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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Buses, beauty, and bikes

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How do you get a Nutmegger to try something they’ve pretty much been against throughout its construction? Use the word “free.” That is how CTFastrak got me, and plenty of others, aboard their buses this weekend. I wasn’t excited enough about it go walk around in the snow on Saturday, but the bright sunshine lured me out today.

While Google Maps seems to think the Parrkville [sic] Station (or as I shall now refer to it, the Talk Like a Pirate Station) is closest to me, I chose to walk to the Kane Street Station. It isn’t a pretty walk, at least not one I would choose to do with any regularity. The most attractive portion is the convent, though the nuns don’t seem to forgive those who trespass.

The station is still clean and new, with plenty of amenities.

Once on board, it was, well, like riding a bus. I appreciate that the names of the stops are announced. When it snows, I take the bus downtown instead of biking, and I wish that feature were on the regular city buses. I had already read that the Fastrak wifi wasn’t working, but decided to try it anyway.

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Nope, not working.

I didn’t time the ride, but there were no issues, and I was soon in downtown New Britain. This was my first time walking in the city, though not my first time in town. Like many cities, New Britain has attractive architecture,

a public library, and buildings that have changed use (I walked past a synagogue now housing a church). Yesterday my friends were Instagraming photos from Polish restaurants. My destination, though, was the New Britain Museum of American Art. Last summer, when I rode in the Mandell JCC’s Poker Bike Ride, I received a free Guest Pass to the museum (notice a theme here?).

The NBMAA is pretty much the only reason I ever go to New Britain, and I don’t even go that often. Because I work two doors down from the Wadsworth Atheneum, I’m far more likely to go there for a cultural fix.  It’s great having access to both, though. As soon as I saw Custer’s Gun by Otis Kaye, I thought it looked a lot like The Faithful Colt, which I often see at the Wadsworth. Yup, there’s a reason for that!

My favorite piece of the day was this one, which I neglected to find the label for.

The best surprise, though, was the view of bicycle racing!

View of the race from the museum
View of the race from the museum

The 2015 Ronde de Walnut Hill was taking place, and a friend of mine was even riding. Hardly the Tour de France, but much less jet lag. After saying hello to my friend, I made my way back to the station.

The bus was overcrowded, and more than once the driver had trouble getting the rear door to close. But I made it back. I don’t foresee becoming a busway regular. For trips to downtown Hartford, it’s out of the way. And as I said, New Britain isn’t a big draw for me. When it warms up a bit, I would like to try the multiuse path that runs from Newington to New Britain. That’s more my speed.