Thank you, David Zwick

It’s easy to paint the second half of the 20th Century as a time of decline for Hartford and most other American cities, but let’s remember the work of environmentalists who succeeded back then in forcing a clean-up of our rivers—a vital precursor to all the waterfront revivals we see now, including Hartford’s. Without laws like the federal Clean Water Act of 1972, there probably would be no Riverfront Plaza today. After all, who’d want to hang out by a stinky, polluted Connecticut River?

One of those instrumental in writing and securing passage of the Clean Water Act was David Zwick, who died on Feb. 5 in Minneapolis, at age 75. The New York Times has published an inspiring obituary of him, including quotes from activist Ralph Nader, who recalled recruiting the young Vietnam-veteran-turned-law-student for “Nader’s Raiders.” In 1971 Zwick and Marcy Benstock wrote “Water Wasteland,” a lengthy report that detailed the nation’s failures up to that point in trying to control water pollution. He then went to work on drafting the Clean Water Act, helping to make it bulletproof from opponents’ attempts to undermine it.

The Times noted that when it came time to commemorate the Act’s 25th anniversary in 1987, then-Environmental Protection Secretary Carol M. Browner remarked: “By any measure, this landmark legislation has been hugely successful. Once-dead rivers, lakes, and estuaries are now pulsating with life. People are returning to them — to swim, to fish, to ply the waters in their boats and to relax on their shores.”

The work of connecting people to the Hartford and East Hartford riverfront is continued today by Riverfront Recapture, founded in 1980.

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History getting unstuck on Pearl Street

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It’s nice to see progress in the plans to rehabilitate the long-vacant office buildings at the corner of Pearl and Trumbull streets.

The Hartford Business Journal reports that a New York-based partnership has secured $12.6 million in financing to convert the 12-story building at 101 Pearl Street in 157 market-rate apartments. The partnership also intends to convert neighboring seven-story building at 111 Pearl Street into 101 apartments.

Those of us who frequented downtown watering holes in the early 1980s best remember 111 Pearl as the home of Sean Patrick’s, a basement-level bar; you could look down into it through street-level windows on the Trumbull Street side.

The building was to have been torn down in the early 1990s to make way for one of several downtown skyscraper projects that, thanks to an epic real-estate collapse, came to nothing. The 101 Pearl site would have become the Cutter Financial Center, planned as the tallest building in New England. The project never made it to the demolition stage (developer Anthony F. Cutaia ran out of money and eventually ended up in prison for running a Ponzi scheme in South Florida), but the other sites weren’t so fortunate. For more on those debacles, read “What Hartford Was Supposed to Be,” an article on the Connecticut Historical Society’s website.

H/T Facebook’s “Old Hartford” group

 

 

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New trivia question

Trivia question photo

Where is this building located? The symbol affixed to the top is a big clue. For the answer, along with previous questions and answers, go to the Trivia Questions page of HartfordHistory.net. And please: no wagering.

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History made at the Hartford Fire Department

In a ceremony last week, the Hartford Fire Department promoted 74 people–the largest group in department history, according to the latest issue of the city’s newsletter. Congratulations to all the new assistant chiefs, deputy chiefs, captains, lieutenants, and drivers, along with their families.

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Capital Community College hosting local history lectures

Capital Community College will kick off its Hartford Studies Lecture and Discussion Series on Thursday, January 25, with a public talk by historian William Hosley, who will outline how local art, architecture, and archives can “attract talent and foster innovation and teamwork” in Hartford.

The lecture begins at 7 p.m. in the Centinel Hill Hall Auditorium of the college, which occupies the former G. Fox & Co. department store at 950 Main Street. The auditorium is on the 11th floor.

Hosley’s talk will be the first in a series of four lectures on city history, with the other three held on the last Thursdays of February, March, and April. The series, curated by Hosley, is co-hosted by the Hartford Heritage Project and College Foundation as part of  Capital’s 50th anniversary commemoration.

Hosley is a cultural resource development and marketing consultant, historian, preservationist, writer, and photographer. He was formerly director of the New Haven Museum and Hartford-based Connecticut Landmarks, where he cared for a chain of  house museums, including Hartford’s Butler-McCook and Isham-Terry houses. Prior to that, he served as curator and exhibition developer at Wadsworth Atheneum, where his exhibit “Sam & Elizabeth: Legend and Legacy of Colt’s Empire(1996) helped spawn the Coltsville National Park.

More information

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Nice publicity from the capital city next-door

The Providence Journal had a nice article recently on Hartford’s historical attractions. Sure, it’s a got a chamber-of-commerce bent, but we’ll take it. Besides, it’s nice to be reminded every once in while of all the attractions we locals take for granted. If you’re coming to the city for the first time and want to know what there is to see, this isn’t a bad place to start. The line about Aetna moving its headquarters to New York City might be premature, however.

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Stowe Center’s Kane interviewed

The Hartford Business Journal has a nice Q&A with Katherine Kane, who will retire next spring after 20 years as executive director at the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center. The Center has grown and improved vastly on her watch, becoming among other things a great resource for community groups, despite mounting pressures (mostly fiscal) on organizations like hers. She sums up nicely the mission of museums in the 21st-Century:

Museums are not repositories for old ideas and objects, they are vibrant community anchors helping people understand how history informs today and shape a positive future.

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David Ransom, Hartford historian

Hartford lost one of its best historians with the recent death of David Ransom, at age 100.

Visitors to HartfordHistory.net may recognize Dave as the co-author, with Gregory Andrews, of  “Structures and Styles: Guided Tours of Hartford Architecture,” an indispensable (though, sadly, out-of-print) book that gave thumb-nail sketches of every significant building in the city, including ones even most Hartford denizens took for granted. I had the great pleasure of interviewing him for this article on the book.

Dave also wrote a biography of Hartford architect George Keller and worked closely with just about every preservation group in the region. But in reading his obituary, I’m struck most of all by the fact that Dave turned his focus to architectural history relatively late in life. He had been international sales manager for M. Swift & Sons Inc. of Hartford when, at age 50, he retired and embarked on a new life. The accomplishments after that move speak for themselves:

He was the author of “George Keller, Architect”, the definitive biography of the celebrated Hartford architect. This book is also the acknowledged study of Keller’s vast architectural legacy, which included designs for monuments, houses, institutional buildings and bridges. Dave also wrote “Structures and Styles: Guided Tours of Hartford Architecture”, co-authored with Gregory Andrews. He worked closely with The Connecticut Historical Commission, and was instrumental in establishing historic districts in Hartford, particularly the areas of Congress Street and Lewis Street. In addition, he was a visiting lecturer at Trinity College and served as a board member with several organizations, including Cedar Hill Cemetery, The CT Historical Society, CT Preservation Action, and the West Hartford Historic District Commission. He received the Harlan H. Griswold award, Connecticut’s highest award for historic preservation, from the Connecticut Trust for History Preservation in 1991.

A life well-lived.

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Speaking of flooding

The hurricanes and resulting flooding in Texas and Florida reminded me of a photo I took eight years ago in Riverside Park. Near the Bulkeley Bridge, there was a pillar that hosted a series of markers for the high-water points in Hartford’s most severe floods, at least since 1936:

To stand before that pillar and then look across the path at the Connecticut River is to send your imagination reeling:

To see the effects of these disasters, check out the photos at the Connecticut Digital Archive. Here, for instance, are search results for the 1936 flood. It’s easy to see why so much was invested in building the dikes that have protected the city since the 1940s:

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Listen up! There’s a Connecticut history podcast

If you need to tune out the everyday world for a little while (and who doesn’t?) listen to “Grating the Nutmeg,” a podcast about Connecticut history.  A co-production of the magazine Connecticut Explored and the Office of the State Historian, “Grating” already has an archive of 34 episodes, and some center on Hartford. The most recent of them: Episode 32, entitled “Hops, Beer, and Hartford’s 1902 Brewery Strike.” Guest Steve Thornton of the Shoeleather History Project tells what happened when workers at Hartford’s four (yes, four!) breweries went on strike. There’s also “The NEW Harriet Beecher Stowe Center” (Episode 31), “Art, Agency, Legacy: Amistad Center for Art & Culture” (Episode 29), and “The Smithsonian’s Eric Hintz: Hartford As a Place of Invention (Episode 22), among others.

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