Good to Great grant: Keeler Tavern Museum gets $96,500 from state

Keeler Tavern Museum & History Center (KTM&HC) has received a $96,575 Good to Great grant from the State of Connecticut’s Department of Economic and Community Development. The grant will substantially fund KTM&HC’s project to turn the raw space in the lower level of its new Visitor Center into a state-of-the-art museum collections storage and research facility.

“We have extraordinary documents in our collection,” said Executive Director, Hildi Grob. “Some great examples are a British officer’s hand-drawn schematic of the Battle of Ridgefield and Anna Marie Resseguie’s nine journals detailing everyday life in Ridgefield during the Civil War. We also have Cass Gilbert’s notes on the destruction he saw in post-World War I France.” She points out that these items, and many others, are more frequently accessed now as KTM&HC develops new tours and exhibitions for the public visiting its recently expanded site--and for its growing school programs, which reached upwards of 2,500 students in the just-ended school year.

“We’ve taken good care of our artifacts, documents, artwork and old books,” she adds; “they’re in a secure, climate-controlled space, but it’s too small for our current needs and difficult for our curators to access.”

The Good to Great grant program provides state bond funding for capital projects that link art, history and tourism to enhance visitors’ experiences; it is administered by the Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD) in cooperation with the Connecticut Office of the Arts and State Historic Preservation Office. Awarded late last year to 12 nonprofit organizations across the state, the Good to Great grants aim to help small and mid-sized cultural and historical sites--especially those that have received little state support in the past—"to enhance the visitor experience, improve access or otherwise grow their audience,” according to the grant award announcement.

“There’s no better example to highlight the goals of the program than the Keeler Tavern Museum & History Center’s 1936 Cass Gilbert Jr.-designed structure, adaptively reused as a new Visitor Center,” said Elizabeth Shapiro, DECD’s Director of Arts, Preservation and Museums. “The Museum’s rich archives will be infinitely more accessible, further encouraging the deep discussions that lead to a greater understanding of our history. We are proud to celebrate the historically significant 1713 Tavern, and the efforts of this tremendous group of dedicated individuals whose hard work and commitment made [this project] possible.”

KTM&HC’s Good to Great grant project will transform its Visitor Center’s lower level into a secure climate-controlled, fire-protected storage area with museum-grade moveable shelves and storage racks. The space will have a dedicated HVAC system to conserve KTM&HC’s thousands of fragile artifacts, documents, pamphlets, ledgers, journals, books and ephemera. An adjacent research area will provide curators, scholars and visiting school program students with a secure space to look at these items and marvel at the history they tell.

Keeler Tavern Museum & History Center’s Good to Great project, for which a 25 percent match was required, is part of the organization’s larger “It’s Our Turn to Make History” site transformation and capital campaign.

“Generous local donors’ support ensured that we had the match on hand when we applied for this grant,” said Board President Hilary Micalizzi, “and this, together with our strategic plan for the site’s future, helped us secure this funding. We are immensely grateful to our local donors as well as to the State of Connecticut for making this project possible.”