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The Changing Face of the Bruce Museum

Colored pencil drawing of the Bruce Museum by architect Albert A. Blodgett, 1935. Bruce Museum collection.

The Bruce Museum has existed for 108 years – it was founded through the generous bequest of Greenwich resident, textile merchant, and philanthropist, Robert Moffat Bruce. After his death in 1909, it was a surprise that in his will he deeded his house to the town of Greenwich to be used as “a natural history, historical and art museum for the use and benefit of the public.”

The large granite mansion that lawyer, clergyman, and historian, the Rev. Dr. Francis Lister Hawks built in the mid-1850s was first known as “Hawk’s Nest,” reflecting the name of its owner, local wildlife, and commanding location high on a hill overlooking Long Island Sound and the surrounding salt marsh, woods, farmland, and burgeoning village of Greenwich. In 1858, the imposing private residence was purchased by Mr. Bruce.

Presented online, the exhibition House on the Hill: The Changing Face of the Bruce Museum explores how the views of the Bruce Museum have transformed over the past century and a half. Numerous historical images show the evolution of the structure from its conversion from mansion to modern museum highlighting the intersections of art and science.

Some of these changes have been subtle, some have been profound. In the 1950s, the Museum was threatened by the planned route of the Connecticut Thruway (now incorporated into Interstate 95). The state compensated Greenwich for the lost parkland, and funds were used to construct a major addition to the Museum, which opened, in 1958.

The building was modified again in 1992-93, a renovation and expansion that allowed it to keep pace with both its foundational role in the community and current museum standards.

Helping tell the story of the Bruce Museum’s architectural history are quotes and citations from founding staff, community leaders, and visitors both young and old over the generations.

A model of the New Bruce art wing addition.

The exhibition launches online at a moment in time that coincides with the next iteration of the changing face of the Bruce Museum: the groundbreaking for the New Bruce addition, a transformative expansion project that will expand the Museum from 30,000 square feet to over 70,000 square feet, adding state-of-the-art exhibition galleries for art and science, new education spaces, and a restaurant, auditorium, and meeting spaces that will ensure the Museum remains a vibrant center for the Greenwich community for the next century and beyond.

“As the Museum embarks on its ambitious expansion plan, it is important to see the history of how we have arrived at this momentous occasion,” says Timothy Walsh, Collections Manager and, as the Museum’s archivist and resident historian, curator of the exhibition.

The Bruce Museum is grateful for exhibition support from the Charles M. and Deborah G. Royce Exhibition Fund, the Connecticut Office of the Arts, Susan and Bill Mahoney, and Heidi Brake Smith and Scott M. Smith.

Lesson Plan for House on The Hill

The virtual exhibition is complemented by a Bruce at Home activity for young learners. Click here for this engaging lesson in how to conduct historical research.