Barnum Museum

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The Barnum Museum
Barnum Museum, Bridgeport.jpg
General information
Architectural style Byzantine, Islamic, Gothic and Romanesque influences
Town or city 820 Main Street
Bridgeport, Connecticut
Country United States
Completed 1893
Client P. T. Barnum
Technical details
Structural system Stone and terra cotta
Barnum Museum
Barnum Museum is located in Connecticut
Barnum Museum
Barnum Museum is located in USA
Barnum Museum
Location 805 Main St., Bridgeport, Connecticut
Coordinates 41°10′31″N 73°11′19″W / 41.17528°N 73.18861°W / 41.17528; -73.18861Coordinates: 41°10′31″N 73°11′19″W / 41.17528°N 73.18861°W / 41.17528; -73.18861
Architectural style Romanesque
Part of Bridgeport Downtown South Historic District (#87001402)
NRHP Reference # 72001300[1]
Significant dates
Added to NRHP November 7, 1972
Designated CP September 3, 1987
Design and construction
Architect Longstaff & Hurd
Engineer Longstaff & Hurd

The Barnum Museum is a museum at 805 Main Street in Bridgeport, Connecticut, United States. It has an extensive collection related to P. T. Barnum and the history of Bridgeport, and is housed in a historic building on the National Register of Historic Places.[2]


The building was originally contracted for construction by P. T. Barnum himself. The funds and land for the building and museum were provided by Barnum to house the work of the Bridgeport Scientific Society and the Fairfield County Historical Society. The structure was completed in 1893 and is home to The Barnum Museum today.

The three story museum in downtown Bridgeport is constructed of stone and terra cotta with architectural influences ranging from Byzantine to Romanesque architecture.[2][3] As designed, the building was to house the societies as noted above, with the first floor of the building holding commercial establishments. Relief panels lining the top of the building contain imagery from America's history including Native American, maritime, Civil War and industrial age reliefs. There are also busts interspersed among the relief panels of a Native American, Christopher Columbus, George Washington, Elias Howe, Civil War General Winfield Scott and Grover Cleveland.


Before his death, P. T. Barnum bequeathed the sum of US$100,000 for the establishment of the structure. Completed in 1893, the building was originally called The Barnum Institute of Science and History and opened on February 18 of that year. As imagined, it originally operated as a resource library and a lecture hall, attracting such luminaries as the Wright brothers and Thomas Edison to speak.

Though designed to include them, no commercial properties ever occupied the first floor of the building. This led to financial instability in the original societies that resided in the building, as it was expected that income from those interests would help support the societies. With the onset of the depression, both societies faced fiscal hardship and were forced to cease operation. In 1933, the City of Bridgeport assumed ownership of the building. In 1936, the city opened the Barnum Museum.

With the building in the hands of the city, it was closed in 1943 for remodeling. It reopened in 1946 as a city hall annex, with the third floor reserved for displaying selected collections from the now defunct societies. The building functioned in this capacity into the 1960s.

In 1965, at the urging of concerned citizens and city officials, plans were set in motion to return the building to its former status as a museum. All city offices housed in the building were removed in 1965. Subsequent to this, the building was repaired and remodeled to support renewed operations as a museum. These efforts included creating spaces to feature exhibits on the history of Bridgeport and exhibits on the life of Barnum. When re-opened as the P. T. Barnum Museum in 1968, it was staffed by employees of the City of Bridgeport.

In 1972, the building was added to the National Register of Historic Places.[2]

Starting in 1986, the building was managed by The Barnum Museum Foundation. The foundation is a public-private interest group with the goal of maintaining The Barnum Museum. Renovations began in the same year, costing US$7.5 million Subsequent to renovations, the building was re-opened again in June 1989. New galleries were added detailing history related to the local industrial age and the life of P. T. Barnum. As part of the renovation, a 7,000 sq ft (650 m2). addition was made to the original building to house rotating exhibitions and events.

Today, the museum is the only museum dedicated to the life of P. T. Barnum. It contains a 1,000-square-foot (93 m2) miniature replica of his circus hand crafted by William Brinley and including 3000 miniature figures. There is also a miniature replica of his library from his former Iranistan estate and a number of other artifacts and displays of 19th Century life in Bridgeport. Also housed on the property is an exhibit devoted to Tom Thumb, one of P. T. Barnum's most famous acts. The oldest artifact in the museum is a 2500-year-old Egyptian mummy verified as authentic by Quinnipiac University personnel.

The museum was seriously damaged by a tornado that struck Bridgeport on June 24, 2010. The museum is soliciting contributions to replace and repair the portions of the collection that were damaged by the storm.

The museum is a member of the North American Reciprocal Museums program.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Staff (2010-07-09). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 
  2. ^ a b c "National Register of Historic Places Inventory - Nomination Form" (pdf). National Park Service. Retrieved 2010-07-29.  and Accompanying 6 photographs
  3. ^ "The Barnum Museum". The official Downtown Bridgeport web site. Bridgeport Downtown Special Services District. Retrieved 2007-03-11. 


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