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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Learn all about Sam Colt

The life of Samuel Colt, the pioneering industrialist behind Hartford’s Colt firearms factory, will be the subject of a free noontime talk at the Old State House on Thursday, August 17, by Bert Barnett, the National Park Service ranger assigned to the Coltsville National Historical Park.

“Through providing efficient arms required during the 19th century, Colt revolutionized the arms industry and, though not alone in this role, he was unique and undeniably controversial,” the Old State House says in its announcement.

Registration for the talk isn’t required, but it is encouraged: http://bit.ly/2uuh70k.

Congress created the national historic park in 2014. The official opening is expected soon, but Barnett already gives walking tours of the component properties, including the factory complex, the city’s Colt Park (formerly part of the Colt estate), and the Church of the Good Shepherd, which Elizabeth Colt commissioned as a memorial to her husband, who was only 47 when he died in 1862.

You can keep up on Coltsville news in a variety of places, among them:

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