Monthly Archives: March 2014

The Shaw Mansion Has Stood the Test of Time

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The Flock Theatre Troupe at the Shaw’s Mansion Museum

The Shaw Mansion Museum is a must-stop on any Connecticut tour if you are interested in the early history of New London, one of the state’s five original cities, and a lot more.

You can step inside the home of a successful merchant and Revolutionary War patriot whose home served as the Connecticut Naval War Office during the fight for independence.

Inside you can marvel at what is preserved there and be thankful that British Red Coats under the command of Benedict Arnold were not successful at burning it as they did much of the city in 1781. You can walk the manicured grounds and reflect on this period time capsule.

Built in 1756 as the home of Capt. Nathaniel Shaw, the Georgian-style granite structure and grounds sits on two acres overlooking the Historic New London Harbor.  Today, it is home to the New London County Historical Society which has preserved Capt. Shaw’s home with its period furniture, its many artifacts and significant manuscripts.  There are guided tours with an emphasis on the West Indies trade and early history of New London with a strong history and maritime tradition.

The house and its contents provide visitors with both the look and the feel of an important time in the development of not only the city, but also the role New Londoners played in the founding of our nation. The Shaw Mansion Museum offers not only a revealing look at the past but also serves as link to a maritime past that includes both the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 that followed.

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The Shaw Mansion Museum www.nlhistory.org

11 Blinman Street

New London, CT 06320

860-443-1209

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Feel the Wind in Your Sails From Historic New London

Mystic Whaler

The Mystic Whaler provides Tall Ship Adventures to the public from the same historic waterfront in New London that once was the 19th century home of our country’s second largest whaling fleet.

The whalers are long gone, of course, and the port of New London is used by more modern means of waterborne conveyance, but the Mystic Whaler keeps alive the memory of that earlier era and offers the public a chance to experience the exhilaration of moving through the water under sail.

The Mystic Whaler launched its maritime career in 1967 as a reproduction of a late 19th century coastal cargo schooner, the workhorse of a class of vessels that helped fuel our nation’s economy in the days before railroads and superhighways. They were extensively used in New England, the Chesapeake and Great Lakes regions.

The meaning of the word “schooner” could stem from the Dutch, or an interpretation of scoon, a Scots word that roughly translates to “skipping along the water”.  It may, or may not, have been shouted out by someone at a 1700’s launching in Gloucester, Mass. As the story goes, the word was uttered in amazement within earshot of the shipyard owner who promptly dubbed the new class of vessels schooners. True?  Who knows, but it makes for good topic to debate over a pint of Grog after the last sail has been furled.

Whatever, the origins of the name, the craft that became known as schooners quickly came to serve a number of purposes, fishing, cargo-hauling and privateering and blockade running during the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812.

Today, like the Mystic Whaler, they are mostly used, to carry passengers on leisure cruises, and by groups dedicated to protecting our marine environment and as educational platforms, teaching young people about our state and nation’s proud maritime traditions.

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Mystic Whaler  


35 Water St, New London, CT 06320
(860) 447-1249

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Watching Time Go By Has Never Been So Much Fun

Clocks Two

Connecticut-made clocks are displayed in locations as far apart in distance and purpose as the Slater Memorial Museum in Norwich and the Diplomatic Reception Rooms at the State Department in our nation’s capital.

But for sheer volume, you’re not going to beat the American Clock & Watch Museum in Bristol.   It is one of the few museums in the United States devoted to the science and art of timekeeping and those who put together the means of keeping that time.

And, it has the 5,000 timepieces to underscore that point. These scientific instruments combine utilitarian value and the look of artistic masterpieces—scientific instruments fashioned artists. They found a way to satisfy that need for order in our lives while addressing the equally important desire to please our aesthetic yearnings.

If you’re a clock watcher, and even if you are not, and want to see why Connecticut was once known as the clock capital of the United States, then a trip to Bristol might be the thing to do.

Clock makers who included such Connecticut figures as Seth Thomas and Thomas Harland are credited with transforming what had been a time-intensive, individualistic effort into an industrialized process that began the march from the hand-made and hand-wound grandfather clocks of yore to the digital pieces we wear on our wrists or have flashing on the screens of our Smartphones.

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 American Clock & Watch Museum  

101 Maple Street

Bristol, CT 06010

 

1-860-583-6070

info@clockmuseum.org

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Unlocking the Past is Fun at the Lock Museum of America in Terryville

Lock Museum #2   

Eight rooms at the Lock Museum of America in Terryville contain more locks  than you are ever likely to see again in a single setting.  They come in all sizes, shapes and unusual designs.  Some more unusual than others.

Some begin in antiquity. There’s the 4,000 year-old Egyptian pin tumbler lock, for instance. And then there are the ornate locks and associated hardware, some quite dazzling.  In the Eagle Lock Room there are more than 1,000 locks and keys  that were made by that company during the 100-year span ending in 1954. 

The extensive collection is understandable, given that the museum is located across the street from where the Eagle Lock Company began operations in 1854. At one point it was the largest trunk and cabinet lock maker in the world.

The other major collections are to be found by company or theme, including those made by Yale, another old Connecticut manufacturer that traces its history to the 19th century. And then there’s the Bank Lock Room. 21

There are rooms featuring mounted door knobs, a large display of ornate hardware, including some that are gold plated.  There’s even an animated display that shows how a pin tumbler lock works.

And, as if that weren’t enough, the museum’s Antique Lock Room has an impressive display of locks from the Colonial era and some ornate European locks that date back to the 1500s.  And when you’re there don’t forget to see the Cannon Ball Safe and the large number of British Safe Locks.

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 Lock Museum of America   (Opened seasonally, May through October)

230 Main Street

Terryville, CT 06786

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Connecticut in its natural state is on display at the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History

Torosaurus latus by Kim Zolvik

Torosaurus latus by Kim Zolvik

If your desire to see Connecticut in its natural state collides with the reality of limited time, too many other commitments, and high gas prices, then the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History would be a great place to visit. It’s all there.

The Peabody may be known for its pre-historic creatures, including the 21-foot life-size bronze statue of a Torosaurus latus  that greets visitors outside and impressive permanent exhibits and special showings inside.

Although small by comparison to the rest of the Peabody’s offerings, the display of Connecticut’s biodiversity is hard to beat.

Tucked away on the third floor between some engaging North American dioramas and adjacent to one on life in ancient Egypt, you will find Connecticut in all its natural beauty. You will see examples of 128 ecological community types, each with a distinctive combination of animals and plants.

There are the birds of Connecticut, insects and herpetology samples displayed in the exhibit. There’s the geology, with its colorful samples gleaming in the display cases. There’s even a meteorite display, and not just any old rock from outer space. This one was among the first recorded rocks that rained down on our part of the world. It fell to earth in 1807 in Weston Connecticut, leaving a ten-mile path of space debris in its wake.  The collected samples let you get an up-close look.  No Hubble telescope needed.

There’s even a section devoted to Connecticut’s Native American past, with a map, Circa 1625, whose features include sachemdoms, Indian trails and villages of the peoples who lived here before Connecticut was “discovered” by European settlers. 

Dioramas almost bring to life the state’s various regions. Displayed in eye-catching fashion are the significant variety of habitats Connecticut possesses, from the coastal salt marshes to the hardwood forests of the northwestern uplands.

Visiting the Peabody is an excellent way to explore nature before setting out to experience Connecticut’s natural history, all 3,000 sq. miles of it under one roof. _______________________________________________________________________________________

Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History    

170 Whitney Ave.

New Haven, CT 06511

203-432-5050

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The Wadsworth Atheneum is a Cultural Gem that took root in Connecticut’s Past

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His name may not be as well known in Connecticut lore as a Jonathan Trumbull, or have the star power of a Samuel Clemens or Harriet Beecher Stowe, but if you were compiling a list of consequential people who have called this state home, Daniel Wadsworth would have to be high up on the list.

If that causes you pause, then it may be time to visit the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford and see his devotion to the arts and the invaluable legacy he handed down to contemporary Connecticut.

Wadsworth was descended from the earliest European settlers who arrived here in 1636 from the Massachusetts Bay Colony with the Rev. Thomas Hooker to found Hartford. 

He was among the first generation of the newly independent United States and as the nation was being carved out of the wilderness, and its institutions developed, he was determined to contribute to its cultural growth.

Among the wealthiest men in the state, Daniel Wadsworth gave us what is today the oldest public art museum in the nation. Opened in 1844, the Wadsworth has a collection that includes nearly 50,000 works of art, some of it dating back 5,000 years.

Among many other offerings, the Wadsworth has a significant collection of Hudson River School landscapes, along with American and European Impressionist paintings.

The Samuel Colt firearms collection once belonged to the man whose name is etched in American history is here, as is the Wallace Nutting collection of American colonial furniture and decorative arts. And so much more.

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Wadsworth Atheneum   

600 Main St, Hartford, CT 06103

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Coast Guard Museum in New London Takes You Through the History of Our Nation’s Oldest Seagoing Service

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You know you’re going to be in for a historical treat even before you enter the Coast Guard Museum, because the first exhibit is there to greet you outside the front door in Waesche Hall on the United States Coast Guard Academy’s stunningly beautiful campus in New London.

The exhibit consists of oversized links from a chain strung across the Hudson River to prevent vessels from getting close to West Point during the Revolutionary War.

The presence of the chain was made known to the British by Benedict Arnold, the Norwich native who switched sides during the war and betrayed his country in the process. The links were donated by descendants of the man who forged them.

Inside, the museum traces the history of the modern Coast Guard from its origins in 1789 to the present.

The little known, but vital, role the Coast Guard played in World War II is represented here in a number of important exhibits.

These include the Medal of Honor won by Signalman First Class Douglas Munro for his exploits in rescuing trapped Marines at Guadalcanal and the sword of a Japanese vice admiral that was surrendered in 1945 aboard the U.S. Missouri in Tokyo Bay.

Suspended from the museum ceiling is perhaps the most imposing artifact, the one-ton figurehead from the German sail training ship Horst Wessel which became the Eagle after World War II and is today known as America’s Tall Ship.

From flintlock pistols and sabers used for shipboard combat 200 years ago, to a display charting the heroic role the Coast Guard played during the Katrina rescue in New Orleans, the museum tells us an important part of our history.

Even the uniform of Alex Haley, the retired Coast Guardsman who wrote the epic novel Roots is displayed.

The museum is located no more than a mile upriver from the New London for a much larger national Coast Guard museum being planned for the waterfront. In the meantime, a visit to this smaller version is well worth the time.

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United States Coast Guard Museum

United States Coast Guard Academy

31 Mohegan Ave.

New London, CT 06320

Open throughout the year

 

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The Trolley Cars of Years Past Still Rolling Along

Connecticut Co streetcar   Trolley Company Map  RI Trolley

Visiting the Shore Line Trolley Museum in East Haven can be a moving experience. Literally.  Visitors can see the oldest continuously operating surban trolley line in the United States and can ride the rails. On special occasions they can actually take the controls.  Under supervision, of course.

In addition to a ride over the 1.5 mile (2.4K) track, visitors can tour the museum’s historic trolley collection and look over exhibits in the visitors’ center

The trolley era, in the days before automobiles too over our transportation needs is remembered through the museum’s collection of 100 or so vintage transit vehicles of differing types. Museum achieves contain nearly 51,000 photographs and more than 4,000 books, documents and artifacts that include tokens and badges, plus other memorabilia of that bygone era.

(Look on Mr. Clemens’ Facebook page and see a pair of dime-size tokens used in New Haven 70-80 years ago. )

The museum encompasses the Branford Electric Railway Historic District, which was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1983.

It’s a rare opportunity to look at how people got around before the automobile era that changed everything.

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Shore Line Trolley Museum (opened seasonally)

www.shorelinetrolley.org

 17 River Street

East Haven, CT 06512

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