PITTSFORD — The New England Maple Museum has new owners.
Rhonda and Tom Gadhue, of Lincoln, bought the museum June 3 and had a soft opening in early July.
“My husband travels this route for work,” said Rhonda Gadhue on Tuesday. “He’d driven by a couple of times and saw the ‘for sale’ sign, so he came home one day and said, ‘You’ll never guess what’s for sale.’ I said, ‘I have no idea.’ He said, ‘The New England Maple Museum!’ and I said, ‘No, thank you.’ “
Gadhue got over her initial misgivings, however, and the couple have undertaken extensive renovations for the local landmark, significantly opening up the front end and modernizing everything while keeping the rustic feel.
“We’re trying to make it visible from the road,” she said. “With the huge pine trees, it’s hard to do that.”
Workers were busy last week taking down the pine trees. Gadhue said the plan is to keep up with everything the former owners, the Blanchards, had been doing, and to sell more Vermont-made products. During the next few years, the Gadhues aim to produce maple syrup products on site.
Finding a source of maple syrup will be easy for the couple.
“Tom and I have a sugar house in Lincoln. It’s called Solar Sweet Maple Farm, and we’ve been talking for quite a while about how we were going to retail our syrup,” Rhonda said. “We’re at the end of the road right near the national forest, so there’s no traffic. Most of our syrup we sell in bulk, and then we retail it during sugaring season.”
The museum’s key feature is a large — possibly the largest — collection of maple-sugaring artifacts. These are displayed alongside original, handcrafted dioramas and murals depicting historical Vermont maple-sugaring activities.
Tom Gadhue said he plans to do some insulation work on the museum section and update a few things, while keeping all that’s currently there.
“I will definitely try and add to it, that’s our next goal,” Gadhue said. “We’re putting in a kitchen in the back room over there so we can make maple cream and maple sugar, all of that can be made right in-house here, then we’re going to build a creemee stand and have a live sugar house out here on the front lawn.”
The couple said they hope that will come together over the course of the next few years. An official grand opening is planned in the fall.
The museum was previously owned by Mike and Mary Blanchard, who bought it from founder Tom Olson in 2013. Mike Blanchard told the Herald in December that he planned to close it by Christmas and hoped to soon sell it to someone who would take it over. Blanchard said he and Mary ran it more or less as a hobby in their retirement, but because of health reasons could no longer do so.
The Blanchards ran it as a seasonal business. The Gadhues said they aim to run it year-round, though the hours might change depending on traffic. Right now, it’s open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week.
The museum was founded in 1977 by Olson, an engineer by trade who had an interest in the Vermont maple syrup industry. In a December interview, he credited his wife, Dona, with the business’ success.
About 50 people attended a public meeting last Wednesday to hear about potential future plans for the use of College of St. Joseph as a “center for innovation and excellence.”
Robert Zulkoski, chairman and managing partner of Vermont Works, an investment firm that has partnered with the college, offered an encouraging word about the ambitious plans to revive the working space, living space and event space on campus for new uses.
“I think the most important thing to know is, I don’t think any of us would be spending the time or spending the money if we didn’t think this was viable, right? We’ve done enough work ahead of time — yes, there’s no shortage of heavy lifting going forward that we need to do, and everyone in this room plays a critical component in helping us because the main beneficiary, hopefully, for this whole thing is the community — but we wouldn’t be doing this if we didn’t think we could do it,” he said.
Under pressure from the New England Commission of Higher Education to demonstrate the college’s future financial sustainability, the board of directors at the college, or CSJ, decided to close the doors as a degree-granting institution. The last class graduated at the end of the 2018-19 academic year.
In June, Dr. Jennifer Scott, president of the college, said her staff and staff from Vermont Works and Vermont Innovation Commons were working together to create a plan that would allow future education opportunities at the school.
On Wednesday, more details were provided about the vision for CSJ’s future.
Mayor David Allaire alluded to other area colleges, Green Mountain College in Poultney and Southern Vermont College in Bennington, which closed recently.
“In case you hadn’t heard, the College of St. Joe’s is not closed. It’s time to reinvent the college, and I want to tell you that the city is excited that there is interest in doing just that. We want to be able to support the efforts that are going down here as much as we possibly can,” Allaire said.
Scott said she had already told NECHE officials that her long-term plan was to return CSJ’s ability to grant degrees.
The idea of creating an “innovation center” comes from other success stories across the country or the world, said Dennis Moynihan, director of programs for Vermont Innovation Commons.
The “components” of the center are programming — or ongoing education — co-living space, event space, co-working space and design space, or collaborative creative space. Moynihan pointed out those different aspects all match up with facilities on a college campus. At CSJ, those sites are currently idle.
The CSJ campus is in a federally designated “opportunity zone,” which provides access to capital.
A feasibility study, estimated to take 120 days to complete, has begun and is expected to be ready by the end of September.
“At that point, we expect to have a plan that is informed by the things that we learned during these four months about how to implement such an idea and such initiatives here at CSJ,” Scott said.
Moynihan said the results of the study could have other benefits.
“What comes next? As we said earlier, (the study) is the blueprint for the nuts-and-bolts of how we start taking things forward. It’s great to have a concept, but you really have to do the heavy lifting to know what’s going to work. Going forward from here, it’s about execution, it’s about taking the findings and the output of the feasibility study, looking at the next steps, which are detailed engineering, detailed construction planning, detailed program assessment. It also gives us the framework, that we can start having the conversations with venture funding, opportunity zone funding, other funders, to invest in the idea of creating the innovation center here as a going concern and looking for returns on that investment,” she said.
Moynihan said the study will give the project’s organizers a “viable story” to tell when they seek investors.
Another public meeting on the project is expected at the end of September.
Until then, ideas, comments and feedback can be sent by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The newest addition to the Rutland Sculpture Trail will be, like its subject, the first of its kind.
Martin Henry Freeman, a Rutland native who became the first African-American president of an American college, the Allegheny Institute, will be the next portrait sculpture in a series that has depicted a scene from “The Jungle Book,” Olympic champion skier Andrea Mead Lawrence headed down a mountain and members of a black Civil War regiment in battle.
The Freeman piece, which is being sculpted now at West Rutland’s Carving Studio & Sculpture Center, was designed by Mark Burnett, of Leominster, Massachusetts.
Burnett has taken classes at the Carving Studio and provided some photographs of family members who were members of the 54th Massachusetts Regiment that were used to create the piece that is near the corner of Center Street and Merchants Row.
“It was important for me because I can’t imagine in that time, in that period, what that person must have had to deal with to overcome, to achieve what he had to, just to have educated himself to that level,” said Burnett, who is black.
Freeman was born in 1826. He was the salutatorian of his class at Middlebury College when he graduated in 1849. After leading Allegheny, in Pittsburgh, Freeman moved to Africa and served as president of Liberia College until he died in 1889.
Burnett, who worked from the only available photo of Freeman to create the design for the sculpture, said the experience made him feel closer to his subject.
“I sometimes find myself talking to my model or asking permission if I can try something, trying to really, really connect,” he said.
Steve Costello, who originated the local sculpture trail and led the effort to create individual pieces, said the committee working on the pieces chose Burnett because of the samples of his work and the proposal he submitted.
“I think it was really wonderful that we found Mark, frankly. In talking with him and reading his proposal, (it was) really clear that he felt really close to the subject matter, and that he would really put himself into the work in a really deep and meaningful way. His skills are really what won the commission,” Costello said.
Burnett said the Freeman design is the biggest, but not the first, work of his sculpting career.
Tracing his involvement in the arts back to grade school, Burnett said his family has a number of artists but no other sculptors.
But, while the Freeman piece will have a high profile, sculpting is not Burnett’s primary occupation. Burnett, 53, is a lieutenant in the Leominster Fire Department, where he’s served for 33 years.
“There are a lot of artists in the fire department,” he said.
On a recent Wednesday afternoon, Don Ramey, who has been involved in the Carving Studio, “from the very beginning,” was working on the full-sized sculpture based on Burnett’s design.
Ramey also sculpted the piece based on the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, which he said connected with his support and “special feeling” for veterans.
Ramey also connected with Burnett because Burnett provided artistic material for the 54th Regiment piece.
“When Mark got the job to do the (Freeman) portrait, I was happy to be able to work with him to do the job,” he said.
Costello said the site was still being chosen for the Freeman piece.