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Hartford, Connecticut

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Did You Know … ?

  • West Hartford-born Noah Webster learned 26 languages doing research for his dictionaries.
  • The first American-authored cookbook (“American Cookery” by Amelia Simmons) was published in Hartford (1796).
  • America’s first accident insurance policy, sold in Hartford (1864), covered the buyer for a two-block walk.
  • In 1836, Hartford native Samuel Colt invented the Colt revolver, the first repeating pistol.
  • The Fundamental Orders of Connecticut, written in Hartford (1639), was North America’s first written constitution.

Birthplace to dictionaries and Huck Finn

Hartford, Connecticut’s capital, is known as America’s insurance capital. That’s not much of a come-on for tourists.

However, the city on the Connecticut River has a history that dates from the 17th century. It was a Dutch trading post before the Rev. Thomas Hooker established an English settlement on the site in the 1630s. These settlers wrote the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut, embodying the concept of self-rule; it was a forerunner to the U.S. Constitution.

It may seem odd, then, that the city also was host, in 1814, to the Hartford Convention where New England states, whose business was badly undermined by the War of 1812, discussed secession.

In any case, by American standards, Hartford is an old city, and it has attractions that reflect that past and are of touristic interest.

The city’s oldest site is the Ancient Burying Ground of Hartford, with graves for 17th century settlers and Revolutionary War soldiers. Hartford’s oldest home, the Butler-McCook Homestead, dates from 1782 and is filled with original furnishings. The Old State House, a National Historic Landmark and a museum, is one of the nation’s oldest, dating from 1796. The Hartford Courant, founded in 1764, is the oldest continuously published newspaper.

Local residents have included individuals whose names resonate with Americans — Harriet Beecher Stowe, Mark Twain and Noah Webster — and whose homes are on view to 21st century visitors.

The city offers museums presenting everything from high art to trash, literally; Broadway-quality theater in multiple venues, several festivals and the requisite options to see dance, opera and orchestras to qualify as a true center for the arts. The art museums include America’s oldest still in operation, the Wadsworth Atheneum (1842).

The centerpiece for entertainment across many genres is the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, where events range from theater to jazz and blues. It is the home of the Hartford Symphony Orchestra. For another kind of nightlife, there are concerts and sports events at the XL Center and a selection of bars and clubs with live music.

The active traveler may row on the Connecticut River or cycle and hike through or near the city.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Watch, or compete in, the annual Head of the Riverfront Rowing Regatta. More than 2,000 rowers participate in this autumn event.
  • Run in the Hartford Marathon, or the half marathon, in the autumn.
  • Plan for a behind-the-scenes tour of the Connecticut Historical Society, which includes a 19th century corpse preserver, a wooden structure designed to preserve a deceased person for viewing, between death and burial, by packing ice around the body.
  • Rent a bicycle and peddle your way through the city and its parks.
  • In downtown Hartford, scope out bars and clubs that feature live blues, jazz and rock music.
  • Drive a few miles south of Hartford to Berlin, to hike on one of the state’s top trails, the Ragged Mountain Preserve Trail, good for experienced hikers and rock climbers. It offers options for less-experienced hikers, and is part of the 51-mile Metacomet Trail and the New England National Scenic Trail.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Tour the homes of Harriet Beecher Stowe (author of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”) and Mark Twain. The pair were neighbors on Farmington Avenue. Round out the itinerary with a visit to Noah Webster’s house in West Hartford.
  • Attend serious theater at the Hartford Stage Company, which is known for an emphasis on the classics and new American plays.
  • For a unique take on local art, participate in the November Open Studio Hartford Weekend, during which dozens of artists open studios and galleries.
  • For the unusual in museums, start with the Trash Museum, which is actually an educational experience with hands-on exhibits on solid-waste management.
  • Or, look for curiosities, of course, in the Museum of Curiosities located in the Old State House.
  • Plot your own course and walk or drive from one historic point of interest to the next.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Ride the Bushnell Park Carousel, a 1914 hand-carved merry-go-round, with a Wurlitzer organ providing the music. The carousel has 48 horses.
  • Take sightseeing tours of the State Capitol and Legislative Office Building, a National Historic Landmark, and the state’s Supreme Court building. If you are into state government sites, tour the governor’s residence, too.
  • See Hartford while cruising on the Connecticut River. Choices include cocktail, brunch, dinner and other cruises, or simply a narrated sightseeing float.
  • Explore more than 20 landscaped gardens. See and shop scores of exhibits of flowers and floral arts and crafts. Attend horticulture seminars, All are as aspects of the Connecticut Flower and Garden Show, in February.
  • Schedule some spectator time, too, at a UConn basketball game at the XL Center.
  • Head to West Hartford to sample trendy shops and eateries at the West Hartford Center.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult the Connecticut Office of Tourism at www.ctvisit.com