Jan 14 2017

The Melton Museum of Norwalk, Connecticut (1948-1953)


James Melton (1904-1961) was a popular singer for over 30 years from the 1920s and had a successful career on stage, radio and film.  Melton was also one of the most prominent early antique car collectors. He founded the Melton Museum (1948-1953) in Norwalk, Connecticut to store and display his collection, which, at one point, grew to 110 automobiles.

Enjoy,

Howard Kroplick


As described by Margo Melton Nutt 's website, James Melton was "America's Favorite Tenor."

"That was what they called James Melton from the 1920s through the 1950s. He was perhaps the first multi-media performer—in a career that spanned concerts, recordings, movies, the Metropolitan Opera, radio and television. His fame as a singer was equaled by his renown as an antique car collector."

"In this hobby he was a pioneer in recognizing these vehicles not only as an important part of America’s history, but as works of art. His career and his hobby reflected the two great technologies that knit the country together in the 20th century—the airwaves and the automobile."


In 1946, Melton became the first performer to sing "Back Home in Indiana" prior to the start of the Indy 500 race.

In July 1948, Melton found a 10,000 square foot bowling alley in Norwalk, Connecticutt  to store and display his automobile collection. He added another 10,000 square feet and then opened the Melton Museum. Photo courtesy of Margo Melton Nutt.

An aerial view of the Melton Museum when it was located at 650 Main Avenue in Norwalk. It is now a Walmart shopping plaza.


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The museum was an attraction in Norwalk until 1953 when Melton's collection was moved to  his new Autorama Museum in Hypoluxo, Florida. Coutesy of Margo Melton Nutt.

James Melton passed away at the young age of 57 years old. Bulb Horn published this tribute in it Spring 1961 issue. His daughter Margo Melton Nutt wrote an excellent biography James Melton: The Tenor of His Times.


Melton Museum Brochure- Courtesy of the Helck Family Collection

Another treasure found in the Helck Family Collection was this hard cover brochure featuring 27 of Melton's automobiles. Here are some highlights including profiles of several racers related to the Vanderbilt Cup Races.


1910 Corbin Cannonball

In 2010, the Corbin Cannonball and the Alco Black Beast were together at the Klingberg Vintage Motor Car Festival.


1911 Mercedes

The 911 Mercedes in Woodstock, Vermont in 2009. Courtesy of Margo Melton Nutt.


1908 Renault Vanderbilt Racer

Melton's Renault Vanderbilt Racer can now be found  in the Price Museum of Speed in Salt Lake City, Utah.


1908 S.P.O. Road Racer

Melton's  S.P.O. as seen in 2012.  The only known still existing S.P.O. is now owned by Rick Rawlins who provided this photo.



Comments

Jan 15 2017 Hugh 12:56 AM

I remember going to his museum in Florida in the early 190s. It was in an old casino building which made a great setting for displaying his collection.

Jan 15 2017 Bob Swanson 12:57 AM

Mom & Dad used to visit the Melton Collection and that Renault racer was found here in Ridgefield in 1943. William K. Vanderbilt’s daughter lived here in town until her passing in 2011 at the age of 107. Bob

Jan 15 2017 penny havard 6:25 AM

Marvelous. My father and I used to drive past this everyday on our way to and from our jobs. And to think I never went in even tho I had a 49 MGTC at the time. Would have changed my whole life.

Jan 15 2017 Ronald Sieber 12:27 PM

I wonder what the inventory was in that museum? It appears that he was fond of speedsters. And where did all of those cars go?

Where have all of these small museums gone would make the subject of a good article.
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From Howard Kroplick

Ronald, after Melton died in 1961, many of his automobiles were purchased by Winthrop Rockefeller.

http://www.encyclopediaofarkansas.net/encyclopedia/entry-detail.aspx?entryID=4096

Some of Melton’s automobiles may still be in the Museum of Automobiles in Morrillton, Arkansas:

http://www.museumofautos.com/exhibits.php

 

Jan 15 2017 Margo Melton Nutt 2:15 PM

I was so surprised and delighted to see mention of my father’s car collection here—and thank you, Howard, for such kind words about the biography I wrote about him.

Jan 15 2017 S. Berliner, III 5:43 PM

Uh, oh!  You’re scaring me!  I have an absolutely-clear memory of one of my very first long-distance drives (ca. 1951) being from LI north, stopping at the Melton Museum somewhere “way up” along the NY-CT/MA/VT border, NOT down in Norwalk.  I used to visit a friend in northwest Westport (almost in Weston) and it was nowhere near there.  I was a very early member of the CCCA and KNEW my car museums.  It was just before it closed/moved and I was most likely on one my many trips up to Plattsburg(h).  It was probably on Route 22, or possibly 7, but definitely on the east side of a major N-S main drag (right hand side N/B).  Margo (or someone) - HELP, please!  Sam, III
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From Howard Kroplick I

From James Melton’s Book: “Bright Wheels Rolling”

..we had arranged to house my collection in Norwalk- some 20.000 square feet in two buildings…When we opened on July 24, 1948, we had 54 cars on display.”

Jan 15 2017 Howard Kroplick 11:27 PM

From Robert R.:

Back when I was a teenager, my parents lived in Greenwich.

There used to be a Mobil station/parking garage on Arch Street, across from the RR station.  The space now is occupied by Carriage House.

Jimmy Melton used to keep a few cars there, the most notable (to me) being what had to be the first motor home.  Velveteen seats, a small galley, and even an enclosed toilet.  I’d say it could seat about 12 people.

I used to just love to go look at it, and on occasion, sneak inside.

Would love to find out where it is today.

Jan 16 2017 mark schaier 1:53 PM

The Southhampton Auto Museum opened about the same time, right? now finally up for sale. Did James Melton know Henry Austin Clark at the time?

Jan 22 2017 Bob Swanson 9:39 AM

I would think Austie and James Melton were good friends, they had the funds to pick up all the great car in this area. Austie pulled an ALCO Touring car out of Ridgefield. Ken Purdy lived in Wilton, Briggs Cunningham was in Greens Farms. There was a restaurant at the Melton Collection in Norwalk, Mom and Dad said they went there a few times before I was born. Bob

Jan 22 2017 Kelly Williams 1:01 PM

That was the Winton Housecar - a very cool thing to have survived. 
http://jamesmeltonmusicalcareerantiquecars.blogspot.com/2009/11/1917-winton-housecar.html

There’s a brief article about it in the Antique Automobile, May-June 1956.  About 1918, E. J. Fithian built it on a stretched 1917 Winton chassis, for use in his campaign for PA governor.  Newspapers in the Midwest carried stories on his family’s western vacation in the car in 1921.  He apparently stopped using it in 1926, and Melton bought it in 1954, completely restoring it.

Curiously, E. J. Fithian and Alexander Winton both received patents for engine governors on May 30, 1899.

Feb 01 2017 Robert Miller 10:18 AM

My family and I visited the museum in 1953, as it was in process of closing to go to Florida—Model Trains, mostly standards, along with a Connecticut Company open car were part of the exhibits.  Memorable, especially to a 9 year old.

Apr 25 2017 Heide Beierle 5:53 PM

Going through my grandfathers boxes of memories, I found a hard copy of the Melton Museum brochure mentioned above.  So interesting to find this webpage

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