The recent geological history of Shelburne Farms begins about 2.6 million years ago as the land at the Farm was transformed by glaciers over a mile high, advancing and retreating throughout the ice age.
There is evidence of human life in the Champlain Valley dating back 12,000 years. The Abenaki are the First Peoples of this place. In the 17th century, Europeans arrived and soon after began clearing the land and displacing the Indigenous community through settler colonialism. The Town of Shelburne was chartered in 1763 and by 1840 it was reported that in addition to fruit and grain production, local farmers raised over 17,000 sheep that year.
From 1886 to 1902, William Seward and Lila Vanderbilt Webb consolidated 32 of these farms into a 3,800-acre agricultural estate. Its landscape design was inspired by Central Park landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. The Webbs’ grand model horse farm began a tradition of agricultural innovation. With increasing financial pressures by the 1950s, the family shifted away from maintaining the main house and barns to focus on raising dairy and beef animals.
In 1972, Webb descendants decided to open and share Shelburne Farms with the world and give it a new purpose. In 1984 the family contributed the property to the nonprofit educational organization that owns it today.
Following the family’s initial gift, a growing community of supporters made it possible for the Board and staff to begin developing educational resources, public access opportunities, and new sources of sustainable operating revenue. Saving the Farm’s iconic structures and adapting them for new uses has been a major part of this work and the entire property was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2001. The Farm’s programs and partnerships have garnered national and international recognition and reached teachers in 49 states and 35 countries. In 2014, the United Nations University designated the Burlington area as a Regional Center of Expertise for Education for Sustainable Development. Every year, more than 1,500 educators participate in professional learning experiences offered by Shelburne Farms both on and off-site.
You can learn much more about the history of the Farm and nonprofit in The History of Shelburne Farms: A Changing Landscape, An Evolving Vision. View a sample chapter.