Hartford, Connecticut is an elder statesmen of cities in America. The well-preserved grandeur of many of its old buildings alludes to its history as one of the former richest cities in the country. Home to the oldest art museum in the U.S. and a very beautiful, sprawling central park, Hartford has firmly written itself into the fabric of American history by being home to many of our nation’s greatest literary minds.
Mark Twain once said of Hartford, “Of all the beautiful towns it has been my fortune to see, this is the chief. ”
He hearted Hartford, and so will you…
Hartford is also the insurance capital of the world. And no, I didn’t just learn that by watching Gilmore Girls (RIP Richard). Aetna, United Health Care, Prudential, The Hartford Company, Phoenix, etc. It is still the headquarters for a lot of major insurance companies, but unfortunately now is considered one of the poorest cities in America.
Ocean Vuong, author/poet and recent MacArthur Genius grant winner, often uses the broken spirit of his hometown as an additional character in his stories/novels, and it’s heartbreaking to know that a once thriving city is now ensconced in destitution. Especially since the surrounding Greater Hartford area has a lot of wealth and economy.
I only had a chance to make a short drive through the city, but the one feature I had to see is the ornate state capitol building (by now you must know that I love these). A Gothic style building, it sits atop a hill in Bushnell Park and has a very distinctive gold dome.
Bushnell Park, the aforementioned central park of the city, hosts many festivals and parades, and on the day I visited, the Hartford Heart Walk was happening, so I couldn’t get as close to the capitol building as I would have liked, but at least I got to appreciate it from afar. It’s got a very convenient location right in the heart of Hartford and would be a perfect place to hang out and enjoy a carousel ride on its historic indoor merry-go-round or just take in the view of the Hartford skyline.
It was a quick trip through the heart of Hartford, and next time I definitely plan on stopping at the Wadworth Atheneum, the country’s oldest art museum. Home of many Italian baroques, this public museum opened in 1844 (!). It sits across from one of the more distinctive points in the skyline, Travelers Tower, home of Citigroup.
Just across the freeway. the neighborhood of Asylum Hill (great name) is the unassuming hamlet that hosted some of the world’s finest American writers. The Harriet Beecher Stowe house was not where she wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin, but where she spent her last 23 years and where she eventually passed. Today it is a museum and a national historic landmark.
Not to be outdone, her neighbor was Mark Twain. That’s right, two American literary giants on the same street. To be fair, Mark Twain was here first. Samuel Clemons famously grew up in Hannibal, Missouri, but he lived and wrote some of his most famous works in this Victorian revivial-Gothic style house for ~20 years. Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn, Tom Canty, a few of his memoirs were all conjured here.
This is, no joke, one of the coolest houses I’ve ever seen. From the deep red brick facade to the turrets and unusual arrangement of the windows makes it stand out for sure. My favorite part is that the windows look like they have eyelashes. It’s whimsical.
The inside decor was supervised by Louis Comfort Tiffany (old Twainy was doing quite alright for himself before he made bad investments — tale as old as time) and the house tour will take you through his billiards room and study, as well as the other main areas of the house.
The visitor’s center is a really modern LEED certified structure that looks like art on its own (reminds me a lot of the cathedral in Sedona the way it juts out of the rock) featuring his works and life. Mark Twain really was a traveling man, I feel like I’ve been to many sites from Nevada City to St. Louis to New Orleans that have ties to him.
There are many notable buildings in this area, including the Aetna building, the world’s largest colonial revival building (insurances make too much money), and Cathedral of St. Joseph, which features the largest ceramic mural of Christ in Glory in the world.
I’d only ever been to New Haven, but Hartford has a lot of cultural sites of interest. This is why New England is such a great road trip, you learn a lot, see some beautiful scenery and experience a lot of American history.