Children's Museum Celebrating 90 Years With Anniversary Party For West Hartford Residents

The Children's Museum, in West Hartford, is celebrating its 90th anniversary with a special offer to the community that has supported it for nine decades.

West Hartford residents will be able to pay a 90 cent admission to enter the museum from 5 to 8 p.m. on May 19 to celebrate a history that started on June 19, 1927 at the Pond House in Elizabeth Park.

The Courant reported in 1927 that the museum was founded by a group called the Friends of Hartford, making it the fifth oldest children's museum in the country and the first in Connecticut. A committee, including members Ansel Cook, Charles Seaverns, Archibald Welch, Philip Barton, Katherine Day and Eleanor Ferguson, was in charge of founding the museum.

In its first days, the Children's Museum was run by Delia Griffin, the former director of the Boston Children's Museum, and was contained to just one room. On display was a collection of Connecticut birds contributed by the Hartford Bird Study Club, as well as a collection of fine minerals, corals, sea life, and cones from California trees.

The Courant also reported that a collection of insects donated by Hartford resident Joseph Miller, who had a collection of 50,000 specimens, was one of the most eye-catching displays at the museum's open. An original log book held onto by the museum shows that 150 people visited on its first day of business.

In its 90 years, the museum has held different names, has changed locations, and has seen updates to its exhibits brought on by modern technology. But the museum's current director, Michael Werle, says its mission has never changed.

"The agenda started out and has always been focused on child development," Werle said. "That's been it. The one core element has been child development and learning within a family context. That's what differentiates children's museums from other museums."

Werle said the museum has such a long-standing presence in the community that it's had generations of families visit.

"The important thing is stability," Werle said. "We've weathered one world war and a couple of others and economic ups and downs. There's something to be said for resilience."

It moved to the current location in 1958, meaning next year will mark 60 years of using the building that Werle said has become known as "the one with the whale" out front, referencing the 60-foot sperm whale, Conny, that was installed in 1976. It's an institution that so many people know, he said.

"I was in a business meeting and, as always, someone said, 'I went there and now I'm taking my grandkids there,'" Werle said. "You can't find a person that won't say they went here. It's had that legacy and it's been here so long that virtually everybody has either come here as a child or now bring their children or grandchildren."

That's part of the reason why Werle and the museum decided to offer the 90 cent admission to West Hartford residents on May 19. The evening will include a lineup of special activities taking place across the museum, including planetarium shows and demonstrations in the animal sanctuary.

"It's a matter of expressing some gratitude and thanks to the community for all these 90 years of support," Werle said. "It's a party to the West Hartford citizens and parents for helping us do this. It's the people of West Hartford that nurture all that."

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