Up until the late 1990s, the Strong National Museum of Play (1 Manhattan Sq., at Chestnut and Woodbury Blvd., 585/263-2700, www.museumofplay.org , 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Mon.–Thurs., 10 a.m.–8 p.m. Fri.–Sat., noon–5 p.m. Sun., adults $11, seniors $10, children 2–15 $9) was one of the most unusual museums in New York State , specializing in everyday American history and folk art.
In it, you could find over a half million objects ranging from antique toys, dollhouses, and advertising memorabilia to weathervanes, political campaign buttons, and quilts.
Those objects are still there, but they’ve been relegated to the back rooms, as today’s Strong has been reconstructed into the second-largest children’s museum in the country, with 150,000 square feet of hands-on exhibits and a butterfly garden. The National Toy Hall of Fame, featuring new and historic versions of classic toys and an exhibit detailing 70 years of American Comic Book Heroes offer cross-generational appeal.
The main exhibits now are: Sesame Street, Time Lab (with lots of hands-on history games), a kid-sized supermarket, and a 1918 carousel. The museum is undoubtedly more popular today than it was in its earlier incarnation—and a must-stop for families—but much has been lost in the transformation.
Before her death in 1969, the museum’s founder, Margaret Woodbury Strong, the daughter of wealthy parents, had amassed more than 300,000 objects, some of which she began collecting as a child. Often, during her family’s many trips abroad, she was given a large shopping bag at the start of each day and told she could shop until she filled it.
Strong’s many passions included fans, parasols, Asian artifacts and art, dolls, dollhouses, miniatures, toys, marbles, canes, paperweights, glass, pottery, samplers, figurines, kitchen equipment, and costumes. Her doll collection, numbering 27,000, is especially impressive.