Created in 1886 by William Seward and Lila Vanderbilt Webb, the Shelburne Farm site is a treasure in Vermont, and the Vanderbilt maiden name that Lila maintained should give you a hint as to what you’re in for when you visit this posh, opulent farm.
This is not your ordinary farm house, or “farm.” Many of the buildings were designed by renowned architect Robert H. Robertson and much of the “landscaping” that defines the “countryside” surrounding the buildings was designed by the famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted who’s probably best known for his design of a little park in New York City known as “Central Park.”
Since we’d never visited the site before, we opted to take the guided property tour at $11 per person. The tour was to last approximately 1 ½ hours and include a narrative of the historic buildings and landscape from a truck-pulled, open-air wagon. It was a beautiful early fall day and it was a wonderful way to see the entire expansive property and innovative working farm that now runs on the property.
Our tour drove by the Coach House. During the estate’s heyday, the Coach Barn stabled riding and carriage horses for the Webb’s 28 stored carriages, sleighs, harnesses, and saddlery, and housed the farm’s numerous groomsmen. Completed in 1902, it was the last major Shelburne Farms building designed by Robert H. Robertson, and the last major building constructed on the property. Nowadays, this would be like needing a warehouse to store your classic car collection. Not the lifestyle of an ordinary person for sure.
Our first official stop was the Shelburne Inn. This well-appointed and expensive Inn was originally the family’s summer cottage. Actually, strike that, originally this posh palace was supposed to be the family’s temporary casual home until they completed their cavernous cottage atop the hill. Lila however loved the water too much and made Mr. Webb add on to this tiny mansion. It fell into disrepair over time, but has been restored and now is a working inn with an upscale restaurant that serves goods created at the farm. The word work is beautiful and some of the furniture is from the orginal family home.
Next on our stop was the barn, where we learned a little more about the products, including cheese that is produced here. Everything the farm now does is to maximize, naturally, crop yield, and to help other farmers in the region to develop more efficient and effective crops. From mobile chicken coups to educational programs designed to get kids back to nature, the Shelburne Farm has become, today, a testament to green farming ingenuity.
Now, the organization claims that this was the idea the whole time; that the Webb family wanted to develop an optimal farm process. But after visiting, it’s more accurate to say that the Webb’s were really only interested in creating a preposterous show piece of their prosperity and imagining a “show-off” cottage for their rich and powerful friends. We’re glad it’s more recently been formulated as a true innovative working farm, but own up to the evidence Shelburne – or perhaps there are too many Vanderbilts and Webbs still on the board.