Connecticut's Old State House
A National Historic Landmark, Connecticut's Old State House was once a state capitol building where citizens and all three branches of government debated matters of national importance for over 80 years. Now serving as one of the Constitution State's most historically-significant museums, the tradition of civil discourse is carries on through programming, events, tours and exhibits.
Backstory and Context
The building has changed from its original 18th century appearance, as the balustrade was constructed in the early 1800s to protect firemen who might need access to the roof. The cupola with bell and statue of Lady Justice was added in 1827.At the grand old age of 200, the Old State House underwent an extensive, four-year renovation, and re-opened on its bicentennial in 1996.
Perhaps the most significant event to occur within these walls was the Amistad Trial. In 1839, attorney Roger Sherman Baldwin represent enslaved persons who had fought for their freedom during an on-board mutiny on the high seas. Proving that they had been illegally transported across the Atlantic after the United States and other nations banned the trans-Atlantic slave trade, the court sided with the rebels in a case that would lay the grounds for the Supreme Court's hearing of the Amistad case.
Another event that occurred at this building also demonstrates the importance of Hartford's small but active community of anti-slavery men and women. Three days after the execution of Connecticut-born John Brown for his part in the failed raid on the Harper's Ferry arsenal, two men, one black and one white, climbed up to the state house roof and draped Lady Justice in a mourning veil. The Old State House has commemorated both events with special exhibits and tours to demonstrate the connection between this building and the larger history of freedom and slavery within antebellum America.
The building also houses many intriguing artifacts, including a bicycle belonging to Hartford's most famous former resident Samuel Clemens (aka Mark Twain). There is also a museum of curiosities that dates back to the late 18th century and includes such items as a two-headed calf that was born in Michigan. The calf is on display in the Museum of Natural and Other Curiosities which has occupied the top floor of the state house on and off since it opened it 1796. In June of 2016, budget cuts forced the building to close its doors to the public and for several months the museum could only offer pop-up exhibits in a small space loaned out by neighboring retail complex State House Square. The museum was able to reopen in November, 2016.
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