Museum of Connecticut Glass to get up and running

By Melanie Savage - Staff Writer
Coventry - posted Tue., Aug. 2, 2011
A railroad-themed bottle produced in Coventry. The factory near the site of the future Museum of Connecticut Glass was in operation between 1814 and 1848. Photos by Melanie Savage.
A railroad-themed bottle produced in Coventry. The factory near the site of the future Museum of Connecticut Glass was in operation between 1814 and 1848. Photos by Melanie Savage.

On July 30, the Southern Connecticut Antique Bottle and Glass Collector’s Association held a show and sale on the grounds of the Museum of Connecticut Glass in Coventry. Never heard of the Museum of Connecticut Glass? That’s because it doesn’t officially exist - yet. At least, it doesn’t exist as a brick-and-mortar, full-time operation.

But the Museum of Connecticut Glass, Inc., has been in existence since 1994, when the Connecticut General Assembly voted to entrust the organization with the care of the circa 1812/14 home of Captain John Turner, one of several incorporators of the Coventry Glass Company (and later one of the founders of the Ellenville [N.Y.] Glass Company). Located in Coventry at the intersection of Route 44 and North River Road, the building is one of several original houses still standing in the National Historic Glass Factory District.

Since its incorporation, the museum has been “dedicated to exhibiting, preserving, researching and providing education about historical glass made in the numerous glassworks of Connecticut,” according to its website. Future plans envision a “unique and important museum dedicated to recording and preserving the art and history of glassmaking in Connecticut,” according to the site. “The Museum of Connecticut Glass, Inc., is destined to be an important link preserving the roots to one of our nation's earliest and most active, creative industries... glassmaking.”

The future museum is located near the site of the former Coventry Glass Company (active from 1814-1848), and within the National Historic Glass Factory District. Glass manufacturing is “one of the most important industries in the nation,” said museum president Noel Tomas, a glass appraiser and collector.

Tomas identified glassmaking as the first United States industry, a claim supported by a Metropolitan Museum of Art publication. “Glassmaking was America's first industry, as witnessed by two attempts, in 1608 and I621-24, to establish a factory at Jamestown, Virginia,” according to the article. In Connecticut, glassmaking was prominent throughout the 19th century in numerous locations, including Hartford, Glastonbury, Manchester and Coventry. Connecticut's first successful glassworks, formed by William Pitkin, his cousin Elisha Pitkin and Samuel Bishop, operated between 1783 and 1830. The founders were granted a 25-year exclusive privilege from the state’s General Assembly to produce all types of glass. At the July 30 glass show, there were a number of examples of Pitkin glass for sale, featuring the factory’s signature green color and swirling pattern, produced in the German style.

The show also featured numerous examples of Coventry glass, primarily liquor bottles, exhibiting decorative features formed by blowing molten glass into a metal mold. Also shown were Coventry and Pitkin glass inkwells. Some of the stone buildings from the original Pitkin factory have been preserved and can be viewed off of Porter Street in Manchester.

The Museum of Connecticut Glass is currently open only for special events or by request, but there are big plans for its future. A second building, acquired in 2005 from the University of Connecticut, will house the institution's education and activity facilities. The addition of a furnace room will allow for hand-blowing and other glass-making demonstrations. Handicapped bathroom facilities already have been constructed within the second level space. The museum has received a small grant which will be used to restore one of the main rooms in the Captain John Turner house. The museum plans to use the historic home for permanent exhibits and office space.

Central to the plan is a desire to utilize green energy sources as much as possible. Tomas is working with UConn’s School of Engineering to develop a plan for utilizing windmills on the site. “Coventry is the home of a certain type of windmill being utilized in the west,” said Tomas. “They were invented here.” Ideally, heat from the glassmaking furnace will be redirected to the adjacent education building. The museum is looking at using acreage to grow grasses widely used in China as a bio fuel. “We want to be energy independent,” said Tomas.

Tomas said that the museum is currently working on putting together a $3.5 million fundraising campaign. “If that gets off the ground, we’ll get started on the building of this,” he said. He is hoping that companies involved in the glass industry in Connecticut and surrounding states will see the benefit in contributing to the museum. “In a way, we’ll be preserving their history, as well,” he said. The Connecticut Glass Museum, Inc. holds 501(c)(3) education status and donations may be tax deductible. For more information, go to www.glassmuseum.org. Contact Tomas at LSAMOT@cox.net.


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