Colt Park, developed in 1905, was the last major addition to Hartford’s Park system. The land grant that allowed for the park to be established came from the estate of Hartford industrialist Samuel Colt, who’d made his fortune manufacturing firearms. Appropriately enough, this park, with its vast acres of playing fields, was intended to serve the working class neighborhoods inhabited by Colt factory laborers. While it may owe its origins to a fortune built on arms manufacture, Colt Park is best known for its historic – and soon-to-be modern – sports venues.
Backstory and Context
The original 106 acre land grant intended to establish Colt Park came from Colt’s widow, Elizabeth Jarvis Colt, in 1900. For some reason, bureaucratic procrastination delayed the Common Council from actually accepting the land until 1905, but once accepted, they set Parks Superintendent Theodore Wirth to developing it. Wirth chose to retain the existing landscaped grounds surrounding Armsmear, the Colt family estate. He also left a frame of trees around the outskirts of the park, added a boathouse and landing by the river, and allowed for a granite and bronze memorial to Colonel Colt. Later additions to the park include an extra acre and a half of land purchased in 1920, as well as elm trees, also planted in 1920 and meant to commemorate the 189 local men who had been killed in WWI. The American Legion added memorial tablets for these men a few years later, in 1926.
The bulk of the land that made up Colt Park was, then and now, given over to open fields meant for sports play. In fact, the park had a long tradition, established some 40 years before it was even a park, of being used for sporting purposes. Beginning in 1866, the Colt Armory factory fielded a baseball team, and in 1874 Colt’s widow leased a portion of the grounds to future state governor Morgan Bulkeley so he could build the Hartford Base Ball Grounds. His team, the Hartford Dark Blues, played there through 1876, spending their last season in Hartford as a member of the just-launched National League. Alas, success for the Blues spelled moving to bigger, if not greener, pastures, and in 1877 they departed for Brooklyn. The Base Ball Grounds, which lie adjacent to the Church of the Good Shepherd, still exist. In fact, in recent years these grounds have been reconsecrated to the Church of (old-timey) Baseball, and today serve as home field to the teams of the Coltsville Vintage Base Ball League.
Baseball may have been the first professional sport played at Colt Park, but it has not been the only one. During the Great Depression, the Federal Emergency Relief Administration chose a football stadium as one of their construction projects, and in 1935 Dillon Stadium was dedicated and named for local coach John Dillon. The field house was constructed in 1939, and lighting was added in 1964 to accommodate the needs of the minor league football Charter Oaks team. The minor league Knights later played there, as did the New England Nightmare of the Women’s Football Alliance, and the stadium has also hosted numerous high school teams over the years as well as several rock concerts including one by the Rolling Stones. The Bicentennials soccer team also played at Dillon Stadium in 1975, although during the actual Bicentennial they relocated to New Haven. While there had been some talk of tearing down the somewhat dilapidated structure, Connecticut’s State Bond Commission recently approved $10 million to renovate the 9.600-seat stadium with plans to attract a United Soccer League franchise.
In addition to its status as future construction site/hopeful home of big league soccer, Colt Park has quite a few other attractions for Hartford residents. It has two outdoor pools and a spray pool, two playscapes, two swing sets, a running/walking track, two handball/racquetball courts, two basketball courts, three baseball diamonds, seven softball diamonds, and, not counting Dillon Stadium, two soccer fields for not-quite-ready-for-World Cup players. In addition, it offers such community activities as outdoor yoga and family movie nights. Perhaps the most exciting event in Colt Park’s 113 year history lies just ahead of it, though. Along with the rest of the Coltsville Industrial District, the park is slated to become part of the soon-to-be Coltsville National Historical Park!
Carlesso, Jenna. State Bond Commission Approves $10 Million For Dillon Stadium. Hartford Courant. February 16, 2018. Accessed June 18, 2018. http://www.courant.com/community/hartford/hc-news-dillon-stadium-bond-commission-20180216-story.html.
Hartford Base Ball Grounds at Colt Meadows. Friends of Vintage Baseball. . Accessed June 18, 2018. https://www.friendsofvintagebaseball.org/coltmeadows.html.
Olde TImey Baseball Game. Connecticut Museum Quest. May 29, 2010. Accessed June 18, 2018. http://www.ctmq.org/olde-timey-base-ball-game/.
Hartford Baseball Grounds At Colt Meadows A Reality. Hartford Courant. May 17, 2009. Accessed June 18, 2018. http://articles.courant.com/2009-05-17/news/6ball0517.art_1_vintage-base-ball-colt-meadows-play.
Colt Park. City of Hartford Parks and Recreation System. . Accessed June 18, 2018. http://hartfordct.myrec.com/info/facilities/details.aspx?FacilityID=14708.
Graziano, Frankie. Hartford's Dillon Stadium Approved By City For Redevelopment. Connecticut Public Radio. April 10, 2018. Accessed June 18, 2018. http://wnpr.org/post/hartfords-dillon-stadium-approved-city-redevelopment.
Carlesso, Jenna. Dillon Stadium Redevelopment Moves Forward. Hartford Courant. April 09, 2018. Accessed June 18, 2018. www.courant.com/community/hartford/hc-news-hartford-dillon-stadium-20180409-story.html.
Coltsville. National Park Service. June 12, 2018. Accessed June 18, 2018. https://www.nps.gov/colt/index.htm.
Dunne, Susan. Free Family Films in Hartford, New Haven Parks All Summer. Hartford Courant. May 31, 2018. Accessed June 18, 2018. http://www.courant.com/entertainment/movies/hc-fea-movies-parks-hartford-new-haven-0605-story.html.
‘Yoga in Our City’ brings free summer yoga classes to Connecticut. Fox 61. June 14, 2018. Accessed June 18, 2018. http://fox61.com/2018/06/14/yoga-in-our-city-brings-free-summer-yoga-classes-to-connecticut/.
Pelland, Dave. Samuel Colt Monument, Hartford. CT Monuments. May 20, 2011. Accessed June 18, 2018. http://ctmonuments.net/2011/05/samuel-colt-monument-hartford/.