The Art of Play – Rochester’s The Strong National Museum of Play, Takes it to Heart

By posted on July 2, 2018 11:00AM
Dancing Wings Butterfly Garden Strong Museum

Rochester, New York. It’s certainly a vibrant, thriving, colorful city filled with rich history, arts and culture. No matter what you’re interested in doing or seeing, Rochester has it in spades, including the The Strong National Museum of Play, located in the heart of downtown Rochester.

The Strong National Museum of Play

National Museum of Play – Not Just for Children

Can I just tell you it’s a most fascinating place, as it’s built entirely upon the history and study of play. Not only that, it’s also a place to play. Adults and kids alike are encouraged to let their inner-child loose and have a blast.

Inside National Museum of Play

Honestly? I wasn’t sure what I would find there – or even if I wanted to go. I mean, I’m a grown woman, not a kid, and I don’t usually have time for play. Could it even peak my interest?

It took a waitress, pouring coffee and serving us breakfast, to convince me it was a great idea. In the normal chit-chatter of conversation, she asked what my friend and I had planned for the day. When we mentioned The Strong, her eyes lit up and she started chuckling.

“You are going to love it!” she exclaimed. “I go as often as possible, with friends and family, even by myself. Doesn’t matter – I can’t get enough! And I’m not going to tell you girls anything! Not one single thing, so don’t even ask. I don’t want to ruin it!”

She was so animated, walking away to get our order, I couldn’t help but be intrigued.

The Strong

So, let’s talk about first impressions – the architecture and location. The contemporary structure is massive; 285,000 square-feet to be precise, set on 13.5 acres of prime real estate. To say it’s impressive, maybe even imposing, is an understatement. It boasts a glass atrium entrance, with a fully operating 1918 carousel and authentic 1950’s diner. I was instantly hooked!

Restored 1918 Carousel Strong Museum

Bill Gray's Skyline Diner Rochester

The collections themselves are beyond amazing. We wandered through A 3-D pop-up book, scaled the sides of Rochester’s skyscrapers like the super heroes we are, sat still for a moment to let the life-sized etch-a-sketch map our faces. We sunk each other’s Battleships, laughed our way through Twister, and acted like 10-year-old buddies, playing with an interactive wall that came to life, once we stepped in front of it.

Mr. Potato Head National Museum of Play Rochester

The Girl behind The Strong National Museum of Play

Margaret Woodbury Strong is both the voice and presence behind The Strong, and its theme. Even though the world lost her in 1969, you can still feel her passion for play behind each exhibit. Not surprisingly, they take up every inch of space, now shared between three floors.

Photo of Margaret Woodbury Strong

As a young girl, Margaret loved to spend time with her dolls and toys. As the only child of a prominent, well-to-do family, she traveled extensively while growing up. Her parents presented her with a carry-all bag before embarking on each adventure, telling her she could fill it with items to bring home and add to her collection of toys.

Margaret Strong with Mabel National Museum of Play

She was a child though, and wanted everything she set her sights on. Fortunately, it didn’t take Margaret long to realize that, the smaller the items, the more she could fit into the goody-bag. Thus began her passion for collectibles.

She became a prolific collector of dolls – ending up with over 27,000!

Doll Collection National Museum of Play

She amassed doll houses as well, upwards of 600, and often made items for each of their rooms in a most creative way when unable to locate them in stores or antique sales; thimbles for waste baskets, buttons for plates, pot-holders for bed quilts.

Dolls House Detail National Museum of Play

Observing Interactive Environment at The Strong

Children shopped with carts in Wegmans Super Kids Market, where they could fill their carriages with things from real shelves, then ring them up on working registers that were kid-sized. It was so much fun to watch! The items looked so real and the idea is in teaching children to eat well, be healthy and even work for a while behind the counter in the store’s deli!

Children enjoying National Museum of Play

Dancing Wings Butterfly Garden

Dancing Wings Butterfly Garden, the only year-round indoor butterfly garden in Upstate New York, replicates a rain forest. The rain forest environment provides a healthy, lush area inside the museum, with gorgeous butterflies everywhere you look.

Rain Forest Environment Dancing Wings Butterfly Garden

It’s a must-see while at the museum. I was able to capture so many brilliantly-colored butterflies with my camera, most I’d never seen before. We also got to stand in front of their chrysalis case, watching while butterflies and an enormous moth worked hard to emerge from cocoons.

Blue Butterfly Dancing Wings Butterfly Garden

There were tiny birds wandering around our feet, heady scents of exotic orchids that took our breath away, a waterfall, turtle pond and a funny looking panther chameleon that kept us occupied, as well.

We enjoyed the National Museum of Play so much we actually went back again while we were in Rochester, hoping to catch up with anything we missed first time around. And to revisit our favorite toys, wrapped in the warm blanket of childhood memories once more.

Theresa St. John is a travel writer and photographer based in Saratoga Springs, New York. Her work has appeared in many on-line and print magazines. Some of those include Great Escape Publishing, International Living, Discover Saratoga, Saratoga Mama, Farming, Vacation Rental Travels Magazine and Travel Thru History, to name just a few.In March she will travel to Paris, in honor of her Mom, who'd always wished to go, but never had the chance to.Later, in August of 2016, she will travel to England on assignment, with many other travel plans in the works. She is proud mom to two wonderful sons, enjoys a great daughter-in-law, has the unconditional love of six rescued grand-dogs, two Chinchillas and a bird. ' Life is good ' says St.John, ' and it's just going to get better

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