Columbus Boulevard, Hartford, Connecticut (2)

Looking north on Front Street (now Columbus Boulevard) from the corner of Temple Street, on April 1, 1906. Image courtesy of the Connecticut State Library.

Front St. north of Temple

Columbus Boulevard in 2016:

Taken just a little further north from an earlier post, there is a lot going on in the first photo. The photo was taken on a Sunday, and the shadows indicate that it was sometime in the morning, so the street is busy, perhaps with people heading to or from church. This neighborhood had a large immigrant population, especially Italians, and many of the boys posing for the photographer in the distance were probably first generation Americans. The buildings in this scene are a mix of architectural styles, with most probably dating back to the mid-19th century, and there are a number of shops in the first floor storefronts, including a grocery store on the far left at the corner of Temple Street, and what appears to be a bar on the far right.

It was once Hartford’s “Little Italy,” but the largely poor neighborhood was hit hard by floods in 1936 and 1938, and over the next couple of decades it continued to decay. Because of its close proximity to downtown, it was eyed for redevelopment, so from 1958 to 1962 the entire neighborhood was demolished to build Constitution Plaza. The project added high-rise buildings to the area, but over the years it has also received widespread criticism for displacing its residents and isolating the plaza from the rest of the city, creating nearly empty streetscapes like the 2016 photo here.

Charles Street, Hartford, Connecticut

Looking north on Charles Street from Kilbourn Street, on March 4, 1906. Image courtesy of the Connecticut State Library.

Charles St. north of Kilbourn

Charles Street in 2016:

The first photo here shows Charles Street as a narrow alley, with what appear to be tenement homes lining both sides of the street. A 1917 city atlas shows that nearly all of the buildings along this street had owners with Italian surnames, so this street was probably home to a number of immigrants. I don’t know if the people in the photo are posing for the camera or eyeing the photographer suspiciously, but they add an interesting human element to the photo, with the well-dressed men smoking pipes on the right side, and the assortment of men and boys on the left side. There are also a few people visible in the distance near the center of the photo, leaning over the railing of a second-floor porch to see the photographer.

The entire neighborhood, including all of Charles Street, was demolished by the early 1960s. To the left is an office building, which is part of Constitution Plaza, and to the right on the embankment just beyond the trees is Interstate 91. Charles Street is still a back alley, although instead of housing poor immigrants it is now a service road running behind the office building on the left.

Columbus Boulevard, Hartford, Connecticut

Looking north on Front Street (now Columbus Boulevard) from near Kilbourn Street, on April 1, 1906. Image courtesy of the Connecticut State Library.

Front St. north of Kilbourn

Columbus Boulevard in 2016:

The first photo shows Front Street just a little further north from the one in this earlier post, which was taken a week later. The view here shows a neighborhood with a wide variety of architecture, from relatively modern four-story commercial blocks to wood-frame houses that probably dated back the the 1700s. The gambrel roofed building just to the left of center was probably one of the oldest, and was likely used as a tenement house by the time the 1906 photo was taken. Several businesses are also identifiable in the first photo, including a grocery store on the left and the Kilburn Cafe on the right, with “cafe” being a euphemism for a bar.

Many of these buildings were likely gone by the 1950s, but any that were left standing were demolished by the early 1960s to build Constitution Plaza, replacing the neighborhood with the hotels, office buildings, and parking garages in the 2016 photo. Part of the design was to build the plaza above street level, and connect the different buildings with pedestrian walkways like the one seen here. The result was a complex that was largely isolated from the city streets, and even though the second photo was taken in the middle of the day on a weekday, the street is completely devoid of any pedestrians, unlike the much more vibrant appearance of the first photo.

State Street, Hartford, Connecticut

Facing west on State Street from Front Street (now Columbus Boulevard) on April 1, 1906. Image courtesy of the Connecticut State Library.

State St. west of Front

State Street in 2016:

Today, this section of State Street is a busy six-lane street that provides access to downtown Hartford from both the Founders Bridge and from Interstate 91, both of which are directly behind the camera. However, when the first photo was taken 110 years earlier, State Street had no bridge or highway connections; instead, it just ended a block away at the railroad tracks along the Connecticut River.

When the first photo was taken, Main Street, which is several blocks in the distance, was the commercial center of the city. It was lined with banks and insurance companies, but the further one moved away from Main Street and down the hill toward the river, the more working-class the neighborhood became. Here, at the corner of Front Street, the grand 1873 post office building can be seen a block away in the center of the photo, but in the foreground is a mix of low-rise buildings, some of which probably date back to the early 19th century. The wood-frame building on the left might even date back to the late 18th century, and in the 1906 view it appears to be a saloon, since it has a Ballantine Brewing Company sign at the corner. On the opposite corner to the right is Thomas Lawler’s liquor store, which is also seen in the previous post.

As mentioned in earlier posts, this entire neighborhood from State Street north to Morgan Street and west to Main Street was demolished in the late 1950s and early 1960s to build Constitution Plaza, but many of the buildings here were probably gone long before then. The old post office building, long controversial because it blocked the view of the Old State House from State Street, was demolished in 1933. Today, the only surviving historic building in this scene is the Old State House, which was built in 1796 and used as the state capitol until the current one was completed in the 1870s. Like the old Massachusetts State House in Boston, it now stands alone as an 18th century landmark amid modern skyscrapers around it.

Columbus Boulevard from State Street, Hartford, Connecticut

Looking north on Front Street, which is now Columbus Boulevard, on April 8, 1906. Image courtesy of the Connecticut State Library.

Front St. north of State

Columbus Boulevard in 2016:

These photos were taken a block east of the ones in the previous post, showing Front Street/Columbus Boulevard, which runs parallel to Market Street. When the first photo was taken, this neighborhood was largely working class. A city atlas from the 1880s shows a number of tradesmen working here, including cobblers, blacksmiths, locksmiths, lumber dealers, carriage shops, and liquor wholesalers. Not much of this had likely changed by the time the first photo was taken, although many of these occupations would gradually decline.

One business that definitely remained in the 1906 photo was the alhocol business, as the large sign for Thomas Lawler indicates on the left side of the photo; he evidently sold ale, lager, and porter for C. Feigenspan Brewing Company. On the other side of the street is a sign for Williams Jamaica Ginger. Marketed as medicine, Jamaica Ginger contained upwards of 70% alcohol, and probably did not cure much else besides sobriety. In later years, during Prohibition, such “medicines” were a popular as a legal way to obtain (somewhat) drinkable alcohol.

Like the scene in the previous post, this entire area was leveled in the late 1950s and early 1960s for an urban renewal project that built Constitution Plaza, which in on the site today. In the process, Front Street was renamed to Columbus Boulevard, and the neighborhood was turned into high-rise office buildings, hotels, and parking garages.

Market Street from State Street, Hartford, Connecticut

Looking north on Market Street from State Street, on April 22, 1906. Image courtesy of the Connecticut State Library.

Market St. north of State

Market Street in 2016:

Photographer William H. Thompson took the first photograph, along with many others, in the early 1900s, with the idea that they “would later be of historic interest.” A good portion of his photographs, which are available online through the Connecticut State Library, concentrate on the eastern part of the city. This neighborhood of about nine square blocks is bounded by Morgan Street to the north, State Street to the South, Main Street to the west, and the Connecticut River to the east, and his photographs provide, as he had intended, a valuable record of this section of Hartford. Unlike photographers like the Detroit Publishing Company, who focused on insurance buildings, monuments, and other prominent landmarks in Hartford, Thompson’s work captures the less glamorous, but far more historically interesting side of the city.

As it turned out, this entire section of the city was demolished in the late 1950s and early 1960s to build Constitution Plaza. Even when the 1906 photo was taken, this was not a particularly high-end section of the city, but it only got worse, especially after sustaining heavy damage from floods in the 1930s. By the 1950s, the working-class neighborhood was considered a slum, and any of the buildings that would have still been standing from the first photo were destroyed in the urban renewal project. Most of the streets themselves, including Market Street, are still here, but all of the low-rise residential and commercial development of the 19th century is gone, replaced with modern office buildings, hotels, and parking garages.