My new book, Shelburne Farms: House, Gardens, Farm, and Barns, published by Rizzoli, New York, is available online and at bookstores across the country.
Creating this book inspired many wonderful visits to one of my favorite places in the world. As a result, I share the beauty of a magnificent Gilded Age estate created by some of America’s leading aristocrats of the day, Lila Vanderbilt and William Seward Webb.
Built between 1886 and 1905, the estate’s buildings, designed by architect Robert H. Robertson, include Shelburne House—the Webbs’ stunning Shingle and Queen Anne–style residence, with Lila Webb’s design for a formal Italianate flower garden—as well as the Farm Barn, Coach Barn, and Breeding Barn.
The renowned landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted planned Shelburne Farms’ original 4,000 acres of pasturelands, woodlands, carriage and riding trails, and picturesque settings for its many domestic and farm buildings; in doing so, he created some of the most bucolic views of Vermont’s pastoral landscape, and sweeping, dramatic views of New York’s Adirondack Mountains, directly across Lake Champlain.
Last year, February through August, my wife, Ann, and I made our way north from Woodstock to Shelburne several times each month to explore the farm’s meadows, gardens, and buildings; to interview the staff; to taste the food; and to photograph as much of our experience as we possibly could.
I introduce the book with a brief account for my affection towards this breathtaking place:
“I will never forget my first visit to Shelburne Farms, a historic estate and farm located in northern Vermont, off Lake Champlain . . . in the spring of 1991. The trip was to meet family and friends for dinner at the Inn at Shelburne Farms. Having just moved to Vermont from Minneapolis, I did not know much about the place. I passed through the stone-walled gate and saw meadows and pastures and came upon a magnificent barn. As I drove farther, Shelburne House, sitting boldly atop a hill, came into view. I was immediately struck by the majesty of the landscape. The scale, serenity, and beauty had a powerful affect on me. Visitors experience Shelburne Farms in many different ways. After twenty-five years, I am still discovering Shelburne Farms and always learning something from it. The excitement I felt on my first visit seems never to dissipate upon subsequent visits. It is inspiring—layered with sights, smells, sounds, tastes, and astonishing beauty.”
The book is composed of several chapters that seek to capture the beautiful experience and kaleidoscopic essence of a complex place. Its complexity is ultimately the Farms’ strength, owing to the interconnectivity of its inspiring landscape, farm, animals, gardens, forests, food, and leisure.
Period photographs capture the Webb’s original vision, while my contemporary photographs showcase the results of a decades-long restoration effort.
Once a private country estate that remained in the same family for close to a century, Shelburne Farms is now a nonprofit organization and sustainable working farm that is open to the public.
The Webbs’ residence, Shelburne House, has been transformed into an inn that showcases many original paintings, furnishings, wall coverings, sculptures, and decorative arts.
The farm raises and grows most of the food it serves at its award-winning farm-to-table restaurant. The vegetable gardens are, perhaps, the cleanest and well organized system of growing food that I have ever seen.
Food is one of the hallmarks of Shelburne Farms’ contemporary identity. I asked the restaurant’s executive chef, James McCarthy, to feature several dishes that exemplify the Farms’ cooking style, while also showcasing their homegrown ingredients. He responded by creating over twenty recipes for the book, which I hope will complete my attempts to provide a captivating glimpse into this enchanting place.