Hartford sits at the confluence of the Connecticut and Park Rivers where in 1623 the Dutch set up a fortified trading post. In 1636 100 English puritan settlers arrived from Massachusetts and they set up the town of Newtown just north of the Dutch Fort. In 1637 the name of the town was changed to Hartford after Hertford in England. From 1662 it was the joint capital of the Connecticut Colony with New Haven. The economy of early Hartford was mainly agricultural, but its location on the Connecticut River soon made it an important trading centre. The merchants were very concerned about the risk of fire, storm and pirates so in 1810 some of them got together to pool their risks, an early form of insurance and insurance remains a major industry in Hartford today. The city has a population of around 125,000 people.
A thunderstorm brews behind the tower of Center Church creating difficult light for photography. A church was built here back in 1636, but the current structure is a mere youngster dating from 1807. Adjacent to the church is the Ancient Burying Ground which was Hartford's first public cemetery in use from 1640 to 1803. In the cemetery is a statue of the Reverend Samuel Stone, one of the Puritans who came to the New World with Thomas Hooker because of religious oppression in England. It was Stone who negotiated with the Suckiag Indians the purchase of the land on which Hartford was built, and he became one of the most influential founders of the settlement. Click Tab 2 to see the statue of the Reverend Samuel Stone.
Old State House
In the early colonial days, a meeting house served as church, courthouse and community meeting place. By 1720, Hartford had outgrown this arrangement so the first State House was built and it stood until 1783 when it was severely damaged by fire during celebrations to mark the end of the Revolutionary War. In 1792 Charles Bulfinch designed a replacement building on the same site and it was built between 1793 and 1796. The Adamesque Federal style building is believed to have been modelled on the Town Hall at Liverpool in England. Old State House has been restored and is open to the public.
Downtown Hartford from State Capitol
In 1853 the Reverend Horace Bushnell proposed that Hartford should have an area of open space at its centre. His proposal faced major obstacles. The site seemed less than promising - it adjoined the polluted Park River and the site contained a garbage dump, tanneries, soap works and animal pens. It was also the first time in the USA that a park was to be built with public funds. The obstacles were overcome and in 1861 landscape architect Jacob Weidenmann produced plans for the park. Bushnell Park still provides a green oasis in the middle of Hartford, adjoining the State Capitol.
Connecticut State Capitol
By the 1870s the Old State House had not only become too small but it was no longer grand enough for country that was growing into a world power. Also, in 1872 Hartford became the sole capital of Connecticut, no longer sharing the role with New Haven. James G. Batterson was commissioned to build the Capitol from plans designed by architect Richard M. Upjohn. It opened in 1879 and is constructed from granite and marble in a mixture of Gothic and French Renaissance styles. The domed tower is 81 metres (267 feet) high and the dome has a covering of gold leaf. The State Capitol is now designated as a National Historic Landmark but it remains a working building used by the State Senate, House of Representatives, the Governor and other senior state officials.
Soldiers & Sailors Memorial
Back in Bushnell Park stands an arch built in honour of the 4,000 Hartford citizens who served in the Civil War, of whom 400 who died fighting for the Union. Designed by Hartford architect George Keller it was dedicated on September 17, 1886. It was constructed using brownstone from Portland in Connecticut and it has a terracotta frieze that depicts scenes from the Civil War.
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