Connecticut History

With our partner, The Connecticut Historical Society, WNPR News presents unique and eclectic view of life in Connecticut throughout its history. 

The Connecticut Historical Society is a partner in Connecticut History Online (CHO)  — a digital collection of over 18,000 digital primary sources, together with associated interpretive and educational material. The CHO partner and contributing organizations represent three major communities — libraries, museums, and historical societies — who preserve and make accessible historical collections within the state of Connecticut.


12:57 pm
Fri September 12, 2014

Samplers and School Supplies: Back to School in Colonial Connecticut

Hornbook. This reproduction hornbook is on view in the exhibition "Making Connecticut" at the Connecticut Historical Society.
Connecticut Historical Society

It’s back to school season in Connecticut. The school buses are out, Labor Day has come and gone, and stores are full of families shopping for new clothes and school supplies. While children today are looking for new binders and markers, children growing up in colonial Connecticut would have had school supplies of a very different kind.

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12:51 pm
Fri September 5, 2014

The Sporty Katharine Hepburn

Katharine Hepburn on set with Spencer Tracy.
Courtesy of the Judy Samelson Collection. The Connecticut Historical Society

Katharine Hepburn relished wearing slacks at a time when most women would never consider such a clothing item as an every-day element of their wardrobes. Although Hepburn’s choices were unusual at the time, the idea of sportswear was becoming more and more popular. American designers began creating clothing made from knits with the primary purpose being comfort, practicality, and ease of movement.  Pants were designed but not widely adopted outside the home, until  Hepburn along with some of her more liberal minded contemporaries made pants chic.

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10:17 am
Fri August 29, 2014

Bringing up a Star: the Hepburn Family of Hartford

Tea in the yard at 133 Hawthorne Street, Hartford, ca. 1912. Teatime at the Hepburns’ was a daily ritual, and the children were encouraged to listen to the conversation.
Houghton Collection Courtesy of Katharine Houghton and the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center, Hartford, CT

In addition to being a well-known actress and a fashion icon, Katharine Hepburn (1907-2003) was also known for being outspoken and fiercely independent. Her outlook on life was influenced by her remarkable parents who valued speaking one’s mind and acting boldly.

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10:46 am
Fri August 22, 2014

A 9,000-Pound Alarm: The Hartford Fire Bell

City of Hartford fire alarm bell, made by the Jones & Co. Troy Bell Foundry, 1881.
Connecticut Historical Society collection, gift of the Hartford Board of Fire Commissioners, 1931.14.0

Visitors to the Connecticut Historical Society might notice a massive bronze bell resting quietly outside at the corner of the Asylum Street parking lot. This behemoth weighs more than four tons, and once played a very loud role in the city. From 1881 to 1921, it towered over the headquarters of the Hartford Fire Department at 43 Pearl Street, warning residents of fire and sending firefighters out to save lives.

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1:23 pm
Fri August 15, 2014

Curtis Veeder’s Other House

Dedication Plaque located at the entrance to Penwood State Park.
Will Conard-Malley

While Curtis Veeder’s house at One Elizabeth Street in Hartford has been preserved as the home of the Connecticut Historical Society, that structure was not Veeder’s only house. About 1911, he acquired a large tract of land straddling the town line between Bloomfield and Simsbury on Talcott Mountain, just down the ridge from Heublein Tower. There, he built a cottage that he called Penwood. The land that was once his today is Penwood State Park.

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9:48 am
Fri August 8, 2014

A New Level of Performing Artistry: Carmina Burana at the Hartford Ballet

Scene from 1986 production of Carmina Burana.
The Connecticut Historical Society, 2001.75.

The Carmina Burana, a medieval collection of poetry, illustrating the fate of man through life, was set to music by the German composer Carl Orff and was first performed at Frankfurt-am-Main in 1937.  Following the Second World War, Ernst Uthoff, a German refuge, created a ballet based on the work for the Chilean National Ballet, which he founded. The production toured throughout South America, and appeared New York’s Lincoln Center in 1962.

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2:58 pm
Fri August 1, 2014

Putting History on the Map

Plan of the Town of New Haven With all the Buildings in 1748.
Drawn by James Wadsworth. Engraved by Thomas Kensett, 1806. The Connecticut Historical Society, 2012.312.1.

All maps are historical.  They represent specific moments in time and very quickly become out of date as new towns are incorporated, new canals or railroads or highways are built.  Some maps, however, are not only historical, but deliberately retrospective.  They represent a time other than the time in which they were made, sometimes a time within the living memory of the mapmaker, sometimes an historic era long past.

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10:39 am
Fri July 25, 2014

Strictly a First Class Theater

Maude Adams at the Goodwin Mansion on Woodland Street in Hartford.
Connecticut historical Society, 1964.106.0dt

Late 19th and early 20th century Hartford offered the public many theater and concert venues to choose from, but if one wanted to see the newest shows from New York, there was really one place to go: the Parsons Theatre on Prospect Street. Parsons Theatre was to turn-of-the-20th-century Hartford what the Bushnell is today.

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11:27 am
Fri July 18, 2014

Mistress of the Veeder House

Louise Stutz Veeder, charcoal drawing, 1922.
Connecticut Historical Society, 2010.161.0.

On August 9, 1962, the Hartford Public High School flag was flown at half-staff in tribute to Mrs. Louise Stutz Veeder, a former teacher, who had just died at the age of eighty-eight.  

Louise Stutz was born in Lucerne Switzerland in 1874 and grew up in Switzerland and Germany.  After studies at the University of Lausanne and in Leipzig, Germany, she emigrated to the United States in 1896 at the age of twenty-two.  For the next twelve years, she taught French and German at Hartford Public High School.  She became a naturalized United States citizen in 1905.

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11:38 am
Fri July 11, 2014

Scandal in the Beecher Family

The Beecher Family. Photograph by Rodgers based on an original by Mathew Brady, 1860s. The family was split on the question of Henry Ward Beecher’s guilt or innocence.
Mathew Brady, 1860s. The Connecticut Historical Society, 2014.100.15.

The story reads like a soap opera. In 1870, Theodore Tilton accused his wife of being unfaithful to him with the popular preacher Henry Ward Beecher, and Elizabeth Tilton confessed. After her confession, she spoke with the Reverend Beecher and said that she hoped the confession would help to mend her relationship with her husband by restoring trust. Beecher implored her to take back her confession and restore his good name. Elizabeth retracted her confession, but after speaking with her husband a second time, she retracted her retraction the very same night.

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8:38 am
Tue July 8, 2014

The Pride of Hartford

Engine No. 1, Clapp & Jones fitted with gas-electric tractor. Photograph, 1914.
Horace B. Clark Collection Connecticut Historical Society

The largest artifact in the collections of the Connecticut Historical Society is a nine-ton fire engine. When the Clapp & Jones steam pumper was first purchased by the Hartford Fire Department, it was drawn by three big fire horses. In 1914, when the fire department was becoming motorized, the old pumper was fitted with a gas-electric tractor, prolonging its working life. It saw service in major Hartford fires for more than four decades.

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11:09 am
Fri June 27, 2014

Katharine Hepburn, Fenwick and the Hurricane of 1938

Katharine Hepburn surveys the devastation of the 1938 hurricane on the site of her family’s summer home in Fenwick, CT.
Connecticut Historical Society, 2009.62.5.

Katharine Hepburn’s mother, “Kit” Hepburn, insisted that the Fenwick house would withstand the rising tides and the gale-force winds. After 25 summers spent with the extended Hepburn clan filling the house, it felt like a permanent fixture in their lives, and it remained a touchstone and retreat for daughter Katharine even after her Hollywood career brought her fame and success. Katharine had spent the morning outdoors, pursuing her usual Fenwick activities, playing nine holes of golf and swimming in the swelling surf.

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9:26 am
Mon June 23, 2014

American Chairs, Made in Connecticut

Windsor furniture on display in Making Connecticut, an exhibit about 400 years of Connecticut history.
The Connecticut Historical Society

There is something very American about a Windsor chair. Although its name points to England, where the chair’s style and manufacture emerged in the early 1700s, this immigrant furniture found its way into every American home, from a restful rocker in a small Yankee farm house to the seats of the Founding Fathers in Philadelphia’s Independence Hall.

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3:29 pm
Fri June 13, 2014

A Fascination With Magic

Albert G. Walker. Photograph by Charles T. Stuart, ca. 1885. Walker was a much younger man when he performed his magic acts.
Charles T. Stuart Connecticut Historical Society. 2007.4.1.88

Harry Houdini, David Copperfield, Doug Henning . . . Albert Walker? The first three names are well-known magicians. But who is Albert Walker?

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11:34 am
Fri June 6, 2014

Fashion's Changing Silhouettes

Silhouettes. 1860-1960. These dresses from the CHS collection illustrate the changing shape of women's clothing between the 1860s and 1960s.
Connecticut Historical Society

Fashion has changed exponentially over the last two centuries.   In the 1860s women wore thickly boned corsets, multiple petticoats, steel hoop skirts and dresses, always dresses.  But between the 1860s and 1960s, women’s fashion shifted from grand hoop skirts to short miniskirts.  

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2:14 pm
Fri May 30, 2014

An Unlikely Pair of Portraits

Etha Town. Oil painting by Nathaniel Jocelyn, 1826.
The Connecticut Historical Society, 2004.25.1

The lovely lady with the eager look in her eyes is Etha Town, the daughter of Ithiel Town, a New Haven architect, and the inventor of the Town truss, used in covered bridges throughout the nineteenth century. The portrait of his daughter was painted in 1826, the year Etha married William Thompson Peters, a recent Yale graduate. She was 19 years old.

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11:02 am
Fri May 23, 2014

A Revolution On Two Wheels: Columbia Bicycles

Bicycle made by the Pope Manufacturing Company, about 1881. Pope produced its first bicycles like this Columbia high wheeler in the late 1870s.
Gift of Aetna Connecticut Historical Society, 1994.204.3

The return of spring weather has prompted a marked increase in bicycle traffic all over Connecticut. Country roads, city streets, and scenic rail trails are filled with cyclists of all ages. But how many know that Connecticut played a prominent role in developing not just bicycles, but the market for them?

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4:22 pm
Fri May 16, 2014

Curtis Veeder Builds His Dream House

The Connecticut Historical Society, One Elizabeth Street, Hartford. The CHS is now located in this stone house built between 1925-1928 by Curtis Veeder.
Connecticut Historical Society

If you visit the Connecticut Historical Society, at One Elizabeth Street in Hartford, you will discover an unusual and intriguing building that was originally built as the home of industrialist Curtis Veeder. Veeder began to plan this house in 1925, and moved in with his wife and two daughters in 1928.  He lived here until his death in 1943. Mrs.Veeder lived in the house until 1950 when she sold it to the Historical Society. It has been adapted for other uses, but it still reflects Curtis Veeder’s personality, talents, and interests.  

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3:05 pm
Fri May 9, 2014

Hepburn Returns to Hartford

Retail District, Main Street, Hartford. Photograph, ca. 1930. The Strand Theater is on the right. A preview of “A Bill of Divorcement” took place here in 1932.
Connecticut Historical Society Collection, 2000.171.199

Katharine Hepburn’s relationship with Hartford was strong and deeply rooted; it was her birthplace, her hometown, and a place she both supported and to which she always came back.

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8:52 am
Fri May 2, 2014

Katharine Hepburn: The Personal Wardrobe of a Star

Katharine Hepburn seated on lawn, 1938.
Connecticut Historical Society, 2009.62.6

From a very young age, Katharine Hepburn was a sporting enthusiast. She relished time spent outdoors playing golf, tennis, and swimming. In her film and stage career, she did many of her own stunts; even advancing age didn’t deter her. This love of movement and comfort greatly influenced her personal style. She held fast to her own informal style even while becoming one of Hollywood’s glamorous movie starlets.

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10:54 am
Fri April 25, 2014

Up from the Ashes: Fire at the Meriden Britannia Company

Ruins of a Portion of the Meriden Britannia Works. Photograph by Prescott & White, 1870. This overview suggests the extent of the damage.
The Connecticut Historical Society, 1988.136.2

On July 16, 1870, a devastating fire destroyed the main building of the Meriden Britannia Company, in Meriden, Connecticut, an internationally famed producer of silver-plated ware. The 700-foot-long building employed over 900 people, including 100 women, all of whom were left temporarily without work. However, the building was fully insured, the loss was fully covered, and rebuilding began immediately, while work continued unabated at the company’s six other factories.

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11:47 am
Fri April 18, 2014

Yankee Ingenuity: Curtis Veeder, a Mechanical Genius and Shrewd Businessman

“Curtis Veeder, Inventor of the Cyclometer, Riding a Bicycle,” Drawn by HH Art Studios Inc. for G. Fox & Co. 100th Anniversary, 1947. (Connecticut Historical Society, 1980.93.23)


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3:27 pm
Fri April 11, 2014

Eyewitness to History: The Treasury Guard Regiment Flag

The Treasury Guard Regiment flag spent over a century in this display box.
Connecticut Historical Society

In 1864, President Lincoln ordered his executive departments to each raise a force of troops for the defense of Washington should it be threatened by Confederate forces. The Treasury Department raised a full regiment of citizen-soldiers, and the women employed there presented a custom set of colors to the unit. The canton of the national flag bore hand-painted patriotic images and a banner identifying the unit, which spent months drilling on a dusty lot in Washington. In April 1865 the unit held a ball at Ford’s Theater celebrating Lee’s surrender.

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3:17 pm
Fri April 4, 2014

Katharine Hepburn: Dressing a Star

Katherine Hepburn as Babbie in The Little Minister.
Christopher P. Sullivan Kent State University Museum, 2010.3.208

Katharine Hepburn is known for her on-screen personality and her off-screen style.  In reality, the two were closely intertwined, since she used style, both on and off-screen, as a powerful reflection of character. 

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9:57 am
Fri March 28, 2014

The Adventure of a Lifetime: John Ledyard and Captain Cook’s Last Voyage

A View of Huaheine. Engraving after a drawing by John Webber, published 1783. Huahine, one of the Society Islands in the South Pacific, was visited by Captain Cook in 1777.
Daniel Wadsworth Connecticut Historical Society, 1848.16.3.21

In 1783, as Americans adjusted to peace time following the Revolutionary War, a young man’s incredible adventure story was published in Hartford. John Ledyard’s Journal of Captain Cook’s Last Voyage recounted Ledyard’s travels with the world-famous British explorer on his third and last exploration of the Pacific Ocean.

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9:46 am
Mon March 24, 2014

A Woman Ahead of her Time: Mabel Osgood Wright

Bird Sanctuary. Postcard, ca. 1914. View of the main building at the Bird Sanctuary in Fairfield, Connecticut, established by Mabel Osgood Wright.
The Connecticut Historical Society

Few professions were available to women in the second half of the 19th century, and certainly not the medical profession. Although thwarted in her ambition to become a doctor, Mabel Osgood Wright made a name for herself as both a writer and a photographer.

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10:53 am
Fri March 14, 2014

Behind the Stockade: Andersonville Prison

Sergeant Aretus Culver, 16th Connecticut Infantry. Photograph by William A. Terry, ca. 1862. The Bristol native died within six weeks of his release from Andersonville.
The Connecticut Historical Society, 2010.66.113

Prisoners of war have long been an emotional subject. From 17th Century conflicts with Native Americans to the war in Afghanistan, the fate of POWs has aroused deep concern. Tales of mistreatment and brutality, from the notorious British prison hulks of the American Revolution to Vietnam’s “Hanoi Hilton” and beyond, have spurred contemporaries to protest and moved later generations to ponder man’s inhumanity to man.

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11:59 am
Fri March 7, 2014

Frances Laughlin Wadworth: Sculpting the Past

Interior of Frances Wadsworth’s studio. Photograph, 1940s. Frances made meticulously detailed models of her sculptures before creating the final sculpture.
The Connecticut Historical Society, 1983.74.14

Frances Laughlin Wadsworth certainly left her mark on the art world.  She also left it scattered about the city of Hartford.  Frances Laughlin was born in Buffalo, New York, on June 11, 1909 to Frank and Martha Laughlin. She graduated from St. Catherine’s School in Richmond, Virginia, and studied art in Europe under the tutelage of famous sculptors.  An avid painter as well as sculptor, Frances identified painting as more of a hobby, like her interest in gardening, than as a serious art endeavor in line with her sculpture.

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11:51 am
Fri February 28, 2014

The Great Ice Storm of 1898

Greenwoods Road from Carl Stoeckel Mansion, Norfolk, Connecticut. Photograph by Marie Kendall, 1898.
The Connecticut Historical Society, 1981.58.6

Ice. It is both a beauty and a menace, often simultaneously. From February 20 to February 22, 1898, an ice storm swept through northwestern Connecticut, coating tree branches and utility wires.

Roads were treacherous and slippery. Tree branches, weighed down with ice, broke and fell, rendering some streets impassable. The storm knocked out electricity and telegraph and telephone communications, and closed the trolley lines in parts of the state. The railroad trains kept running, though their tracks had to be cleared of branches and debris, and they arrived well behind schedule.

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10:45 am
Fri February 21, 2014

Battling Bat Battalino: One of Hartford’s Heroes

Christopher "Bat" Battalino, born 1908. He won the world professional championship as a featherweight from Frenchman Andre Routis in September 1929 at the Velodrome in East Hartford.
The Connecticut Historical Society, Manuscript Collection

From the streets of Hartford to Madison Square Garden was a giant leap for featherweight boxer Christopher “Bat” Battalino. Born in Hartford in 1908, Battalino quit Brown School after the fifth grade to work in a tobacco factory. He got his boxing start in amateur bouts, and went all the way to the national amateur featherweight championship before turning pro when he was 21 years old.

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