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A Look at the Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme, Connecticut

PHOTO OF Florence Griswold Museum

The Florence Griswold Museum sits on the site of a historic art colony in Old Lyme, Connecticut. Still, you don't have to be an artist or collector to appreciate the facility because there's truly something for everyone.

For starters, the venue acts as a piece of living history on the Connecticut Shoreline. Many buildings on this 13-acre property sitting on the Lieutenant River's shores are fully restored to their original state and contain period decor.

The museum also hosts family-friendly events throughout the year that will allow you to get out and enjoy the unique charm that Old Lyme provides its residents.

If you're looking at homes to buy in Old Lyme, getting to know the Griswold Museum can help make your decision all the more easier.

The Florence Griswold House

The main attraction at the Florence Griswold Museum is the Florence Griswold House, a late Georgian-style home built in 1817 for affluent Old Lyme resident William Noyes. The house was designed by Samuel Belcher, who is also responsible for the town's First Congregational Church, and is reflective of the type of home the area's wealthiest inhabitants lived in during this period.

The early 1900s were when the Florence Griswold House became famous, as it acted as a boardinghouse for renowned American artists like Willard Metcalf and Childe Hassam. Future president Woodrow Wilson spent time there with his family, as well, and in total, over 135 artists lived at the property between 1899 and 1935.

The home's dining room features panels created by some of these artists, making it a focal point for many campus tours. Artists had to receive an invite to hang a painting in the dining room, and it's full of works by some of the most influential creators of that time.

Another reason for the Florence Griswold House's notoriety is its position at the center of the American Impressionist movement. Exhibits throughout the campus teach about and reflect on American Impressionism and provide excellent insight into the genre's beginnings.

In 2006, a restoration was completed, leaving the Florence Griswold House in a similar state to what it was in 1910. This work has created a time capsule for visitors to experience. 

Today, you can head into the dining room to see the panels and witness where daily discussions influenced the direction of American art.

You can also wander into the house's various rooms to experience how these painters spent their summers learning, interacting, and creating art in Old Lyme.

Other On-Campus Buildings

The Florence Griswold House isn't the only building on the museum campus, as there's a lot more to explore on the 13-acre site. 

For starters, there's the Robert and Nancy Krieble Gallery, a 10,000-square-foot facility featuring a massive collection of American Impressionist paintings from the colony. The gallery also has other works with ties to Connecticut and the rest of New England. 

In 2001, the museum obtained a 190-piece collection from The Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Company, which now resides in the Krieble Gallery.

Other on-site buildings include the Hartman Education Center, which teachers use for art classes, the Rafal Landscape Center, where visitors can learn about the importance of landscapes in paintings, and American Impressionist William Chadwick's former art studio. Chadwick's studio is where he created his most memorable works.

Cafe Flo

For a bite to eat as you explore the museum campus, you can check out Cafe Flo. This small restaurant has outdoor seating overlooking the Lieutenant River, and it's easy to imagine the artists enjoying a similar view while painting. 

Cafe Flo's menu features salads, sandwiches, steak, fish, chicken, and dessert. You can even have a glass of wine or a beer while appreciating the serenity of this waterfront location.

It certainly isn't fancy, but Cafe Flo has excellent food, and its atmosphere alone makes it worth a stop while you are exploring the Florence Griswold Museum.

Programs and Events

There's always something going on at the Florence Griswold Museum, including camps and other events for children during the summer. For adults, lectures and meet-and-greets with contemporary artists are common, and temporary exhibits come to the gallery throughout the year.

As for annual events, the Midsummer Festival brings music, food trucks, book signings, and art exhibitions to the campus every July. The festival also celebrates Old Lyme's considerable artistic heritage.

Every October, the Wee Faerie Village comes to the Griswold Museum. This event attracts about 12,000 visitors annually and lasts for the entire month, giving you plenty of time to experience it. The exhibit features a mini village with faerie architecture, making it a fun event for the whole family.

The Magic of Christmas festival lasts all December long with different events daily. There's plenty of Christmas decor throughout the facility, and you can buy gifts for friends and family at the shops, too. You can even have tea and a sandwich overlooking the river, with a reservation.

A Vital Piece of Old Lyme's History

Upon buying a home in Old Lyme, you'll quickly discover just how much American history this town with about 7,500 permanent residents possesses. 

The Old Lyme art colony that Florence Griswold hosted is a significant piece of this history. You can explore many of the sites that made the town what it is today, helping you develop a deeper connection with the community. 

Published October 30, 2020 in Exploring Our Area