Barnum Institute of Science and History

805 Main Street • Bridgeport, CT • Fairfield County

Historical Significance

This is the only extant building that is directly associated with the life of Phineas Taylor Barnum (1810 –1891). It contains many objects related to Barnum and life in Bridgeport. Barnum was best known as a showman, but he was also active as a social and political reformer who supported Irish home rule. In his autobiography, Barnum claims that there were no Irish people living near his home town of Bethel, Connecticut and that he did not know any of them until he moved to New York in the 1850s.

Photo: View southeast showing façade and north elevation. (Tod Bryant)

The Irish in New York were not held in high esteem in the middle of the nineteenth century, but after Barnum toured Ireland on his first trip to Europe, he wrote, "For my own part, I was exceedingly pleased with the Irish people. The educated classes are as refined and courteous as any persons I ever was acquainted with, and the poorer classes are blessed with a 'mother- wit' which softens the rigors of their sorrowful necessities."

Barnum took a great interest in the cause of Irish Home Rule after his return to the United States. He made it a point to visit Irish politicians, including Dan O'Connell, whenever he traveled to Europe. He also promoted and financed tours for speakers supporting the cause in the United States. The Museum's collection includes a steel plate engraving of a short letter written by Barnum in 1886. The letter was probably meant to be printed and distributed to the public. In it, he states that he supports, "...people who believe as I do, that "Home Rule" in Ireland on the basis last named by Mr. Parnell will, if established, be alike in blessing to England and Ireland."

Barnum also employed many Irish servants in his home as well as many Irish workers in his museums and circuses.


Babbit, Susan. "Barnum Museum." National Register of Historic Paces nomination. 1972.
Huston, Melissa. "P. T. Barnum and Home Rule." unpublished manuscript, 2013.
Scofield, Jenny Fields. "Barnum Museum." National Register of Historic Places amendment. 2110.

Notable Features of Building or Site

This is a Romanesque building with elements of Byzantine and Islamic design. Its facade is dominated by a dome on the northwest corner with a red tile roof which is surmounted by a gilded eagle in flight. The dome is balanced at the south end of the facade by a three story square tower with a pointed roof and turrets at each corner.

A gable with two large, centered, round arched windows is at the east end of the north elevation. Walls between the dome and gable on the north elevation and the dome and tower on the façade are set back to form balconies. The first story of the building is rusticated brownstone, but the upper stories are covered in polished brownstone with decorative, highly figured terracotta bands.

The main entrance of the building is through a rounded arch at the base of the tower at the south end of the façade. There is a row of full-height windows that runs between this entrance and another arched doorway at the corner of the façade and the north elevation. There is another full-height window the east of this entrance and three smaller windows divided by pilasters in the upper third the first story of the north elevation. A smaller entrance surrounded by a less elaborate stone arch is at the east end of the north elevation.

A band of full-height windows surrounded by polychrome rounded arches and divided by tripartite pilasters encircles the second story façade and north elevation. The third story has a series of round-arched windows in a cross gable on the north elevation, the base of the dome and the tower.

The east elevation is enclosed by a section of the Peoples United Bank Building. The south elevation is a blank wall, which is partially covered by part of the Peoples United Bank Building.

Interrelationship of Building and Surroundings

The Barnum Museum is at the southern edge of the Bridgeport central business district and it is surrounded by commercial buildings. It is on the north side Main Street and it sits on the southwest corner of a block that is dominated by the fifteen story Peoples United Bank building, built in 1989.

Additional Information

Common Name:  Barnum Museum
Date(s):  Built 1893
Style(s):  Romanesque
Historic Use:  Museum
Present Use:  Museum
Architect:  Longstaff and Hurd

Exterior visible from public road.
Interior accessible (during museum hours).

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