Recovery is going to take a long time, and my co-workers and I have been spending our days securing our collections. After Friday we will not be allowed in the building till further notice.
Today I was finishing boxing up our vertical files. These files contain a variety of information, much of it published material that serves as background information. Other items, such as the one I found today, really should join the archival manuscripts.
If you are unsure of this significance of this piece, please re-read the end of Monumental: Part 1.
Had it not been for the flood, I may never have found this bit of family history (but I still would have preferred if it hadn’t happened).
Every week I select a photo or two to share on our Instagram at work for “Throwback Thursday.” Sometimes this is easy, particularly on major holidays. Other times, such as the middle of August, require a bit more effort. I find myself browsing through folder after folder, looking for something that may resonate with our followers. There isn’t a magic formula. Occasionally I’ll post a photo I doubt will garner much interest, and it ends up being very popular. The opposite happens, too. For me, the best part is when I try to learn more about the photo and come across new-to-me bits of information about Hartford. Even if the story isn’t exactly what I wish it were, the journey can be amazing.
While searching recently, I came across a series of 20 photos in the City’s Department of Engineering collection. They were all marked as being buildings to be torn down for the extension of Hudson Street. What struck me was how much life was still present in an area about to be demolished: The bookcase next to the front door has a sign reading, “Books for sale, 5 cents”…
Women were conversing on a porch…
A child stood on the stairs watching the photographer…
And there was plenty of laundry.
Hudson and Elm have ended up being a microcosm of urban renewal in Hartford. Housing was destroyed in favor of automobile pathways. The Park River was forced underground. And after years of neglect (parking lot creation), developers are now trying to reinvigorate the neighborhood.
Using both the Historic Hartford Courant and the Street Commissioners records within the Hartford Town and City Clerk archives, I was able to ascertain that in his 1916 inaugural address, Mayor Frank Hagarty proposed an extension of Hudson Street from Buckingham Street to Elm Street. A bridge would be built over the Park River to connect the new road to Wells and Trumbull Streets to the north. Combined with South Hudson Street and the existing Hudson Street to the south, this would provide a route parallel to Main Street from one end of downtown to the other. The hope was it would reduce backups on Main Street.
The new route would require demolition. On August 14th, 1916, the Commission on the City Plan wrote to the Court of Common Council, recommending the extension. They provided this map, with the path (faintly) outlined in red:
In January 1917 the Hartford Courant wrote that the extension “is to start at Buckingham street and traverse back yards and marooned spaces until it gains egress just north of the old armory, there to plunge across the river opposite the bend in Wells street.” By June 1917 the plan had been approved, including the award of the following damages to those owning back yards and marooned spaces:
While many of these property owners lost their house/land, Bessie M. Beers and her mother, Martha P. Skinner, went for a different angle: a 90º angle. The 12-family house they owned originally ran east and west. To make room for the new street, the building was jacked up and turned to run north and south. The brick, three story structure was thought to be the largest house moving ever in the city.
There certainly were some innovative approaches. This row of houses was split in half, with one portion being moved to the other side of the new road. The eastern portion still stands, the western portion is now a marooned space we call a parking lot.
Less than two years later, the bridge was operational. In early January 1919 there were 1000 cars crossing it daily. The Courant believed “Mayor Frank A. Hagarty was justified in his recommendation.”
At this point in the story we begin to learn some of the City’s insurance history. In 1924, Connecticut General Life Insurance began preparations for their new headquarters on the block bordered by Elm Street, West Street, Capitol Avenue, and Hudson Street. During a rain storm in February 1925, the foundation of the 12-family Skinner-Beers house threatened to collapse. An estimated 125 people were living in the structure at the time. All were able to find a place to stay, and Connecticut General pledged to cover expenses. Workers were able to remove the tenants’ belongings, and soon the structure was razed.
Excess rain is a recurring theme in the Hudson-Elm area. An article in the Courant in April 1936 stated that $90,000,000 worth of stocks and bonds had to be dried out after the Connecticut General building was flooded the previous month.
The bridge itself had a short lifespan. In October 1942, three months shy of its 24th anniversary, removal began in order to make way for the Park River conduit. The flooding was used as an excuse to snuff out something natural in favor of concrete.
In 1957 Connecticut General Life Insurance (known today, following a merger, as CIGNA) moved to a new headquarters in Bloomfield. The next April, Aetna Insurance moved into the Elm Street building. Aetna – not to be confused with Aetna Life Insurance – was a property and casualty subsidiary of Connecticut General. Known as “Little Aetna,” they remained on the site until 1982. CIGNA sold the building a few years later. Most recently it was leased by the State of Connecticut for the Comptroller, Treasurer and Attorney General offices.
Today 55 Elm Street is under construction, being transformed into residential apartments (and a few other uses). Neither housing nor business ever fully left the Hudson-Elm area. But between the new road, the encapsulated river, and the continued creation of parking lots, it has become more of a shrine to the automobile than a place where books are sold, people converse on porches, and wet clothes are hung to dry. Maybe that will change.
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!
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.]
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 milesCircus 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.
7.7 milesElizabeth 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.
8.5 milesAna Grace “Love Wins” playground, also in Elizabeth Park. Very relevant to
the repair work theme of the conference.
12.7 milesColt 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?
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.
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.
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:
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!
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.
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.
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.
It’s that time of year again. Tonight is opening night for the Mandell JCC’s Hartford Jewish Film Fest! As usual, I’d love to see some familiar faces in the crowd. You don’t need to be Jewish to attend! There’s a little something for everyone, and they are all worth viewing. Learn more about each of these films (and others – I left a few out), along with location information, on the film fest site (for the budget-conscious, I have not included opening and closing night in this list, but they’re worth seeing, too).
If you like…
…soccer and/or gay politics: Kicking Out Shoshana (Sat. 4/2 at 9PM and Wed. 4/6 at 7PM)
…mother-daughter relationships (good or bad): Look at Us Now, Mother! (Sun. 4/3 at 1PM)
…stories about pot brownies (no samples available): Dough (Sun. 4/3 at 7:30PM and Sun. 4/10 at 4:30PM)
…food: In Search of Israeli Cuisine (Mon. 4/4 at 7PM)
…#millennialproblems, improv, the Mark Twain House, or any post-film conversation moderated by Hartford’s own Julia Pistell: Are You Joking? (Mon. 4/4 at 7PM)
…art, artists, how art/lives are changed by illness, or learning about ALS: Imber’s Left Hand (Tue. 4/5 at 7PM)
…political incorrectness: Serial (Bad) Weddings (Wed. 4/6 at 7PM and Sun. 4/10 at 2:15PM)
…motivating and challenging inner city students and/or teaching about the Holocaust: Once in Lifetime (Thu. 4/7 at 8:15PM)
…perseverance through music: Rock in the Red Zone (Sat. 4/9 at 9PM)
…use of archival footage and/or stories of peacemakers: Rabin in His Own Words (Sun. 4/10 at 11AM)
While I mentioned above that I was not including it, I have to say that I am incredibly excited to see the preview of Trinity College History Professor Sam Kassow‘s Who Will Write Our History following The Last Mentsch on closing night. I recently read the book and was amazed by the work of Emanuel Ringelblum and the Oyneg Shabes Archive.
Back in June I started a series on my professional blog about archival materials available for research in Hartford. I have reached the halfway point (yay!) and decided I would share the posts over here.
Introduction – An explanation of why I am doing this, and some of the thoughts I had as to how I would be going about it.
I prefer to spend at least a portion of my lunch hour outside of the library. There are two general rules I follow: 1) Unplug 2) Vary the route. This week I chose to break both of those.
I walked the same path along the river three days in a row. On Wednesday I had unplugged, but you can get an idea of what it was like by watching my friend Brendan’s short video. I believe he recorded that on Tuesday, so there were more sheets of ice floating by, and more frequently, when I was there. The ice sheets were jockeying for position as they made the trek. Some were trying to sink others, some were content to glide along without making a fuss. If you haven’t watched (and listened!) to something like that, I recommend it. It’s fairly mesmerizing.
Overnight it got pretty cold. All of the really cold days are blending together, but I think Thursday was the day we woke up to temperatures in the single digits. The river had slowed down, too.
It warmed up on Friday, but not before we got a few inches of powdery snow.
It surprises me how much of a difference a day can make to a river.
When my alma mater, Colgate University, announced that former Israeli President Shimon Peres would be speaking on campus, I decided I wanted to be there. My rationale was really nothing more than, “Hey, I visited that guy’s country last year. I wonder what he has to say.”
The biggest challenge was that he was speaking during Family Weekend. This meant there was no room at the inn – any inn – within about 60 miles. But I have a very good network of archivists, and soon found a place to stay.
As I approached the highway entrance ramp in Hartford, I looked down to see that my odometer read 10,013 miles. My car knew it was going to Colgate.
One of the first things I did when I arrived in Hamilton was to walk up to Chapel House. I was intent on finding the sculpture by Elbert Weinberg that I knew was there but, to the best of my knowledge, had never seen before. Weinberg was, among other things, a Hartford native, and a Jew. Here in Hartford his work can be seen in front of the State Armory building on the corner of Capitol and Broad (center of photo), at the Mandell Jewish Community Center on Bloomfield Ave in West Hartford, and at Hartford Public Library. Earlier this year I was processing his papers, which are held by the Library. I had previously seen old photographs of the sculpture at Colgate, but it was great to have the opportunity to see it in person.
Shimon Peres is still jet setting across continents at age 91. In conversation with Colgate alum and ABC News’ Bob Woodward, Peres delivered a message of peace. He promoted science and technology, and was encouraging to students (I certainly hope) and non-students (I can vouch for that).
Whether or not anyone else is impressed, it was fascinating to me to be able to combine my love of Colgate, archives work, and involvement with the Jewish community in one weekend trip.