Hartford, Connecticut is the capitol of the state of Connecticut. It is located at the confluence of the Park and Connecticut Rivers in Hartford County at 41.8° north and 72.6° west. It has a current population of about 124000 in the city limits, and about 1.2 people million in the metropolitan area. Hartford is known as "The Insurance City" because of the importance of the insurance industry to the local economy.
The area around Hartford was originally the home of several tribes. The Saukiog tribe lived in the area that it now the city of Hartford. The Podunk tribe lived across the river to the east, and the Tunxi tribe lived in the hills to the west.
The Dutch were the first Europeans in the area. Adriaen Van Block explored the area in 1614, eventually building the House of Hope trading post on the future site of Hartford in 1623. The Dutch traders, along with trade goods, also brought smallpox up the river with them, causing the death of 1/3 of the local population.
The first permanent European settlers came from the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1636. The Podunk chief Wahginnacut traveled to Massachusetts to invite the British settlers to form a settlement on the Connecticut River. 100 Puritans led by Reverend Thomas Hooker settled by the banks of the Connecticut River. Reverend Hooker named the settlement 'Hartford' after the English town of Hertford, which was the birthplace of his assistants.
On May 31, 1638, Reverend Hooker delivered a sermon containing his vision of how Hartford should be governed. The residents of the village turned this sermon into the Fundamental Orders, which set up a democratic government for the village. Unlike other colonies, the Orders established the rights for the public to elect their leaders and limit the amount of power that they may have. These ideals worked their way down through history, and eventually became the cornerstone of the United States Constitution.
King Charles II gave a charter to the colony of Connecticut on October 9, 1662. Two decades later, newly crowned King James II decided to integrate the colonies of New York with the rest of the New England colonies in the 'Dominion of New England' and demanded that Connecticut return it's charter. The colonial government refused, and the king sent troops up the river to retrieve the charter. According to legend, after a long meeting Captain Joseph Wadsworth hid the charter in the trunk of a nearby oak tree, and the troops were unable to return the document to the King. After a revolution in England, the Connecticut government was able to convince William and Mary to reinstate the charter. The oak tree that served as a hiding place was named the Charter Oak, and is now the state tree of Connecticut.
Hartford's first newspaper, The Connecticut Courant was founded in 1764, and is the oldest continuously published newspaper in the United States. Today, the Courant is the only daily paper in Hartford, as well as the only state-wide daily for Connecticut.
Hartford, much like many of the cities accessible from the Atlantic Ocean, became a profitable seaport. One innovation that was unique to Hartford was the development of informal maritime insurance agreements as early as the 1790's. Groups of merchants would agree to share the financial risks and profits of all their trips. In 1794, the cottage insurance industry evolved, when merchant Jeremiah Wadsworth started offering under the table fire insurance. In 1810, the state certified the Hartford Fire Insurance Company, with the Aetna Insurance Company in 1811. These companies would create a reputation for the Hartford insurance industry, when they became the only entities to pay off insurance claims on the New York City fires of 1835 and 1845.
The insurance industry in Hartford continued to evolve over the years. In 1845, the first life insurance company was founded. Hartford companies were among the first to offer accident, automobile, and aviation insurance. Hartford-based Travelers Insurance Group insured the creation of the Atomic Bomb during World War II.
Colt Firearms also calls Hartford home. Samuel Colt built his first factory here in 1855, and began manufacturing some of the most popular guns in the world. One reason for his success was innovation. Colt firearms were the first to employ interchangeable parts, making the gun easier to repair. Samuel Colt is buried at the Cedar Hill Cemetery in Hartford.
Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, also called Hartford home. Although born in Missouri and married to a woman from Western New York, Twain decided to move to Hartford to be closer to his publisher, American Publishing Company, in 1871. The Clemens family purchased a piece of land on Farmington Avenue, and built a house there in 1873. Twain wrote The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court while living in this house. After his daughter Suzy died on the premises in 1893, Clemens refused to return to the premises, and sold the property in 1903. Today, the Mark Twain's House is designated as a National Historic Landmark, and is a museum to the life of this famous writer.
During a visit to Hartford, a tent belonging to the Ringling Brothers Circus caught fire and killed 168 people and injured another 487 in 1944. The fire spread quickly, as the tent had been waterproofed with a combination of paraffin and gasoline. Although the investigation into the start of the fire was inconclusive, several employees of Ringling Brothers were sent to jail for gross negligence.
Hartford has a very strong connection with competitive sports. With a branch of UConn sitting just one town away in West Hartford, and the University of Hartford in the Blue Hills neighborhood, Hartford finds itself host to a good variety of college sports. Also, the city hosts the AHL Hartford Wolf Pack.
However, Hartford has a sad history when it comes to the higher ranks of men's professional sports. Hartford’s major league baseball team, the Dark Blues, played only two seasons in the 1870's before collapsing. The Hartford Whalers of the WHA and NHL, left for Raleigh, North Carolina in 1997 after nearly 20 seasons. The NFL New England Patriots agreed to move to Hartford in 1999, after Connecticut Governor John Rowland and the city of Hartford agreed to build a new stadium complex on the riverfront. However, the team decided to stay in Foxboro when Massachusetts offered to build a new stadium in the same location.
Sites of Note
There are several sites in Hartford worth taking in. The Travelers Tower was once the tallest structure in New England, and has an observation deck that is open to the public. In recent years, the tower became a nesting place for a pair of Peregrine Falcons.
Bushnell Park is a 41-acre park at the foot of the State Capitol. There are several monuments in the park, including a Spanish-American War Memorial, the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch, a scion of the Charter Oak, and the pump house gallery.
Constitution Plaza is the heard of the business district. The plaza was built in the 1960's, covering twelve acres that used to be a residential neighborhood. The plaza contains a clock tower and water fountain created by Masao Kimoshita. Several of Hartford's important festivals are held here, including the Taste of Hartford, the Festival of Light, and Riverfest.
A more recent addition to Hartford is Riverfront Plaza
, which is connected to Constitution Plaza by a pedestrian causeway
. Previously, the city of Hartford was disconnected from the Connecticut River
by several lanes of Interstate 91
. Now, there are many pedestrian walkways that go right along the bank of the river, as well as a walkway across the Founders Bridge
to the East Hartford
Currently under construction on the waterfront is Adriaen's Landing, a large stadium/convention center. The site is designated as mixed use, with residential and commercial buildings included in the plan. The stadium, Rentschler Field, will be the new home for UConn and University of Hartford sporting events. The site will also house a new campus for Capital Community College.
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