The Mountain Times

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Exploring Vermont’s “Hidden” Gems: Vermont Marble Museum and Wilson Castle

There are many "hidden" opportunities to experience firsthand the human desire to achieve something special in Vermont. From famous paintings and indigenous marble to elegant mansions and intriguing museums, a sojourn "off the beaten path" can lead to a greater appreciation for the human aspirations that are so deeply embedded in this state's history.

Ambition, an industrious nature and creative talents have always characterized Vermonters and these traits and their resulting achievements can be seen in visits to two very special and historic places, the Vermont Marble Museum and Wilson Castle.

Both are living monuments to Vermont's power to excite, awe, and inspire. As regional treasures, they are worthy of a visit - and are impressive places to take vacationing relatives or company as well.

Vermont Marble Museum in Proctor

A visit to the Vermont Marble Museum, home to the largest and most unique marble exhibit in the world, is an absolute must this summer because the owners announced recently that they will have to close the museum in October. Hopefully, a way to keep this amazing museum open will be found - there is talk of non-profit status - but the reality of costs in today's world, in particular electricity costs to light the facility, are jeopardizing its future. So do yourself a favor and visit soon.

There are over 100 exhibits in 17 rooms, including a grand entrance hall with impressive marble statuary. It is a fitting and awe-inspiring entry that speaks of the promise to wile away an hour or two or three taking in the history, art, and science of Vermont marble.

The Geology Room provides an educational and entertaining look at the history of marble while the movie on how the Vermont Marble Company came to prominence is an interesting look at its founding and accomplishments. Its ambitious founder Redfield Proctor was responsible for Vermont marble being used in such famous buildings as the U.S. Supreme Court and Jefferson Memorial.

The Hall of Presidents, which features marble busts of our presidents, is a favorite for many, and it's fun to compare notes on which is the best likeness. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Exhibit also should not be missed.

Besides learning about the world's largest underground marble quarry in Dorset Mountain and the fascinating ways of quarrying, you can learn about the many famous places Vermont Marble is being used. It is also intriguing to learn about the current uses of ground Calcium Carbonate (marble) in the paper, plastic, food and pharmaceutical Industries - yes, even in our chewing gum and toothpaste!

And on a practical, interior decorating level, you can see displays of marble use in the home, from elegant marble bathrooms to the impressive kitchens with serpentine counters - just gorgeous.

For those of us who find it challenging to carve a piece of soap or wood (remember those camp days?), watching sculptor-in-residence Allen Dwight provides an awe-inspiring appreciation for the painstaking process of carving marble. The sculpting studio is a wondrous prelude to the visit to the Gallery that features finished work that is for sale.

There is an exceptional gift shop that features all things marble as well as marble and pewter items like cake and pie servers, cheese knives, rolling pins, letter openers, and salad servers - made in partnership with Danforth Pewter. This is a great place to shop local for wedding and graduation gifts.

Just a short quarter-mile walk or drive from the museum, you can view the Sutherland Falls Quarry, the original Proctor Quarry and an impressive experience.

Among the many buildings you will see constructed of marble in Proctor, there are the Union Church on Church Street and St. Dominic Church on South Street and the Proctor Family Mausoleum across from it. [The "marble trail" continues in nearby Rutland with the U.S. Post Office and Court House at 121 West Street made of local marble and no less than 13 buildings featuring marble construction and/or various marbles in lobbies and entryways from banks and the Paramount Theatre to the medical center and City Hall.]

The Vermont Marble Museum is open seven days a week starting May 25 from  9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (tickets to the museum are $7 adults, $6 seniors, $4 teens, children free, group rates for 20 or more, and reduced advanced ticket rates by calling 800-427-1396).

Directions: The museum is located northwest of Rutland. Take Business Route 4 to the turn for Route 3 North in Center Rutland and follow a few miles to the scenic town of Proctor, which boasts marble sidewalks, benches, foundations, retaining walls, Veterans Memorial, and steps. Bear left (west) across the marble bridge and continue along Main Street as it bends north and the museum will be on your right.

Marble Hall Of Presidents - By Karen Lorentz - IMG_2007

Wilson Castle

Close by on the West Proctor Road is the magnificent Wilson Castle, with a façade set in English brick and Vermont marble. Modeled after an English castle so that his wife would be "less homesick," the Castle was built in 1867 for Doctor John Johnson who took advantage of his wife's wealth to construct the $1.3 million home. They divorced, and he ran out of money causing the estate to be bought and sold four times from the 1880s to 1939.

In 1939, Herbert Wilson, a pioneer in the AM radio field who was looking for a place for a radio station and summer home, spotted the vacant edifice and bought it - a bargain at $40,000! He added many artifacts from his travels and when he retired to the castle in 1962 began giving tours, which his daughter carried on when he passed away in 1981.

Today, his granddaughter keeps this treasure open, providing a unique opportunity to see antiques and furnishings from around the world - like the Pope's chair or the engraved head of Martha Washington which resembles Bill Clinton!

The artwork, décor, and 86 stained glass windows are astounding, but it is the unusual stories that make the castle truly memorable! That is where the guided tour comes in - the tales alone are worth the price of admission.

To help with the considerable costs of operating and maintaining the estate, there are special events throughout the year - Halloween Haunted House and murder mystery events - and private parties and weddings are also hosted.

The Castle's 2012 season begins with an Open House on May 25 from 5 to 7 p.m. and welcomes volunteers to join them and learn about opportunities to assist in keeping this wonderful estate open to the public.

The Castle is open for guided tours every day, starting on May 26 at 9 a.m. (tickets are $10 for adults, $9 for AAA members, $5.50 ages 6-12, under 6 free) with the last tour at 5 p.m. Groups of ten or more are asked to call ahead (773-3284; rates are $6.30/person for 10 or more adults in a group).

Directions: From Business Route 4, traveling West of Rutland, turn right onto the West Proctor Road 1/2 mile beyond Route 3. If going East, turn left 2 1/2 miles from West Rutland. (If you are using the U.S. Route 4 highway, take Exit 6 and then follow directions for traveling east.)

Marble Headstones - By Karen Lorentz - IMG_2002

Tagged: proctor, Vermont Marble Museum