Shelburne Museum  Shelburne Museum Slide Show

Shelburne Museum 1Electra Havermayer Webb and her husband were friends of A. C. Gilbert's as well as hunting companions on his various hunting trips.  Electra was quite wealthy and a collector of Americana.   She eventually established a museum on her estate in Shelburne, Vermont.   She decided that the museum should have an exhibit of toy trains to accompany the other toys in her collection.  She wanted the layout to represent the hills and other geographic features of Vermont.   What she initially got was what appeared to her to be a rather flat layout.  She objected vociferously and changes were made after she made it clear that money was no object.  For the full story of this episode, I recommend an article by Roger Carp in the August 1992 issue of Classic Toy Trains at page 55 and another update on that article in the March 2018 issue at page 50.  Another article of interest on this subject is contained in the Winter 1983 issue of The Collector, published by the former American Flyer Collectors Club.

The 2018 ClassicToy Trains article includes a diagram of the 7.5 x 19 foot layout as originally drawn by Maury Romer in March of 1953.  It also contains photos of the layout in a more complete state than the photos shown here.  There was a notation on the back of one of them that they were taken in June 1954.  Work on the layout was apparently delayed and had only begun in March of 1954.  For that reason, I think it is likely that these photos were taken either prior to or during the process of making the layout acceptable to Mrs. Webb.  Some of the changes are noted on the back of the photos.  Among them were changes to the pond area, the elimination of the train shed, and an increase in the grade. The notations also indicated that the Wayside Station was eliminated.  From an examination of the photo in the Classic Toy Trains articles referenced above, it appears that the Wayside Station was replaced by a Mini-Craft Glendale Station & Newstand.  Only a boarding ramp from the trainshed survived.  The note also says that a house was eliminated, but I have not been able to identify it.  Possibly it was in a section of the layout that is not visible in the photos in the article.

While the article in Classic Toy Trains presents a dramatic story, I think the truth of the situation is closer to what Ed Bernard wrote in The Collector based on how it was related to him by his cousin, Maury Romer.   It appears that Mrs. Webb was disappointed by her first view of the flat layout panels without any backdrops in place.  She seems to have been more satisfied when Maury explained the effect the backdrops would have on the layout.  An examination of the photos from both the Mohrlang Collection found here and those in the Classic Toy Trains article show only minor changes from the original plan. 

Comparing the photos here with those in the Classic Toy Trains article, the Mohrlang photos appear to have been taken while the layout was still under construction and show some of the items that were later changed.  In addition, there is little if any foliage or trees in the Mohrlang photos.   Since such foliage is present in the Classic Toy Trains photos it is most likely they were taken after the completion of the layout.

It is interesting that this layout had such an extensive use of Mini-Craft buildings, since they were not offered in the 1954 catalogs.  This might be explained by the fact that the layout plan dated back to 1953 when such buildings were major Gilbert offerings.

To view the slide show of original layout photos, click on the photo or the button above.

There is still an S gauge layout at the Shelburne Museum today, which was constructed by local modelers.   An article about that layout appeared in Seven Days, Vermont's Independent Voice and can be viewed online at the this link.   The article says that no photos of the original exist,  but since you are on this page, you know that is not the case.

Learn more about the Ray Mohrlang Collection