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Celebrating Curtis Veeder: From Inventor’s Home to Connecticut Museum

portrait of curtis veeder

While you can experience the richness of Connecticut’s culture and history throughout our exhibitions, did you ever realize you are stepping directly into history when you walk through our front doors?

The museum building (constructed between 1925 and 1928) originally served as the home of inventor and industrialist Curtis H. Veeder and his family. Born on January 31, 1862, Veeder developed and patented many inventions throughout his lifem and eventually founded the Veeder Manufacturing Company. Notably, he patented the cyclometer, a device which measures the distance traveled on a bicycle (think Garmin for the 1900’s cyclist). Veeder lived to be 81, and in 1950, his widow sold the home to the Connecticut Museum of Culture and History (known at the time as the Connecticut Historical Society). 

Since then, Veeder House has evolved from its original floor plan. Bedrooms have become exhibition galleries, and family rooms have become gift shops and event spaces. While walking the hallways, climbing the stairs, or gazing out the windows on the landing, it becomes apparent that this building has many stories to tell. 

Welcome to Veeder House

cherub fountainUpon entering the front door, under the stately porte-cochère, you are met by a grand staircase winding its way overhead to the second floor. On the ground floor, the first room on the left appears tucked away and quiet, and rightly so, for it was once Curtis Veeder’s personal library; a space for work, thought, and solitude. Today, the room retains a similar nature as the office of the Museum’s Executive Director and CEO. The floor-to-ceiling bookshelves boast a diverse display of objects representing a small portion of our vast collection. 

Step past the library to find our guest service area, where the Veeders may have welcomed their own guests. It was once a charming sunroom with large windows providing a view of the grounds. Due to an addition to the building in 1971, it currently leads visitors forward into our newest exhibition: We’re Game: Sports and Community (on view until July 14, 2024). Though the windows are gone, the original green tile work on the floor has stood the test of time, and on the lefthand wall, a little stone cherub entertains visitors with a smile and a dance, as it has been since 1936. This decorative stone art piece is in fact a fully functioning water fountain!

Hidden Gems

Behind the cherub’s wall, the dining room has become a cozy modern gift shop to browse for unique souvenirs and relax between exhibitions. Take time to admire the architecture throughout this room, and you may notice a suspicious break in the wall panels to the left of the fireplace. It takes a keen eye to spot this secret cabinet! Though its original purpose remains a mystery, it provides great storage space for the staff members of our busy museum.

Across the foyer, the Veeder family living room serves a more communal purpose. Just as Curtis Veeder’s daughters gazed up at the ornate designs on the ceiling and small animals marching across the trim, visitors of all ages are equally fascinated by this decorative room today. Exhibition receptions, community meetings, and educational programs such as field trips are often hosted in this space.

     animal designed painted gold

Getting Around

Just outside the living room, one of our two elevators takes you up, down, and in this case, into the past! Made by F.S. Payne Co. of Cambridge, MA, this elevator sits behind a wooden hinged door that opens to reveal the original sliding cage. Despite its old-fashioned charm, the elevator remains fully functional and is used daily. While it was rare to see an elevator in a private home in the early 1900’s, considering Veeder was a progressive industrialist, it is perhaps less of a surprise. Today, it leads up to our Connecticut’s Bookshelf exhibition (on view until September 8, 2024).

For those who prefer to take the stairs, the “servant’s stairwell” is a unique passageway into the past. Much narrower than the main stairway, it leads to a hallway that once accommodated the household staff, and today houses some of our museum staff. In Curtis Veeder’s time, these stairs and special hallways allowed servants to travel throughout the building virtually unseen, a popular feature in large private homes at the turn of the century. 

With busy staff and family members milling about in such a large home, the call bell button downstairs in the living room was likely a necessity, allowing for quick communication to the servants’ quarters. Today, it is a small but intriguing relic of a bygone era. We invite you to put yourself in Veeder’s shoes and imagine using this button. Perhaps you’re headed out for a social evening, and calling for your car?

Curtis Veeder kept his automobiles safely tucked away in the home’s three-bay garage. As a museum, this is now a space for receiving and maintenance. However, an interesting remnant of its past remains. The pipes and water drain from Veeder’s personal car wash protrude from the walls; a unique example of Veeder’s engineer influence on the home’s features.

Past to Present

veeder house in wintry weather

Join us in wishing Curtis Veeder a happy 162nd birthday and plan a visit to his home this January! In addition to perusing our exhibitions, take notice of your surroundings to discover the traits and architectural details hiding in plain sight. And don’t forget, Curtis Veeder’s inventive spirit lives on in our Inspire Center, a family-friendly space to create, explore, and invent. The Inspire Center also celebrated its first birthday this month! 

Though it is now a community institution, the Curtis H. Veeder house once fulfilled an intimate, personal purpose. It is our hope that those who visit the Connecticut Museum discover their own unique, personal connections to the stories shared, objects displayed, and events held throughout the building.

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Tuesday-Saturday 12 pm - 5 pm, Thursday until 8 pm
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