The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, April 10, 2009


Unusual Massachusetts museums

“Discovery consists of seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody has thought.”

I.J. Good, ed., The Scientist Speculates, 1962.

With a view to sustaining ourselves and our pocketbooks, we might like to look this spring for cultural entertainment that is inexpensive and close to home, but which offers the opportunity for new discovery. Within our compass come several unusual museums of all sizes, with something to fit every taste. All of these places are accessible by car, and a round trip is possible in a day or less. Here is a partial listing of some well-known and lesser-known museums, categorized generally by their areas of interest:

Military and weaponry

• The Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company of Massachusetts, (, located in Faneuil Hall in Boston, is the third-oldest chartered military organization in the world. Items in the company’s museum have been donated from all over the world and cover a period of over 300 years.

• Battleship Cove, (, located in Fall River, is home to a number of retired World War II naval vessels and historical exhibits.

• Higgins Armory Museum, (, in Worcester, is completely dedicated to arms and armor.

Unusual art museums

• Museum of Bad Art (, in Boston, is, according to its website, “the world’s only museum dedicated to the collection, preservation, exhibition and celebration of bad art in all its forms.”

• The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, (, is in Amherst and offers 40,000 square feet of exhibits of illustrative book art.

• The Museum of Russian Icons, (, is located in Clinton. It boasts a continuing exhibition of 16 rare icons from Moscow and an ongoing new exhibit of the Russian folk handicraft of miniature painting on varnished objects known as Palekh.

• The Art Complex Museum ( in Duxbury, features an eclectic collection of contemporary art, American paintings and prints, Shaker furniture, Japanese ceramics, and a Japanese tea house.


• Middlesex Canal Museum, ( in the old Faulkner Mill of North Billerica, traces the history of the “ultimate highway” of the 19th century, parts of which still exist: the canal that allowed cargo to be hauled from Billerica to Boston.

• Larz Anderson Auto Museum ( in Brookline, is home to what its website calls “America’s oldest car collection.” Educational outreach, outdoor events and a permanent collection of early automobiles make this museum a great trip for car collectors and buffs.

• National Streetcar Museum ( in Lowell tells the story of public transportation in Lowell and the ways in which public transportation has influenced the growth of American cities.

The sea

• New Bedford Whaling Museum ( of New Bedford is “the largest museum in America devoted to the history of the American Whaling industry and its greatest port.” It houses an extensive collection tracing the story of American whaling in the age of sail.

• Cape Ann Historical Museum ( in downtown Gloucester, houses a rare maritime painting collection, including a large collection of paintings by Fitz Henry (formerly Hugh) Lane, a 19th-century Gloucester artist, as well as galleries devoted to fisheries and quarrying.

• Marine Museum at Fall River ( contains models and exhibits about some of the world’s oldest large pleasure and cruise ships (“floating palaces”) as well as the largest exhibit of R.M.S. Titanic artifacts in the world.

• Kendall Whaling Museum (website under construction; call 1-781-784-5642) in Sharon boasts ten galleries and a collection spanning all the continents and seven centuries.

Historic house museums and museums about people

In addition to exploring the wonderful historic house museums in Concord that tell the story of Revolutionary history and the Concord authors, try:

• The John Alden House Historic Site ( in Duxbury. Built in the early 1630s, this house is reputed to be the only extant dwelling having belonged to one of the original Mayflower passengers.

• Longfellow National Historic Site ( The home of 19th-century poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, on Brattle Street in Cambridge, appears much as it did when Longfellow owned it. The mansion was a wedding gift, purchased for the then princely sum of $10,000 for the newlywed Longfellows by the bride’s parents. The poet’s study is particularly impressive.

• Longyear Museum ( in Brookline, explores the life of religious reformer and founder of Christian Science Mary Baker Eddy.

• Rebecca Nurse Homestead ( in Danvers dates to the 1630s and was the home of Francis and Rebecca Nurse and their eight children. Rebecca Nurse was 71 years old when she was accused of witchcraft in the famous Salem hysteria of 1992, and, despite first being found innocent, she was retried and hanged in July of that year.

The natural world

• EcoTarium ( in Worcester is a one-of-a-kind indoor-outdoor museum devoted to the study of science and nature. It offers nature trails, a “walk through the treetops,” a narrow-gauge railroad, wildlife, a digital planetarium, and more.

• Blue Hills Trailside Museum
(www., located in Milton, is the interpretive center for the 7,000 acre Blue Hills Reservation and offers live animal programs, miles of trails, and indoor and outdoor exhibits.

There are a host of other science and nature museums in Massachusetts, including the Discovery Museums down the road in Acton and, of course, Boston’s Museum of Science and New England Aquarium.

This column will, periodically, return to the topic of museums to recommend other choices, and welcomes readers’ suggestions as well. Email contact information about your favorite Massachusetts museums The Commonwealth abounds with museums of every stripe, and we are fortunate to have so many institutions and collections within a two-hour radius. In the meantime, this listing should give us enough to get started on as the weather begins to improve and we can get out to look for a little stimulation and discovery. ∆

© 2009 The Carlisle Mosquito