By WILL ROSS
The New England Maple Museum is a memorable landmark for those who frequent Route 7 south through Pittsford, Vermont. But while the giant jug of syrup and red-roofed bridge out front may be a familiar sight to many, a lot of residents may not realize just what the museum has to offer. Inside, in addition to the large collection of historic sugaring equipment, there is a newly renovated gift shop featuring unique products made by local artisans. From sweets to clothing and much more, the Maple Museum captures the spirit of the local Vermont artisan and the history that made it all possible.
The museum was originally opened in 1977 by Tom Olson, who purchased a collection of maple sugaring equipment to start the museum. In 2012, ready for a change, Olson stepped away from the Museum and it was purchased by Mike and Mary Blanchard who operated the museum for 7 years. During those forty years, the museum’s collection began to grow as local sugar makers donated old equipment. One day in 2019 while driving by Tom Gadhue, a local syrup maker out of Lincoln saw the museum was for sale. Looking for a place to sell their syrup retail, Tom and his wife Rhonda were inquisitive and ended up purchasing the museum.
Upon the purchase, the pair knew they wanted to offer something unique—more than just the average store. So, they began renovations, gutting the front of the museum and constructing a new storefront that would encapsulate the essence of local Vermont production. “To support local is important,” said Rhonda Gadhue. “There are so many small artisans out there.” As they began filling the store with inventory, the Gadhues knew they wanted it to be a specialty Vermont gift shop, offering unique inventory that you couldn’t pick up from just any store down the road. The pair were committed to making the store “really Vermont-driven,” as Rhonda pointed out. “We wanted it to be unique and Vermont-focused.”
Typically, the museum caters to tour groups that come from across the country by bus and bike. They offer a guided tour that takes participants through the amber-rich history of maple syrup production. From the initial processes used by indigenous tribes to the further development by Europeans, the museum depicts just how much syrup production has evolved over the years. A wall covered in murals illustrates the chronology of these events, giving group members a chance to see the history involved in the syrup-making process. The museum’s collection includes harvesting and processing equipment used for hundreds of years by local syrup makers. “There is just such history,” said Rhonda “it is very familial, like generation upon generation.” After groups have had a chance to soak up the antique equipment, there is a short video shown in a theater room that explains how processes were developed and changed over time. Once the tour groups have gained this deeper understanding of the sugaring process, they are provided with some samples of different syrups from the farm in Lincoln.
All the syrup that is sold in the museum comes from the Solar Sweet Maple Farm in Lincoln, which is owned and operated by the Gadhues. When building the sugar house, Tom and Rhonda placed an emphasis on sustainability, outfitting it with solar power, energy-efficient equipment, and reclaimed materials from old barns. All of the sap is gathered on the plot of land in Lincoln that is sustainably managed, and the wood that fuels the evaporator is ethically harvested from dead or fallen trees on the property. They are a sole source producer, meaning all the maple syrup sold is produced by them with no other parties involved. “When you buy your maple syrup here, you know it is coming from Lincoln, Vermont,” said Rhonda. “You cannot go wrong with maple syrup made by local Vermonters.” Especially when the producers take great care in maintaining the ecology of local forests to ensure people can continue to enjoy Vermont maple syrup for years to come.
The museum hopes to provide an experience and inventory that is authentically Vermont. When you shop locally at businesses like the Maple Museum, you are supporting the state, its local artisans, and its farmers. The gift shop has something for everybody, whether it is locally made clothing, decorative pieces, kitchenware, or just good old maple syrup. The New England Maple Museum is now much more than just a museum. With the Gadhues placing a focus on local artisans, sustainability, and unique products you won’t find anywhere else, many local residents have yet to discover this hidden gem. Whether it be sweetness, history, or anything in between, The New England Maple Museum really encapsulates the essence of what Vermont has to offer.