Ask a Local: Ron Wanamaker

The thing I find most interesting about the buildings of the Champlain Valley is how well-represented every style and type of architecture is. From the historic high style Victorians to vernacular farmhouses, all the way through the post World War II building boom and the Modernist movement.

Driving north or south through the Valley, one has the opportunity to enjoy rural farmhouses and their beautiful red barns in their original context. Then as you get closer to a village, the houses start to reflect that “turn of the last century” development pattern. Closely built Victorian homes, Italianate, Second Empire, and everyone’s favorite the Queen Anne, all form a tightly spaced and tightly knit community around a Main Street that is the picture of Americana. Our small downtowns haven’t changed all that much since their inception, and even larger owns like Burlington, Saint Albans and Vergennes have managed to fit the new in with the old in such a way that as we walk around the town we can see those changing uses and tastes without erasing history or forgetting the story of our built heritage.

And if driving through the countryside or walking around an historic downtown wasn’t enough, I can’t forget to mention the Shelburne Museum or The Inn at Shelburne Farms, two related but distinctly different examples of our cultural heritage. In 1947, Electra Havemeyer Webb wanted to create an appropriate venue to host her vast collection of art and folk craft. Her vision was that it would be “an educational project, varied and alive.” She relocated 20 historic buildings and the steamship Ticonderoga to accomplish this. I’d say, vision accomplished! The Inn at Shelburne Farms was built in 1886 by William Seward and Lila Vanderbilt Webb. They planned the home and farm as a model agricultural estate to experiment and teach efficient farming practices. In 1972 the heirs of William and Lila turned the family estate into an educational nonprofit that continues the vision and dream of their forebears. Walking the grounds of either place can take your breath away, and you can easily wile away an entire day at either place, surrounded by the Champlain Valley’s beauty, both natural and manmade.

I am proud of the long tradition of Vermonters caring for our historic buildings and at the same time considering our modern needs. There is no reason that a strong and vibrant community, historic preservation, and a sustainable approach to the future can’t all be accounted for. That is visible all over the Champlain Valley.

Ron is the president of Wanamaker Restoration and Charoplain Valley Millworks. Since 1988, he has specialized in preserving, conserving and restoring historic structures and furnishings. With a shop on Kilburn Street in Burlington, Ron and his team of craftspeople work with local businesses, institutions, museums and private owners to render historically accurate reconstructions and restorations of buildings, furnishings and art objects.