheep to the U.S. If he were around today, the old man might be raising something equally radical, like llamas. Two of them live across the road from the Rokeby, along with a camel.
The forest is never far away when you’re in central Vermont. In Montpelier, there’s a 28-acre reserve on Elm Street. The North Branch Nature Center maintains a network of hiking trails along the Winooski River and through Hubbard Park that links up with a similar system in East Montpelier. Nature programs for all ages include summer camps for kids, lecture series and amphibian monitoring programs.
You can’t miss the gold dome — Montpelier’s “bling” — on the outside, but the inside of the Vermont State House interior is full of treasures, too. Meticulously restored to its original glory, the building is a lesson in architectural evolution, with excellent examples of Neoclassical, Greek Revival, American Empire, Renaissance Revival, Rococo Revival and Aesthetic Movement styles. Phew. The legislative session runs January through May, but the building is open to the public all summer, too. Weekday tours are every half hour from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. On Saturday, it’s 11 a.m.
Located on the Burlington waterfront, the 2.2 acre ECHO Lake Aquarium and Science Center/Leahy Center for Lake Champlain features 70 live species, more than 100 interactive experiences, seasonal changing exhibits and events — all exploring the ecology, culture, history, and opportunity for stewardship of the Lake Champlain Basin.
The Sheldon Museum, on Middlebury’s town green, serves as both a municipal archive and showcase of 19th-century small-town Vermont life.
The Shelburne Museum: Just do it. Electra Havemeyer Webb’s collection of fine and folk art may be Vermont’s greatest cultural treasure. The “gallery” experience could not be less intimidating. You can walk leisurely between the buildings, where people in period dress act as printers, blacksmiths and apothecaries. Or wander through the staterooms on the lovingly restored passenger steamer S.S. Ticonderoga. In the Electra Havemeyer Webb Memorial Building are some of the museum’s — and the world’s — most precious paintings by Manet, Monet, Degas and Cassat.
The same Webb family that founded the Shelburne Museum gets credit for developing Shelburne Farms, created in 1886 as a model agricultural estate. Landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted envisioned the campus; architect Robert Robertson designed the buildings, including the massive, fairy-tale breeding, farm and coach barns. In its heyday, the 3800-acre farm had 300 employees. Today Shelburne Farms is an educational nonprofit practicing “rural land use that is environmentally, economically and culturally sustainable.” There’s also an inn that serves amazing food.
The Main Street Museum in White River Junction offers an interesting mix of international and quirky Americana curiosities, such as this summer’s “Tramp and Hobo Symposium.” Want something even stranger? Check out the “Flora and Fauna Collection,” which, according to the museum’s website, represents “invasive species from the infrastructure of an economically marginal Vermont downtown. Our dried cats are not true mummies; they are merely dehydrated.”
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