Sunday, May 4, 2014

Traveling with History: Road Trip through Vermont

By Jeff Burns

In the summer of 2012, my wife and I decided to do a road trip through Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine.  The plan was into fly into Burlington Vermont, rent a car, and just go wherever the roads took us.  It was a wonderful trip even though New England was in the midst of a heat wave, with highs reaching the mid-80s.  As Georgians, it was absolutely refreshing even though the New Englanders were sweltering.

First stop was the Shelburne Museum, just outside Burlington.  The Shelburne is actually several museums in one, an outdoor experience featuring many restored buildings and collections that detail the  history of New England. Over 150,000 works are exhibited in a remarkable setting of 38 exhibition buildings, 25 of which are historic and were relocated to the Museum grounds.

Impressionist paintings, folk art, quilts and textiles, decorative arts, furniture, American paintings, and a dazzling array of 17th-to 20th-century artifacts are on view. Shelburne is home to the finest museum collections of 19th-century American folk art, quilts, 19th- and 20th-century decoys, and carriages.  Knowledgeable docents are on hand to explain and answer questions.

Our favorites were the quilt collection, Shaker Barn, and the General Store.

General Store, Shelburne
At Plymouth Notch, we found President Calvin Coolidge’s birthplace. His boyhood homestead, the farm, general store, church, and home he grew up in are all preserved for you to see.  In fact, he first took the oath of office in his childhood home upon learning of the death of warren Harding.  It’s a great presidential site, and I learned a lot about the man that I didn’t know before.

Calvin Coolidge Boyhood Home
Robert Todd Lincoln, the sole surviving son of Abraham and Mary Lincoln, seemed to be destined to be a historical figure.  Indeed, he had a long career in government himself, was a Gilded age businessman, and served as the Chairman of the Pullman Company, the largest manufacturing company in America at the turn of the 20th century.  In 1905, he built Hildene, a beautiful Georgian Revival mansion in Manchester Vermont.  It was occupied by Lincoln descendants until 1975.  Both the mansion and the gardens are absolutely beautiful, and you get a real sense of the Gilded Age.

Hildene Garden
In Brandon, you can stop at the birthplace of Stephen Douglas, the Little Giant, one of the most noted and influential politicians of the 1850s. It’s a small house and small museum, only opened since 2010, but you get a taste of where he came from and his early life, along with the long abolitionist history of the area. 

What tour of Vermont would be complete without stopping by Ben and Jerry’s .  That’s right, tour the ice creamery in Waterbury and enjoy a free sample. 

Overall, Vermont was a great trip.  We loved the quaint towns, friendly people, and it was obvious everywhere that Vermont treasures its h