Joined by Elinor Biggs, the great-great-great granddaughter of P.T. Barnum, Executive Director Kathy Maher, Congressman Jim Himes and Mayor Joe Ganim on Wednesday announced a $500,000 grant to restore and replace more than 70 windows at the Barnum Museum heavily damaged by a tornado that swept through Downtown about 10 years ago.
The museum reflects the legacy of Barnum: impresario, developer, city benefactor, abolitionist who donated the land, and recruited landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, to design Seaside Park, the city’s signature destination and one of the finest waterfront parks in the country.
News release from the museum:
The Barnum Museum Foundation, Inc., is thrilled to announce that the Museum has been awarded a Save America’s Treasures grant from the National Park Service, in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Institute for Museum and Library Services.
The award of $500,000 will be used to support the historic restoration and repair of the 79 windows of the nationally significant Barnum Museum. This is a matching grant which focuses on complex restoration and repair required for National Registered properties, and will be aligned with the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development grant-in-aid to support the restoration and repair of the tornado and hurricane damaged Barnum building. The bidding process and work will begin this fall into 2022.
Restoration will comply with [the] Secretary of the Interior standards for treatment of Historic Properties and will carefully balance the aesthetic and material requirements of the building’s unique exterior with the energy performance needs for a sustainable public venue. Thermal environmental needs inside the Museum will protect the sensitive artwork, artifacts and historic documents of the 128-year-old institution.
The Barnum Institute of Science and History (now the Barnum Museum) at 820 Main Street in Bridgeport, Connecticut, is listed in the National Register of Historic Places as a Nationally Significant site for its exceptional value in American history through its association with Phineas T. (P.T.) Barnum. The Barnum Museum is the only surviving building associated to P.T. Barnum and his extraordinary legacy in shaping the American entertainment industry.
“This Save America’s Treasures grant is testament to the relevance of preserving our history. The legacy of the American icon, Phineas Taylor Barnum, is so proudly preserved and showcased in this historic “American Museum.” It is an architectural treasure built in 1893, the pride of Bridgeport, a premier contributor to Connecticut’s cultural vitality, and a worldwide tourist attraction for “children of all ages.” We are truly grateful for this wonderful recognition.” said Elinor Biggs, P.T. Barnum’s Great, Great, Great Granddaughter, and Barnum Museum Board of Directors.
“P.T. Barnum was more than 60 years old when he created the infamous “The Greatest Show on Earth,” but his life-long passion was his numerous Museum enterprises,” said Barnum Museum director, Kathleen Maher. “The ornate, exotic Barnum building distinguishes the City of Bridgeport, Connecticut’s uniqueness, it is a symbol of achievement and creativity, and is a testament to the pioneers and visionaries who continue to shape the future of this great City. We are thrilled and honored to receive this funding, it enables us to continue the important restoration and revitalization work, and we are thankful to be acknowledged with this important award.”
Relevance of Museums to our Culture–Cultural attractions, like the Barnum Museum, are civic amenities with a wide range of social benefits that improve quality of life. The goal of the Barnum Museum’s full revitalization is to ensure the Museum of the 21st century is a touchstone of urban revival, attracting visitors from across the globe to experience one of New England’s first immersive history museums. As one of the state’s greatest national treasures, the Museum is a vibrant cultural asset in the region and is a centerpiece of Fairfield County’s cultural heartbeat, standing at the crossroads of arts, culture, business and technology. Serving as a guidepost for innovative thinkers and a catalyst to leverage economic impact, the Barnum prevails as a cultural destination to entertain, instruct and encourage social discourse.
About the Barnum Museum–Originally established by P.T. Barnum in 1891 to promote artistic and cultural heritage and to celebrate scientific advancements in American technology, the Museum was intended to inspire the public to reach beyond the limits of ordinary expectations and to see the world as a place of curiosity, opportunity, knowledge and wonder. Now celebrating 128 years of public service, the Museum has served millions of learners the world over and continues to provide enriching learning experiences to visitors of all ages.
In 2010, the Barnum Museum suffered catastrophic damage from an EF1 tornado that ravaged downtown Bridgeport; subsequently it sustained additional damage from both Hurricanes Irene and Sandy. Now it faces the challenges of COVID-19. Undeterred, the Barnum Museum has raised and invested millions of dollars to save and repair the historic building, restore hundreds of damaged artifacts, and envision a new 21st century Museum for our cherished community and tourist audiences.
The Barnum Museum of tomorrow will be a new kind of place designed for a new kind of audience. It will give guests the experience they require–emotional, immersive, cinematic, and story-driven. The re-imagined Barnum Museum will transform and expand perceptions of Barnum from showman to a remarkable thinker, entrepreneur, philanthropist, a force for good, and a timeless role model for the power and strength of the human spirit.
In Barnum’s words: “The one end aimed at was to make men and women think and talk and wonder, and, as a practical result, go to the Museum. This was my constant study and occupation.” These are words the Museum aspires to everyday as restoration and re-envision continues forward. Disaster recovery is a long and complicated journey, but every day is a step forward, and the thing we know for sure … the show will go on!
Barnum is an Economic Tourism Force–The Dept. of Economic and Community Development has identified Tourism as a primary driver to fuel Connecticut’s Economy and encourage entrepreneurial development. Museums are forces of the creative industry and continually find new opportunities for cooperation between the commercial and the creative communities. Museums, like the Barnum, encourage curiosity and inspire innovative thinking and invention, and are incubators to promote and advance public well-being. The re-activated Barnum Museum will catalyze economic growth in the region’s restaurants, hotels, retail, and other cultural attractions and promote Bridgeport on a national and international platform.
Programs Continue–As construction work continues on site, Barnum Museum programs are offered weekly on our YouTube channel: [https://www.youtube.com/c/BarnumMuseum/videos] Barnum’s is an inspiring story of creative and entrepreneurial innovation that still resonates today. The Museum uses an interdisciplinary approach in its programs to explore the mosaic of 19th century history, offering programs on subjects including art, science & technology, material culture, anthropology, social sciences and social justice. The Barnum Museum is part of the BPT 200 City-wide celebration.
The historic building (1893) is proudly owned by the City of Bridgeport and governed under that stewardship of the Barnum Museum Foundation, Inc.
Listed on the National Park Service and Department of the Interior as a Nationally Significant Site on the Register of Historic Places, the building is currently under consideration for elevation to National Historic Landmark status.