$500,000 Grant Offers Window Into A City Treasure

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.



    1. Kathy Maher is a director of a “historic museum and program” on a property that is owned by the City of Bridgeport and appears as a City asset (as you likely know but have forgotten)?
      During the past 18 months like many operating organizations some work has been done off site as many City departments. The necessary, step by step repairs necessary for re-opening are completed slowly and impatience is a common emotion. The closure of the museum was due to structural damage to the building from a tornado. The damage put rare archives, curios, and other museum property at risk as well as people within the building. So closure was indicated, but funds to repair all the damage, and City attitude to such funding are a story, not yet revealed.

      Lennie, can, if he is so interested, welcome an article about the Museum, City attitude to insurance. and funding repairs. After all when the original Ganim1 ‘ark of state’ foundered on evidence of corrupt practice, the captain only went to prison for 7 years. Part of the fiscal bad practice was to use about $1 Million of taxpayer money to purchase a very advantageous cash value policy for himself and several others. The media research never went deep enough to tell those curious what were the consequences for the fraud attempt. For instance did all the money get returned to the City Finance office? Were 1099 notices to the four beneficiaries issued for the year that the program was active?

      During the years since it has been difficult to find who handles “risk management” issues for the City/BOE. Is it appropriate in recent years to say that the City “self-insures” when records indicate that $1 Million to $2 Million or more are annually spent by the City? What are the risks that we decide to transfer to an insurer and limit our future risk in exchange for annual premiums? What are limits, deductibles and what is the story about the Barnum Museum as a long term lessee? Great property needs to be returned to availability and productivity asap. No? Does a flat amount from the City without inflation adjustment accomplish a stewardship duty? Time will tell.

  1. Senator Moore shepherded nearly $6,900,100 grant-in-aid to repair the Barnum Museum. What happened to that money and why wasn’t it used to replace windows and to reopen the museum? Is that money being used to pay the salary of Kathy Maher the Executive Director? Inquiring minds want to know!

  2. Reading the CT Post website, the next council president should be Maria P or Maria Valle.
    Aidee says she won big in the 137th but Maria V beat her out in the district.
    Or Maria P should be Council President since she received the most votes city wide of any council member.
    Either way it’s not Aidee. Say Aidee-ous Amigos.

  3. Aidee DID NOT accomplish anything meaningful as president. Sure she gave Generation Now a seat at the table but when it came to implementing changes promoted by HER committee she said Aidee-ous she accomplished nada with her committees.

    1. Bob, Aidee has shown NO leadership as the council president, NONE. Joe Ganim had a one on one with her and is got hooked, she was onboard just like little Stevie A. her job is to make Joe look good and never criticize him or his lack of none action. I’m looking forward to see Aikeem Boyd and Tyler Mack forming a coalition with one of them running for city council president and being committee chairman, the time is now for real change.


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