Thursday, September 28, 2023

Rokeby Museum, a Vermont stop on the Underground Railroad


In the hills lining the shore of Lake Champlain, is a museum dedicated to a history not usually connected with Vermont. The Rokeby Museum presents a look into life on a farm during the 19th and 20th centuries. However its focus is on the role that the farm and its owners played in the Underground Railroad.

Rokeby Farm was cleared in 1780’s and the farm was purchased in 1793 by Thomas Rowland Robinson, a Quaker from Newport, Rhode Island. The farm consisted of 90 acres. Its main house was built in 1814, and the outbuildings were constructed at various times over its history. The Robinson family originally made its money raising Marino Sheep for their wool. This was lucrative at the time, because Spain had an embargo on the sale of Marino sheep, whose wool was highly desired. Prices for the wool remained high until the King of Spain was forced to begin selling sheep on the international market. This caused the price to drop greatly. The Robinson family then switched to dairy farming. 

Main House
Out House

By the 1830’s Rokeby Farm was being run by Rowland Thomas Robinson. In addition to farming, Rowland Thomas Robinson was a radical abolitionist. He was involved in the political abolition movement, and Rokeby Farm became a stop on the Underground Railroad. We have a lot of evidence about its role, because the farm remained in the family until it became a museum, so there is a trove of papers and letters from that period, that were kept. Over the years, many escaped enslaved people came to Rokeby. Because the farm is so far north, they were relatively safe, and they could live openly, working on the farm before they moved on. Some left quickly, but others stayed for months or years. 

Room for escape enslaved people

Two descendants of Thomas Rowland Robinson went on to have some personal fame. Rowland T. Robinson (1833-1900) was a farmer, and became a writer toward the end of his life. His work was published in several magazines, and his novels were published late in his life, and posthumously. Rachel Robinson Elmer (1878-1919) moved to New York City, where she studied art. She is best known for creating a series of post-cards that highlighted important sights in New York City.

When you visit, budget in time for the museum’s excellent visitor’s center. It has a permanent exhibit on the Underground Railroad. The exhibit follows the escape of two enslaved men from Maryland to Vermont. 

It also houses a room for temporary exhibits. On my visit, the show was “Lift Every Voice,” a show of hooked rugs that reproduce scenes from Elizabeth Catlett’s “The Black Woman.” This is a series of linocut prints that commemorate the historical oppression, resistance, and survival of African American women in the United States.

I am the Black Woman by Bernita Watford Raleigh the fields by Gwen Hess

I Have Given the World My Songs by Liz Mariners

In Sojourner Truth I fought for the rights of women as well as Blacks by Laura Ponkos 

In Harriet Tubman I led hundreds to freedom by Mary Austin

My role has been important in the struggle to organize the unorganized by Lauren Salisbury

My right is a future of equality with other Americans by Lisa Meecham

After visiting Rokeby, I headed into the nearby town of Vergennes for lunch. I went to the 3 Squares Cafe, and had a wonderful sandwich and salad. After that I took a walk around the town, looking at some of the interesting buildings there.

The Rokeby Museum is a gem of a historical museum, and it is well worth a stop if you are in the area.   

Thursday, September 21, 2023

Shelburne Museum, Shelburne, Vermont


There are “museum villages” across the country. They can be wonderful places to learn about local history, culture, and lifestyles. The Shelburne Museum, in Shelburne Vermont,  goes a step further than most of its contemporaries, it offers excellent artwork on view for its visitors.


The Shelburne Museum was founded by Electra Havemeyer Webb (1888-1960). Webb was the youngest child of Henry Havemeyer, president of the American Sugar Refining Company, and Louisine Elder Havemeyer. Her parents were collectors of impressionist art, filling their apartment in New York City with paintings from that era. As an adult, she began collecting New England furniture and craftwork, which she used to decorate a farmhouse belonging to her in-laws.

Electra Havemeyer Webb by Shelburne Museum, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

In 1947, Electra Webb decided to form a museum to house her collection of horse-drawn carriages. She quickly realized her potential to create a “collection of collections.” She began to acquire buildings from across New England and New York, and bring them to the grounds of her museum, in Shelburne, VT. She looked for buildings of historic significance, and that would be appropriate homes to her collections of American Arts and Crafts

Today, the Shelburne Museum highlights all facets of its collection. Its 45 acres are home to 25 historic buildings, along with 14 others , that cover a wide history of New England architecture. For example, the Round Barn was built in Pessumpsic VT, in 1901. The one-room school house was constructed in 1840 in Vergennes VT. The lighthouse on site began service in 1871 on Lake Champlain, and it sits near the Ticonderoga, a steamboat the used to ply those waters.

The Shelburne Museum has several collections of New England arts and crafts. I enjoyed the collection of folk art, which is housed if the Stagecoach Inn. There are weather vanes, ship carvings, and store signs among many other examples of folk art to enjoy.


The Stagecoach Inn

Eagle by Laban Smith Beecher

Jack Tar Ship's Chandler Sign

Liberty by Eliodoro Patete

Liberty Weathervane pattern by Cushing & White

Louis Fremeau Jewelers

My favorite collection are the Impressionist paintings in the Electra Havemeyer Webb Memorial Building. This greek revival structure was constructed on-site, based on a house in Orwell VT, and its interior was designed as a recreation of six rooms in her apartment in New York City. Here, the paintings that Electra’s parents collected are displayed as they originally were. The collection includes works by Manet, Degas, and Monet, among others, along with a wonderful portrait of Electra and her mother painted by Mary Cassatt.

Electra Havemeyer Webb Memorial House

Two Dancers by Edgar Degas

The Coiffure by Mary Cassatt

In the Rehearsal Studio by Edgar Degas

The Drawbridge, Amsterdam by Claude Monet

The Greek Girl by Jean-Baptiste-Camillo Corot

Blue Venice by Edouard Manet

In The Garden by Edouard Manet

Ice Floes by Claude Monet

Thames at Charing Cross Bridge by Claude Monet

Grainstacks, Snow Effect by Claude Monet

Louisine Havemeyer and her Daughter Electra by Mary Cassatt

The Pleisner Gallery offers a rotating exhibit of paintings by Ogden Pleisner, staged in a recreation of his home studio. It also houses temporary exhibits. During my visit it offered works by Stephen Huneck, whose whimsical depiction of the lives of pets were a joy to see.

Pliesner Gallery

Greetings by Stephan Huneck

The Waiting Room by Stephen Huneck

What museum village would be complete without a general store. The A. Tuckaway General Store was built in 1840 to serve as the post office for Shelburne VT. It was moved to the museum in 1952. The Apothecary House was added to the structure in 1959. Together, they offer offer a slice of New England life in the 19th century.

The Pizzagalli Center for Art and Education is the one modern looking building on the campus of the museum. With a state of the art auditorium, 200 square feet of class room space and two large galleries, it is an excellent home to rotating exhibitions. On my visit I saw “Objects of Play” which examined the work of two toy designers, Karen Hewitt and Cat Holman. Both played a role in developing toys that were meant to used in open-ended play, without specific instructions on how to use them. This allows children to explore and learn in their own way and at their own speed.

Photo from

The Shelburne Museum is a destination in it own right. It offers a reason to visit the Burlington Area, and it is worth a day to see it completely.