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What’s New at Keeler Tavern Museum This Summer

Ridgefield is a town full of rich history, filled with beautifully preserved colonial architecture, revolutionary sites, and of course – our beloved Keeler Tavern Museum & History Center. The Keeler Tavern Museum’s storied history dates back hundreds of years and the property has been a farmhouse, tavern, stagecoach stop, post office, hotel for travelers, and the home of noted architect Cass Gilbert.

We sat down with Keeler Tavern Museum’s Head of Communications & Grants, Katie Burton, to find out about the latest news and happenings at the museum this summer.

What’s happening at Keeler Tavern Museum & History Center this summer?

There’s a lot happening at the museum this summer – from a reinterpretation project focused on more inclusive and interactive storytelling, to popular community collaborations bringing music and art to our historic site, to Keeler Kids programs that weave local history into fun projects and activities for kids of all ages, to the return of CT Summer at the Museum, which means free site admission for CT kids and an accompanying adult.

One of the things we’re most excited about is spreading the word about our broader site experience. Sometimes people think about historic house museums as places where you take a tour and leave. But we’re really committed to making sure visitors get the most out of our site, which means so much more than a (really great) tour. Instead of tour admission, we have site admission, which covers a full day’s worth of activities at our site: a guided tour, exhibit access and activities in the Gilbert Wing and historic carriage barn, a self-guided walking tour, access to our gorgeous walled garden. And of course there should always be time set aside to peruse our Museum Shop. This spring, our volunteers did a fantastic job curating a selection of new merchandise, great options for gifts and souvenirs for people of all ages.

Walled Garden and Rose Arbor at Keeler Tavern.
Community events at KTM&HC. Avi Kimmel rings the bell at this year’s July 4th Celebration.

What are some of your upcoming programs and exhibitions that will appeal to young families?

We’re always thinking about ways to build museum experiences that appeal to visitors of all ages, and so many of our tours, programs, and exhibitions have components specifically designed to engage kids. Our current exhibit, “Reflections on the Past: Over 50 Years of Interpretation at KTM&HC,” includes special activities just for kids, and we regularly have interactive exhibits and displays in our historic carriage barn that are ideal for young families. Our interpreters are also great at engaging young people on their tours.

But we can’t talk about our museum and young families this summer without talking about the fantastic state-funded initiative we’re participating in, for a second year: Connecticut Summer at the Museum. From now through September 5th (Labor Day), all Connecticut kids ages 18 and under, plus an accompanying adult, get free site admission to KTM&HC. This includes all the great components I mentioned above: guided tour, exhibit access in multiple locations, self-guided tour, gardens. Last summer, we nearly tripled the number of visitors we had seen in summers past, and we know that the Summer at the Museum program contributed significantly to this increase. So we’re obviously thrilled to be able to offer it again, thanks to the CT Office of the Arts and CT Humanities, and continue making our site and content more accessible.

Enjoying a day at Keeler Tavern Museum.
Guided Museum Tour with John Bradley.

Tell us about the new “Keeler Kids” programs this summer. Are these programs still open?

Yes! We still have two sessions of our popular Keeler Kids summer programming with spots available, during the weeks of August 1st and August 8th. These are great opportunities for kids to learn about local history while doing tons of hands-on activities, crafts, and games.

The August 1st session is for kids going into grades 4 through 6 and focuses on “curiosity cabinets” influenced by Victorian display cases of knickknacks, kids will build a collection that tells a story about who they are and what they like. The August 8th session is brand-new, closely connected to our reinterpretation. Kids going into grades 7 and 8 will get to design and install an exhibit about one of our new potential tour themes, and the exhibit will be on display to the public for weeks! It’s a great way to get an insider perspective about how museums choose to tell stories.

Keeler Kids programming in the summer.

What about the exciting new tour experience called “War at Home”? And how can the public get involved in that?

This is one of my favorite things happening at KTM&HC. “War at Home” is a new tour we’ve developed as part of our reinterpretation project. We’ve received funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities to reimagine our storytelling – especially the way our museum tells stories via our tours – to be more inclusive, more interactive, and to amplify underrepresented voices.

One of the stories that’s always been central to our museum is the Battle of Ridgefield. It is hard to avoid telling that story when one of the cannonballs fired by the British during that battle is, to this day, embedded in the side of our tavern building! We noticed that a lot of emphasis was placed on the battlefield and the soldiers, which is important history to be sure, but we (and honestly, many of our visitors) were wondering what it might’ve been like for the people who lived in the Keeler Tavern at the time. Those who weren’t on the battlefield, but instead were experiencing the terror of war from inside their own homes. That’s the basis of our “War at Home” tour.

We tell the stories of people like Timothy Keeler, Esther Keeler, and Betty Isaac, who likely watched the British march toward their home with incredible fear and uncertainty. We also wanted to dig into the complexities of some those individuals – to avoid putting them on pedestals, but instead leaning into how complicated they were as human beings. Like Esther Keeler, who was a loving mother, a savvy businesswoman, and an enslaver – all three things at once. Our creative team at KTM&HC has been working with consultant Shannon Burke to build this tour experience, and now we’re ready to begin prototyping it – which means giving the tour as a sort of rough draft, asking visitors to help collaborate in its development by giving us feedback after they take the tour. When visitors sign up for “War at Home,” they not only get the chance to see this new tour, but they get to share their reactions and insights and preferences: tell us what worked, what didn’t, what they’d like to see more or less of. And then we’ll directly incorporate that feedback into the tour, making changes and edits as we go. It’s an exciting process, and community involvement will help us create a tour that interests and engages and excites our audiences.

Keeler Tavern's history dates back hundreds of years.
A British cannonball remains lodged in one of the corner posts.

Music at the Museum also sounds like a great summer experience. When and where are the concerts held?

The on-going collaboration we have with Ridgefield Symphony Orchestra is so great! Music at the Museum brings world-class musicians to our site on Mondays during the summer – from funk and jazz to bluegrass and chamber music. There are two more concerts this summer: Monday, August 1st at 6 p.m. and Monday, August 15th at 6:30 p.m. We’ve run several “seasons” of Music at the Museum, and it always brings out great crowds – grab a lawn chair or blanket and some snacks and enjoy the summer evening on our site!

Music at the Museum with the Ridgefield Symphony Orchestra.

Learn more

Keeler Tavern Museum is located at 152 Main Street, Ridgefield, Connecticut 06877. Admission to the tours, exhibits, and access to the grounds and gardens is open Wednesdays through Sundays from 11AM – 4PM.

Visit KTM&HC at keelertavernmuseum.org or follow them on Facebook and Instagram.

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