July 6, 2022

Connecticut River Museum Starts Fire Damage Cleanup, Establishes Donation Fund, Plans Reopening

A fire that began on the steamboat dock damaged the Connecticut River Museum

Essex, CT — After a fire broke out late Wednesday evening and caused severe damage to the Connecticut River Museum’s historic 1878 Steamboat Warehouse building and dock, museum officials have begun cleanup efforts and established a fund for financial donations for repair and restoration expenses.

While the prompt response and preparedness of volunteer fire crews from Essex and surrounding towns saved the building and all of the invaluable artifacts and treasures inside, heavy smoke and water damage did occur. The Connecticut River Museum Fire Fund has been established to help rebuild, restore and return the museum and dock to full operation. Donations may be mailed to: Connecticut River Museum Fire Fund, 67 Main Street, Essex, CT, 06426 or made online by going to www.ctrivermuseum.org.

River cruises aboard the Schooner Mary E have been operating on a regular schedule without interruption and will continue through the Fall foliage season with daily sails at 1:30 pm, 3:30 pm, and 6:00 pm.

The exhibit galleries, now temporarily closed, will open over a staggered timeline. The Museum gift shop and the main floor gallery exhibit On the Great River, which showcases the Turtle submarine and the 1814 British Raid on Essex, should be open to the public within a week.

The Boathouse Gallery and Education Center is scheduled to reopen by mid-September while the second floor gallery boasting a brand new exhibit opening is planned for sometime in October. The third floor exhibit space, which experienced the most damage, will be the last to open with the 17th Annual Holiday Train Show on November 19.

The Museum’s annual Family Maritime Festival has been postponed to Saturday, August 21 and will now include a special tribute to all of the firefighters who battled the blaze and minimized the damage. The public is invited to an afternoon of free maritime games, sea chanteys, schooner deck tours, rope making and more on the Museum’s lawn from 1:00 pm- 4:30 pm. At 5 pm, a free concert featuring sea chanteys by Freemen of the Sea and folk rock by Amalgamated Muck will take place and include a special presentation to honor members of area fire departments.

For more information or to reserve a schooner cruise ticket, call (860)767-8269. The Connecticut River Museum, located at 67 Main Street on the historic Essex waterfront, is a private, non-profit organization dedicated to preserving and celebrating the natural beauty and cultural heritage of New England’s Great River.

Quick Reaction Saves CT River Museum from Wednesday Evening Fire

A quick response and a used ladder truck purchased by the Essex Volunteer Fire Dept. last year saved the historic Connecticut River Museum from a fast moving fire Wednesday night.

The fire in the riverfront museum at the foot of Main Street was reported by boaters around 9:20 p.m. Essex volunteer firefighters, already gathered at the nearby firehouse for a training session, arrived on the scene within minutes to find the east side of the three-story building that faces the river ablaze. Essex firefighters were quickly joined by volunteers from Deep River, Old Saybrook, and Westbrook. About 75 firefighters and a dozen fire trucks and emergency vehicles responded to the blaze.

Susan Daniels, marketing director for the museum, said firefighters inside the building were able to cover and save all of the museum’s artifacts and exhibits while other firefighters battled the fire that was burning on the exterior east side of the building. The museum has about 75 exhibits on the history of the lower Connecticut River, including a painting of the British raid on Essex in 1814 and a replica of the Turtle, a small submarine that was used during the American Revolution.

Essex firefighters deployed a ladder truck to extinguish fre that had begun to burn through the roof on the east side of the building. The Essex Volunteer Fire Department purchased the 1994 Sutphen Corp. ladder truck from the Palm Beach, Florida Fire Department for $234,000. The truck arrived in Essex last November.

Selectman Joel Marzi, who was in the downtown village when the fire began, said the ladder truck and the skills of the volunteer firefighters saved the building. “I think that truck paid for itself last night,” he said.

Fire Marshall Keith Nolin agreed the ladder truck was very helpful in allowing firefighters to douse the blaze from above. Nolin said the cause of the fire remains under investigation, though he has determined it started under the dock that abuts the east side of the building.

Nolin said firefighters had the blaze under control by 11 p.m. and remained on the scene until around 1 a.m. He said the fire does not appear to be of suspicious origin.

Daniels said crews from Bogaert Construction of Essex have already begun securing the damaged area and repairing the roof. She said exhibits have been moved  to allow crews to clean the interior of the building from smoke and water damage.

“It could have been much worse,” she said. “The fire department responded quickly and they came prepared to put out a museum fire. We are very grateful for their phenominal response.”

Daniels said insurance is expected to cover most of the cost of repairs, with the museum expected to reopen in September. She said schooner cruises on the Mary E and other outdoor activities will continue while repairs are underway.

The Connecticut River Museum was founded in 1974 by a group of area residents who obtained a loan that allowed the purchase of the Steamboat Dock building for $200,000. The building was constructed as a warehouse for steamboats in 1878, and later operated as a restaurant called the Upper Deck in the 1960s and early 1970s.

The museum formally opened in May 1982, though some areas of the building had opened to the public for exhibits in the late 1970s. The museum attracts about 10,000 visitors each year and has a staff of 12 full and part-time employees.