Opinion: You Really Should Visit The Museums in Bristol

People travel from all over the country to visit the museums in Bristol, Connecticut. However, it was recently brought to my attention that most residents of Bristol have never visited the museums in our own back yards. Recently, I attended a Meeting which was hosted by the American Clock and Watch Museum.

While the curators were introducing the Museum to us, we were asked for a show of hands of who has been to the Clock museum. Thinking I would be the only one who had never been there, I was shocked to see that only a few of the mostly lifelong Bristol Resident attendees had actually visited the Museum.

I spoke during the meeting and I said that all my years attending Bristol Schools and I could not recall going to one Bristol Museum on a field trip. Furthermore, I stated that my children attend Bristol schools and to my recollection, they have never gone to a Bristol Museum on a field trip.

The Curator’s then informed us that they do find that most Bristol Residents visit museums located out of the area but few actually discover the hidden gems located right in our own back yards. A Google search revealed that there are in fact three museums in our city. The American Clock Museum is located on Historic Federal Hill at 100 Maple Street.

The Imagination Nation Children’s  Museum is located at 1 Pleasant Street, and the New England Carousel Museum is located at 95 Riverside Drive.

On October 24, 1952 Edward Ingraham, president of E. Ingraham & Company, invited ten local businessmen to the “Town Club” (now the DuPont Funeral Home) in Bristol, Connecticut to discuss forming a clock museum. Since Bristol had become an industrial town due to its designation as the world’s center of clock manufacturing, it seemed appropriate that a museum be formed to preserve the heritage of the industry for future generations.

Although there had been discussion about renovating a home close to the factory on North Main Street or constructing a modern facility located on nearby Rte. 6, the 1801 home of Miles Lewis located on Federal Hill was purchased and renovated for the museum. The Bristol Clock Museum opened its doors to the general public on April 10, 1954.

At the time of the opening there were approximately 300 clocks on display and a small library containing 50 books. Continued growth over the next thirty years made it necessary to expand the facility once again and resulted in the construction of the Ingraham Memorial Wing in 1987. The additional 3000 square foot expansion improved display capabilities and provided a gallery area for the museum’s gateway exhibit, “Connecticut Clock making and the Industrial Revolution.”

Visitors to the museum will find over 1,500 clocks and watches on display including old advertising clocks, punch clocks, grandfather clocks, blinking-eye clocks, railroad clocks and even Hickory Dickory Dock clocks. While the museum is known to house the finest collection of American-made clocks on public display, its primary emphasis continues to be that of the Connecticut manufactured clock.

The New England Carousel Museum was founded as a nonprofit educational organization in 1990, in Bristol, Connecticut. The Carousel Museum rented 10,000 square feet of space on the first floor of the restored 33,000 sq. ft. factory building at 95 Riverside Avenue and owned one carousel horse for their collection. They displayed a diverse collection of carousel art and memorabilia all of which was on long-term loan to the Museum. Immediate energy went into the research necessary to create education programs, temporary exhibitions and special events.

These activities would create the necessary press to bring people of all ages to visit and revisit the Museum, while generating income for general operation. Thanks to a $100,000.00 grant for collection acquisition from the State of Connecticut. They have created a restoration department that provides artisans, carvers, painters and restorers the opportunity to work with the Museum on a regular basis to restore antique pieces, create new carousel pieces and demonstrate the art of the carousel. As the Museum evolved it has concentrated on turning the building into a Center for Arts & Culture.

In December of 1998, the State of Connecticut granted the New England Carousel Museum $250,000.00 to create a permanent home for the Museum in Bristol and for the creation of the Cultural Center for Central Connecticut. Of the amount, $200,000.00 was used toward the $300,000.00 purchase price of the building coupled with a $100,000.00 donation from the Roberts Foundation. The $50,000.00 additional funding from the State was used to begin capital improvements to the building.

The purchase of the Building not only gave the organization a permanent home but it also gave us the opportunity to grow and expand our educational offerings and create more community events. In November 2000, the Carousel Museum experience expanded on the first floor of the building by adding three new galleries: one exhibition on the History of the Carousel, and two fine art galleries. Sessions, a local artist of international reputation allowed us to create a new show of her work to launch the new fine art galleries in the Cultural Center. Since that time we have had the Opportunity of exhibiting over 50 art shows in the temporary gallery space that include fine art,Folk Art, photography, and wood carving. Once completed, They turned Their attention to developing the second floor of the building.

The Museum of Fire History opened to the public on the second floor of the building in June, 2002. Carlyle Barnes donated his fire equipment and memorabilia collection as well as funding to create this new splendid museum. The opening of the Fire Museum was accompanied by rave reviews.

The Imagine Nation Museum is a hands-on, interactive children’s museum best suited for ages 2 to 10. They are a not-for-profit 501(c)3 corporation a division of the Boys & Girls Club & Family Center of Bristol and funded in part by the United Way of West Central Connecticut. $100 Family Membership Includes free unlimited museum admission for one year for all children in one household under age 12, and two designated adults.

A one year membership in Association of Children’s Museums Reciprocal Network entitling member to be admitted free for one year during their membership, but will receive 50% off admission prices for up to 6 family members at other children’s museums within the Network. Two free one-time guest passes, a 10% discount on merchandise in the museum gift shop, Kids Market Square. As well as 2 free ice cream passes for the family to enjoy at the Old Fashioned Soda Fountain.

The museum also hosts birthday parties, has a pre-school program, many educational programs, and a Torch Club which consists of a small group of club members, ages 11-13, who engage in programs and activities agreed upon, developed and implemented by the members themselves. Groups typically involve between 6 and 15 young people, and have as a primary focus the development of character and leadership skills of group members. Each Torch Club is chartered annually though application to the Boys & Girls Clubs of America National Headquarters office.

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