If you run across an approximately four-and-a-half-foot tall penguin waddling around Stonington please return it to its home at 40 Palmer Street, Stonington, not the Mystic Aquarium. Yes, that’s right, a huge penguin lives in Stonington. Who knew?
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The giant penguin stands at the front door of the Captain Nathanial B. Palmer House, which is also a national historic landmark, and silently greets all the guests that come for a tour with its interesting grin and small round eyes. The reason for the impressive presence of the penguin is because Captain Palmer who, along with his brother Alexander, built the house in 1852, and was credited with the “first documented sighting of Antarctica.”
The house tour is multifaceted and touches on architecture, seafaring, social history, 19th-century ways of life, the China Trade, and of course the discovery of Antarctica. It is a beautiful home full of history, displays, and artifacts, and is well worth a visit, says Beth Moore, museum curator. There is also a small museum store on the premises.
Typically, about 1,500 people a year visit the Palmer House. It is a great place for families to bring children because they can learn about history and take a step into the past. And who knows, a visit may spark a future career interest for one of its young visitors?
Built in the mid-19th century, the 16-room Palmer House stands proudly in white majesty on the top of a small but stately hill in Stonington called Pine Point. The house tours, given by knowledgeable docents, include a visit to the cupola to view the spectacular view of Stonington and the shoreline. The beautiful grounds are also home to the Stonington Historical Society.
Docent Bob Rieger, stated that the Palmer House was “the retirement home of two wealthy sea captains, one of whom is credited with the ‘discovery’ of Antarctica in 1820.” Bob makes an interesting comparison between the Palmer House and the homes of today by stating that the Palmer House was the “Smart home” of its time because “it was designed with advances such as a flushing toilet, passive air conditioning, and hot and cold running water in every bedroom.”
Four generations of Palmers lived in the house. Although they started out very wealthy, as time went on, their wealth decreased significantly, causing the house to need repairs and updates. Now a historical home and museum, the rooms are filled with memorabilia of the family and of the work of the sea captains. The docents, during organized tours, are more than happy to share interesting facts about the family, the building, and the work of the sea captains.
Beth started out as a docent at the Captain Nathaniel B. Palmer House and three years ago became the Museum Curator at the House and Museum Manager at the Old Lighthouse Museum at Stonington Point. Admission to the Palmer House also provides free admission to the Old Lighthouse museum so this is an added plus for the budget conscious guest.
Beth explained that the house has within its structural memory over 125 years of history, plus “another 50 years of Captain Nathaniel Brown Palmer’s life story.” The house was built by “Captain Nat” and his brother Alexander, in the Greco-Italianate style.
One of the most interesting parts of the tour is learning about the rise and fall of the family’s fortunes and the different expectations of social status brought to a person living 75 – 100 years ago. During the tour, visitors will see a model of Palmer’s ship, the Hero, as well as other model ships, maps, photos, and period furnishings.
It is interesting to note that some well-known people have visited the house including a possible visit by Amelia Earhart, and in 1928, prior to a flight over Antarctica, Admiral Richard Byrd came to review Captain Nathanial’s and Captain Alexander’s ship logbooks that are housed at the Palmer House.
Tours are offered on Friday through Monday afternoons on the hour from 1-4 p.m. Admission is $10 for Adults, $8 for seniors, active military, and students, $6 for children 6 – 12, and children under 6 are free.
After your visit to the Palmer house – and perhaps a photo or two with the ever-welcoming front door penguin – you can drive further into Stonington Borough to enjoy your free visit to the Lighthouse Museum, and then have a great meal at one of the restaurants or a seaside walk. Oh, and while you’re down that way keep your eyes open for a large penguin who just might be running down to the borough for his lunch break or perhaps an afternoon swim in the ocean!