The early history of the Bruce Museum in Greenwich was shaped in large part by the prominent local naturalist Edward Fuller Bigelow, who in 1912 answered an appeal in the Greenwich Press for assistance in developing the fledgling institution and was appointed the Bruce’s first curator, a position he held until his death in 1938. But who was Bigelow and what became of his legacy?
That is the question Bruce Museum Manager of Natural History Collections Timothy Walsh is currently researching. Walsh, who plans to pen a biography of the man and the institutions he founded, is asking for help from community members who may have information, recollections, objects, correspondence, etc. concerning Edward Bigelow. Walsh has been in touch with some of Bigelow’s relatives to parse out details from old letters and writings that had not before come to light. Yet many gaps in the Bigelow story are vexing.
“One of the most fascinating aspects of Bigelow’s role in the community was his work establishing ArcAdiA, an institution focused on hands-on nature study,” Walsh explains. “He was a dedicated naturalist, became president of the national nature study organization the Agassiz Association, and had a passion for sharing his love of the outdoors. He was so well-known and respected that the children in the neighborhood called him ‘Daddy Bigelow.’”
Edward Bigelow first developed the nature study site of ArcAdiA in 1908 at the suggestion of J. Kennedy Tod (of Tod’s Point renown). Tod provided the land in Sound Beach (now Old Greenwich) and personally funded the construction of buildings and support areas. In 1911, a disagreement about the viability and measure of ArcAdiA’s success ended the “experiment.” Forced to find a new home for the popular institution, the community rallied and ArcAdiA found a new, permanent home just a couple blocks away on approximately three acres of land. Within six months, the new ArcAdiA was nearly complete with an editorial office, laboratory, live animal building, apiary, photography lab and gallery, botany cottage, welcome house, and the Bigelow residence (which stills stands today).
”ArCAdiA was the premier and only purpose-built nature study institution of its kind,” Walsh says.
In particular, the complex boasted the most advanced microscopy lab and image projection equipment of its day. This new and improved center served the community for 27 years until Bigelow’s death at the age of 78.
Anyone with information or recollections about Edward Bigelow or ArcAdiA is asked to contact Timothy Walsh at [email protected] or (203) 413-6767. —by Cynthia Ehlinger, Bruce Museum.