Keeler Tavern Museum cuts ribbon to new visitors center

More than 800 people turned out on a sunny Fourth of July to celebrate the opening of the new Visitor Center at Keeler Tavern Museum & History Center. Attendees young and old, from as close as Ridgefield and as far as France, toured the museum’s campus before gathering for a ribbon cutting at noon.

“This is a true high-five moment,” said Hildegard Grob, executive director of the KTMHC.

She told the crowd the building was purchased in 2016 from private owners and “with a lot of help from everyone and with state grants, with foundation grants, with all of you; this has been a wonderful campaign.

“Today, only three years after purchase, we are delighted to be able to cut this ribbon,” she said.

Town, state, and federal officials attended the ribbon cutting, as well as individuals and organizations that gave gifts, financial and in-kind, to renovate and equip the main floor of the circa 1936 Cass Gilbert, Jr.-designed building for its new purpose — welcoming the 10,000 people each year to the historic destination.

The Visitor Center’s main lobby features an elegant reception area designed by Josh Fischer Design, constructed by Sturges Brothers Inc., and funded by the Ridgefield Thrift Shop. The adjacent orientation space includes video equipment underwritten by the Ridgefield Woman's Club and an IBM Community Grant, with benches built by Troop 76 Eagle Scout Michael Ferrandino. Bellagamba Electric, Home Media Designs, Sean O’Kane AIA, Southwestern Connecticut Security, and Westchester Carpentry & Millwork Inc. were among local in-kind contributors to the main-level renovations, which included a small conference room, up-to-date kitchen, and two ADA-compliant restrooms.

The public was invited to tour a future collections storage and archival research facility on the lower level of the new Visitor Center. Conversion of the lower level for this purpose is being funded in part by a Good to Great grant from the State of Connecticut’s Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD).

The ribbon cutting signaled a turning point in the museum’s own history and was just one of the many activities offered visitors on the holiday. Pointing to a new map featuring a self-guided walking tour, Grob invited attendees to explore the entire campus.

“As a regional destination center, we have created a new self-guided walking tour based on 1920s photographs that correspond to the point of interest where the photo was taken when the Gilberts owned the property,” Grob said. “This is a brand-new walking tour for our campus — not just for today, but for now on, forever.”

As Nick Donofrio, honorary chair of the capital campaign entitled ‘It’s Our Turn to Make History’, noted “while the things we did to make this Visitor Center happen don’t necessarily rival the smell of gunpowder or the sense of battle, what you did as Ridgefielders and supporters today — just as it were 247 years ago during the Battle of Ridgefield — showed as much courage, as much fortitude, as much bravery. We thank you for that. We welcome you here forever.”

The entire campus, including the new Visitor Center, self-guided walking tour, and Keeler Tavern featuring costumed docents, is open to the public every Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday from 1 to 4 pm, with the last house tour beginning at 3:30.

More information is available at Keeler Tavern Museum is located at 152 Main Street.