25 Things You Should Know About Hartford, Connecticut
Hartford resident Mark Twain once said: “Of all the beautiful towns it has been my fortune to see, this is the chief … You do not know what beauty is if you have not been here.” Here are 25 things you need to know about the city nicknamed "New England's Rising Star."
1. In 1636, the Rev. Thomas Hooker and a group of around 100 Puritans established a settlement along the Connecticut River. They named their new home after Hertford, England, the birthplace of Hooker's assistant, the Rev. Samuel Stone.
2. Back in 2006, the City of Hartford launched an advertising campaign to entice young people to move downtown. One of the promotions included a highway billboard that read: "Come to Hartford. I Swear, It’s Fun.”
3. Founded in 1842, the Wadsworth Atheneum is America’s oldest public art museum. Originally home to just 79 paintings, today it houses more than 50,000 works of art.
6. The Hartford Whalers moved to Raleigh, North Carolina in 1997. But 19 years after their departure from Connecticut, the team still rakes in cash. According to the website Hartford Business, Whalers gear is currently Reebok’s top-selling of any defunct hockey team.
In other sports news: The Hartford Yard Goats, a brand new minor league baseball team, is set to begin play April 7. The team’s mascots are two grinning goats named Chompers and Chew Chew.
8. Want to see a taxidermied calf with two complete heads? How about an 18-foot Egyptian crocodile? Painter Joseph Steward opened his Museum of Natural and Other Curiosities on the Old State House’s top floor in 1797.
9. The first magazine exclusively for kids was published in Hartford in 1789 under the title “The Children’s Magazine" [PDF].
10. The Hartford Courant, founded in 1764, is the country's oldest continuously published newspaper. A humble Virginia farmer by the name of George Washington placed an advertisement in it in 1796 for some land for rent on his Mount Vernon estate.
11. Pedro Segarra, the former mayor of Hartford, became the nation’s first legally married gay mayor when he wed his partner of 14 years, Charlie Ortiz, in 2012. When he was elected in 2010, he was only America's second openly gay mayor.
12. Thirty years before the Salem witch trials, hysteria swept through Hartford. Eleven women and men were executed, beginning with Alice Young. Her hanging in Hartford on May 26, 1647, was the first witchcraft execution to occur in America.
13. The first time a President of the United States ever rode in an automobile was on August 22, 1902, when President Theodore Roosevelt took one for a spin through the streets of Hartford.
14. During his 17 years in Hartford, Mark Twain published some of his most famous works, including The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
Playwright Edward Albee’s Hartford-based alma mater, Trinity College, was the first college in America to have open admissions without regard to religious beliefs.
16. John M. Browning of Hartford invented the automatic pistol in 1896.
17. Nitrous oxide—more commonly known as laughing gas—was first put to work as an anesthetic for dentistry in 1844 by Hartford resident Horace Wells.
18. A fire swept through the tent at the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, which was stopped in Hartford, on July 6, 1944, killing 168 people—mostly women and children. Because the big-top was water-proofed with paraffin wax and gasoline, the flames spread rapidly. A Time magazine article dated July 17 reported that doctors, dentists, and jewelers helped identify victims by their fillings, scars, rings and watches. It was one of the worst fire disasters in the history of the United States.
19. Hartford was the setting for the Amy Brenneman series Judging Amy, which aired on CBS from 1999-2005. Unfortunately for Hartford, the show was actually filmed in Pasadena, California.
20. The Federal Café (or The Fed as it’s known to locals) has been on the corner of Union and Church Streets since 1934. It’s the oldest bar in the city.
21. From the front, the A. Everett Austin House appears to be a stunning mansion. Viewed from the side, however, it quickly becomes apparent that the "mansion" is little more than a facade and the 85-foot-long building is just 18 feet deep. Its owner, Arthur Everett Austin—a former director of the aforementioned Wadsworth Atheneum—built the residence in the 1930s and hosted countless parties there. (Prominent guests included Gertrude Stein and Salvador Dali.)
“Hartford is where I learned to grow up,” Katharine Hepburn revealed in 1988. “It is where I will come home to.” She did, in 2003: The Oscar winner’s remains are buried in the Hepburn family plot at Cedar Hill Cemetery.
23. The Ancient Burying Ground in Hartford is the city’s oldest historic site and was the only cemetery there from the 1640s to the early 1800s. The burying ground accepted anyone who died in Hartford, regardless of age, gender, race, ethnic background, economic status, or religious faith. Thomas Hooker, founder of Hartford, is buried here.
24. Next to the state capitol is Bushnell Park. The 50-acre oasis is the oldest publicly funded park in the United States. According to Yankee magazine, Bushnell Park boasts the largest turkey oak tree in New England. Its trunk is nearly 17 feet around.
25. Abolitionist Harriet Beecher Stowe, who wrote the anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, moved to Hartford in 1873 and remained there until her death in 1896. Her home is a National Historic Landmark.