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.

From the Hand of the Master: The Signs of William Rice

Dec 26, 2014
the Connecticut Historical Society

Highway travel today is notable for the number of services available on both interstate and secondary roads. Automobile fuel and repairs, food, and lodging are just some of the amenities available, all easily located thanks to an abundance of signs large and small.

Hartford Seen: Photographs By Pablo Delano

Dec 19, 2014
Pablo Delano

Houses, apartments, businesses, schools, places of worship. Like all cities, Hartford’s built environment—its physical structures and shape—has changed over time for many different reasons. As the population grows and changes, different voices influence the city’s identity, and new building materials and resources become available (or disappear). This year, with a series of onsite and offsite exhibits, the Connecticut Historical Society is exploring the history of Hartford’s modern cityscape, as well as the city’s urban spaces today.

Finding a Home For Connecticut History

Dec 12, 2014

The Connecticut Historical Society moved into its current headquarters building at One Elizabeth Street in Hartford in 1950. However, the organization pre-dates the move to this location by more than 100 years and it had several earlier locations.  The CHS was founded in 1825 and is one of the oldest state historical societies in the country.

Busy Sidewalks and Wonderful Memories

Dec 5, 2014
The Connecticut Historical Society, Ephemera Collection

Right after Thanksgiving, G. Fox & Company decorated their magnificent store. People from across the state drove into Hartford just to marvel at the marquee. In the 1950s it featured big candles and colorful boxes. However, the marquee most people remember was the charming Colonial Village. The village included small replicas of Colonial churches and houses from across Connecticut. The front display windows were also festive and inviting. Children pressed their noses to the glass to get a better look at the brightly lit mechanical ice skating animals.

The Interstate Highway System Comes to Hartford

Nov 28, 2014
Connecticut Historical Society, 2003.191.4

Beginning in the mid-1930s, state and federal governments examined ways to improve road transportation around the country. While some federal roads linked major population centers, most areas still struggled with a variety of state, county and town roads, ranging in condition from decent to abominable. With the run-up to World War II the federal government looked for ways to improve transportation that would be needed if the U.S. went to war. 

The Most Modern Room in the House

Nov 21, 2014

In a November 1934 article, Agnes Heisler Barton recognized the kitchen as the most modern room in the house.  Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, kitchens changed more radically than other rooms.  The styles of chairs and other furnishings might change, but a new appliance for cooking might easily be a brand new invention.

Life After the Last Shift

Nov 14, 2014
Connecticut Historical Society Gift of the Richard Welling family, 2012.284.5705

What do the Bigelow Carpet Company of Enfield, Underwood Typewriter Company of Hartford, and Cheney Brothers Silk Manufacturing Company of Manchester have in common? They, and many other companies, had factories in Connecticut which survive to this day, while the companies that built them do not.

Typing History

Nov 10, 2014
The Connecticut Historical Society, 1976.89.2

Before the age of the computer, typewriters fulfilled our need to write faster than our pens would allow.  The gentle click of keys on a keyboard are no match for the loud strikes of a letter key pressing paper to inked ribbon and platen to create an inked letter upon a clean white page.  The end of a line of type was signaled by the loud ding of a bell followed by the slamming of the carriage as a new, fresh line of paper appeared. 

The Pettibone Ghost

Oct 31, 2014

Just off Route 202 in Simsbury is the former Pettibone Tavern, a local landmark that has served travelers since 1780. Built by Jonathon Pettibone Jr., the establishment became an important stop along the Boston-to-Albany Turnpike and hosted important figures like George Washington and John Adams.

Hair Jewelry: Remembrance That Never Dies

Oct 24, 2014
The Connecticut Historical Society, Gift of Dorothy Filley Bidwell, 1957.18.17

The 19th century saw an explosion in the popularity of jewelry made from human hair. Because hair does not decompose after its removal from the body, it was considered a symbol of eternal life. Locks of hair were often given as tokens of friendship, love, or grief and these locks were sometimes incorporated into jewelry. In the mid-19th century, enterprising jewelry makers braided, wove, and sewed hair into such keepsakes, offering a variety of shapes and sizes.

Connecticut Historical Society, serial 681.14v417vd

When visitors to the Connecticut Historical Society are told the building was once the home of Hartford industrialist Curtis Veeder, their first question often is: “Did he have anything to do with the Veeder-Root Company?” Curtis Veeder did, in fact, start the Veeder Manufacturing Company, one of the two companies which merged in 1928 to form Veeder-Root. Many area residents know someone who worked for this company which began making devices that “count everything on earth” and continues today as the “the number one supplier of automated tank gauges in the world.”

Newspapers have been called the first rough draft of history. The newspaper that has been filling that role for the United States longer than any other is The Hartford Courant, which celebrates its 250th birthday this month. The first issue of The Connecticut Courant, dated October 29, 1764, came off printer Thomas Green’s hand-press in a room above a barber shop on Main Street in Hartford. It started out as a four-page weekly.

City of Dreams

Oct 3, 2014
Connecticut Historical Society, Gift of the Richard Welling Family, 2012.284.5678

Richard Welling loved Hartford. He loved its classic 18th- and 19th-century architecture, buildings like the Old State House and the Connecticut State Capitol, but he also loved the soaring skyscrapers that began to transform the city during the latter part of the 20th century -- at least some of them. He admired “The play of light, shadow, texture, scale, and mood” in Constitution Plaza and claimed he got an exhilarated feeling every time he walked through it. It was a constant source of inspiration for him, a recurring subject that keeps appearing in his work through the years.

Hartford Plans for Tomorrow

Sep 26, 2014
Connecticut Historical Society, Gift of the Richard Welling Family, 2012,284.5662

By the 1940s, it was clear that many buildings in downtown Hartford needed to be updated. Yearly flooding and deferred maintenance left aging buildings on Front and Windsor Streets in poor condition. At the same time, local manufacturing started to lose to national and global competitors. The industrial businesses that did survive moved to suburban campuses with modern amenities. The city's business leaders worried that downtown Hartford wouldn't be attractive enough to keep the growing number of white collar businesses.

In 1969, New Haven, Connecticut became the focus of national attention, when Black Panther Alex Rackley was killed by fellow Panthers Warren Kimbro, Lonnie McLucas, and George Sams, Jr., after being held and tortured for two days. Rackley was suspected of having become an FBI informant.

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.

The Sporty Katharine Hepburn

Sep 5, 2014
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.

Bringing up a Star: the Hepburn Family of Hartford

Aug 29, 2014
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.

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

Aug 22, 2014
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.

Curtis Veeder’s Other House

Aug 15, 2014
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.

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.

Putting History on the Map

Aug 1, 2014
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.

Strictly a First Class Theater

Jul 25, 2014
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.

Mistress of the Veeder House

Jul 18, 2014
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.

Scandal in the Beecher Family

Jul 11, 2014
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.

The Pride of Hartford

Jul 8, 2014
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.

Katharine Hepburn, Fenwick and the Hurricane of 1938

Jun 27, 2014
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.

American Chairs, Made in Connecticut

Jun 23, 2014
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.

A Fascination With Magic

Jun 13, 2014
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?

Fashion's Changing Silhouettes

Jun 6, 2014
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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