The ninth of fifty fictional places to visit in Vermont you won’t find in any travel guide. Even the locals don’t know about them.
THE SHELBURNE TUNNEL
To bypass dull dinner party chit-chat, I come ready with ice breaker questions. Last month when I attended an invite-only keto beer – goat cheese pairing at an alpaca sanctuary, I was seated next to a gentleman in the housing industry named Ed. Precisely the nightmare scenario I seek to avoid. I can’t say I was expecting much, but I asked Ed what’s the strangest place he’s been to in Vermont, he took me down to an unexpected road and I got a wonderful answer to my first question.
Ed told me the strangest place he had ever visited was The Shelburne Tunnel. I asked him to repeat himself a few times because this guy was on his third or fourth goatmeal stout, but he affirmed that when he was a fledgling builder he quite accidentally discovered a secret tunnel in Shelburne.
Mister Ed claims he never spoke of before his discovery before, but back in the late 1970s, when he was doing site work for new development in an area down the street from where the school is now; he landed on a bit of concrete that was not supposed to be there. Ed being the curious sort dug deeper to discover a massive cavity under the ground.
As Ed was working alone that day, he had no one to offer advice or tell him to stop, so he lowered himself into the hole. To his amazement, he was now standing somewhere along a very dark, very ornate tunnel. He illuminated the space with his oversized flashlight and saw walls wallpapered in flowery red and the floor carpeted in a velvety purple. The edges trimmed with bright white marble. The floor had train tracks built flush to the ground for a small rail car that was not currently in view.
Ed reiterated this was no room. Light from his flashlight fell into darkness in either direction. He walked east twenty minutes, mostly uphill until he reached the end the tunnel. No light from the above world filtered in, nor did any water, animals, or decay. This tunnel was pristine save for a layer of dust. In the end, there was a french style sofa and an N.C. Wyeth painting hung above it. To one side, there was a way out – an old-fashioned elevator with manual accordion style doors to take anyone up to ground level.
While there was no power to the elevator, a grate above the sofa offered a hint to where they were. Ed turned the couch on its end, hoisted himself to the grate, and peered outside. He was surprised to find himself outside the meeting house at the Shelburne Museum.
Perplexed, Ed told me he then walked the opposite direction, due west, going the length of the tunnel; more than two miles of fancy wallpaper and beautiful unlit sconces not stopping until he reached its far end.
On the other side, he found the rail car, another empty elevator, a couch, a Wyeth painting, and a pair of roller skates. Above this sofa, was another grate in the ceiling, he shifted this sofa, lifted the grate and sneaked a peek. There, he could plainly see he was situated directly under the foyer at the Inn at Shelburne Farms.
Apparently, this tunnel was built in the 1930s or 1940s as a way for the Webb family to visit their various properties during the long winter months. As we were served a camel’s milk cheese paired with a sour elderberry brew. Ed explained he didn’t want to be the one to expose Shelburne’s hidden treasure. Upon his return to the worksite, he sealed the hole. A shed was placed on top and kept it secret for forty plus years.
When rumors of this tunnel and other hidden passages, including another one running from Electra Webb’s brick house to the museum’s general store were spoken of, Ed would dismiss them as hogwash. I have no doubt the woman who paid for a massive steamship to be moved off the lake to a perch on a hill more than two miles away was more than capable of designing a system of underground paths to keep herself occupied during Vermont’s long winters.
Good luck, finding evidence of the tunnel today either at the museum or at the inn. Someone has taken great lengths to hide the entrance to the elevators, and the grates are masked completely.
Take head, be prepared to ask the weird questions to the quiet people as you’ll be sure to get something interesting in return.