Keeler Tavern Museum in Ridgefield is celebrating its 300th birthday on June 15, and you’re invited to the party! The Birthday Bash will run from noon until 4, rain or shine, and includes music, birthday cake, old-fashioned children’s games and period crafts, and entry to the garden house and barn.
“We invite the public to come celebrate with us, stroll through history and see what we’re all about,” said Hildi Grob, executive director at Keeler Tavern Museum, adding, “We go way beyond the tricorn hat!”
Other activities will include an exhibition of classic cars and vintage bikes, old tools and farm implements, manual typewriters kids can try, a magic show, a history quiz and strolling entertainers.
While the full grounds, garden house and barn will be open to the public at no charge, attendees can also take 45-minute docent-led tours of the tavern museum for $5 (you can pick a time and sign up online in advance). Pony rides will also be available with a paid ticket and food will be for sale, as will commemorative T-shirts and tote bags.
A related morning event, and fund-raiser for Keeler Tavern Museum and Ridgefield Historical Society, a bicycle Ride Into Ridgefield History will kick off from 22 Catoonah Street (next to the post office), led by Jim Miller of Norwalk on a century-old pennyfarthing, a classical high-wheeled bike.
Organized by Ridgefield Bicycle Company and with Tom Steinert-Threlkeld of Weston as ride leader, it will incorporate 14 historical sites and an equal number of residences of famous past or present Ridgefield residents and has three lengths: 1.5 miles on flat ground along Main Street, an 8.5-mile loop with hills and a 40-mile challenge with several notable climbs. The fee is $15 for individuals, $25 for families, payable in cash or check only on the day of the ride.
“We think of ourselves as Ridgefield’s best-kept secret,” Ms. Grob said. “This beautiful property is a treasure, a history heritage center for New England representing 300 years of history… and it is the people who have lived here who make it interesting — some remarkable people have lived here. As part of the celebration we will have reenactors portraying eight of them, who will be part of the museum tours.”
Probably the most well-known owner of the property was architect Cass Gilbert (Woolworth Building, U.S. Supreme Court Building) who purchased the then-10-acre property with the tavern building on Main Street near the corner of West Lane in 1907 for $15,500. He preserved the tavern spaces, adding a wing for his family, as well the garden house for entertaining, and the barn. He also designed and donated the landmark marble fountain at the corner of Main Street and West Lane. Gilbert’s daughter continued to live in the house until 1957.
A group of preservation-minded residents acquired the now-about-1.4-acre property in 1965 and opened the museum to the public a year later; it is on the National Register of Historic Places.
The property has recently undergone a half-million-dollar restoration and preservation program that included improving the entry to the garden house, making it ADA-compliant; restoring the barn so it can be open to the public and used for workshops and exhibits; restoration of the lower meadow and making it available for the public to enjoy as an open space; reroofing the museum; rebuilding of the chimneys on the museum and garden house; and regrading and paving the driveway and a parking area.
“We’re glad people will be able to see how cool the barn space is now, with it wood floors, walls and ceilings, and that the meadow, which had been totally overgrown with trees, can be used again,” Ms. Grob notes.
A timeline brochure titled Three Centuries of History At Lott II has been prepared for this year’s anniversary. Providing an interesting and quick read, it was written by board member and historian Charlie Pankenier and designed by Jay Haas. A more detailed history of Keeler Tavern is available in a softcover book written by board member Elise Haas, and designed by Mr. Haas.
“Most people are aware of the tavern’s Revolutionary War history,” said Ms. Grob. The building “is probably best known for the cannon ball from the Battle of Ridgefield that remains embedded in one wall, and can be touched by visitors. We want to increase the awareness of things that happened here in the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries. We hope many people will come to our party and learn more about us.”
Parking for the 300th Birthday Party will be available at the First Congregational Church, Jesse Lee Memorial United Methodist Church and the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, all on Main Street.
Keeler Tavern Museum is at 132 Main Street in Ridgefield. For general information, keelertavernmuseum.org or 203-431-0815.