Hartford

Overview

Introduction

Hartford, Connecticut, the state's capital city, is located in the north-central part of the state. It was originally a Dutch trading post before the Rev. Thomas Hooker established an English settlement there in the 1630s.

Although mainly known as an industrial, financial and insurance center, Hartford has a number of historic buildings and some good restaurants in the downtown area. You can get an idea of the importance of the insurance business to Hartford's economy at Constitution Plaza (site of the graceful, boat-shaped Phoenix Mutual Life building) and at the Travelers Tower (headquarters of the Travelers Insurance Co.), which offers sweeping views of the surrounding area.

Start your visit with a stop at the state Capitol building, topped by a magnificent gilded neo-Gothic dome. It overlooks Bushnell Park, which was codesigned by the famed Frederick Law Olmsted and has an antique carousel that's accompanied by a mighty Wurlitzer organ.

The Old State House, in the heart of downtown, has a museum with changing exhibits, a famous portrait of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart and Steward's Museum of Oddities (look for the two-headed calf). While you're at State House Square, visit the Pavilion, a collection of shops and restaurants in a postmodern/classical structure.

Hartford has a number of museums and historic homes of interest. Visit the Connecticut Historical Society's archives and exhibits pertaining to the state's history. The Wadsworth Atheneum, the oldest public art museum in the country, has an excellent, wide-ranging collection, including Hudson River School landscapes, impressionist paintings and early American decorative arts.

The Butler-McCook Homestead, Hartford's oldest home, is a few blocks away from the Atheneum on Main Street. It has an interesting collection of vintage furnishings, paintings and Asian artifacts.

On the west side of Hartford, visitors can tour the homes of Harriet Beecher Stowe (author of Uncle Tom's Cabin) and Mark Twain—the two writers were neighbors on Farmington Avenue. Twain wrote many of his most famous books while living in this house. (The building looks like something you'd expect the author to live in—an eccentric structure that resembles a land-bound steamboat.)

The Menczer Museum of Medicine and Dentistry is a fascinating collection of exhibits depicting the evolution of the healing arts. (A look at some of the antique instruments will make you grateful for progress in this field.)

A good way to take in Hartford's historic sights is to walk and drive the city's Victorian Trail, a tour similar to Boston's Freedom Trail. It includes some two dozen stops. You can obtain a brochure from the Greater Hartford Convention & Visitors Bureau. http://www.enjoyhartford.com.

For yet another view of the city, take a cruise on the Connecticut River aboard the Lady Fenwick, a reproduction of an 1850s steam yacht, which has regular sailings May-September and special events throughout the year. One of Hartford's most beautiful parks, the Elizabeth Park Rose Gardens, reaches peak bloom in late June. http://www.elizabethpark.org.

Annual events in Hartford include the Taste of Hartford (food and entertainment—June), Riverfest (Fourth of July weekend), Mark Twain Days (Labor Day weekend), the African-American Parade and Rib Burn-off (September), the Festival of Light (holiday light display—November-early January) and First Night Hartford (arts and entertainment—31 December).

The Hartford Stage Company holds performances year-round and is known for its emphasis on classics and new American plays.

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