STAMFORD — After a brief downpour, animals came out to snack on hay and mill around the pastures of Heckscher Farm. A group of children trailing behind a boy, who led a donkey alongside him, paused as their guide reached up to a tree, plucked a green apple and offered it to the animal.

“Hi, Giuseppe!” a trio of pigtailed toddlers squealed as the donkey passed by.

The peaceful cluster of pastures, garden beds, coops and pens make up the farm, named for and funded by a Heckscher Foundation for Children Grant in 1955 and part of the Stamford Museum & Nature Center, a sprawling hodgepodge of family attractions.

Tucked in a residential area of North Stamford on Scofieldtown Road, the museum and nature center was founded in 1936 but moved to its current location near the New Canaan border in 1955, taking over the former estate of fashion magnate Henri Bendel, of the designer brand bearing his name. The property had been his summer home, and the museum building, a spacious neo-Tudor mansion atop a small hill, looks the part.

Decades ago, the idea behind the museum and nature center was to serve as an educational spot for children and families; it lives up to that charge.

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A day at the museum

The Stamford Museum & Nature Center is located at 39 Scofieldtown Road in Stamford.

The museum and Bendel Mansion are open Monday-Saturday from 9 a..m.-5 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. The Heckscher Farm is open daily April-October from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. and daily November-March from 9 a.m.-4 p.m.

Adult admission is $10, while prices are $8 for seniors (65+), $6 for students 18 and over and $5 for children age 4-17. Members and children 3 and under get free admission.

On a Friday visit, children were thrilled with animal after animal — the farm has llamas, alpacas, geese, rabbits, chickens, cows, goats, sheep, horses, oxen, an owl and more. Other kids ran around a nature-themed playground with oversized bird’s nest lookouts and a sandbox to dig for fossils, all nestled in the woods. The museum was less crowded, but even next to the fine art was a maker station for young visitors.

The most curious thing about the property is its contrasts.

Near the entrance to the property, the Bendel Mansion sits at the top of a rising staircase lined with regal white sculptures with a classical look. Four are copies of sculptures made in 1608 that denote the seasons, donated to the museum by Conde Nast Publications, who once operated a printing operation in nearby Greenwich. A fifth sculpture housed in a gazebo is Italian from 1862. But not far away on the side of the mansion and in nearby clusters of trees, the sculpture is modern, metal works dating to the late 1900s.

Behind the building, two stone lions slumber on either side of a path near an ornate fountain. The regal, fantastical interpretations are in sharp contrast to animal exhibits not far away, where a natural river exhibit houses two playful river otters. The museum also houses a planetarium, and amid the farm is an observatory. Nature paths are carved into the woods around the buildings.

The overarching theme is discovery and a preservation of the past.

Inside the museum, the art all has local ties to either Stamford artists or patrons, including a display on Gutzon Borglum, the sculptor behind the Mount Rushmore National Memorial who lived in Stamford with his second wife. His charcoal drawings, a marble work influenced by Rodin and busts make up a small exhibit that show the artist behind one of the most iconic works of public art.

In the museum’s temporary exhibit, “Maize: Mysteries of an Ancient Grain,” on view until September, the displays delve into the science of DNA, genes, genetically modified organisms and evolution. But the exhibit also includes a Victorian-style corn husk doll from 1900s Stamford and a corn snake, still in its tank.

The farm, too, shows an admiration for the past; many of the animals are “heritage breeds,” a sign at the farm explains. They are “traditional livestock that were raised by farmers many years ago, before the drastic reduction of animal breeds caused by the rise of industrial agriculture.” It goes on to specify that the “‘antique’ or ‘rare’” animals are both unique and better adapted to survive the environment and disease. But it’s also a chance to see animals you won’t find at most zoos or farms.

The rarities include a Clydesdale horse, a Mulefoot hog, Jacob sheep, Nigerian Dwarf goats and Randall Lineback cattle. The cattle are among 150 of their breed in the world, while the Mulefoot is among fewer than 200 of its breed, according to the display.

The Stamford Museum & Nature Center combines a rich array of interests and each area seems to be a wealth of learning opportunities. But for kids, most importantly, they seemed awed.

Regardless of its rare breed, a little girl looked up at a towering Clydesdale and turned, smiling, “Horsey!”; @LauraEWeiss16

Adventures close to home | Trip 8