Celebrating Sam Colt Is a Delicate Affair

Jul 8, 2014

"This Colt history is critical to people's sense of what Hartford is."
Jack Hale

Guns have a long history in Connecticut. They've also been the focus of a great deal of recent debate. Both that history and the debate are now at the heart of delicate discussion: how do you plan a birthday party for Sam Colt, the man who made the gun that won the West? 

Jack Hale and I stood outside a century-old church with guns on the doors.

Details of guns in the church's facade.
Credit Jeff Cohen / WNPR

"This entrance is called the armorer's porch," said Hale, the senior warden at the Church of the Good Shepherd, built by Sam Colt's wife, Elizabeth. "The idea was that Elizabeth wanted to welcome the folks who worked in the armory -- the armorers -- to come into the church. So, built into the decoration around the door are guns."

Those doors say a lot. Together, the Colts were on the front lines of the nation's gun industry and of industrialization.

The Hartford neighborhood they built, Coltsville, included everything from worker housing, to a baseball field, to a park, to this church. There's even an effort to make it a national park. This place has a proud legacy.

In a state still coping with with the 2012 Newtown shootings, though, it's also a conflicted one.

"July 19 is the 200th birthday of Sam Colt," Hale said.  "A bunch of organizations, including the church and the Friends of Colt Park and the neighborhood organization here are working to commemorate Sam Colt's contribution to our community and to history -- his legacy in general. We're challenged by the fact that we're also in a city where gun violence is a big issue. When we're glorifying Sam Colt, there are aspects of that story that make people fairly uncomfortable."

Hale said he and others have to walk a fine line. You can't very well make Colt's birthday a celebration of guns, but you can't ignore guns, either. "This history, this Colt history, is critical to people's sense of what Hartford is," he said.  

This isn't a new tension. It's been around since the church was built. Hale said it's one that will again be on display when it comes time to celebrate Sam Colt.