The West End Civic Association (WECA), a non-profit devoted to the improvement of Hartford’s West End Neighborhood, is seeking community support to bring the Children’s Museum, now located in West Hartford, to their adjacent Hartford neighborhood, less than two miles from the current location.
The Children’s Museum began in Hartford almost 100 years ago, and moved several times to ever-bigger locations before it landed in West Hartford – so WECA views this as a way of returning the museum to its birthplace, and saving it as an educational resource for children in Hartford, West Hartford and surrounding communities.
The museum’s current location, on Trout Brook Drive just off Farmington Avenue near West Hartford Center, has been rented for decades from Kingswood Oxford School, which is situated on adjacent land. The school has put the Museum building and the 3.5 acres used by the Museum for its outside programming for sale.
“The time is now, and if we don’t act soon, the opportunity could slip through our fingers,” WECA points out on a website developed for the effort and launched earlier this month, which includes a fundraising campaign and an online petition that has amassed more than 800 signatures.
The campaign, dubbed “Save Conny,” invoking the name of the iconic sculpture of a whale that has been in front of the museum – to delight of thousands of school children – for decades. The website, in fact, is saveconny.org With the help of the Cetacean Society of Connecticut, Conny, a life-size replica of Connecticut’s state animal, a sperm whale, moved onto the current property in 1975, according to the Children’s Museum website.
The University of Hartford owns a 10 acre piece of real estate on the corner of Elizabeth Street and Asylum Avenue in Hartford, which it recently listed for sale. That property was the former location of Hartford College for Women, which merged into the University more than two decades ago. It is less than a two-minute walk from the Connecticut Historical Society on Elizabeth Street.
From WECA’s standpoint, that creates an “opportunity for the community and the Children’s Museum. This property is ideal for a science-based Museum, with its wooded topography, brook running through it, and several historic buildings.” They note that some of the buildings are currently vacant, and others are used by University of Hartford for educational purposes.
In addition to the fundraising effort, WECA is asking the City of Hartford to commit to allocating $5 million dollars toward the move, which they say would come from $118 million in stimulus monies being provided to the City.
Founded in 1927 as a one-room natural history museum in The Pond House at Elizabeth Park in Hartford, The Children’s Museum is the fifth oldest children’s museum in the nation. It moved to its current location in 1958, and also includes a pre-school facility.
According to WECA, the Childrens Museum only needs 5 acres to replicate its current programming, but could potentially purchase the entire 10 acre parcel, leaving room to expand. The University of Hartford, WECA indicates, “is very interested in crafting a deal with the Museum and may consider a proposal which would allow them to purchase less than the full parcel if necessary.”
Relocating to Hartford “will provide enhanced educational opportunities for its youngest and poorest students….will help improve our childrens’ prospects of learning, growing and successfully attending college which will have a long-range ripple effect in improving Hartford’s future,” the WECA website points out.
“Any day a buyer could come forward for either the Museum’s existing site, or the proposed new location, and our City’s children would lose this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” the website notes.