Welcome to your bi-weekly newsletter from Connecticut Explored with the latest stories, the newest Grating the Nutmeg podcast, programs and exhibitions from our partners to see/watch this month, and more!
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Spring 2022 / Preserving Historic Craftsmanship
We’re wrapping up the Spring issue (the summer print issue goes in the mail today!), celebrating craftsmanship in historic preservation with support from the State Historic Preservation Office with funds from the Community Investment Act of the State of Connecticut.
In our last Inbox for the Spring 2022 issue, we celebrate the rise of the skyscraper—one example of which still helps define the Hartford skyline, and the other sadly currently just an empty lot.
In her story in the Spring 2022 issue, CTExplored Assistant Publisher Mary Donohue, a 30+-year architectural historian, explains how advances in technology enabled architects to reach for the sky. As Donohue writes, in the late 1800s, “in urban centers, costly land prices encouraged architects to build up.” They were constrained, though, until the advent of AC electricity enabled elevators to rise ten stories or more, fire suppression systems were invented, and steel I-beams replaced cast iron.
“At the beginning of the 20th century,” Donohue writes, “Hartford was awash with downtown banks and insurance companies. The Hartford National Bank, a 115-year-old local banking institution, bought the building at the northwest corner of Asylum and Main streets in 1907, and in 1911 announced that it would build the city’s first skyscraper on this very prominent corner. Fresh from his design triumph at the Connecticut State Library, architect Donn Barber won the commission.”
Barber went on to design the Travelers Tower, too—completed in three sections between 1906 and 1919. “When it opened in 1919 Travelers Tower was the tallest building in New England, the seventh tallest in the world, and the first commercial building outside New York City to rise higher than 500 feet, according to Emporis, a company that collects data on buildings of high public and economic value (see emporis.com/buildings/122589/travelers-tower-hartford-ct-usa). It remained the tallest in New England until 1964 and the tallest in Connecticut until 1984.”
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The Latest from Grating the Nutmeg
Most people in the tri-state area have driven the Merritt Parkway with its extraordinary bridges and landscaped vistas. But can a roadway built during the Great Depression survive in the 21st century without losing its charm? In celebration of Historic Preservation Month, we talk with two experts about how the Merritt Parkway, the state’s most heavily visited National Register historic district, was saved from modernization and restored to its original design. In this episode Assistant Publisher Mary Donohue talks with Christopher Wigren and Wes Haynes. Wigren is deputy director of Preservation Connecticut and author of Connecticut Architecture: Stories of 100 Places. He co-wrote the National Register of Historic Places nomination for the parkway and serves on the DOT's Merritt Parkway Advisory Committee. Wes Haynes is the Executive Director of the Merritt Parkway Conservancy, a non-profit organization committed to the preservation, revitalization, and stewardship of the Parkway.
Programs and Exhibitions to Enjoy This Month
Small Watercraft Exhibition
One of the greatest—and usually hidden—assets of Mystic Seaport Museum is its small watercraft collection, which numbers some 500 vessels from kayaks and modest rowboats to luxury motor launches. A new exhibition, Story Boats, opening May 22 in the Collins Gallery, provides visitors access to boats that have not been displayed for some time—if ever. On view will be Vireo, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s small yacht that he sailed the last day he walked unaided before contracting polio, and the lifeboat that survived the 1961 sinking of the sail training ship Albatross in a freak storm in the Caribbean, the subject of the 1996 movie White Squall starring Jeff Bridges.
Mystic Seaport Museum, Mysticseaport.org
Historic Wallpaper to be Restored
Connecticut Landmarks (CTL) is undertaking a three-phase wallpaper restoration project at its Bellamy-Ferriday House & Garden in Bethlehem. Damage caused by normal light exposure, water (dating to the early 1960s), wear, and settling of the house led to the decision to remove and replace the wallpaper in three main areas of the house with reproduction papers. This project demonstrates CTL’s commitment to honoring Caroline Ferriday’s legacy and preserving her design choices. To read more about the project visit ctlandmarks.org/in-the-news/preservation-updates.
Bellamy-Ferriday House & Garden, Ctlandmarks.org
Nook Farm Walking Tour
The Harriet Beecher Stowe Center recently received funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities to develop Seeing is Revealing: Nook Farm Then and Now, a walking tour of Stowe’s historic neighborhood. The tour will explore Nook Farm’s relationship to the history of residential development, urbanization, preservation, and the effects of each on racial and social injustices now. The tour will be offered as an in-person, guided experience beginning in June, and as a self-guided audio tour beginning in July. Sign up for the center’s e-blast and follow the HBSC on social media for continual updates on this exciting new tour opportunity.
Harriet Beecher Stowe Center, HarrietBeecherStoweCenter.org
Tours and Talks at Twain
The Mark Twain House & Museum is open for guided tours year round. The museum offers a general tour filled with family anecdotes and history; living history tours featuring costumed actors portraying members of the household, and a kids’ tour about the everyday life of daughters Susy, Clara, and Jean Clemens. Every week the museum hosts best-selling authors, many in partnership with Harper’s Magazine. Authors talk about their latest books in conversation with an intriguing host. For information visit MarkTwainHouse.org.
The Mark Twain House & Museum, MarkTwainHouse.org
A Records Preservation Case Study
Judicial proceedings reflect a society’s laws, ethics, morals, and customs, and that makes court records an invaluable resource for historians, genealogists, authors, and others. Part of the Connecticut State Library’s mission is to preserve the state’s historical records. State Archives staff is working to safeguard New Haven County Court records from 1666 to 1855 through a combination of traditional archival methods and digitization. The State Library thanks the National Historical Publications and Records Commission for its generous support of the “Uncovering Hidden Resources in New Haven Court Records” project.
Connecticut State Library, Ctstate.library.org
Stories we love from back issues to read now.
“Women in the Workplace: From Steno Pool to Factory Floor,” Winter 2013/2014
“Mystic Seaport’s Charles W. Morgan Sails Again,” Summer 2013
“Workers: Play Ball!” Winter 2013-2014
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