TRASH, TROLLEYS, CANNONS AND CAROUSELS
Connecticut’s Museums Cover an Eclectic Mix of (Sometimes) Curious Topics
HARTFORD — September 19, 2005 — Not one but two devoted to trash; several covering almost every form of transportation, from helicopters to trolleys; collections of puppets, dental equipment, locks and vintage radios: Connecticut’s museums provide fascinating glimpses into virtually every nook and cranny of history and man’s endeavors. Some are decidedly unique.
This is not to say that the state is lacking in major museums dealing with art, natural history and scientific accomplishments. Yale University alone can claim some of the country’s most important collections and others can be found throughout the state. But some of the most interesting, and enjoyable, museums are devoted to very particular interests, often the inspiration or obsession of a single individual. There’s no better example than the Ballard Institute & Museum of Puppetry at the University of Connecticut in Storrs (860-486-4605), the official museum of puppetry for the State and largely the creation of Frank Ballard, professor of dramatic arts and legendary, passionate puppet master.
Puppets are not the only subject of museums in Connecticut that have particular appeal to the child in everyone. There’s the Barnum Museum in Bridgeport, dedicated to P.T. Barnum, the man whose name is synonymous with circuses in America (www.barnum-museum.org). The collection includes a Lilliputian circus of nearly 4,000 pieces as well as an Egyptian mummy and the one-ton wonder, Baby Bridgeport. In a related vein, the Barker Character, Comic & Cartoon Museum in Cheshire (203-699-3822) has over 80,000 toys and characters, cartoon memorabilia, 1,000 lunchboxes and 3,000 Popeye items. It’s the official museum of the California Raisin and Gumby. And, the Carousel Museum of New England, in Bristol (860-585-5411) contains some of the finest pieces of antique carousel art in existence.
The subject of transportation, reflecting both Connecticut’s history and industry, is well covered. The Golden Age of Trucking Museum in Middlebury (203-577-2181) features over 36 antique trucks; the Connecticut Fire Museum in East Windsor (860-623-4732) has actual fire apparatus dating back to the 1850’s as well as models, and the Historic Ship Nautilus & Submarine Force Museum in Groton (860-694-3194) is a nationally renowned repository of the entire history of submarines in America. Nearby, the world-famous Mystic Seaport (860-572-5315) captures the history of America’s relationship with the sea, including several full-sized historic vessels, a seaport village and a year-round calendar of special events. And, the Old Lighthouse Museum in Stonington (860-535-1440) is a sterling reminder of the important (and now picturesque) roles played by Connecticut’s many coastal lighthouses in marine navigation and safety.
The National Helicopter Museum in Stratford (203-375-5766) reflects the important role that the Sikorsky Company played in developing and building the country’s leading helicopters, while the New England Air Museum in Windsor Locks (860-623-3305) is the largest aviation display in the northeast.
Two museums are devoted to trolley cars. The Connecticut Trolley Museum, also in East Windsor (860-627-6540), features a three-mile round trip ride on antique trolleys, and the Shore Line Trolley Museum in East Haven (203-467-6927), has over 100 classic trolleys on display, including the first electric model and the oldest rapid transit car. Not to be outdone, railroading is even better represented, with at least three museums, including the SoNo Switch Tower Museum in Norwalk (203-246-6958), a rare 1890’s New Haven Railroad switch tower. Among the others are the Railroad Museum of New England/Naugatuck Railroad Company in Thomaston (860-283-RAIL), a 20-mile ride on restored historic tracks along the Naugatuck River; the Connecticut Eastern Railroad Museum in Willimantic (860-456-9999), an entire railroad village with a roundhouse and pump car rides; and, while not strictly a museum, the Essex Steam Train & Riverboat Ride, based in Essex (860-767-0103), which offers excursions in 1920’s coaches pulled by authentic steam locomotive dinner cars and on riverboat rides on the Connecticut River.
Moving into the realm of visual arts, Connecticut has more than its share of important collections, among them the Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme (860-434-5542), where American Impressionism was born and nurtured. Another is the Lyman Allyn Art Museum in New London (860-443-2545), a collection of 18th and 19th century American decorative arts. But one of the more unusual art displays contains one of the largest collections of WPA murals, in Norwalk’s City Hall (203-854-0202). These Works Progress Administration pieces were created in the 1930’s and 1940’s as part of President Franklin Roosevelt’s efforts to pull the country out of depression. Connecticut’s Native American cultural legacy is also on display in several museums, including the Mashantucket Pequot Museum in Mashantucket (800-411-9671), the world’s largest and most comprehensive Native American museum and research center, and the Tantaquidgeon Indian Museum in Uncasville (860-862-6403), filled with lore about the Eastern Woodland Indians.
Finally, there are what might be described as the truly oddball museums of Connecticut. The Trash Museum in Hartford (860-247-4280) and The Garbage Museum in Stratford (203-381-9571) are actually educational in nature, designed to inform the public about environment and waste removal issues and challenges. But there are also the Vintage Radio & Communications Museum of Connecticut in Windsor (860-673-0518), with over 750 rare radios and television sets; the Lock Museum of America in Terryville (860-589-6359), the largest collection of locks, key and ornate hardware in the country; the Old Newgate Prison in East Granby (860-653-3563), the first State Prison in America; the Salisbury Cannon Museum in Lakeville (860-435-2878) depicting the history of iron working in the state; the Museum of Fife and Drum in Ivoryton (860-767-2237), the only museum in America devoted to parades, from the Revolution to the present day; and, last but not least, the Menczer Museum of Medicine & Dentistry in Hartford (860-236-5613), displaying medical and dental instruments from the last 300 years. All combined, who needs the Smithsonian Institute in Washington; Connecticut’s museums represent a showcase for all of American history and life.
For further information about the 52 Getaways to Connecticut, restaurants, resorts, country inns, B&Bs and other places to stay in Connecticut, please call 888-CTvisit (888-288-4748) or log on at www.CTvisit.com. Connecticut offers visitors a multi-faceted wealth of attractions, historical, cultural and recreational activities, diverse and beautiful natural landscapes, parks, beaches and wilderness sure to fulfill any getaway need.
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