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Barnes MusEUm

Southington, Connecticut

barnes museum article screen print

The Barnes Museum in Southington is almost an un-museum. Nothing is behind glass or in showcases. It’s a walk through a family's private home, with their personal items, clothing, diaries and collections left just as if the owners had stepped out for coffee...fifty or a hundred years ago.

The building comprising the Barnes Museum was built as a private residence in 1936 by Amon Bradley upon his marriage to Sylvia Barnes. Three generations of the family lived in the house, and apparently never threw anything away. Amon's grandson, Bradley Barnes, willed the house and its contents to the Town of Southington upon his death in 1973.

The extensive collection of letters and diaries allowed the curators to precisely date many of the items within the house. A toy Ferris wheel is precisely dated back to 1893, as it was mentioned in Bradley's diary as a Christmas gift that year. Many of the items have small cards next to them with the text of the diary or correspondence which mentions it. The old appliances (including a Steinway piano, a circa 1942 washing machine and an 1950's TV all have their original instruction manuals, and in some cases the original packaging is still stored in an outbuilding.

The items owned by the Museum include eleven hundred goblets (most of them on glass shelves in the conservatory), one hundred ten Oriental rugs, ten thousand photos and an equal number of nineteenth-century magazines and newspapers. The family collected artwork from China and Japan which is displayed throughout the house, including a fabulously embroidered man's robe and many sculptures and vases.

Every visit to the Barnes Museum is a guided tour. Marie Secondo, the curator, took me around the house. Her love for the precious objects under her care is obvious, and her tour was full of interesting information. My visit was shortly after Valentine's Day, and she had displayed throughout the house all the old Valentines from the collection, many with their original envelopes.

The house has been beautifully maintained. Although it feels "old," and many of the textiles have faded, it really does feel as if the owners have just stepped out for a moment. It feels almost like snooping to walk through the house, and it’s also an history lesson. There are two kitchens—a traditional one, and a "summer kitchen." Marie explained that the large gas stove, currently situated in the summer kitchen, would have been moved between the two rooms in different seasons. Obviously in the winter, having a warm stove in the traditional kitchen is desirable, but not during the hot summer. The house also has two pantries—a butlers pantry, full of dishes and fancy glassware, and a traditional pantry, still with many examples of old packages and food, like ancient Coca-Cola bottles with soda still inside.

One of the bathrooms upstairs (added in 1910), has a large medicine cabinet (more like a small closet) also full of old remedies, prescription bottles, and familiar brands, such as Listerine, in ancient bottles.

In the various bedrooms upstairs, Marie has laid out period clothing, often beside photos of the home's former owners wearing it. Some items are marked with tags quoting the diary or correspondence entry where those items were specifically mentioned. For instance, in the crib which belonged to Bradley Barnes, she has a photo of him as a child, with the actual outfit next to it. In a diary entry, he stated that he slept in that crib until he was nine years old!

The Barnes Museum is certainly an enjoyable and educational way to spend a few hours and learn about local history.

(c) 2007. Some information may be out of date.

All material on this site is copyright (c) by Gevera Bert Piedmont except where noted. All rights reserved. Contact me for permission to republish. Information on this site is for entertainment purposes only. Enjoy! })i({

Page created: 19-Kankin 8-Imix (6 January 2014)
Page modified: 19-Kankin 8-Imix (6 January 2014)