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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Props for the Polish National Home

For a while, it looked as though the Polish National Home on Charter Oak Avenue had settled into hidden-gem status. Architecture buffs loved its circa-1930 Art Deco facade and beautiful ballroom; lovers of pierogies and beer always had a home in the unpretentious dining room. But even Hartford boosters would forget to list the Home as one of the city’s attractions.

Fortunately, that appears to be changing. The Hartford Courant has taken notice of a new generation of leaders at the Home. One of them, board president Rob Kwasnicki, told the newspaper that the Home aims to boost membership by not only remaining loyal to Polish heritage and culture but also becoming an engine of progress for the Charter Oak neighborhood and the city as a whole. Steps so far have included sprucing up the rooms new members are most likely to use, like the dining room, and loading up the calendar with community events.

“We have an opportunity for the Polish National Home to be be what it has always been: an anchor in the community,” Kwasnicki said. “We can be a focal point, a gathering place, a beacon or central point of informational disbursement.”

 

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Still Missing the Whale

Amazingly, it will be 20 years on Thursday since the Hartford Whalers played their last game. On April 13, 1997, they defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning at the Civic Center, 2-1, then decamped for Raleigh, North Carolina and changed their name to the Carolina Hurricanes.

It still hurts.

The Whale began life in 1971 as the Boston-based New England Whalers of the World Hockey League. The team moved to Hartford for the 1974-75 season,  playing its first game in the brand-spanking-new Hartford Civic Center Coliseum on January 11, 1975. The team thrived in Hartford, which led to it becoming one of just four WHA teams accepted into the National Hockey League in the WHA-NHL merger of 1979. Along with the new league came a new name: the Hartford Whalers.

Software entrepreneur Peter Karmanos Jr. bought the Whalers in 1994 and soon began pressing the state of Connecticut, which owned the Civic Center, for a bigger and better facility, along with better lease terms. (Increased luxury-box seating and similar “revenue streams” figured prominently here.) Negotiations with the administration of Gov. John G. Rowland broke down. In March 1997, Karmanos announced that the current season would be his team’s last in Hartford.

Hartford Courant columnist Jeff Jacobs, who began covering the Whalers in 1984, wrote a tribute to the Whalers last Sunday, making sure to eviscerate both Karmonos and the recently re-imprisoned Rowland. One line in particular was news to me:

Rowland, from Waterbury and not a hockey guy, didn’t love the Whalers enough to do everything to save the team. General manager Jim Rutherford later told me if he had offered Karmanos anything resembling what he offered Robert Kraft to move the [New England] Patriots [to Connecticut], the NHL would still be in Hartford.

Argh!

So we are left with nostalgia. To that end, enjoy the great photo gallery that accompanies Jacobs’ column. It might also make you feel better to follow the indefatigable Hartford Whalers Booster Club on Facebook.

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100 years after heading ‘Over There’*

Tomorrow is the 100th anniversary of the United States’ entry into World War 1, and the history magazine Connecticut Explored marks it with a Spring 2017 issue full of articles on Connecticut’s role in the war effort. One of them, written by former Hartford Courant editor David Drury, tells the story of Ruth Hovey, a Hartford nurse who was honored by the French government for her service under fire on the Western Front.

For even more on Connecticut’s involvement in the Great War, check out the Connecticut State Library’s repository of online material, “Connecticut in World War 1.” There’s also Mr. Drury’s excellent book, “Hartford in World War I.”

*”Over There” was a patriotic song that encouraged young men to join the military and fight in Europe. Listen to it here.

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The next chapter of pro baseball in Hartford

With the Hartford Yard Goats finally set to begin their inaugural season, Hartford Magazine has marked the occasion by publishing a short history of professional baseball in the city, accompanied by some great photos.

Starting in 1874, when the Hartford Dark Blues played as one of the charter members of the National League, pro and semi-pro baseball has had a few sojourns here. The most notable teams were the Hartford Senators, a minor-league operation that lasted into the 1930s, and the Hartford Chiefs, who began began play in 1938 as a farm team of the Boston Braves. When the Braves left Boston for Milwaukee after the 1952 season, the Chiefs likewise left Hartford.

The Chiefs, Senators, and other teams played at Morgan G. Bulkeley Stadium, in the South End. Built in 1927, the 6,500-seat facility fell into disuse after the Chiefs left and was demolished in 1960. In 2013, local baseball lovers installed a plaque commemorating the stadium on the grounds of Ellis Manor, a rehabilitation and health care facility that now occupies the site.

For more on the stadium, here’s an article that stadium buff Norm Hausmann wrote for the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR).

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In honor of St. Patrick’s Day

The latest issue of Connecticut Magazine features “Our Irish Soul: How the Irish Shaped Connecticut, and Vice Versa,” an article by Michael Lee-Murphy. Informative and well-written, it outlines the history of Irish immigrants in our state, starting from their arrival in the early 1600s as indentured servants. Hartford gets a few mentions, including the 1902 visit to the city by James Connolly, the revolutionary who went on to lead the Easter 1916 uprising in Dublin, which cost him his life. (Wounded and captured in the fighting, he was executed by the British while tied to a chair.) There’s also Catherine Flanagan, the Hartford-born daughter of Irish immigrants. A leader in the fight securing women’s right to vote, she spent 30 days in jail for a Washington, D.C. protest in 1917. In addition, according to Lee-Murphy, Flanagan campaigned across the U.S. for American recognition of the Irish Republic.

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Another blog to bookmark

Anyone interested in the history of Hartford needs to make regular visits to “The Hartfordite,” the blog of longtime WFSB-TV3 news anchor Dennis House. The blog isn’t dedicated exclusively to city history–there’s also plenty about current events, especially when it’s covered on his Sunday morning program, “Face the State.” But House, a native New Englander who’s been with Channel 3 since 1992, clearly enjoys posting items concerning local history. And it’s a treat for readers when delves into his station’s video and photographic vaults, posting nuggets we otherwise wouldn’t see, like photographs of Hartford businesses in the 1970s and the newly opened Constitution Plaza in 1964.

Recently, House posted some great photos from the Ranger Andy Show, a children’s show that aired from 1957 to 1968, in hopes of jogging some memories; he’d like to talk to people who appeared on the station in its early days, as part of an upcoming 60th-anniversary celebration.

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How has this thing survived?

Because of the huge crowd, most of us who attended the Women’s March on Hartford back in January had to park their cars some distance from the Capitol. In my case, it meant parking in my old neighborhood, on Charter Oak Avenue. There, on one of the utility poles in front of the former Capewell factory, I spotted something I’d never noticed before: a bumper sticker from Lowell P. Weicker‘s 1990 gubernatorial campaign.

“Nobody’s man but yours.”

Has this thing really survived 26-plus years of New England weather? Probably, because it sounds more plausible than someone slapping Weicker stickers on utility poles years after the election. Congratulations to the responsible printer for making such a durable product.

By the way, if you haven’t seen the Capewell since its days as a deteriorating, boarded-up hulk, you’ll be thrilled to see how much nicer it’s looking these days, as a beautiful apartment complex.

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…and we’re back

Yes, it’s been a while since you’ve seen any major updates on hartfordhistory.net. But as the old song goes, there’ll be some changes made–starting with this new blog. (You’ll find the old one archived at hartfordhistory.blogspot.com.)

If you’ve got any news regarding the history of Connecticut’s capital city and would like to see it reported here, send it along to me at kevin@hartfordhistory.net. This is also the place to watch for news on website updates and improvements, which should be numerous!

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