There’s a New England Museum for Everyone (Seriously)

Like many ancient things in the United States, the six New England states led the way in museum creation.

Harvard’s Mineralogical & Geological Museum traces its roots to an on-campus mineral collection that began in 1782 and is believed to be the oldest university rock collection in the country.

The Pilgrim Hall Museum in Plymouth was founded in 1824 to showcase the history and culture of the 17th century.e-century May flower immigrants and the local Wampanoag people.

Maine’s Bowdoin College unveiled its art museum in 1811, the Yale University Art Gallery in 1832, and Hartford’s Wadsworth Atheneum (the nation’s oldest continuously operated art museum) in 1844.

There are literally hundreds of museums spread across the region with a mind-boggling array of collections. What are some of the best in each category? Read on to find out.

Old Masters: Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

It may not be the largest art gallery in New England, but it is certainly the most intriguing. The Italian Renaissance-style mansion with its tropical courtyard is reason enough to visit. From Rembrandt to American master John singer Sargent, the work of art will amaze you. And then there are the empty frames that once held thirteen masterpieces stolen in 1990 – together worth half a billion dollars and the largest art theft of all time.

Other top picks: Boston MFA, Wadsworth Atheneum (Conn), Fogg Museum (Boston), Portland Museum of Art (Maine).

Gardner MuseumIsabella Stewart Gardner Museum

Maritime: Mystic Seaport

The nation’s largest maritime museum, Connecticut’s coastal attraction is home to a fleet of vintage watercraft, living history programs in a waterfront village with 60 heritage buildings, a working shipyard that helps preserve historic ships, and annual events like Riverfest.

Other top picks: Lake Champlain Maritime Museum (Vermont), New Bedford Whaling Museum (Mass).

Mystical Seaport MuseumMystic Seaport Museum – Maritime Museum in Mystic, CT

Sports: Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame

Located in the city where James Naismith famously invented the sport of basketball, this comprehensive sports museum chronicles the history of amateur, professional and college basketball in a giant silver sphere overlooking Springfield, Massachusetts.

Other top picks: The Sports Museum (TD Garden, Boston), New England Racing Museum (Loudan Speedway, New Hampshire).

HoophallThe Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame

Wildlife: Squam Lakes Wildlife Science Center

Get up close to New England’s native flora and fauna with this outstanding collection in New Hampshire’s beautiful Lake District. Native animals – such as mountain lions, black bears and beavers – that are rarely seen in the wild live in large, natural habitats. The center also offers scenic cruises on the Squam Lakes.

Other top picks: The Aquarium at the Berkshire Museum (Mass), New England Wildlife Center (Mass).

Squam Science CenterGet closer to nature

Science and Nature: Yale Peabody Museum

Founded in 1866, the Peabody has long been a world leader in many fields, but is perhaps best known for paleontology. Among its many treasures are the Burke Hall of Dinosaurs, Inca artifacts that Hiram Bingham discovered at Machu Picchu, and approximately 5,000 meteorites found around the world. The Connecticut Museum reopened earlier this year after an extensive four-year renovation.

Other top picks: The Bruce Museum (Conn), Harvard Museum of Natural History (Boston).

JaleHome | Yale Peabody Museum

Presidential: JFK Museum & Library

Although dedicated to 35e President John F. Kenndy, this Boston waterfront complex also reflects the turbulent times that shaped his life, from World War II in the Pacific and the Cold War to the Space Race and the Bay of Pigs.

Other top picks: Calvin Coolidge Presidential Library & Museum (Mass); Adams National Historical Park (mass).

John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and MuseumAt home

Americana: Shelburne Museum

Stretching across 39 buildings in a park-like setting along the shore of Vermont’s Lake Champlain, the Shelburne presents an astonishing array of Americana, from folk paintings and decorative arts to quilts, dollhouses, wooden decoys, furniture and even circus arts.

Other top picks: Portland Museum of Art (Maine), Saint-Gaudens National Historical Park (N. Hampshire), New Britain Museum of American Art (Conn), Bennington Museum (Vermont), Norman Rockwell Museum (Mass).

Shelburne MuseumWelcome – Shelburne Museum

Geography: Mapparium

It’s true that there is only one exhibit in this one-room museum in Boston’s Mary Baker Eddy Library. But it’s a doozey: a three-story, stained-glass globe of the world as seen from a steel-and-glass bridge bisecting a huge glowing ball that shows the continents and countries as they were in the 1930s, when the Mapparium was built.

Modern Art: MASS MoCA

The sprawling red-brick campus of the old Arnold Print Works in North Adams provides ideal spaces for the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art’s often oversized works of art. Chief among these is a colorful retrospective of Sol LeWitt wall drawings and three enormous installations by German artist Anselm Kiefer.

Other top picks: Ogunquit Museum of American Art (Maine), Punto Urban Art Museum (Mass), Andres Institute of Art (N. Hampshire), American Mural Project (Conn).

MASS MoCA | Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary ArtMASS MoCA

Design: Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art

Founded by and named after the author and illustrator of The very hungry caterpillar and more than 70 other children’s books, this playful collection on the Hampshire College campus in western Massachusetts features the work of more than 200 picture book artists. Bring the kids and then treat them to something cold from Orchard Run Ice Cream across the road.

Other top picks: RISD Museum (Rhode Island), Gropius House (Mass), Frank Lloyd Wright at the Currier Museum (N. Hampshire).

Carle MuseumAt home

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