Fun comes in many forms in this Connecticut town located near FMCA’s upcoming Family Reunion site.
By Anna Lee Braunstein, F351629
A kid’s favorite summertime place could be Bristol, Connecticut. With carousels and clocks and a famous amusement park, it gives youngsters and adults a chance to let the “child” out and have a great time.
Bristol is approximately 45 miles south of West Springfield, Massachusetts, host city for FMCA’s 94th Family Reunion & Motorhome Showcase, August 3-6; that’s about an hour’s drive. Bristol makes a good overnight spot, especially if you’re driving to West Springfield from the south. And once you learn how much you can do in town, you may decide to spend at least a couple of days.
Around We Go
Many of us have childhood memories that include trips to the park to ride the carousel. A visit to the New England Carousel Museum brings back those wonderful times.
It offers plenty to see. A huge collection of antique carousels are arranged in beautiful settings. And the museum has its own working carousel for visitors. Take a spin!
The museum’s most remarkable carousel was restored here, but it is displayed at a park about 18 miles east in Hartford, Connecticut. The Bushnell Park Carousel is one of only three remaining wooden carousels built more than 100 years ago by Solomon Stein and Harry Goldstein, who were known as “artistic carousel manufacturers.” Their wooden horses were grand steeds with big teeth, prominent eyes, and real horsehair tails.
Horses are not the only animals to admire at the museum; lions, dolphins, zebras, and more are magnificently represented as well. Modern-day riders can take a spin while the carousel’s Wurlitzer band organ plays tunes.
Bristol’s carousel museum has a second museum on the grounds: Carlyle “Hap” Barnes’ personal collection of firefighting equipment. Barnes, who served 36 years as a Bristol fire commissioner, established The Museum of Fire History to house American and international firefighting tools from the 19th and 20th centuries. Trucks on display range from miniatures to historic fire wagons to modern fire engines. For those who want to (or wanted to) grow up to be a firefighter, this is a delightful destination. For information about both the carousel museum and the fire museum, visit www.thecarouselmuseum.org.
Go Back In Time!
What time is it? Today many of us glance at our phones or digital technology on our wrists to find the answer. But in the 19th and 20th centuries, people looked at a clock and saw not just the time but, frequently, an object of art. Many timepieces, like the old grandfather clocks, were beautiful pieces of furniture, or at least decorative.
Beyond their visual appeal, many clocks also were musical. They ticked, chimed, rang, tolled, and pealed. Sometimes, hidden human figures, birds, forest animals, or mythical creatures popped out of the clock to celebrate the hour.
Originally a European craft, clock-making came to America in the late 1700s. Bristol became a center for industrial clock production thanks to Eli Terry, a Connecticut native and pioneer in the Industrial Revolution. Terry’s use of mass production and interchangeable parts led to increased productivity, which lowered prices so that clocks were no longer only for the wealthy.
Terry made gears out of wood, for it was cheaper than the brass used in older handmade clocks. Following his lead in the early 1800s, 200 factories around Bristol produced the parts needed to make clocks affordable. By the mid-1800s, seven clock manufacturers in western Connecticut dominated U.S. production.
Drive through Bristol and surrounding towns today and you’ll pass stately homes once owned by clock company executives; their abandoned factory buildings also can be seen.
Located in Bristol’s Federal Hill historic district in the 1801 home of Miles Lewis, the American Clock & Watch Museum is the world’s preeminent museum of American-made clocks. Eight galleries contain 1,500 clocks and watches, with an emphasis on those made in the United States. The collection includes advertising clocks, punch clocks, grandfather clocks, blinking-eye clocks, railroad clocks, and even Hickory Dickory Dock clocks. The oldest is a crucifix watch made in 1630; the earliest American-made clock dates to 1730. Display cases are filled with Seth Thomas pocket watches.
The museum is open daily April through November. On the first and third Fridays of the month, you can meet the “Old Cranks,” the museum’s official clock winders. And any day, if you are lucky to be there when the hour strikes, you will hear a few of the many clocks mark the time.
The website www.clockandwatchmuseum.org provides more details about the museum and includes a link to a 19-minute movie made in 1949 that explains how a watch is made.
Time For A Nature Break
The Harry C. Barnes Memorial Nature Center is dedicated to enhancing visitors’ love of and understanding of nature. In addition to exhibits of reptiles and amphibians in its visitors center, miles and miles of hiking trails wind throughout the property.
The visitors center was recently updated with exhibits, daily craft activities for kids, and a nature gift shop. The facility is open Thursday through Sunday and offers free admission. Visit www.elcct.org for more information.
An Imagine Nation
If you travel with kids ages 2 to 8, excitement awaits them at Imagine Nation: A Museum Early Learning Center. Its three floors encompass 12 interactive “studios,” each emphasizing art, culture, science, or nature topics. Hands-on experiences abound in the health center and acting studio. Animals, space, engineering, art, and more are highlighted in other studios. The newest exhibit is the GE Makers Lab, with new technology such as 3D printers ready to challenge the imagination. Museum educators offer three workshops daily for visitors wanting even more hands-on opportunities.
After you’ve investigated inside, visit the 5,000-square-foot Outdoor Learning Park, which has play equipment; a greenhouse; and places to explore sand, water, and sound.
The Imagine Café offers snacks and lunches. Special summer programs make nature discovery fun for the whole family. The museum is open Wednesday through Sunday (closed the last week in August and the Sunday before Labor Day). To learn more about Imagine Nation, go to www.imaginenation.org.
Amusement Park And Campground
All ages will find excitement at Lake Compounce and Crocodile Cove, the United States’ oldest continuously operating amusement park. Lake Compounce got its name from John Compound, a Mattatuck/Tunxis American Indian chieftain who deeded land in 1684 to a group of white settlers. In 1846, Gad Norton, a descendant of one of the original settlers, opened a picnic area on the land and allowed public use of the lake. The Bristol Press described the park as “a convenient and delightful little seaside of their own for the people of Bristol.”
In 1911 the park acquired its first carousel, purchased for $10,000 and run by a Looff mechanism. (Charles I.D. Looff was a premier master carver of carousels.) Three years later, an electric-powered roller coaster was added. And in 1927, it was replaced by the still-operational wooden “Wildcat.”
In 1996, millions of dollars were spent to maintain the traditional rides and add more thrilling modern ones. Today there are dozens of ways to delight the young and exhilarate older children and adults. Attractions include kiddie rides; the carousel and other classic rides; high-speed thrill rides, such as the new Phobia Phear triple-launch roller coaster; and a miniature railroad. Crocodile Cove offers a variety of water rides for cooling off on hot days. Many of the rides are wheelchair-accessible.
Live musical shows at Lake Compounce include performances by the Sparkplugs and their unique “car parts” dance, as well as a kids’ comedy hour. For details about the park, visit www.lakecompounce.com.
A half mile from Lake Compounce is Bear Creek Campground. It opened in 2014 and has more than 50 RV sites. Special activities and programs are scheduled throughout the season. A tram runs to and from the amusement park, and discount entry tickets are available for those staying at the campground.
Visitors who like their fun mixed with nostalgia, or who just like to have a great time, will find that Bristol is a most rewarding destination.
Central Connecticut Chambers of Commerce
200 Main St.
Bristol, CT 06010
Bear Creek Campground at Lake Compounce
186 Enterprise Drive
Bristol, CT 06010
(860) 583-3300, Ext. 6904
This campground has water, electrical, and cable TV hookups and a dump station, plus a general store, rest rooms, showers, and laundry facilities. Leashed pets are welcome. Lower weekday rates are available.