Hartford History Bike Route

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Rose Garden, Elizabeth Park, July 2016

This coming week I will be attending the National Council on Public History’s annual conference, here in Hartford. I am very excited to be attending a national conference right here at home. Having followed the twitter feed, and read the conference-specific blog posts, I decided to write one that I would be looking for, if I were traveling to Hartford for the first time.

Yes, it involves a bicycle.

If you are bringing a bicycle (or have access to one, as well as a helmet, appropriate attire, etc. etc.), or want to walk/run 13.5 miles (🥵), this route will bring you past a number of interesting spots in the city. This is a completely urban route, so you must be comfortable riding on city streets with traffic. There are a couple of painted bike lanes, but no protected bike lanes. Often you will have to share the bike lanes with the city buses (among others 🙄). I do ride these streets, and am comfortable doing so, but like everything in life, there is risk involved; you are responsible for your own actions. I have not accounted for any construction that may be in progress; please re-route yourself if necessary. Attempt to follow the “same road, same rules” adage. Sometimes it’s easier than others. You are allowed to ride when the walk sign is on.

You could also do this by car. If you do, please do not drive through an intersection when the walk light is on.

However you travel the city, I hope you enjoy your visit!

View the map and cuesheet here.

These are the points of interest you will encounter. The distances shown are approximate, and cumulative from the Convention Center:

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Alexander Calder’s Stegasaurus, with the Wadsworth Atheneum and Travelers tower, March 2018.

0.3 miles Stegasaurus by Alexander Calder, adjacent to the Wadsworth Atheneum (the country’s oldest continuously-operating public art museum).

JFK spoke from the portico of UConn’s building across the street.

0.5 miles Next up is the Old State House. Lots of things have happened here over the years.

[Oops…I left the Isham-Terry House out of the route. You could take a left onto Walnut St (at 0.9 miles) then a right onto High St. to go past it. You will return to the route at the intersection with Main St (straight-ish) and Rt. 44, when the route has just gone past the Keney Clock Tower.]

1.2 miles Keney Clock Tower. A tower dedicated to Mr. Keney’s mom.

1.6 miles Old North Cemetery. Frederick Law Olmsted is among those buried here.

The SAND School is across the street from the cemetery. You may notice the
Ropkins Branch of Hartford Public Library is located in the school. During riots
over Labor Day weekend in 1969, the library (then located in another building
right near by) was fire bombed. The Hartford History Center holds one photo
of the library after it burned. Among those in the photo is a priest. When
researching the fire recently, I found out the priest was the branch manager
that year! No one currently working for library had been aware of this.

2.9 miles Circus Fire Memorial behind Wish School. A lifelong Nutmegger, I visited the memorial for the first time last year. The weather is taking its toll on some of
the pieces, but it’s still an incredible experience. So many people attended, or
were supposed to attend, or have a story about the fire. It’s hard to put into
words the impact this event had on the city. Continues to have, really. The trees
indicating the location of the tent helped me put into perspective how the
chaos ensued. The structure was small, and the number of people was not.

6.1 miles Chick Austin House. Only 18 feet deep inside! It’s amazing.

7.7 miles Elizabeth Park contains the country’s oldest municipal rose garden. Most of the park is actually located in West Hartford. Connecticut has 169 separate cities and
towns, and no county government.

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Ana Grace playground, December 14, 2017.

8.5 miles Ana Grace “Love Wins” playground, also in Elizabeth Park. Very relevant to
the repair work theme of the conference.

9.6 miles Mark Twain House and Harriet Beecher Stowe Center. Both are worth visits.

10.5 miles Memorial to Alice Cogswell.

10.8 miles Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch. It’s architect is buried inside! Also, it was dedicated on my birthday, so very cool in many ways.

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About to win the Hartford Marathon! Ok, maybe it was the next day. Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch, October 2017.

11.4 miles Butler-McCook House. The house will be open for tours on Saturday. It was home to four generations of one family, and is the only 18th century house remaining on Main St.

11.6 miles Charter Oak Cultural Center is Connecticut’s oldest synagogue building.

11.9 miles Church of the Good Shepherd was commissioned by Elizabeth Colt in memory of her husband and four of their children.

12.7 miles Colt Armory. Formerly the site of gun manufacture; now being turned into a national park.

I know I left places out, none of them intentionally. There is pretty much another entire route I could (and still may) put together focusing on the southern portion of the city. And even though Kevin the Turkey is no longer there to greet you, it is worth going a couple extra miles to visit Old Wethersfield. If it were a few weeks later, I would encourage you to ride to Rocky Hill and take the nation’s oldest continuously operating ferry over to Glastonbury. There you would ride past farms, and visit Nayaug, before continuing up to Main St and past the Old Cider Mill; the nation’s oldest continuously operating cider mill.

One time, while attending a conference in Chicago, I borrowed a bike from a fellow attendee and got in a few miles along the lakeshore. It was a great way to start the day. I also brought my bike to a conference in Burlington, VT a little over a year ago, which was equally fabulous. Depending on your needs, I might be able to help you out. You could also check with BiCi Co.

And if you’re looking for something to read, before, after, or during the conference, check out the news from the Hartford Courant, the nation’s oldest, continuously published newspaper. See a theme here?

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Monumental: Part II

Last week, in Part I, I wrote about finishing a project I began over six years ago. This week you get the rest of the photographs, and an attempt at a wrap-up.

Jacob and Hannah were my great-grandparents, my grandmother’s parents.

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Their kids were Bessie (not pictured, I went down a rabbit hole and discovered she is buried in Queens), Henrietta (not pictured, buried in Providence), Dorothy (not pictured, died in San Diego), Matilda, Evelyn (not pictured, died elsewhere), Jesse (not pictured, died elsewhere), and my grandmother, Mabel:

 

Morris and Polena were my grandfather’s parents.

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Their kids were Marion, Minnie, Nathan, Bessie, Julia, Ida, my grandfather, Philip, and David.

Notice that Bessie and Ida are both Zwillingers. Bessie became a widow in the 20s, and Jacob became a widower in 1931. Subsequently, they got married. But what really cuts down on the relatives at Thanksgiving is that my grandmother and her niece Ruth (the daughter of Mabel’s sister Henrietta) married brothers Philip and David. Hard to tell in this pic, but here are David and Ruth together:

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This project was a combination of doing the research, wondering what else I could find, and exploring the area around me. There are so many news articles, census forms, city directory listings, and Sanford maps I haven’t included here. I was also looking for destination bike rides, and affordable entertainment. Cemeteries are quiet, outdoor museums. They have art, history, low-traffic pathways, and I have yet to see a gift shop.

When I started the project, I remarked on how close by the cemeteries were, and I had never stopped before. As the crow flies, none of these cemeteries is more than 10 miles from me. I’ve driven farther than that for good ice cream. One of the cemeteries was even…wait for it…over the mountain!

For those unfamiliar, we here in Connecticut have an obsession with boundaries. The mountain separating West Hartford and Bloomfield on the east, and Avon on the west, is mostly a mountain in our collective psyche. A former co-worker laughs at the Connecticut River. She grew up near the Mississippi, and considers the Connecticut to be an overgrown stream. But heaven forbid if I’d had to cross it to reach one of the cemeteries (having grown up East of the River, it doesn’t stop me much). I joke that anything that’s a 45 minute drive from Hartford is a day trip; clear your schedule. Longer than that? Pack an overnight bag. Heaven knows what you’ll find when you cross the New York, Massachusetts, or Rhode Island border.

All of this is to say, I still believe the cemeteries are close by. And being able to bike to all of them reinforces how close by, and how much you miss when you’re car-dependent. Walkers may even glimpse more.

There was no prize for finishing this, just the satisfaction of knowing I did it. And in case you’re wondering, I have crossed a state line to visit another set of (grandparents and) great-grandparents. I made it back the same day, too!

 

 

 

Monumental: Part I

Once upon a time, in a galaxy quite nearby, I started a project. It was Fall 2012, and I really anticipated I would wrap it up in fewer than 6 1/4 years. Alas.

If you haven’t read the old post, it contains photos of the graves of my maternal great-grandparents, and a few great-aunts and uncles. At some point, I made a list of the aforementioned, as well as the rest of my maternal ‘greats,’ and decided to bike to all the sites.

Since the initial visits to Zion Hill and F.D. Oates Ave. in Hartford, I have pedaled to The Emmanuel Synagogue’s cemetery in Wethersfield, Beth El’s cemetery in Avon, Veterans Cemetery in Windsor, and finally, today, to Rose Hill in Rocky Hill. A couple of years ago I also threw in a visit to Beth Jacob Cemetery (extra bonus points if you know where that one is before I talk about it below).

Rose Hill proved the most difficult. When I first researched it, I couldn’t find any indication online as to where the specific graves would be. This didn’t really phase me, and one day last year I rode over to see if I could locate them. What I had not taken into consideration, on that fine March day, was there was more snow on the ground at that spot in Rocky Hill than in my yard in West Hartford. Further complicating the matter, all the graves in that cemetery are flat. Pancake flat, and under said snow. I’m willing to visit cemeteries, but I choose to keep my digging metaphorical.

I felt confident today that the ground would be clear. And in my research this morning, I found a new (or new-to-me) Rose Hill website providing the section and plot numbers! It was like finding a clearly marked treasure map. It was a nice, sunny, warm day, and since Sundays are for relaxing, I decided to go on an almost 22 mile ride.

(Turns out 32° was not warm enough, at all, for a ride of this length, and it was hard work defrosting my toes when I got home. A little more than three hours after returning, I’m starting to feel warm again.)

Mission accomplished! There they were, my mom’s aunts/my grandfather’s sisters, Marion, Minnie, and Julia.

 

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Group shot

The family lived for many years on Wayland Street, in the south end of Hartford (landmark: Modern Pastry is on the corner…so hard not to stop for a baked good). I rode by as I made my way home. I believe it had a front porch in its early years [update: it didn’t], but otherwise, still there.

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“The house on Wayland Street”

 

I was also able to ride by the Dwight School, where Minnie was a teacher.

My plan back in 2012 was to put all the photos together, family tree style. Look for that post in the next week to 6 1/4 years 😂. The most amazing part is that I have managed to locate all of the photos I’ve taken. The cobbler’s child goes without shoes, and the archivist’s personal digital files go without metadata…

Regarding Beth Jacob Cemetery…somehow I found out that my great-grandmother/my grandmother’s mother had a brother, who had a few children. These folks are buried in Beth Jacob. If you did a Google Maps search, it most likely came up fruitless. In West Hartford, if you stand in the parking lot of the Shield Street Post Office, and look across the road, there’s a small parcel of land where you will find the forever-stamps of my cousins (I think they’re cousins…) Bernard, Henry, and William Glaubman; their father, Isadore; and his second wife, Rose (his first wife, well, read all about it 😳).

 

Perhaps some day I will go back and take photos with the sunlight at a better angle. In the meantime, I’m very excited to have finally visited all the locations on my list, and to have all the photographs. After more than six years, three smartphones, and two hybrid bikes, I have one more post to go before I put this project to rest.

Talking About the Library

There are some very common refrains when I meet people and, in the course of conversation, tell them I work in a library. Generally, they express their love for my workplace and its most well known contents; occasionally they express concern for its future. After my most recent experience with this scenario, I silently wondered how many people, upon meeting a plumber at a social gathering, gush (pun intended) about that line of work.

“You’re a plumber? Oh I just love my kitchen sink! It’s so easy to get a drink of water.”

“You drink a lot of water?”

“Oh, yes. I always have a bottle of Poland Spring in my hand!”

The library is as integral to your community as the plumbing is to your house. Yet so many people are unaware of all a public library has to offer, and how easy it is to support.

Like a book written in a foreign language, there could be countless translations of the above conversation from plumbing to librarianship.

“You’re a librarian? Oh I just love the library! There are so many great books.”

“You read a lot?”

“Oh, yes. I order from Amazon all the time!”

I don’t know enough about plumbing to carry this analogy much farther, but I do know that plumbing isn’t simply about one type of pipe, in one location. Similarly, public libraries are far more than just books on shelves.

On an average day at the library where I work, an adult can study for their GED. A recent immigrant can enroll in English lessons, and find help applying for citizenship. Life long learners can watch a film together, and have a discussion about its relation to current events. While parents ask questions about navigating the public school choices, their children may participate in multicultural events. A social worker has a place to bring children for supervised visits with their parents. Anyone can print, scan, or fax a document. Computers and the internet are available for (almost) anything you may need to use them for. Your card will also provide you with access to an array of databases and downloadable material, much of which may be accessed from anywhere you have an internet connection.

You can support this sort of activity at your library just by maintaining your library card. Libraries with active users (as determined by the number of card holders) will get more funding from existing pools of money. These days we all seem to be in the shallow end, but if your library can prove usage, the finances have a better chance of flowing their way. So to make a splash for your library, walk in every couple of years and renew your card. That’s it; it won’t take a single extra penny out of your wallet.

If you want to take it to the next step, come in and borrow material more frequently. Circulation numbers reflect how well we are choosing material, and in turn, promoting literacy in the community. Little Free Libraries have sprung up because so many people have books they read once, and no longer want in their homes. The “big free library” buys the books (CDs, DVDs, garden tools, etc.) so you don’t have to. We acquire and shelve them, and you may take them out as frequently as you like (ok, there are some restrictions). Our checkout and renewal numbers, and your available shelving space, both rise; and everyone is still reading. It’s a winning formula (and if that money you are not spending at Amazon is burning a hole in your pocket, I can make some recommendations as to where to direct your funds).

I admit that until I entered this field, I was unaware how much is available. These days, when I relate the offerings to someone, their next comment is, “libraries have changed so much.” Yes, gone are the days of the shushing librarian, physical card catalogs, and paper copies of the Readers’ Guide to Periodical Literature. At their core, though, public libraries have not changed. They are still providing resources and services to improve people’s lives. In Hartford we are still doing the same work Caroline Hewins did in the late 19th and early 20th centuries (these diaries are my favorite examples of this work).

While I do expect libraries (and plumbing) to continue meeting the needs of the public and evolving, I am under no delusion this post will change the course of cocktail party banter or coffee talk. I also realize that libraries, being run by human beings, are not perfect. Hopefully, though, you will at least be moved to make sure your library card is up to date.

Oh, and at my library, you can get a cookie.

Goal accomplished!

I did what I set out to do. And the resulting cheer is that of one hand clapping.
Here are all thirteen books:

In the Shadow of the Moon

Mad Richard

Vulgar Tongues

Composting Basics

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane

Gardens of the High Line

By Any Name

Homegoing

The Witchfinder’s Sister

An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States

Vanishing New York

Before We Were Yours

Wild Things

From now on I will stick to blogging about bike rides, archives, historic structures, and other topics that lend themselves to blogging with pretty pictures.

Halfway Through

I am now a little over halfway through (or exactly halfway through, if you count the intro post) my summer project, thirteen book reviews. It isn’t all I wanted it to be, but it is keeping my nose (and ears, I’m currently working on an audio book) in a book.

On the off chance they are more impressive when posted all in one place, here are the seven reviews I have done so far:

In the Shadow of the Moon : The Science, Magic, and Mystery of Solar Eclipses
Vulgar Tongues : An Alternative History of English Slang

 

I have three more in progress, and the final three are yet to be selected. Stay tuned!

Summer fun

Lately I have felt like writing, but haven’t had a topic I felt like sharing with the entire internet. So I came up with a project for the summer, thirteen book reviews. It’s going to be on a separate page because, well, I feel like doing it that way.

Over the past few months I have taken on new responsibilities at work, including purchasing all the non-fiction for Downtown. I am also paying far more attention to the new fiction entering the building (in part because the new books cart rests against my cubicle wall). Together, these factors have me reading more than I have for some time.

So, follow along if you like! I am also open to suggestions (it’s fine to leave comments here or on the other site). Whether your goal is to read, to bike, or to do anything else, I hope you enjoy the warmth and daylight this season!