Oh, I know! At work!
I thought it would be kind of neat. I worked at the North American headquarters of LEGO in Enfield and would bring my son with me on the Jewish holidays and such when he had off from school. He loved it. And frankly, I loved not wasting a vacation day. He had some friends there and could go find stuff to do on his own for hours at a time.
And since there was a LEGO History Museum on campus, and since Calvin loved LEGO, and since the cafeteria there was pretty darn impressive (and subsidized, even!), I thought it would be a cool place to celebrate my momentous achievement.
And that’s exactly what we did. While I can’t put the LEGO museum (now gone as a result of pre-COVID building consolidation) in my top 100 of my fourth set of 100 museum visits, I’d guess that Calvin would put it right up near the top. The boy loved LEGO for the years I worked there… and the boy got more LEGO sets than pretty much anyone you know.
Our celebratory day was like every other day Calvin came to work with me. He would settle into his office with a new set or two and make his rounds asking if other kids were there. He was always quiet and polite – except when whining for yet another huge expensive set or another. I’d give him my schedule for the morning and explain my general lack of availability. (Papa had a very important job there, y’know.)
Then we’d get lunch together and the afternoon would play out the same way. This day, however, was different. I blocked time to visit the museum. (He’d already been to the model shop a few times, which is the coolest part of the campus for sure.)
We walked up to the other building and spent a good amount of time learning about the impressive and unique history of the company. My 400th museum visit! After that, it was time for lunch and to quietly bask in my glory. Down to the cafeteria!
“Anything you want, child, for today we celebrate!”
A slice of pizza.
“Anything for me, old man, for today we celebrate!”
A salad from the quite good salad bar.
Yeah, we Wood boys know how to party.
We found some seats and enjoyed our lunch. I had done it. 400 Connecticut museums. How long did it take? 12 years. How many more to go? I honestly don’t really know, and it’s a moving target anyway. You’d think that I’d have a solid number in my head after 12 years – but it’s impossible due to many factors.
Building my CTMQ lists is like building a LEGO MOC. A MOC is a “My Own Creation” – You build whatever you build anyway you want to build it. My list of about 700 Connecticut museums is a MOC. I include museums on it that most wouldn’t call a museum. I include museums that have closed since I began creating my list in 2006. But I bundle certain museums together that are part of a complex. Sometimes.
I stopped putting the “visit number” in the page title when I write about my experiences. I no longer write “the number” and usually say “around 675 or so.” CTMQ began with “just museums” and they will always be the heart and soul of what I do. They are the “tradition” of this site, so to speak.
And speaking of tradition, I present to you my list of my top 10 of my 4th group of 100 Connecticut museums! As ever, this list was not very easy to come up with. A few rather cool places just missed the cut and that’s never an easy decision to make. Also following tradition, a huge thank you to all the docents, volunteers, and keepers of the museum flame… in the face of a world transfixed by smartphones and streaming services. Cheers!
10. ARRL Museum, Newington
Squeaking in the top 10 for me is this rather unassuming museum in the unassuming town of Newington. The ARRL is The American Radio Relay League and is a long-standing and large noncommercial organization of radio amateurs. Visiting this place is a pilgrimage for amateur radio operators; the entire history of the medium is here, and Newington’s ties to the community are strong and rather important. There have a lot going on: a radio station, the headquarters of the ARRL, an outreach and advocacy center, a classroom for both operators and engineers, and a museum.
And the museum is impressive. It has a collection of historic radio equipment and tells the story of amateur radio from Marconi through the hobby craze during my childhood. I learned about the first radio cables and such out on Cape Cod which led me to learn about the history of radio in the world… basically. As a result of this museum near my home, I went to Cape Cod and visited The French Cable Station Museum in Orleans, Chatham Marconi Maritime Center, and of course, Marconi Beach, site of the first successful transatlantic radio message on January 18, 1903.
I came to really appreciate that these little gems are often tied through history and place to so, so much more and there’s no better example than the unassuming ARRL Museum. In an unassuming building in unassuming Newington.
Tune in to our visit to The ARRL Museum here!
9. Earthplace, Westport
I really like Earthplace, but I’ve heard some fellow parents poo-poo it a bit. Earthplace edges a little close to that “overly educational” line a bit, but in my opinion, it never crosses it. Unless, of course, you want to cross it – which would be great! The organization has research and educational offshoots that certainly seem like excellent pursuits.
Founded way back in 1958, Earthplace is a place for nature and science – indoors and out. Their whole thing is that they blend science, conservation, and education into pathways for learning about nature and the environment. And speaking of pathways, we didn’t hike any of the trails that wind through the woods here unfortunately. I will be returning to do just that someday. I like a place on earth that provides smart stuff, fun stuff, and woodsy stuff.
Check out our visit to Earthplace here!
8. Palestine Museum US, Woodbridge
This place makes my top 10 if only for its sheer gumption. A museum dedicated to the art and culture of Palestine – a place that many Americans would like to not exist. (And it doesn’t exist on many maps and in many minds.) Of course, there are talented artists from Palestine and thousands of years of history.
Leave it to the subtle differences between the three Abrahamic religions to screw everything up for millions of people over the course of centuries. The guy who founded and curates this place is a self-made successful businessman, and he knows what he’s doing. By simply putting a human face on a distressed and dispossessed people, he doesn’t even need to call attention to their plight. Go here and feel some feelings.
My sobering visit to the Palestine Museum US
7. The New England Carousel Museum, Bristol
No Top 10 List can go without the New England Carousel Museum. It’s one of Connecticut’s truly unique gems. And bonus: It houses a couple of other museums too! Learn about the history of carousels and the incredible craftsmanship that went into the classic rides.
The Bushnell Park Carousel in Hartford is actually part of the museum in Bristol. Anyone with a family knows that it can be difficult to find a museum that appeals to young and old alike – I mean, there’s only a couple like that on this page – and this place has that covered. I know, I know… carousels? A museum about carousels? Yes. A museum about carousels, and it’s unique and interesting and pretty darn awesome.].
Take a spin with us at The New England Carousel Museum
6. Weir Farm National Historical Park, Wilton/Ridgefield
A museum so large it spans two towns. A museum so important it has been Connecticut’s only National Park level-place for decades. A museum so diversified that there’s also trails to hike and multiple buildings to explore and it’s on the CT Art Trail and CT Historic Gardens Trail. A museum so pretty that it looked good in the downpour Hoang and I visited it in…
Weir Farm was the summer home of pioneering American Impressionist Julian Alden Weir from 1882 to 1919. For Weir and his famous contemporaries — artists Childe Hassam, John Twachtman, and Albert Pinkham Ryder—the farm’s landscape offered the perfect setting to paint en plein air and experiment with light and color to create American masterpieces. Weir’s children and their families preserved this place with care and attention to detail and as a result, it’s the only National Park dedicated to impressionist art. A true Connecticut gem.
5. Hill-Stead Museum, Farmington
It may seem like I’m listing Weir Farm and Hill-Stead because I “have to,” but that’ not the case at all. These two places are listed in every Connecticut Travel Guide because they both deserve to be. Hill-Stead is a mansion that was lived-in by a wealthy family that collected art. The family patriarch was on the Impressionist train before the rest of the world.
Hill-Stead was the art collector’s daughter Theodate’s first complete architectural project. She convinced her parents to leave bustling Cleveland for rural Farmington and her father purchased tracts of land on the hill which is now between Route 6 and I-84. The Popes ultimately amassed 250 acres for what would become Hill-Stead: a 30,000 square-foot country estate and a farm. There’s an incredible Ferrand historic garden here, there are some trails, a working farm, and a backdrop that even the worst photographer can make look good.
Join me and Damian on our Hill-Stead tour!
4. The Discovery Museum and Planetarium, Bridgeport
This place has changed since we visited – after nearly closing during the COVID pandemic. Sacred Heart University now runs the joint and assuming it’s at least 75% as good as it was in 2015, it’s still great Both of my sons had a blast because The Discovery was spacious and hands-on and had exhibits and participatory activities that were different from the dozen other similar museums in the state.
Calvin loved the physicality of the “play” spaces; the ziplines and rope obstacle courses and everything of that sort. I see that they’ve retained an exhibit called Science at Play and I can only assume that is this stuff. As for Damian, there were plenty of sensory stimulating rooms and games and exhibits to make him never want to leaves as well. Heck, Hoang had fun here. Those are three very different people who found plenty to do and enjoy at The Discovery Museum. Good stuff.
3. Donald Passardi’s Gasoline Alley Automotive/Ford Museum, Stafford
Hoo-boy, we’re at the Top Three Of My Fourth 100! I do not know if Donald Passardi still opens his private museum to visitors up in Stafford. Information on it is very hard to come by these days – not that it was ever easy. Heck, I’ve never been sure what the name of this place is. I’ve seen it as Gasoline Alley Automotive Museum and I’ve seen it as Donald Passardi’s Ford Museum.
Know this: I was absolutely blown away when I visited with Damian in 2017 – thanks to a private invite from a reader. Don Passardi’s collection of Ford memorabilia and pristine antique Ford cars and, well, everything you could possibly imagine with the Ford imprint or influence upon, is incredible. The Ford Museum in Michigan comes to Passardi for advice or when they have a question. And it’s all in a fairly unassuming house in the northern realms of Connecticut.
Speed up to the Passardi Ford Museum with me and Damian!
2. Hogpen Hill Farms Sculpture Park, Woodbury
I love Hogpen Hill. Even if I wasn’t a fanboy of its creator and curator, Edward Tufte, I’d still love Hogpen Hill Farms Sculpture Park. Tufte revolutionized data visualization by actually thinking about it beyond pie charts and bar graphs. He’s approached the discipline as a cognitive science rather than just sloppy Powerpoint templates. (His books and work has profoundly affected my profession – data analysis/research director type stuff – both at LEGO and my current employer.)
But who cares about that. You should care about the vast hillsides covered in Tufte’s creative, fun, funny, cool, stark, startling, interesting, beautiful sculpture. This is his private playground for his large scale sculpture and brainstorms. It’s just a fun place to lose yourself for a few hours; have a picnic, get some exercise, and dream of a better world.
1. The Norfeldt Kindergarten Museum & West Hartford Art League Galleries, West Hartford
April & May 2017 & 2018
C’mon now. What kind of father do I think I am to not have these closely aligned museum visits in my top slot? The only thing that gives me pause is that you’ll never get to experience either as we did when Calvin was a little kindergartner. Yes, the picture that served on this website’s sidebar for a many years is from his elementary school’s one-night, one-time only “art museum.”
And as an exceptionally talented artist (actually true; that’s not me being ridiculous), he was selected to be shown at the town’s district wide art league a few times as well. As he’s moved into middle school as I write this, and other activities compete with his artistic endeavors, I’m happy to report that it’s still a fairly big part of his life and who knows where it will take him. Number one in my book… and maybe number one in a real book someday!