17.1.12

Chief of the Beautiful Towns

17 January 1891 - Hartford, Connecticut

Downtown Hartford during bicycle parade
I am now in Hartford the capital of Connecticut in the New England section of the United States of America. The city’s current population is 53,230. Only one hundred years ago, in 1790, it was a mere 2,683. But do not think Hartford is a new city, for it is one of the oldest in the country. It is also one of the richest.

The first settlers (after the native Americans, of course) were the Dutch in 1623. I’m not sure if you can call them settlers, because they merely set up a trading post, Fort Goede Hoop (Fort Good Hope.) In 1654 they abandoned it, probably because of the “bad element” moving in--the English.

In 1635 Pastor Thomas Hooker and Governor John Haynes led 100 settlers and 130 cattle to this spot from Newtown, Massachusetts (later renamed Cambridge after Harvard University was founded there.) Originally these pioneers named their new settlement Newtown after the old Newtown, but two years later changed it to Hartford after Hertford, England. (People had problems spelling back then.) John Haynes would have the distinction of having been a Governor from both Massachusetts and Connecticut.

Lyman Beecher (1775-1863)
Hartford sits on the Connecticut River which was deep enough for small 17th century ships, but not for later cargo ships. It is also quite a ways from the sea. Probably why Hartford never got too involved in the slave trade. If Providence was once the American center of the slave trade, Hartford was the center of the abolitionists movement. One of the countries major leaders were Hartford's Rev. Lyman Beecher and his many children.

When Abraham Lincoln showed up to Hartford to campaign, he was greeted with a torchlight parade by the abolitionist group, the Wide Awake Club. (I wonder if poor Lincoln first wondered if they had come to tar and feather him.) The idea of the torchlight parades caught on and became a staple in mid to late 19th century campaigning.

Wide Awake Club welcoming Lincoln
Hartford has many factories building everything from pistols to bicycles, but one of it’s leading industries is insurance. It will be my job to track down as many of these companies as I can. Some will be long gone in a hundred years, but others will be going strong. Probably why Connecticut’s nickname will one day be “the Insurance State.”

Hartford is prosperous and full of beautiful Victorian buildings. I know I will enjoy my stay. Is it any wonder Mark Twain remarked "Of all the beautiful towns it has been my fortune to see this is the chief."

Hartford as it looked in 1890

Photos of Victorian Hartford

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