New owners of Maple Museum look to continue rich Vermont tradition
By RUSSELL JONES
The New England Maple Museum, on Route 7 in Pittsford, has been open for four decades, but until recently the future of the museum was in jeopardy. New owners Tom and Rhonda Gadhue said they are not only trying to keep the museum alive, but are expanding its offerings.
“We want to bring the museum up-to-date while keeping it as original as possible,” Tom Gadhue told The Reporter this week. “We also have several ideas planned to add to what the museum has to offer.”
Started by Tom and Donna Olson in 1977, the New England Maple Museum is a snapshot of the history of the maple sugaring culture that is prevalent throughout Vermont. Not only is it one of the largest maple museums in the country, but it is also filled with one-of-a-kind artifacts that go back to the earliest days of sugaring.
“It’s a very meticulous collection,” said the museum’s unofficial historian, Laura Goodrich, who has been with the establishment for 15 years. “Once people go through and look at the exhibits they get a better appreciation for all the hard work that goes into making maple syrup.”
On a tour of the museum, Goodrich points out a few of her favorite exhibits, such as a slice of an old maple tree trunk that clearly shows the annual tree rings marking its age.
“This was donated by a 90-year-old man named Elwood,” she said, pointing to the slab of tree hanging from the wall, dotted with v-shaped discolorations from the center outward. “If you look you can see all the tap holes that were put into the tree over the years as it grew. It’s a different way to see the history of maple syrup in Vermont.”
Goodrich enjoys sharing that history with visitors who come to the museum, saying her favorite part of her job was “meeting all the wonderful people from all over the world.”
“I’m a big history buff,” she said. “I think it’s nice to share the culture and heritage with everyone.”
Though the museum is full of Vermont’s history, it’s future was cloudy just months ago. Pittsford residents Mike and Mary Blanchard bought the museum in 2013 and ran it as a seasonal business. More of a hobby for them than a business, they were forced to sell it because of health reasons.
The “For Sale” sign sat in front of the museum for months with very little interest, but when Tom Gadhue saw the sign the thought of buying the place wiggled into his mind and wouldn’t leave.
“I do fire protection, I’ve owned a sprinkler business in Williston for 32 years,” Gadhue said. “I recently bought JR Sprinkler and I was driving to Rutland twice a week.”
Gadhue said he saw the sign the first time and thought, “I don’t need that.” Then he saw it again the next week and again said to himself, “I still don’t need that.”
The third time he drove by, he pulled in to look into the window and the previous owner’s son pulled in behind him and showed him around.
“We looked around and we made a deal on it that day,” Gadhue said before smiling at his wife. “Then I had to go home and talk to my wife about it, but we came to an agreement on it and ended up buying the place.”
The Gadhues have a history with maple themselves. They have tapped a sugarbush and operated sugarhouse in Lincoln since 2012. Their Solar Sweet Maple Farm sugarhouse was built from reclaimed Vermont barns and is entirely solar powered.
“We wanted sustainability,” Tom Gadhue said. “We try to leave it better than we found it. That’s our goal.”
Gadhue has been involved in the sugaring business since he was in the fifth grade. He sold his first sugarworks in Huntington in 1999, but said he missed it the day after he sold it. That led to starting the Lincoln sugarworks and, eventually, to Pittsford and the New England Maple Museum.
Gadhue said the previous owners have been great to work with. The Blanchards wanted someone involved in the maple business to take over and the Gadhues feel the museum fits with their business nicely.
So far, the Gadhues have renovated the front showroom of the maple museum. They removed the old shelves and reconfigured the walls, ceiling and flooring, opening up the room while still maintaining the rustic charm.
“The first month and a half we were closed for remodeling,” Rhonda Gadhue said of the work they have done since buying the museum on June 3. “Since we’ve opened we’ve had a lot of the townspeople stop in and tell us they are glad we are continuing the tradition. They’ve been very supportive.”
The Gadhues have also removed some of the trees in front of the building to open up the lawn. Tom said he would build a sugarhouse in front of the museum in the next few years and eventually a creemee stand.
“We want to keep the exhibits as original as we can,” he said. “But we also will probably change up the flow of the exhibits.”
The Gadhues already have shelves full of syrup with the Solar Sweet label on them as well as maple treats that they make in Lincoln. They said they are ready for the task in front of them and speak enthusiastically about all the hard work yet to do.
After a few months of its future being uncertain, the long history of the New England Maple Museum seems to be safe in the hands of the energetic couple from Lincoln.
Tom Gadhue’s idea is to bring visitors from the early days of maple, when the Native Americans first discovered the sugarmaking process, to later periods and the beginnings of evaporators before leading them outside to see a modern-day sugaring operation in action.
“That will take them from the very earliest of maple to the present day,” he said. “We are also going to add a kitchen to make and sell our own maple products.”