Barnum Museum

The Barnum Museum
The Barnum Museum, Bridgeport, Connecticut LCCN2011631848.tif
General information
Architectural styleByzantine, Islamic, Gothic and Romanesque influences
Town or city820 Main Street
Bridgeport, Connecticut
CountryUnited States
ClientP. T. Barnum
Technical details
Structural systemStone and terra cotta
Barnum Museum
Barnum Museum is located in Connecticut
Barnum Museum
Barnum Museum is located in the United States
Barnum Museum
Location820 Main St., Bridgeport, Connecticut
Coordinates41°10′31″N 73°11′19″W / 41.17528°N 73.18861°W / 41.17528; -73.18861Coordinates: 41°10′31″N 73°11′19″W / 41.17528°N 73.18861°W / 41.17528; -73.18861
Part ofBridgeport Downtown South Historic District (#87001402)
NRHP reference #72001300[1]
Significant dates
Added to NRHPNovember 7, 1972
Designated CPSeptember 3, 1987
Design and construction
ArchitectLongstaff & Hurd
EngineerLongstaff & Hurd

The Barnum Museum is a museum at 820 Main Street in Bridgeport, Connecticut, United States. It has an extensive collection related to P. T. Barnum and the history of Bridgeport, and is housed in a historic building on the National Register of Historic Places.[2]


The building was originally contracted for construction by P. T. Barnum himself. The funds and land for the building and museum were provided by Barnum to house the work of the Bridgeport Scientific Society and the Fairfield County Historical Society. The structure was completed in 1893 and is home to The Barnum Museum today.

The three story museum in downtown Bridgeport is constructed of stone and terra cotta with architectural influences ranging from Byzantine to Romanesque architecture.[2][3] As designed, the building was to house the societies as noted above, with the first floor of the building holding commercial establishments. There is a frieze lining the top of the building by Henri Plasschaert that contains five reliefs of imagery from America's history. They are entitled "Native American (1670)", "Early Settler (1760)", "Maritime (1840)", "Civil War (1861)" and "Industrial Revolution (1870)." [4] There are also busts interspersed among the relief panels of a Native American, Christopher Columbus, George Washington, Elias Howe, Civil War General Winfield Scott and Grover Cleveland.


Before his death, P. T. Barnum bequeathed the sum of US$100,000 for the establishment of the structure. Completed in 1893, the building was originally called The Barnum Institute of Science and History and opened on February 18 of that year. As imagined, it originally operated as a resource library and a lecture hall, attracting such luminaries as the Wright brothers and Thomas Edison to speak.

Though designed to include them, no commercial properties ever occupied the first floor of the building. This led to financial instability in the original societies that resided in the building, as it was expected that income from those interests would help support the societies. With the onset of the depression, both societies faced fiscal hardship and were forced to cease operation. In 1933, the City of Bridgeport assumed ownership of the building. In 1936, the city opened the Barnum Museum.

With the building in the hands of the city, it was closed in 1943 for remodeling. It reopened in 1946 as a city hall annex, with the third floor reserved for displaying selected collections from the now defunct societies. The building functioned in this capacity into the 1960s.

In 1965, at the urging of concerned citizens and city officials, plans were set in motion to return the building to its former status as a museum. All city offices housed in the building were removed in 1965. Subsequent to this, the building was repaired and remodeled to support renewed operations as a museum. These efforts included creating spaces to feature exhibits on the history of Bridgeport and exhibits on the life of Barnum. When re-opened as the P. T. Barnum Museum in 1968, it was staffed by employees of the City of Bridgeport.

In 1972, the building was added to the National Register of Historic Places.[2]

Starting in 1986, the building was managed by The Barnum Museum Foundation. The foundation is a public-private interest group with the goal of maintaining The Barnum Museum. Renovations began in the same year, costing US$7.5 million Subsequent to renovations, the building was re-opened again in June 1989. New galleries were added detailing history related to the local industrial age and the life of P. T. Barnum. As part of the renovation, an 7,000 sq ft (650 m2). addition was made to the original building to house rotating exhibitions and events.

Until being struck by a tornado on June 24, 2010, the museum featured a 1,000-square-foot (93 m2) miniature replica of a circus hand crafted by William Brinley and including 3000 hand made figures. It also included a recreation of P.T. Barnum's personal library in his former Iranistan estate and a number of other artifacts and displays of 19th Century life in Bridgeport. Also housed on the property was an exhibit devoted to Tom Thumb, one of P. T. Barnum's most famous acts. The oldest artifact owned by the museum is a 2500-year-old Egyptian mummy verified as authentic by Quinnipiac University personnel.

Tornado and subsequent storm damage

On June 24, 2010, the Barnum Museum was struck by an EF-1 tornado. The tornado destroyed windows, damaged the HVAC systems, and caused structural harm to the historic building itself. Due to the damage to the HVAC system, debris was not only sucked into the system, but redistributed throughout the museum's ventilation, spreading the damage as well, damaging the museum's artifacts.[5] In addition, the large terra cotta dome that sits atop the museum was picked up and shifted counter-clockwise by the high winds, requiring the installation of load bearing columns within the museum building in order to support the dome's weight.

The damage was made worse by Hurricane Irene in 2011 and Superstorm Sandy in 2012,[6] and the museum has worked to secure funding in order to make the historic building stable again. Work continues, with some recent information being published by GNBC Consulting Engineers that help to highlight the dome's current structure and what phase 2 restoration work will look like.


The Barnum Museum has worked to stabilize the historic building, and has remained opened to the public, albeit in a limited capacity. Currently the museum is open to the public from 11:00 AM to 3:00 PM on Thursdays and Fridays, with additional hours during the summer and during public events[7] Plans for redesigning and reopening the museum are being done in partnership with BRC Imagination Arts, and the museum is currently seeking donations in order to begin that work. The anticipated cost is US$55 million.[8]

In 2016, the Barnum Museum, in partnership with the Bridgeport History Center (part of the Bridgeport Public Library) was awarded a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to digitize a portion of their collections.[9] The P.T. Barnum Digital Collection is hosted on the University of Connecticut's digital preservation platform, the Connecticut Digital Archive. This digital collection holds over 1,200 items that range from letters and ledgers to clothing worn by P.T. Barnum, Lavinia Warren, and Tom Thumb, as well as more unusual items such as a slice of fruitcake from the Warren's and Thumb's 1863 wedding. It also includes furniture from Barnum's Iranistan home that was previously displayed by the museum as a part of a recreation of his library, and a rare letterpress copybook of letters written by P.T. Barnum from 1845 to 1846 when he was touring Europe with Tom Thumb.

The museum is a member of the North American Reciprocal Museums program.

See also


  1. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. July 9, 2010.
  2. ^ a b c "National Register of Historic Places Inventory – Nomination Form" (pdf). National Park Service. Retrieved 2010-07-29. and Accompanying 6 photographs
  3. ^ "The Barnum Museum". The official Downtown Bridgeport web site. Bridgeport Downtown Special Services District. Archived from the original on 2007-06-23. Retrieved 2007-03-11.
  4. ^ "Structure: Barnum Institute of Science and History". Connecticut Digital Archive. Retrieved 2018-04-18.
  5. ^ Torres, Kelia (2010-09-21). "Barnum Museum's tornado damage could exceed $6 million". Connecticut Post. Retrieved 2018-04-18.
  6. ^ "Museum Recovery - The Barnum Museum". Museum Recovery - The Barnum Museum. Barnum Museum. Retrieved 2018-04-18.
  7. ^ "Hours & Directions - The Barnum Museum". Hours & Directions - The Barnum Museum. The Barnum Museum. Retrieved 2018-04-18.
  8. ^ "FAQ's - The Barnum Museum". The Barnum Museum. Retrieved 2018-04-18.
  9. ^ National Endowment for the Humanities (March 2016). "National Endowment for the Humanities Grant Awards and Offers, March 2016" (PDF). National Endowment for the Humanities. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2016-03-27. Retrieved 2018-04-18.


External links

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