History buffs have something to add to their list: the Norwalk Historical Society.
This off-the-beaten-path attraction in Norwalk, CT, will take you on a journey through time and reveal some of its best-kept secrets. It is not only interactive and full of interesting artifacts. It also provides a firsthand look at real American history. This 200-year old institution has thrilling special events and educational programs.
Come back in time at the Norwalk Historical Society as we explore one of the city’s best-kept secrets!
Map design by Stanton House Inn
A Brief History of Norwalk, Connecticut
In two separate transactions in 1640 and 1641, settlers from Massachusetts bought the land that became Norwalk.
The first colonists arrived in 1649 from Hartford, and the town incorporated in 1651. This historic village raised cows and grew flax and hemp.
During the American Revolution, British forces led by General Tryon burned the town to the ground.
And by 1880, Norwalk had the world’s largest fleet of steam-powered oyster boats. By then, oyster farming had completely taken over the local economy.
In 1893, the town reincorporated as a city, and in 1913, it combined all its neighborhoods to form the current city.
Celebrating the Unique Cultural Contributions of Norwalk Residents
Norwalk is a town that values its citizens’ unique contributions and is rich in history and culture. James Pierpont, the man behind the hit song “Yankee Doodle,” is likely the most well-known Norwalk resident.
Introducing The Norwalk Historical Society Museum
Want a more in-depth history?
Then head to the Norwalk Historical Society Museum, an intriguing treasure for both Norwalk locals and visitors.
Exploring Norwalk Through Interactive Exhibits and Artifacts
The Norwalk Historical Society Museum is a unique place to learn about local history. Discover this coastal town’s fascinating history,
- From its heyday as a thriving colonial port
- To its current status as a humming industrial hub
All while you learn about important figures from Norwalk’s illustrious history.
The two major sites that the Norwalk Historical Society occupies are:
Norwalk Historical Society Museum – 141 East Avenue, Norwalk, CT
The Norwalk Historical Society Museum, the flagship of the organization, is located at 141 East Avenue in Norwalk, CT.
The former Lockwood House, built in 1973, was the society’s first home. Manice deForest Lockwood and his cousin Julia Belden Lockwood wanted to ensure that future generations could enjoy their family’s heirlooms. And they put their money where their mouth was, building a house for them and everything.
And after a brief stint in South Norwalk, the Norwalk Historical Society moved the collection back here and reopened on December 5, 2015.
Items from four collections rotate to tell different stories about Norwalk and its residents over time:
- City of Norwalk
- Lockwood Family
- Norwalk Historical Society
- Connecticut Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), Norwalk-Village Green Chapter
This site is also the home of their gift shop.
Mill Hill Historic Park – 2 East Wall Street, Norwalk, CT
History nerds, like this writer, will find plenty to explore at Mill Hill Historic Park.
Located at 2 East Wall Street, the site has a view of the head of Norwalk Harbor and hosts several buildings important to Norwalk’s history:
- The 1835 Town House
- The 1826 Downtown District Schoolhouse
- The circa-1740 Governor Fitch Law Office
- The 1767 Mill Hill Burying Ground
Mill Hill Historic Park also contains the 1860 Jailhouse, the 1880 Barn on Smith Street, and an colonial herb garden.
You’re welcome to wander the grounds from sunrise to sunset. You can also attend a scheduled tour.
Norwalk Town House
The town’s first townhouse, built in 1746, served the community for 30 years.
That was when General Tryon and his British troops burned it during the Battle of Norwalk in 1779.
Thanks to a labor and material shortage, the area surrounding the Green slowly rebuilt. A new townhouse was not built until 1835. The new, brick Townhouse housed several organizations, including:
- The Baptist Church
- The African American Methodist churches
- It even served as Norwalk’s administrative center until 1913
It has been restored three times and is now used for exhibits and public events.
In April 1812, the Town of Norwalk designated a rectangular plot of “ground on Town House Hill” for a schoolhouse. Properly known as the Down Town District School, served the community for nearly 40 years. At that time, it was closed and replaced by the new Fitch School in 1868. Oscar Warren Raymond, the First Selectman of Norwalk, purchased the property to convert it into a private home for his father-in-law. The school’s bell once adorned the boat of local Charles Cook St. John. The Little Red Schoolhouse has undergone extensive reconstruction since its relocation from its original location at 185 East Avenue.
Governor Fitch Law Office
The Fitch Law Office was originally the kitchen wing of Governor Thomas Fitch’s house. Norwalk moved it to Mill Hill in 1971.
Mill Hill was modified to make room for the new building. In fact, 870 cubic yards of fill came from the new Norwalk High School construction site to extend the flat surface southward.
And after several moves to escape demolition, the building required some serious saving. Through reconstruction, they identified:
- The original shape of the long box staircase
- And the original location of the door
The fireplace was also rebuilt.
The backstory of Governor Thomas Fitch
Although the Fitch has been in continuous ownership since the 1700s, little is known about its previous owners. Thomas Fitch, the 14th governor of the Colony of Connecticut and most famous owner, was born in 1700 and attended Yale College. He was the great-grandson of a Norwalk founder.
He joined the Episcopalian religious movement, was elected to the General Assembly, and was appointed Justice of the Peace. Sarah Fitch, a direct descendant, was the last owner of the Governor Fitch house. She died in 1945, and the state quickly purchased it.
Mill Hill Burying Ground
The Congregational Church in Norwalk split in 1740. The Mill Hill burying ground was tied to the more conservative church that remained here.
This burying ground serves as a final resting place for several local Revolutionary War soldiers.
Colonial era tombstones
It is also a lesson in colonial tombstone design.
Tombstone design changes during the Colonial Period show the changing attitudes toward death at the time. Initially, tombstones were a teaching device, emphasizing how quickly death approaches us all. But once life settled and people were no longer struggling to survive, they shifted to memorializing loved ones who had passed. By the end of the Colonial Period, the common slate or brownstone grave markers were replaced by white marble tablets.
The Victorians later expanded on this idea through the construction of ever bigger and more monumental tombs. Skulls, cherubs, and wings were replaced by urns situated beneath willow trees. Both were symbols of everlasting life and the grief of surviving family and friends.
Smith Pottery Works was founded in 1825 by Asa E. Smith, making it one of Norwalk’s oldest pottery establishments. The town spent $1,250 in the 1860s on a one-story stone structure at the base of Mill Hill that was likely an outbuilding of the pottery operations. The building needed some work before it could be a lockup, but it served its role until the 1940s. The Norwalk Historical Commission is renovating the building. The goal is to incorporate it into the Mill Hill Historical complex.
The barn was not depicted on maps until 1880, but its architecture is typical of the mid- to late-nineteenth century. A. E. Smith donated it to the town between 1890 and 1922, and it has served a variety of purposes since then.
Find even more things to do in Norwalk, CT, after the Norwalk Historical Society
For history buffs, there are more than a few museums worth visiting in Norwalk, Connecticut:
The Lockwood Mathews Mansion
Just a short drive from the Norwalk Historical Society is the Lockwood-Mathews Mansion Museum. This mansion museum is an incredible Second Empire-style estate built in the mid-19th century. Here, you can explore this grandiose structure and learn more about the life and times of its original owner, LeGrand Lockwood Mathews.
The SoNo Switch Tower Museum
The SoNo Switch Tower Museum is an interactive museum devoted to the history of South Norwalk, CT, and its railroads.
The Maritime Aquarium
Norwalk’s Maritime Aquarium is one of the largest aquariums in New England. It is a great place to observe some of the region’s most interesting aquatic life. You can also learn about the important role the Maritime Aquarium has in protecting and preserving marine life.
Sheffield Island Lighthouse is historic, from 1868, and accessible via ferry. It offers guided tours, hiking trails, and stunning views of Long Island Sound.
The historic district of South Norwalk is home to Washington Street, the closest to a main street for all of Norwalk. It’s home to top South Norwalk restaurants, as well as some unique Norwalk shopping.
And be sure to read the full guide to the best attractions, activities, and things to do in Norwalk, Connecticut!