Category Archives: Hartford History

Where Would H.B. Stowe Occupy?

Despite all its flaws, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Christian abolitionist activism is inspiring and leads me to an ahistorical question: if Stowe were alive today, what issues would she be most concerned with?  In the weeks since our visit to the Stowe Center, the activist landscape has been dominated by the “Occupy” movement.  Started on Wall St as a living protest against economic injustice and the concentration of resources, power and policy among the richest few Americans, the movement has spread to Hartford and other cities across the world.   Recently, on a radio program, I heard that the percentage of actual unemployment in the country is about 16%, including those people who have stopped looking for jobs.   The guest on the program said that was about the same percentage of people in this country who were slaves in the mid-1800s. This parallel between slavery and today’s economic situation is striking.

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Hidden Hartford History

I’ve had the pleasure of attending, designing and leading several tours of alternative Hartford history over the years.  The best source of this kind of wonderful info is Steve Thornton.  His day job is with SEIU 1199, but by night he’s an amateur (only in that he doesn’t get paid) progressive/radical/labor historian of Hartford.  Steve’s website, Hartford Homefront, features current activism, but also his Shoeleather History of Hartford.   On June 21, Steve led a tour of the Charter Oak Avenue area of Hartford as a benefit for the CT Center for a New Economy, and while the distance was small, the amount of amazing history he uncovered was tremendous.  What follows are some of the highlights:

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Straight from the Source

The Proposed Park

After hearing and reading some conflicting accounts of what Horace Bushnell had in mind for Hartford’s future park, I searched for the editorial which appeared in the Hartford Courant after Bushnell made his proposal to the City Council, as mentioned by our tour guide today.  I found comfort in discovering that perhaps Bushnell’s idea was founded on some noble causes and not just opportunistic business and political reasons.  His proposal may not be my idea of a relaxing day at the park, but it appears that Bushnell might have had his heart in the right place.

I’ve attached a PDF of the editorial which spells out the proposal to the Common Council, which includes the following:

“We want an open ground…a ground as centrally located as possible where it will add an air of culture and ornament to the city…a place where children will play and the poor invalid will go breathe the freshness of nature…where and high and low, rich and poor will exchange looks and make acquaintance through the eyes; an outdoor parlor opened for cultivation and good manners and a right social feeling. It must be a place of life and motion that will make us completely conscious of being one people.”

By the way, it’s amazing what you can find by searching through the Hartford Courant files.  I had some fun with it (I know, get a life).

Chapman’s Hartford and Mine

I was struck reading Chapman’s book by many things.  First, her geographic progression down Main Street and Asylum Avenue was exciting to read, as I know many of the streets and intersections well.  I felt some vicarious pride toward my city.  On the other hand, I also recognized the privileged lens through which she reminisced.  Continue reading