Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, Connecticut (1)

The Wadsworth Atheneum on Main Street in Hartford, around 1907. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.


The building in 2016:

The Wadsworth Atheneum is an art museum that has been located in Hartford since this building opened in 1844. At a time when most art collections were found within the homes of the wealthy, the Wadsworth was one of the first public art museums in the country. Its Gothic Revival building was designed by architect Ithiel Town, a Connecticut native who designed a number of prominent buildings, including the state capitols of Connecticut, Indiana, and North Carolina.

The museum was funded by the prominent Wadsworth family and built on the site of Daniel Wadsworth’s home on Main Street, diagonally opposite from the First Church. Over the years, additional benefactors such as Elizabeth Jarvis Colt and J.P. Morgan have expanded the museum’s collections, and along with it the building itself has grown, with additions to the back and on the right side. It remains in operation today as the nation’s oldest public art museum, and the building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Elks Lodge, Hartford, Connecticut

The B.P.O. Elks Lodge on Prospect Street in Hartford, around 1907. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.


The building in 2016:

Hartford’s Elks Lodge was built here in 1903, and over the years very little has changed on either the exterior or interior. The Neoclassical building is made of yellow brick, a popular building material at the turn of the century, and on the inside it is finished with oak and mahogany. It has two stories, with assembly rooms on the first floor and the octagonal lodge room on the second floor, on the other side of the arched windows seen here. The neighboring buildings have grown up around it during the past century, but the historic building remains, and it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Travelers Insurance Company, Hartford, Connecticut

The headquarters of the Travelers Insurance Company at the corner of Prospect and Grove Streets, around 1907. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.


The scene in 2016:

Standing here for over a century, the building in the first photo saw a variety of owners and uses over the years. The original section was built in the early 1820s as a mansion, with owners such as Oliver Wolcott, Jr., the US Secretary of the Treasury from 1795 to 1800 and Governor of Connecticut from 1817 to 1827; Isaac Toucey, another governor who also served as a senator, US Attorney General, and US Secretary of the Navy; and Henry Leavitt Ellsworth, who served as Commissioner of the Patent Office.

In 1872, the building became the offices of the Travelers Insurance Company, one of many insurance companies that was founded in Hartford during the 19th century. They significantly enlarged the original building, but the company eventually outgrew it, and in 1906 they moved into a new building a block away, at the corner of Main and Grove Streets. A year later, they sold their old building to the Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection & Insurance Company. The new owners remained here until 1932, when they demolished it to make room for the present-day building that now stands here.

Old State House, Hartford, Connecticut

The Old State House in Hartford, seen from the Main Street side around 1907, during its time as Hartford City Hall. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.


The building in 2016:

The Old State House in Hartford is one of the oldest existing buildings in the city. It was completed in 1796, and its design is generally credited to prominent architect Charles Bulfinch as one of his early commissions. Just a few years later, he would design the present Massachusetts State House, and he would later play a role in designing the US Capitol.

At the time, Connecticut actually had two capital cities, with the legislature meeting alternately between Hartford and New Haven. It may seem somewhat unusual for one of the smallest, most densely-populated states in the country to have two capital cities, each complete with its own capitol building, but the arrangement was not unheard of. Similarly-sized New Jersey had two capitals in colonial times, and, not to be outdone despite its small size, Rhode Island had five capitals in the early 19th century, with the legislature rotating through each of the state’s five county seats.

Here in Connecticut, ease of transportation thanks to railroads meant that it was unnecessary to have redundant capitals just 35 miles apart, but the location of the capital city still carried significant symbolic value. In the end, Hartford won out over New Haven. In 1875, it was designated as the sole capital city, and three years later a new, much larger capitol building was completed at Bushnell Park.

When its days as a capitol ended, the old building became Hartford City Hall. It served in this role until 1915, when the current Municipal Building was completed. Since then, it has been threatened with demolition several times over the years, but it remains standing as a relic of Connecticut’s history, and it is listed as a National Historic Landmark on the National Register of Historic Places.

Morgan Street from Main Street, Hartford, Connecticut

Looking east on Morgan Street from Main Street, on April 22, 1906. Image courtesy of the Connecticut State Library.

Morgan St. east of Main

Morgan Street in 2016:

These photos show the same scene as the ones in this earlier post, just from the opposite direction, facing down the hill toward Market Street. When the first photo was taken, this section of Main Street was somewhat on the northern edge of the downtown area, as shown by the signs here in the storefronts. Instead of the prominent department stores, banks, and insurance companies a few block south of here, this area had businesses like a wallpaper store and a grocery store.

Over a century later, this spot has become an even more stark dividing line between the downtown central business district and the northern part of the city, with Interstate 84 now passing through the left side of the scene, and the interchange with Interstate 91 in the distance. On the right side of the photo is a parking garage, which was once part of the G. Fox department store complex here. Like most of the other photos that William H. Thompson took in the early 20th century, there are no buildings left from the first photo, although the Bulkeley Bridge, which was under construction in the distance at the time, is still standing at the eastern end of Morgan Street.

Talcott Street from Main Street, Hartford, Connecticut

Looking east on Talcott Street from Main Street, on April 22, 1906. Image courtesy of the Connecticut State Library.

Talcott St. east of Main

Talcott Street in 2016:

This first photo was taken just a block away from and on the same day as the one in the previous post, and it shows Talcott Street facing down the hill toward Market Street, where a photo in another earlier post was taken. As mentioned in that post, the buildings that dominate the present-day scene were originally the home of the Hartford-based G. Fox department store. The company was located here when the first photo was taken, in a much smaller building just out of view to the right. The one-story building on the right side of the first photo was a Woolworth store, and on the left side was the North Baptist Church.

Just over 10 years after the first photo was taken, the G. Fox building burned down, along with the neighboring Woolworth building. Based on the photos here, it appears that the section of the building along the Talcott Street side was preserved and incorporated into a new Woolworth building, but G. Fox completely rebuilt, opening the present-day building in 1918. The facility was later expanded to include a warehouse on the left side of Talcott Street and a bridge connecting the two buildings. At some point, the North Baptist Church building was also demolished, and is now a parking lot.

As for G. Fox, the company was a major Hartford retailer for nearly 150 years, before closing in 1993. Their former building here has since been converted into the Capital Community College, and it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, as one of several historic department store buildings still standing in downtown Hartford.