The Wethersfield Museum at the Keeney Memorial Cultural Center, Wethersfield Historical Society

The Keeney Memorial Cultural Center (200 Main Street, Wethersfield, CT) is open Tues. – Sat., 10-4, Sun. 1-4. Gallery admission is free for all, donations are appreciated to support the changing exhibitions.


Main Prison TowerDo you want to explore the evolution of the Connecticut State Prison system while it was in Wethersfield from 1827 to 1963? This latest exhibition by Wethersfield Historical Society focuses on the Connecticut State Prison while in town. For 136 years the Prison housed criminal offenders while employing local residents, bringing opportunities to town and changing the landscape of Wethersfield. Come view the prison history through material culture! This exhibition is dedicated to past, present and future correctional officers and Department of Corrections employees. Support provided by the William & Alice Mortensen Foundation, Robert Alan Keeney Memorial Fund at the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving and Farmington Bank.

Join us for the public exhibition opening will be on Wednesday, September 17, 2014 7-8:30pm at the Wethersfield Museum at the Keeney Memorial Cultural Center, light refreshments will be served.


Community Partners In ActionThree exhibitions in one, Wethersfield Historical partners with the CPA Prison Arts Program to present a comprehensive view of the extraordinary Community Partners in Action (CPA) Prison Arts Program: Work from the Permanent Collection features various drawings, paintings and sculpture collected from each year’s Annual Show; The Future of Prison is an exhibition originally installed at Old New Gate Prison in Granby, CT in 2006 as the culmination of historical research and discussion at the Osborn CI arts workshop; and Letters from Prison features decorated envelopes (the most prevalent folk art practice in the United States thanks to the overwhelming number on inmates and loved ones) accompanied by inmates’ open letters to the community.

Community Partners In Action is a nonprofit agency created in Hartford as the “Connecticut Prison Association” in 1875 by the State Governor and the President of Yale University – Mark Twain was on the first Board of Directors. The agency is dedicated to building a better community by providing services that promote accountability, dignity and restoration for people affected by the criminal justice system.

The Prison Arts Program was initiated in 1978 as a collaboration between the Connecticut Department of Correction and Community Partners in Action to build and maintain a constructive and positive environment in Connecticut’s prisons.



This hallway case exhibition was guest curated by the seventh and eight grade students in the Summer Keeney Kids Summer Program. The students dug deep exploring the importance of what “stuff” (material culture) can tell us about someone’s life. Our guest curators selected objects that were discovered in the 2010 archeological survey done by State Archeologist Nick Bellantoni and Friends of the State Archeologist at the Captain James Francis at 120 Hartford Avenue. Students really learned that history is fun, by doing!


Do you know how to rope onions? Would you like to try different architectural styles on a house? Are you interested in ships and the sea? Ever wondered what school was like in the “Good Old Days?” All these questions are part of the exhibition “Legendary People, Ordinary Lives,” which was funded in part by a grant from the Connecticut Humanities Council.

This exhibit employs a thematic approach to history, organized around six areas which focus on the history of Wethersfield’s architecture, agricultural heritage, historic preservation, social and suburban development, and entrepreneurial spirit. Among the “legendary people” featured is Wallace Nutting, whose restoration of the Joseph Webb House and interest in the collection and preservation of historic objects and architecture inspired many local historians. Also included are quotes from “ordinary people” of the time.

The exhibition brings together a wide range of artifacts from the Society’s collection, many on view for the first time. These include a Connecticut River Valley Doorway from the Churchill House in Newington (no longer standing), portraits of Sarah Noyes Chester and Ashbel and Abigail Wright, chests made by Wethersfield cabinetmakers Edward Shepard and Peter Blin, a sweet grass bonnet made by Sophia Woodhouse, agricultural implements, maritime artifacts, and signs from the Wethersfield Village Hotel, the Thomas Griswold Co. seed company, and the distinctive Hubbard Community.

Interactive activities to engage visitors appear throughout the exhibition. Among them is a magnet board with movable architectural elements inviting visitors to change the design of a house. Finally, the “Signposts to History” direct visitors, through photographs, text and maps, to 24 other sites nearby where they can see and learn more.

The Keeney Memorial Cultural Center (200 Main Street, Wethersfield, CT) is open Tues. – Sat., 10-4, Sun. 1-4. Admission is free, donations are appreciated.


Built in 1790’s in the Georgian style, the house was occupied in 1804 by Captain John Hurlbut, a successful mariner who circumnavigated the globe on the ship Neptune. In the 1860’s, the house was remodeled by Levi Goodwin to reflect the Italianate style popular at that time. An ell containing kitchens, servants’ quarters and a large copper cistern to hold rainwater was added.

In 1875 the house was purchased by Silas Robbins, a prominent Wethersfield merchant, for his son Elisha. Elisha married Ida Adams in 1879. They had one child, a daughter named Jane. Elisha died in 1894, and Ida and her daughter Jane lived alone in the house until Jane married Howard Dunham in 1907. At that time he joined them in the home. Mrs. Robbins and the Dunhams were prominent in Hartford social circles; Howard Dunham was Insurance Commissioner of Connecticut from 1923 to 1935. The Dunhams were enthusiastic antiques collectors and avid supporters of historic preservation, and their home reflects these interests.

Jane Dunham bequeathed the home to the Historical Society which received it in 1970. After an extensive restoration, the house was opened as a museum in 1995, reflecting the residency of the Dunhams between 1907 – 1935. It is rich in early 20th century features including original Rococo Revival wallpapers, painted ceilings and cornices, and furnishings and accessories. Wethersfield Historical Society received the Connecticut League of Historical Societies’ Award of Merit for the restoration of the house in June of 1996.

The Hurlbut-Dunham House at 212 Main Street is located next to the Keeney Memorial Cultural Center. Tours originate at the Keeney Memorial. Admission is free, but donations are appreciated.

Hours: Saturdays and Sundays, May 23 through October 4, 1-4pm, Open for special events and group tours,  please to schedule group tours 860.529.7161. We cannot accommodate large groups without prior notice.


The Cove Warehouse is located on the waterfront of the Wethersfield Cove and used to interpret Wethersfield’s maritime trade with the West Indies that flourished between 1650 and 1830. Visit the Cove to learn the significance of the Red Onion trade, shipbuilding, privateers, fisheries and early yachts.

The Cove Warehouse is located in Cove Park at the north end of Main Street. Please park in the Cove Park parking lot and use the path.

Hours: Saturdays and Sundays, May 23 through October 4, 1-4pm, Open for special events and group tours,  please to schedule group tours 860.529.7161. We cannot accommodate large groups without prior notice.


Located at 120 Hartford Avenue, across from the Board of Education, the Captain James Francis house was in the possession of the Francis descendants from 1793 until 1969. Due to the generous donation of Mr. Chauncey D. Stillman and his daughters, Elizabeth Stillman Shafer and Theodora Stillman Budnik, direct descendants of the original owner, this property is open as a historic house for the public to experience the daily life of a middle-class working family in the early Republic. James Francis was a master-builder and custom built the home to his family’s needs. This 18th century house is interpreted in different time periods depending on the room – enter the Victorian Parlor to reflect on Christmas past all the way up through Mary Strong’s Summer Bedchamber from early twentieth century living.

The Captain James Francis house is open for education programs and by appointment seasonally. Education programs held at the house include Keeney Kids History Camp, Cookies over the Coals with local preschoolers, Amazing Apples Adventures, Victorian Christmas, Victorian Games and local school tours.

The Captain James Francis House (120 Hartford Avenue, Wethersfield, CT) is open by appointment only. Please contact Education Coordinator Mary Pat Knowlton at 860.529.7656 or by e-mail

Past Exhibitions:


Civil WarA story, a poem and a well formed marriage proposal in a letter tell the story of the Civil War. The objects that were treasured from the war were letters. Correspondence between the home front and battlefront served as the connection which contained the heartfelt emotions or unnerving bravery. As part of Connecticut’s sesquicentennial of the Civil War a new exhibit was mounted in the Keeney Memorial Cultural Center. Love Letters and Uniforms: Wethersfield During the Civil War commemorates the American Civil War, while exploring local life during the 1860s. Walk through the exhibit to humanize the bloodiest conflict in American history into families struggling to survive, connect and sustain on the battlefront and the home front.


The Connecticut State Prison was operational on State Street from 1827 through 1963. For 136 years the Prison housed criminal offenders while employing local residents, bringing opportunities to town and changing the landscape of Wethersfield. This community collaborative exhibition displays loans from public that are complimented with objects from the society’s collection. Come view the prison history through material culture! Funding from this exhibition was made possible from a planning grant from the Greater Hartford Foundation for Public Giving. If you have a photograph or object to donate or loan, please contact Rachel Zilinski, Administrator & Collections Manager.

WETHERSFIELD SERVICE MEN & WOMEN (March 2013 – March 2014)

“Now is the time to show the world that we are all glad to serve our Country in any capacity they shall place us in.”
– Captain John Chester, October 1775

Wethersfield Historical Society is honored to present a small sampling of photographs, objects and documents that represent the proud military involvement of local citizens throughout all American conflicts. Please help us build our collection to represent all American conflicts and individuals in all branches of service so we may continue to honor our local heroes. If you have a photograph or object to donate or loan, please contact Rachel Zilinski, Administrator & Collections Manager.


The inspiration for the exhibition occurred in January 2012 as Administrator and Collection Manager Rachel Quish Zilinski prepared for her January nuptials. She was drawn to the historical society’s extensive collection for inspiration for her own wedding. After sifting through beautiful historic wedding gowns, invitations, announcement cards, wedding gifts, trousseau and photographs, she felt that these objects needed to be displayed. In talking with members, visitors and other museums, it became clear that the wedding gown was a treasured item that was preserved with such care that many museums and individuals still had theirs tucked away for safe keeping, some in their original G. Fox or Sage-Allen boxes.

There are nineteen gowns on display that are wedding, bridal party and going away gowns ranging from 1837 to 1967. This exhibition explores the wedding traditions of our local community through objects. Exhibition will be open September 13, 2012 through March 24, 2013.

HAPPY 100TH BIRTHDAY GIRL SCOUTS! (March 2012 – March 2013)

Juliet Gordan Low held a meeting of 18 girls on March 12, 1912 marking the first Girl Scout meeting to be held. One hundred years later Girl Scouts remains a strong organization that still follows the beliefs of Low that all girls should be given the opportunity to develop physically and mentally strong. The twentieth century was a time in Wethersfield for community organizations and one popular organization for young girls was Girl Scouting. In collaboration with the Girl Scouts of Connecticut and Wethersfield Historical Society we have created a case exhibition on Girl Scouting in Wethersfield.

Free to all Girl Scouts – past and present

WETHERSFIELD WOODWORKING (September 2011- March 2012)

Wethersfield Woodworking is a new exhibition that celebrates the local joiners, crafters and turners in our community. Exhibit will open on Saturday, September 17 on History Day for Families and run through March 2012. A collaborative community exhibition of local pieces melded with museum collections. Come explore the remarkable craftsmanship from your own community!

A SEEDY TRADITION (March 2011 – March 2012)

The seed tradition began with Joseph Belden in 1811 and continues today with Comstock, Ferre & Co and Chas. C. Hart Seed Company. Wethersfield was the hotbed of seed gardens in the 19th century providing seeds to farmers throughout New England and as far as the Mississippi River. Commission boxes, colorful packets and quick businessmen nicknamed Wethersfield the “cradle of American seed companies.”


PHOTO EXHIBIT CELEBRATING TOWN’S 375TH (October 2009 – May 2011)

As part of the Town of Wethersfield’s ongoing celebration of its 375th Anniversary (1634-2009), Wethersfield Historical Society mounted an exhibit based on its recently published book of photographs, “Wethersfield – Images of America.” The exhibit features more than 100 images selected from the society’s collections as well as those from private collections belonging to individuals, organizations, clubs and houses of worship. The large format photographs and insightful text panels detail the town’s “recent” history from the 1860s through 2008, reflecting the diverse, complex and multi-faceted community that Wethersfield has become in its 375th year.

The exhibition is supported by grants from the Greater Hartford Arts Council and the Robert Allan Keeney Memorial Fund at the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, which has allowed the society to complement the photographs with several hands-on components and interactive ways for additional community participation. Within the exhibition, education trunks can be used inside the gallery or taken “on the road” to participating classrooms. These trunks will allow young people the opportunity to experience the hands-on material culture, as seen in the photographs, to reinforce learning and have fun at the same time.

Happy Anniversary, Wethersfield!


Mounted in the Keeney Center’s Watson Gallery starting the beginning of September that displays needle and thread work from the Wethersfield community of past and present. Necessity and Beauty: Needlework from Wethersfield’s Talented Hands will feature a selection of samplers, quilts and other decorative arts from the Society’s collections incorporated with more contemporary pieces loaned from current Wethersfield residents. The textile pieces will be rotated out every few months to refresh and enliven the exhibit. If you have viewed the exhibit once – you have not seen it all! Come to the Watson Gallery and see a 19th century quilt from the Francis family next to your neighbor’s needlepoint art. Through March 2011.

PILOT GIRL: MARY GOODRICH JENSON (March 2010 – March 2011)

Mary Goodrich Jenson was a remarkable woman – not just for her ancestral Goodrich family roots, but for her barrier-breaking achievements. Mary was not only the first female to earn her pilot’s license in Connecticut and one of the charter members of the Ninety-Nines, a women’s aviation organization, but also the first female reporter for the Hartford Courant. Mary is remembered fondly by friends and family who join with Wethersfield Historical Society in honoring this remarkable woman with a new exhibit that is adjacent to the reception desk in the Keeney.