Stamford Museum & Nature Center
Backstory and Context
The Stamford Museum was founded in 1936 by Dr. G.R.R. Hertzberg, a prominent Stamford surgeon, to provide educational and cultural services to the community. The Museum was located in downtown Stamford and concentrated on natural history. In 1939, the museum was incorporated under a State Charter signed by Governor Baldwin. The rapid growth of collections and visitation forced the museum to move in 1945 into the Weber Estate carriage house located on eight acres of land in Cortland Park. The museum's first planetarium, “zoo” and barnyard; as well as the Junior Curator program, the art, astronomy and natural science classes all originated at the Cortland Park location. Construction of the Connecticut turnpike in the 1950s, forced the Museum to relocate again. After a successful fund-raising campaign, the Stamford Museum moved in 1955 to the former estate of department store founder Henri Bendel; at which time the name was changed to the Stamford Museum & Nature Center.
Mid-century development included significant donations to the fine art collection, notable a large collection of works by Gutzon Borglum, and expansion of outdoor features and facilities, including the construction of the Overbrook Nature Center, the Stamford Observatory, the Ezio Pinza Theatre and the reconstruction of an 18th century Cheshire Barn on the farm. Seasonal festivals were introduced. Art and dance classes were held in the Studio building and hundreds of local artists exhibited in the ART-X Gallery. 1985, construction of a new museum wing on the Bendel mansion expanded gallery space and created a state of the art collections storage facility and exhibition workshop. Diverse programs and exhibitions related to science, art, cultural and natural history continued to be a priority through the turn of the 21st century.
The museum's current complex covers 118-acres anchored by the Stamford Museum with its 3,000 square feet of exhibition galleries and 50-seat planetarium. The complex also features the Overbrook Nature Center- a visitor orientation resource featuring live animal exhibits and Heckscher Farm, an 18-acre working farm with heritage breeds and organic garden; Art, Nature & Me, a state-licensed pre-school; the Stamford Observatory, with a 22” research telescope; Heckscher Wild,: an exhibition of the world’s biomes featuring live animals; a National Weather Bureau Cooperative Weather Station; Nature's Playground, and an 80-acre interpretive woodland trail system, including the Wheels in the Woods universally-accessible trail. SM&NC maintains a permanent collection of nearly 20,000 works of art, artifacts, specimens, and live animals.