Bristol, Connecticut

About 20 miles to the west of Hartford is a dot on the Connecticut state map that says Bristol.  There is a good reason why we meandered along narrow winding county roads and ventured into the middle of Connecticut to find this dot?  Turns out Bristol has two interesting museums that beckoned us – The American Clock and Watch Museum and the New England Carousel Museum.  And it was set in a pretty part of the country with gorgeous fall colors where we found a state park to explore and pictures to take.

Happy pup hiking in Black Rock State Park

Upon arrival we found out some other interesting factoids about Bristol.  Like, it is the home of ESPN and America’s oldest still-functioning theme park – Lake Compounce.  Bristol is also home to the largest elevator test tower in the United States standing 383 feet tall.  Bristol’s nicknames include the “Bell City”, because of their history in the manufacturing of innovative spring-driven doorbells, and the “Mum City”, because it was once a leader in chrysanthemum production and they still hold an annual Bristol Mum Festival.  Who knew?

But Bristol is really known for its clock making which started in the 19th century and saw the rise of 275 companies involved in the industry.  By 1844, Bristol held the distinction of being the world leader in the production of affordable time pieces.  With clocks so widespread today it is hard to imagine there was a time when they were priced so high that many households couldn’t afford the luxury.  So what changed?  A man by the name of Eli Terry brought forth an industrial revolution in the clock making business.  In 1806, Terry invented gauges, dyes, machines, and techniques that enabled him to mass produce clock parts that were interchangeable.  Terry went from using parts made of brass to wood and was able to produce 500 times as many clocks with his large scale manufacturing process as those of craftsmen hand-making brass clocks.  Increased production and lower prices meant that clocks were no longer a luxury for just the wealthy but the working class could afford them as well.  Soon, door-to-door salesmen were selling one to every household to be displayed on their mantle.

The mission of the American Clock and Watch Museum is simple – “celebrate the ingenuity and artistry of the industries that launched America’s industrial revolution and democratized access to accurate timekeeping.”  It is the only museum in the country dedicated to horology – the study of time (just wanted to clarify that).  The 10,000  square foot museum has amassed over 6,000 clocks, watches, library materials, and historical papers since it opened its doors in 1954. 


As visitors wander through the museum’s eight galleries, timekeeping devices come alive as they sound their signature chimes when they strike upon the hour.  Throughout the museum are interesting displays and information pertaining to clocks, like where the name Grandfather clock came from, how clocks and watches work, why rail travel was standardized by the railroad leading to the establishment of time zones.  We were pleasantly surprised about how much we liked this museum and came away with a much better appreciation for the common apparatus’ that we strap to our wrists every day.

Just down the street from the clock and watch museum is the New England Carousel Museum.  Betsy is a carousel enthusiast and was really excited when I told her this museum was in Bristol.  Carousels have long been a sense of enjoyment and wonder for all generations.  Betsy grew up riding carousel animals and even owned a rare carousel horse carved by a famous carver.  The musical notes from the calliope music, bright lights glowing on the rounding boards, and jumping horses must have made carousels popular for well over 100 years.  And while they are commonplace at fairs and amusement parks the antique wooden carousels from the early days are of great value.  A wooden standing tiger by the famous carver Gustav Dentzel can fetch over $80,000.  


Have you ever noticed that carousel animals are in one of three positions?  “Standers” are typically the largest of all 20161030_133219the animals on a carousel because they are on the outside row.  Since that diameter of the carousel is the largest, horse size decreases as you move inward.  These horses have all three feet on the ground with one hoof up and do not go up or down.  Moving inward to the middle row are the “Prancers” which have two back feet on the ground and the two front legs up in the air and do not move up or down.  On the very inside row are the “Jumpers” that are popular because they go up and down.  These horses are the smallest in size and are very popular with children (and Betsy!) because of their movement. 

Carousels were first devised to help train knights to perfect their spearing skills while on a moving horse.  They raised their lances attempting to place them through a spearing ring.  The days of knights are long gone but the idea of snaring a ring is still around.  Riders in the outside row would attempt to grab a ring from a dispensing machine as they went around.  The rider lucky enough to grab the brass ring won a free ride. 

Every carousel has a slightly larger “lead horse” which is typically a lion or camel and used to help the operator count the ride’s revolutions.  If you look closely at the carousel animals you will notice that the right side of the animal (which faces outwards due to the carousel spinning counter-clockwise) is much more elaborate and fancy than the inside.  The outside is visible to potential riders and on-lookers whereas the inside is not.  Usually, the master carver is responsible for the fancy side while the inside is done by an apprentice. 


As an added bonus the Bristol Museum of Fire History is housed in the same building.  The museum features fire fighting equipment and firehouse memorabilia and antiques dating back to the mid-1800’s.  Visitors are encouraged to dawn fire fighting gear and pull that lever in the fire alarm box that the inner demon in you has always wanted to pull!


In the neighboring town of Thomaston we found Branch Brook Campground which would serve as our home base while we were in the area.  Can’t say we were thrilled with the campground but it was just across the street from Black Rock State Park which was perfect for walking Spirit and exploring the many trails.  There is a campground at the state park but it was closed the time of year when we were there and their website says they do not allow pets in the campground.

Comments are closed.

COVID-19 (Coronavirus Disease) Notification - Escapees RV Club is monitoring the situation closely. For up to date information affecting members, please click here.