The quaint streets of the towns and villages of Fairfield County are dotted with beautiful, old, historic houses. There is not a single community that would not pride itself on the natural beauty of its surroundings: our lush forests, serene lakes, majestic rivers, bubbly creeks and beautiful shoreline have long served as inspiration and refuge for local and visiting artists. It is not surprising that the county has many first-class museums featuring history and the arts. As our state and communities, most of our museums are also small, easily accessible and extremely family-friendly. Here's a summary of some of our favorites:
1. Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum
The Aldrich ins Ridgefield is a nationally recognized modern art museum which is also recognized as one of the most innovative and engaging institutions of its kind. It has no permanent collection, but rotates a variety of high-quality exhibits, several of which are featured at the same time. Consequently, the Aldrich always has something for everybody: an interesting mixed-media exhibit, a video presentation, sculptures, painting, exhibits of 'found objects'. The small museum is composed of surprisingly airy and spacious exhibition halls, providing for a leisurely, laid-back art experience.
The Aldrich Museum offers a variety of workshops and educational opportunities for children, including hands-on art classes for preschoolers and kindergartners. Every third weekend it is 'drop-in time' at the museum for families for interactive and fun art education events.
The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum
258 Main Street, Ridgefield, CT, 06877 203-438-4519
2. Bruce Museum
The Bruce Museum is a small, local museum with art and natural history exhibits. Its collections were started by Robert Moffat Bruce, a wealthy textile merchant from the late 19th century. It features a pleasing diversity of exhibits: permanent art exhibits from the work of the local Cos Cob school, natural history exhibits focused on geology, minerals, land formation complete with engaging video presentations. Its glow-in-the -dark minerals and touchable meteorite are the favorites of kids. Many of its thematic exhibits focus on the natural history of the Connecticut region.
Bruce Museum, 1 Museum Drive, Greenwich, CT, 068830 203-869-0376
3. Bush-Holley Historic Site
The Bush-Holley House has gone through many transformations throughout its two and a half century existence. Like most of colonial Connecticut, it started out simply and humbly: a one-room tiny house. Over the years it grew into a nice, colonial saltbox, proud residence of an industrious and thriving family in the Cos Cob area. By the mid-1800s it was transformed into the center of an art colony, its grounds and terraces offering sweeping views of the Long Island Sound inspiring the artists of the Cos Cob school.
As a museum, the well-preserved colonial house celebrates both: colonial life and history and the achievements and work of the Cos Cob art community. 4 of its carefully designed rooms are dedicated to the presentation of colonial life through the reconstruction of the Bush family's late 18th century home. The remaining rooms feature the work of the late 19th century Cos Cob artists.
Bush-Holley Historic Site, 39 Strickland Road, Cos Cob, CT, 06807 203-869-6899
4. Westport Historical Society: Wheeler House and The Bradley-Wheeler Barn Museum
The two-story, pretty, white, Italienete Wheeler House in Westport takes us back to the Victorian period. The house's first floor rooms have been meticulously restored with many original and replica objects for the period. The Victorian bedroom, dining room, parlor and kitchen vividly evoke the comfortable and respectable lifestyle of an American middle-class family in the post-Civil War period of new hope and growth.
Not far from the attractive, Victorian house stands the heptagonal, bulky, cobblestone Bradley-Wheeler Barn. The mysterious little building houses an exhibits of the history of Westport from native Americans to today. The key attractions are the barn's 5-foot square model of the town from 1860s with audio recordings by Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman and Swezey, the little toy train from Westport's old-timer Swezey Jewelers' shop windows.
Westport Historical Society, 25 Avery Place, Westport, CT, 06880 203-222-1424
5. Lockwood-Mathews Mansion Museum
The magnificent Lockwood-Mathews Mansion in Norwalk commemorates the glamor and larger-than-life grandeur of the Gilded Age. The great mansion is one of the biggest and most beautiful historic house-museums in Connecticut. Many of its rooms on the first-floor have been renovated and restored: its movie-worthy rotunda, luxurious and impeccably elegant library, music, dining and billiard rooms could have been in the mansion of Great Gatsby.
The park surrounding the mansion has many treats for kids. The Stepping Stones Museum for Children – with its new fun exhibit that Mommypoppins has recently featured - is just a few steps from the big house. Don't forget about the fun playground, Devon's Place also located in Mathews Park. Younger and older kids – including my almost 14-year old – seem to enjoy this playground a whole lot more than your average playground.
295 West Avenue, Norwalk, CT, 203-838-9799 (ext 3)
6. Keeler Tavern, Ridgefield
The Keeler tavern in Ridgefield is our long-time favorite. The old colonial inn-tavern-hotel-post office is interesting in itself with its many exciting objects from hundreds of years ago. What makes it real fun and entertaining is the lively stories of the costumed tour guides: colorful anecdotes, amusing rumors and gossips from the period and sometimes scary stories bring to life the tribulations, joys and everyday routines of Connecticut's colonists. Mommypoppins' detailed post about this little historic treasure chest was published here.
Keeler Tavern, 132 Main Street, Ridgefield, CT, 06877 203-438-9953
Originally written by Monika Nika 11/10/11.
Photo courtesy of Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum.