Travel: Danbury, CT – Museums

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Some would argue that it’s kind of a cop-out to use a local city as a first location in a travel blog.  However, I say, what better way to start a travel blog than from where you come from?

Danbury, Connecticut is a moderately-sized city located in Fairfield County, about 45 minutes from Stamford and 90 minutes north of New York City.  With a population of just about 81,000 people, it’s Connecticut’s seventh largest city,

Danbury is known as the “Hat City” due to its booming hatmaking industry in the late 1700’s and throughout the 1800’s.  By 1904, Danbury was supplying hat shops around the country with 75% of its hat “bodies,” or unfinished hats to be finished at shops.  Though the hatmaking industry declined substantially by the mid 1950’s, hats, particularly by Stetson, continued to be made until the last one came off the line in 1987.

Many of the hat factories have long since been converted to apartments or torn down to make way for new growth.  However, a drive down Main Street takes a glimpse at the historic buildings that stood during the thriving hat economy.

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Danbury’s pride in its history can be found all over the city, where you can find historical landmarks and a few museums.  The Danbury Museum and Historical Society, located at 43 Main Street, has an exhibit hall and archive that details the historical achievements and important moments of the city’s 130 year lifespan.  Though the hall and archives are open Tuesdays through Saturdays (10AM-4PM,) I’d recommend taking the Saturday guided tour of Danbury’s historic buildings (10AM-3PM).  Tours are $10 for adults, $6 for seniors and students and free if you’re a member of the Museum and Historical Society, (FDMHSA.)

Another neat museum in Danbury is located just off Main street, at 120 White Street is the Danbury Railway Museum, situated on the 6-acre site of the former Danbury Union Station and railyard.  Built in 1903, Danbury Station included an engine house, freight house, round house and a turntable to accommodate the New York, New Haven and Hartford railroad lines.  In 1950, Alfred Hitchcock turned Danbury into Guy Haines’ hometown of “Metcalf” for his film, “Strangers on a Train,” where scenes were shot at the railroad station.  Unfortunately, by the 1980’s, the engine house had suffered from fire damage and both it and the freight house were eventually torn down, making way for Metro-North Railroad to close down Danbury’s train station in 1993.  Thanks to the members of the National Railway Historical Society and local “railfans,” the Danbury Railway Museum was incorporated in 1994, with a temporary museum opening on Ives Street until 1996, when the old Danbury Union Station was restored and the museum was moved into the renovated station.

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Now home to nearly 70 unique pieces of equipment (as of 2011, unfortunately the website hasn’t been updated in quite some time,) the Danbury Railway Museum offers guided tours through the train yard, train rides (only on weekends from April – November, prices ranging from $3-10 for a 20 minute tour,) a research library and gift shop.  The museum also offers seasonal events such as train rides with Santa and the Easter Bunny.  Admission is $7 for everyone, while members and children under 3 are free.  The summer (June 1-Aug 31) hours are 10AM-4PM, Tues-Sat and 12-5 on Sunday except in winter (Sept 1-May 31,) when it’s 10-4 Weds-Sat and 12-4 on Sunday.  Check the website for holiday hours.

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I’m going to add the U.S. Military Museum here, but as of August 2017, it has been closed permanently.  Located on 125 Park Avenue (about 5 minutes from Downtown Danbury,) the museum’s 10,000 item collection (now donated to the Museum of American Armor in Old Bethpage, Long Island, NY,) also includes a yard with assorted tanks and trucks, which, though fenced off, you can still look at and take photos, though the lot they’re on has become overgrown with weeds.  I included it because, as of this writing, you can still see the outside exhibits from the street and can pull into the parking lot next door to take a few photos.

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While I was researching these places, it saddened me to realize that I hadn’t been to many of them in years, (I’d never even been to the Military Museum, despite it having been in Danbury for 22 years.)  I realized that when you live in an area all your life, you tend to overlook the obvious things you should know all about.  I aim to change that and find more interesting things in and around my town and Danbury, because no matter where you are, there’s always an adventure.

**Next up – Places to eat in Danbury!

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