Tour of Historic Hartford Connecticut
This walking tour of Hartford begins at the statue of Lincoln and Harriet Beecher Stowe and makes its way through the downtown area with stops at several landmarks, museums, and historic buildings.
Harriet Beecher Stowe was the best-selling author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the wildly popular 19th-century anti-slavery story. The novel made Stowe a household name in the era and garnered her an audience with then President Abraham Lincoln. Stowe was a writer, publishing more than 30 books, and an ardent abolitionist. She was also a mother and a Christian, which strongly informed her views on slavery. Stowe’s novel is widely read and commonly taught even today.
The Phoenix Life Insurance Company Building was completed in 1963 as part of Hartford's urban renewal program. Similar to other American cities, Hartford sought to promote urban development in its city core during the 1960s and 1970s to respond to suburban growth that left parts of the downtown area with fewer businesses and families. The building is unique for its two-sided design which resulted in its nickname among locals as "the boat building." In addition to encouraging more companies to locate or return to the downtown area, the building serves as a distinct example of the modernist architectural movement that featured floor to ceiling windows throughout every office to create a mirrored glass exterior facade.
As part of a larger urban plan intended to transform Hartford's East Side neighborhood, city leaders approved a massive demolition of existing housing and businesses and the construction of Constitution Plaza. Hotel America, a modern twelve-story hotel completed in 1964, was one of the most recognizable buildings in the new plaza. The property changed owners and names several times over the years and is now the Spectra Boutique Apartments. The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2012 owing to its architectural design and role in the urban redevelopment of this part of the city.
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.
The top floor of Hartford’s venerable Old State House is now home to the modern incarnation of one of the nation’s very firs museums. Reverend Joseph’s Steward opened his Museum of Natural & Other Curiosities in 1797 with the goal of promoting his services as a painter of portraits. In some ways, the museum was a precursor to the kind of exhibitions popularized by 19th century entertainer and promoter P.T. Barnum’s. Steward's museum closed sometime in the early Victorian era. This museum opened two centuries later utilizing the same name and features exhibits that include the "two-headed calf 2.0," a reference to Steward's original sideshow. The museum was temporarily closed in 2016 but reopened shortly thereafter.
The twenty-six story Hartford National Bank and Trust Building opened in 1967 with a tremendous celebration that included a parade and a special edition of the Hartford National, a local newspaper, dedicated to the opening of the new building. The construction of the building came at a time when population pressures inspired people to leave the city for the suburbs and was a response by city leaders who funded an urban renewal project downtown in hopes of getting more businesses to return to the urban core. The skyscraper at 777 Main Street ultimately served as the project's anchor.
Hartford's First Baptist Church was built on this spot in 1830. Jewish Congregation Beth Israel (CBI) purchased the building for $28,000 in 1856, with the help of a $5000 donation from Judah Touro, a philanthropist who supported multiple synagogues as well as the creation of the Bunker Hill Monument. CBI renamed the structure Touro Hall in his honor. Touro Hall provided space not only for religious services and education, but also for events and concerts thanks to its ability to accommodate crowds of up to 1500 people. Fire damaged the building in 1875, at which point CBI sold it and moved to a newly built temple on Charter Oak Avenue.
The Cheney Building, built in 1876, was designed by the famed architect H.H. (Henry Hobson) Richardson, known as the initiator of the Romanesque revival in the United States. Richardson pioneered the development of modern, American architecture along with other lauded architects such as Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright.
Dating back to the late 1820s, St. Patrick-St. Anthony Parish is Hartford's oldest Roman Catholic congregation. This historic church building was constructed in 1876 and is located in the heart of the Ann Street Historic District. The church represents a landmark of both architectural significance and religious import. From the congregation's connections to the history of Hartford's growth in the 19th century to the many influential members of the church and charitable efforts in the past century, St. Patrick-St. Anthony is one of the most iconic structures in this neighborhood and its history is central to understanding the city.
The First Company Governor's Footguard was formed in 1771 for the purpose of protecting the Governor and General Assembly. The unit still exists, but today serves primarily a ceremonial purpose. The Footguard Building was not constructed until 1888, and because of its historical as well as architectural significance, the building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984.
Designed by architect George Keller in Richardsonian Romanesque design in 1889, it serves as a reminder of the significance of railways in the late nineteenth century, both functionally and as a method for which a city could demonstrate its vitality. The city's growth and its numerous financial institutions that called Hartford home by the 1880s forced the town to build a station suitable to handle several train routes that connected it to cities throughout New England, as well as catch the eye with its aesthetic design.
Adorned with an iconic bronze statue, this historic Hartford building was constructed in 1895 and was once the location of Fowler-Huntting Fruit and Produce. The building is now home to the Russian Lady Café, a name that references the ornate stature that adorns the top of the building. One of the most unique structures on Ann Street in Harford, this building is Tucked away between the Masonic Temple and the 1912 Morse Building, A close inspection of this structure reveals artistic, architectural, and historical relevance that could otherwise go unnoticed between the imposing buildings on either side.
The Ann Street Historic District of Hartford, Connecticut represents one of the most influential industrial and commercial districts in the city of Hartford, being home to much of the city’s 19th and 20th-century industrial modernization. In addition to being the historical home of communications, electrical, and transportation companies, it is also the location of a number of uniquely relevant non-industrial buildings that feature influential architecture and offer notable historical value. The Hartford Hotel and St. Patrick’s Church are two such examples, both of which represent important pieces of Hartford’s historical mosaic.
The Hartford Electric Light Company of Hartford, Connecticut is one of the most influential companies in the history of Hartford’s modernization, growth, and expansion. They were the first company to bring electric lights to the city, and, from their seemingly humble factory in what is now known as the Ann Street Historic District, they helped transform the city from a town of gas lights and unpowered buildings to one of the most modernized cities of its time. The history of “HELCO” and its influence on the city extends into the current day, and the historic building still stands in the Ann Street District.
Located in the heart of the Ann Street Historical District of Hartford, CT, the building that once housed the congregations of both Ados Israel and the First Unitarian Church still stands to this day. The home of these two historic congregations is itself considered historically important, as it represents one of the better-preserved examples of Hartford’s colorful architectural legacy.
Built in the mid-19th century, the cast-iron facade of Hartford's Stackpole, Moore, and Tryon Building demonstrates the influence of the Industrial Revolution as well as the changing styles of leading architects in Chicago and New York that were influencing leading regional cities. A renovation in 1896 included a new cast-iron front with Beaux-Arts influence, a style made popular during the Chicago Columbian Exposition in 1893.
The First Church of Christ is Hartford's oldest church congregation, founded in 1637 by Puritan leader Thomas Hooker (July 5, 1586 – July 7, 1647). Hooker, along with roughly 100 followers, split from the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1836, four years after the group had arrived in North America. Hooker not only established the new church in Hartford but also influenced the creation of the Colony of Connecticut as a democratic society bound by a written constitution. The present building is the congregation's fourth building and was completed in 1807. Meanwhile, the adjacent Ancient Burying Ground dates back to 1640 and served as the city's only cemetery until 1803.
The Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, the oldest public art museum in the United States, was founded in 1842 by Daniel Wadsworth, one of the first important American patrons of the arts. Its collections include around 50,000 works of art produced over a 5,000-year time span. Visitors can enjoy the Morgan collection of Greek and Roman antiquities and European decorative arts; baroque and surrealist paintings; an acclaimed collection of Hudson River School landscapes; European and American Impressionist paintings; modernist masterpieces; the Serge Lifar collecton of Ballets Russes drawings and costumes; the George A. Gay collection of prints; the Wallace Nutting collection of American colonial furniture and decorative arts; the Samuel Colt firearms collection; costumes and textiles; African American art and artifacts; and contemporary art. Although Daniel Wadsworth at first planned to open “a Gallery of Fine Arts,” he was instead convinced to establish an “atheneum,” a cultural institution that included a library, works of art, artifacts, and a mission of promoting history, literature, art and science.
This building was constructed in 1904 by the members of the Hartford Club, an organization that was established in 1873 and included influential members such as Samuel Clemons (Mark Twain). The building serves as an excellent example of Georgian Revival style of architecture. The club has hosted countless civic functions, political events, and charitable fundraisers. The club was only open to men for much of its first century. After the 1960s, the members agreed to accept women as full members and the organization more closely matches the diversity of the city.
Hartford's grand Municipal Building was completed in 1915. Built in the Beaux Arts style, the building replaced the Old State House as the seat of city government. The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, has seen only very minor interior modifications since its construction, and appears almost entirely as it did when it opened in 1915.
Originally used as a dry goods store and residence in the 18th century, the Amos Bull House has also served as a hardware store, auto dealership, insurance offices, and restaurant over the years. It was nearly demolished in the 1960s, saved only through the actions of concerned Hartford residents, and has been relocated from its original location.
Built between 1867 and 1869, this church is an outstanding example of high Victorian Gothic Revival ecclesiastical architecture. The sanctuary was designed by Edward Tuckerman Potter, an architect who also designed Trinity Church in Wethersfield and is best known for his work in the Hartford area including the Mark Twain House and the library at the Colt mansion, Armsmear. The Church of the Good Shepherd is located between the factory complex and Armsmear, demonstrating Elizabeth Colt's effort to turn her business into an all-inclusive village for the factory's workers. The addition of a church to the little cluster of factory buildings and housing units was meant to ensure that the little community of Coltsville would have its spiritual as well as physical needs met. In January of 1869 the church, was consecrated after two years of construction. Elizabeth Jarvis Colt married Samuel Colt in 1851 when he was an up-and-coming weapons manufacturer. She decided to build this church for the workers of the Colt factory and turned to religion after losing her husband and three of her young children before the Civil War was over. Elizabeth led the company following the loss of her husband and endured challenges including a fire that destroyed the main armory building in 1864. Elizabeth rebuilt the factory and built this church as a memorial to her late husband and children. Since the time, the community around the congregation has changed, but the Church of the Good Shepherd continues to serve the local Episcopalian congregation.
The Armsmear was built in 1857 in Hartford, Connecticut, for Samuel Colt and his family. Armsmear was once called “the grandest residence in Hartford.” Architect Octavius Jordan is often credited for designing the majority of the structure. Although the mansion has been renovated and remodeled, Armsmear still stands at 80 Wethersfield Avenue. Today it is used as a retirement home for widows of Episcopalian ministers, as Elizabeth Colt requested in her will.