First Church of Christ, Hartford Connecticut

The First Church of Christ in Hartford, around 1907. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The church in 2015:


Hartford’s First Church, also called Center Church today, is one of the oldest active church congregations in the country.  It was established in 1633 with my 9th great grandfather, Thomas Hooker, as the first pastor of the church.  Hooker was also the founder of the colony of Connecticut, and in 1639 the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut were established in the original meeting house; this document was arguably the first written constitution in the world, and gives Connecticut its nickname as “The Constitution State.”  The present-day building is the congregation’s fourth meeting house, and it was dedicated in 1807.  It was built within the boundaries of the Ancient Burying Ground, which was established around 1640 and includes the graves of many prominent figures in the early history of Connecticut, including Thomas Hooker.  Today, neither the church building nor the burying ground have changed much since the first photo was taken.  Like many other churches of its era, it still has its ornate steeple and columned portico, both of which are common elements in Federal architecture.  Similar designs can be seen in early 19th century church buildings across New England, including in New Haven, Springfield, and the very similar South Congregational Church just a few blocks down Main Street from here.

Connecticut Mutual Life Insurance, Hartford, Connecticut

The Connecticut Mutual Life Insurance building at the corner of Main and Pearl Streets in Hartford, around 1907. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The same location in 2015:


These two views were taken near the scene on Main Street in this post; the building on the left in the 1905 photo there is the same one featured here.  Connecticut Mutual was founded in 1846, and like many other insurance companies it was headquartered in Hartford. The company built this Second Empire style building here in 1872 and expanded it in 1901, but over the years other alterations removed much of its original architectural value. Connecticut Mutual moved out of downtown in 1925, and the building was drastically altered again, becoming the home of Hartford National Bank and Trust. The building remained here until 1964, when it was demolished to build the present skyscraper. As for its original tenant, Connecticut Mutual, they no longer exist either; in 1995 they merged with MassMutual, and most of the company moved to the MassMutual headquarters in Springfield, Mass. Today, these two photographs offer a comparison of architectural styles – the ornate, eclectic Second Empire building of the 1870s in one scene, and the plain concrete and glass 1960s-era Brutalist architecture of the present-day scene.

Main Street, Hartford Connecticut

Looking north on Main Street in Hartford from near the corner of Pearl Street, around 1905. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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Main Street in 2015:


Not much remains the same between these two views of Main Street in Hartford, although one of the few surviving buildings also happens to have been probably the oldest from the 1905 photo – the Old State House, on the right-hand side.  Built in 1796, it was substantially older than all of the other buildings in the foreground in 1905, but today it is double the age that it was back then, and all of its neighbors have long since been replaced by modern skyscrapers.  The only other survivors from 1905 are a couple buildings in the distance.  One of these is the tall building the left-center of the 1905 scene.  At the time, it towered over the other buildings on Main Street, but today it is literally in the shadows of its neighbors, and is barely noticeable in the 2015 scene.

Aside from the changes in buildings, the two scenes also show the differences in transportation.  The trolleys of 1905 have been replaced by buses, bicycles are not nearly as common on Main Street today as they were 110 years ago, and there are far fewer pedestrians walking along the street (although granted the 2015 photo was taken on a Saturday – a weekday scene would probably look busier).  Also in the first photo is a large billboard just to the left of the center, with the words “Wilson High Ball that’s all!”  Wilson was a blended whiskey brand, and in between the two photos alcohol went from being legal, to being illegal, and then back to being legal again.  The company apparently survived Prohibition, but like the building that once featured its billboard, it doesn’t appear to be around anymore.

Hartford Fire Insurance Company Building, Hartford Connecticut

The Hartford Fire Insurance Company Building, at the corner of Trumbull and Pearl Streets around 1900-1910. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The scene in 2015:


Hartford is often regarded as one of the world’s major insurance centers, and one of the first companies here was the Hartford Fire Insurance Company.  It was founded in 1810, and in 1869 the company built this building at the corner of Pearl and Trumbull.  The left-hand side of the building is clearly older; the addition to the right was probably put on in the late 1890s or early 1900s.  However, the company continued to grow, and in 1921 they moved to a new location in Hartford outside of downtown.  I don’t know when this building was demolished, but today a modern skyscraper sits on the site of the old insurance building.  The company is still located at the site they moved to in 1921, although they have changed names.  They are now The Hartford Financial Services Group, Inc., but they are better known as just The Hartford.

The street scene in front of the building is interesting; it captures the era in which automobiles and horse-drawn carriages shared the streets.  Here, a car takes a left turn from Trumbull onto Pearl Streets; the blurriness of the car and the woman in the white dress give the impression of a car taking a sharp turn at a decent speed while a pedestrian hurries across in front of it.  Behind the car is a carriage with “Besse’s Ice Cream” written on the side.  A 1904 ad from Printers’ Ink indicates that “Besse caters for Weddings, Parties, Banquets and gatherings of all kinds,” so perhaps the two men driving the carriage are heading to such an event.  The most unusual method of transportation in the photo, though, seems to be the thing that the two boys are riding in the right foreground – it looks like a wooden crate with four bicycle wheels attached to it.

Allyn House, Hartford Connecticut

The Allyn House at the corner of Asylum and Trumbull Streets in Hartford, around 1908. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The scene in 2015:


The Allyn House was built in 1857 by Timothy Allyn, and in its heyday was one of the city’s premier hotels.  In his 1867 Illustrated Guide to the Connecticut Valley, Henry Martyn Burt describes it as “the largest and most elegant” of Hartford’s hotels, and that “no pains have been spared to make this a first class hotel in every respect.”  As built, it could accommodate almost 300 guests, many of whom were likely businessmen involved in Hartford’s insurance industry, as well as politicians working and visiting the state capital.  Around the time that the first photo was taken, it was the Hartford residence of many prominent state politicians; at various times the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, Treasurer, Comptroller, Attorney General, and Speaker of the House lived here.

The ground floor of the building had several stores, including the Allyn House Drugstore, which as seen in the first photo offered “Ice Cream Soda,” and another sign advertises that “We Make A Specialty of Fancy Egg Drinks.”  There are two bicycles leaning against the building, and based on the frames one appears to be a men’s bike, and the other a woman’s bike.  Perhaps a young couple stopped at the drugstore to get some ice cream soda on a hot summer day?

The building was demolished in 1960, and today the location is at the southeast corner of the large block around the XL Center.  However, one of its contemporaries survives today; the building at 105-115 Asylum Street is located diagonally across the intersection, and it was built in 1855.  It was also owned by Timothy Allyn, and architecturally bears some resemblance to the former Allyn House.  A present-day photo of it can be seen on the Historic Buildings of Connecticut blog.

Hartford Life Insurance Company, Hartford Connecticut

The Hartford Life Insurance Company building at the corner of Asylum and Ann Uccello Streets, around 1907. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The scene in 2015:


The building in the first photo was once the home of the Hartford Life Insurance Company, and it stood on the northeast corner of Asylum and Ann (today Ann Uccello, named after Hartford’s first female mayor) Streets.  Aside form housing insurance offices, the ground floor also featured a number of storefronts, with the Jas. Duggan & Co. situated at the corner.  The awning advertises what was apparently a house brand medicine of likely dubious quality, called Duggan’s Rheumatic Elixr.  Elsewhere in the windows, other advertisements are visible, including several for Moxie soda, which as mentioned in this post was sold as a product with medicinal benefits.

However, perhaps the most bizarre ad is the large banner just to the left of the corner, which reads “Your Mother gave You Sulphur and Molasses. Give Your Children Sulphur and Molasses Kisses.”  Apparently these ingredients were once commonly taken in the spring and fall as “blood purifiers,” a belief that was probably based in part on sulfur’s laxative effect.  It was, like many other drugs of the late 19th and early 20th centuries (and, to an extent, today as well), marketed using all sorts of vague claims about benefiting the liver and kidneys, curing malaria and “blood troubles,” and in general “maintaining bodily vigor and health.”

Today, the site of the building is now part of the large block that makes up the XL Center, formerly the Hartford Civic Center.  The arena opened in 1975, and was home to the NHL Hartford Whalers before the team moved to Raleigh and became the Carolina Hurricanes.  Today, the facility is used by the Hartford Wolf Pack minor league hockey team, and is often used by the University of Connecticut basketball teams for important games.