A proposed museum would let visitors walk through battlefield re-creations and ride in armored tanks to create an immersive experience about the country’s military history.
Following the closure of Danbury’s U.S. Military Museum in September, Wallingford resident Tom O’Rourke is eyeing locations for a new military museum, including the site of the former NRG power plant on Cathole Mountain in Meriden.
O’Rourke is the founder of Military Simulation Airsoft Tactical Operations, a military simulation events company. His new project, Military Experience Museum Inc., would be a not-for-profit museum with indoor and outdoor attractions
O’Rourke was able to obtain many of the artifacts from the Danbury museum after it closed, including a Cold War era gas mask, World War II field phone, and a vintage metal detector, in addition to uniforms and other authentic items. Alongside the artifacts, O’Rourke plans to play video interviews of veterans explaining how the equipment was used.
The main attraction would be re-creations of battlefields, including a World War II village on the border near France and Germany, a Vietnam fire base and a U.S. forward operating base in Iraq. Visitors would be able to walk through the re-creations and experience the battlefields firsthand.
O'Rourke also hopes to acquire the military tanks and trucks that remain at the Danbury site, allowing guests to ride the grounds for a fee. For that reason, he is looking at larger locations, in the 75-acre range.
“You will actually be able to go ride on the vehicles and that’s why we’re looking for such a large property,” O’Rourke said. “That’s what gets people interested in history, if they get to be involved.”
O’Rourke has pitched the museum concept to six municipalities in Connecticut. Last week, he toured the NRG site off South Mountain Road in the city’s north end with City Planner Bob Seale. NRG had partially constructed a power plant, but it was demolished in 2014. The site is now vacant with some signs of vandalism, including graffiti.
With sprawling views of the Meriden area, O’Rourke said the NRG site would be ideal for his museum.
“It’s absolutely gorgeous. It’s centrally located in the state of Connecticut, great location,” O’Rourke said. “It has a lot of benefits. I think it would be great for the city if it ends up being a destination location.”
NRG spokesman David Gaier confirmed O'Rourke had contacted the company.
“We’ve had an expression of interest from a developer regarding a potential military museum, and we’ll of course be happy to take a look at any proposal they make,” Gaier said.
Although talks regarding the museum are preliminary, Seale said the location is “pristine land” ripe for development, and interest in the site could spur further development.
“It’s an amazing, absolutely gorgeous view,” Seale said. “Obviously, it would be good for the city to have more development happening and add to the tax base and add indirectly to economic development.”
O’Rourke is seeking local veterans to tell their stories for the museum. Those interested should visit militaryexperiencemuseum.org for more information.
“We want to get the veterans because there’s so many stories that are being lost,” O’Rourke said.