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.


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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12:41 pm
Mon February 17, 2014

The Sweetheart’s Portrait

The Sweetheart’s Portrait. Hand-colored lithograph by E.B. & E.C. Kellogg, 1860s. The miniature portrait the cats are playing with probably dates from the 1830s.
The Connecticut Historical Society, 1981.122.1

In the 1860s, the Kellogg brothers of Hartford, Connecticut published a lithograph called “The Sweetheart’s Portrait.” The print was so popular that it was reissued at least once and it was also reproduced as a photograph.  It shows two fluffy white cats playing with a small oval painted portrait of a young woman attached to a ribbon and chain.  Such portraits had gone out of fashion twenty years earlier, when photography replaced painting as the primary means of portraiture.

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2:41 pm
Fri February 7, 2014

Black on White: Silhouettes of Hartford’s Morgan Family

Joseph Morgan. Silhouette cut by Peter Choice, ca. 1817. Morgan and his family moved to Hartford from Springfield in 1817.
The Connecticut Historical Society, 2001.111.1

Made of cut paper, silhouettes present a black image on a white background. The technique was widely used for small profile portraits, which enjoyed great popularity in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. In an age before photography, a silhouette was an inexpensive way to record the features of a loved one. Many were the work of itinerant artists who traveled from town to town cutting portraits.

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3:36 pm
Fri January 31, 2014

Connecticut Yankee and Millstone: 46 Years of Nuclear Power

Artist’s rendering of the Connecticut Yankee Power Company Plant, Haddam Neck. Postcard published by the Connecticut Yankee Atomic Power Company, ca. 1968.
Connecticut Historical Society, 2000.24.1

Connecticut Yankee Atomic Power Company, Connecticut’s first nuclear power plant, began commercial operation, in Haddam Neck, on January 1, 1968. It was a time of high expectations for the economic potential of peaceful nuclear energy. An enthusiastic 1962 article in the Hartford Courant, titled “Atoms Now Power Homes,” predicted that nuclear power would soon compete with coal and oil. New England’s first station, Yankee Rowe, had begun operation in Massachusetts in 1961.

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11:47 am
Fri January 24, 2014

The Astronomical Event of the Century

Total Eclipse of the Sun, January 24, 1925. Turner took his photograph at 175 North Street in Willimantic.
Photograph by Fred Turner, 1925 The Connecticut Historical Society, X.2000.7.52

Snow covered the ground and the temperature hovered at zero degrees on the morning of January 24, 1925. Businesses were closed—or planned to open late—as crowds gathered on hilltops and rooftops throughout Connecticut. Special trains brought visitors from Boston and elsewhere in Massachusetts and scientists from around the country joined colleagues at Yale, Wesleyan, and Trinity. The sun had come up as normal, but about 8:30 am it began to grow dark again, as the moon passed between the earth and the sun.

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2:59 pm
Fri January 17, 2014

Dressing Gowns: Loungewear of Old

Byron and Marianna. This lithograph by Hartford’s Kellogg brothers provides a glimpse of early nineteenth-century leisure wear. Note how Byron (d. 1824) is depicted in a dressing gown rather than a restrictive jacket.
Hand-colored lithograph by E.B. & E.C. Kellogg, 1845-1846. 1994.13.0. Connecticut Historical Society

Today many people cannot wait to arrive home after a long day at work and exchange their work clothes for something more relaxing, comfortable, and cozy. This is not a new phenomenon. Even before the nineteenth century, men and women sometimes wore informal and less confining clothing at home and in informal social settings. These dressing gowns, as they were primarily known, allowed people to appear fashionable while remaining comfortable.

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4:20 pm
Fri January 10, 2014

Tragedy at Tariffville: The Railroad Wreck of 1878

One of the coaches of the CWRR train hangs from the end of the first span over the Farmington River. Detail of stereograph published by N. R. Worden of New Britain.
The Connecticut Historical Society, 2004.27.2

The year 2013 was not a great one for the Metro-North Commuter Railroad, with a collision, a major power outage, and, most recently a fatal derailment making the six o’clock news around the country. What this series of mishaps actually points out, however, is that when one considers the number of freight, passenger and commuter trains running in this country, rail travel is still a pretty safe way to get around. This was not the case a century or more ago, when railroad accidents and disasters were frequent and deadly.

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1:29 pm
Fri January 3, 2014

From Kiln to Collection: Norwich Pottery and Its Makers

Pottery at Norwich, Norwich, ca. 1830. This drawing purports to show an 18th-century pottery in Norwich. The building with the smoking chimney is the kiln where the pottery was fired.
Connecticut Historical Society, x.1986.23.0

Stoneware was the commonest form of houseware in America during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.  Americans started making stoneware in the early 1700s. One of Connecticut's first potteries began making stoneware in Norwich as early as 1769.

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5:55 pm
Fri December 27, 2013

Skating Through Winter

Francis and Co. Trade Card. Late 19th century. This trade card shows a pair of skates made to attach to a pair of sturdy boots.
The Connecticut Historical Society

The centuries-old tradition of ice skating during the winter season began as a simple way to get from place to place. However, by the 1850s, better-designed skates and the increased interest in outdoor activities made ice skating a popular leisure activity. Skaters might be found on virtually any frozen body of water: small ponds, rivers, even town reservoirs.

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11:00 am
Fri December 20, 2013

What Did Santa Bring? Presents Under the Tree 100 Years Ago

Armstrong Christmas tree surrounded by presents. Photograph by William Dudley, ca. 1924. Muriel Armstrong lived in Groton, Connecticut.
The Connecticut Historical Society, 1995.36.1583

"For Muriel Armstrong From Santa" These words are written on a child’s easel blackboard sitting next to a tree decorated with tinsel, beads, glass ornaments and even an American flag. Other presents, including dolls, a sewing set, Bradley’s Toy Village, and “Denslow’s One Ring Circus and Other Stories” surround the tree. This black and white photograph captures the Christmas morning scene for a comfortable Connecticut family about 100 years ago.

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11:53 am
Fri December 13, 2013

An Inconvenient Season: Charlotte Cowles’s Letters from December 1839

Catherine. Hand-colored lithograph by E.B. & E.C. Kellogg, ca. 1840. Nineteenth-century women wrote a lot of letters. The young woman in this print was a contemporary of Charlotte Cowles.
The Connecticut Historical Society, 2003.147.0

Today we do not think of Farmington and Hartford being distant from each other, but in 1839 it was a journey not to be taken lightly. That is why Charlotte Cowles in Farmington wrote frequently to her brother Samuel in Hartford, asking him to do errands for her. On December 5, 1839, she requested that he procure the type of whale bones generally used in bonnets from Mrs. Orcutt, a milliner. Charlotte also asked him to find a yard and three quarters of “backing” to put under the stove in their keeping room.

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2:00 pm
Fri December 6, 2013

Transit of Venus: German Scientists Visit Hartford

Map of the 1761 transit of Venus, from Astronomy Explained Upon Sir Isaac Newton’s Principles, by James Ferguson, F.R.S, London, 1794.
The Connecticut Historical Society, Thomas Robbins collection, 14 Connecticut Historical Society

In December 1882, a German scientific commission sent a team of astronomers to Hartford, Connecticut to observe a rare astronomical event. The transit of Venus (when the planet passes between the earth and the sun) occurs in eight-year pairs, and those pairs occur every 121½ or 105½ years. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the transit was an important opportunity for scientists to calculate the distance between the earth and the sun—the basis for the astronomical unit.

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1:23 pm
Fri November 29, 2013

The Last Wolf in Connecticut

Putnam’s Cave or Wolf Den. Drawing by John Warner Barber, ca. 1835. The story of Putnam and the wolf was an oft-repeated tale throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. Connecticut Historical Society, 1953.5.313
Connecticut Historical Society

Israel Putnam is a name that stands out in the colonial history of Connecticut as a war hero of the French and Indian War and the American Revolution. Prior to his wartime glory, he earned the nickname “Wolf Putnam” by killing what was believed to be the last wolf in Connecticut when he was a young farmer in the eastern Connecticut town of Pomfret.

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5:20 pm
Fri November 22, 2013

Battle Among the Clouds: the Chattanooga Campaign

Street view of Chattanooga. Photograph by an unknown photographer, ca. 1865. Like other photographs in this sequence, this one was evidently taken shortly after the war. The Connecticut Historical Society, 2013.225.2
Connecticut Historical Society

The words of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, memorializing the Civil War’s largest battle to date, were still echoing when Union and Confederate forces engaged in yet another large scale engagement in late November 1863. This time around the North’s rising military star, Ulysses S. Grant, commanded the Union forces.

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2:58 pm
Fri November 15, 2013

Hartford's "Little Italy"

Mazzafera Family Photographs, photographed by Di Gangi Studio, early 20th c. Ida Mazzafera, one of the little girls on the right, was Gennaro Capobianco’s mother. The Connecticut Historical Society, Gift of Gennaro J. Capobianco, 2005.180.21.1
Connecticut Historical Society

In the early 1900s, Hartford was a booming economic center. Italy, on the other hand, suffered both economically and socially. Hundreds of thousands of Italian men looked for unskilled work in other countries, with many eventually headed to the United States. Hartford’s potential job opportunities attracted Italians and soon the city’s number of immigrants increased dramatically. Many of the Italian men became construction laborers building factories, housing, and railroads.

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10:34 am
Fri November 8, 2013

Eighty-Five Hundred Souls: the 1918-1919 Flu Epidemic in Connecticut

Ward 83, American Red Cross Military Hospital Number 1. Photograph, 1918. Many American soldiers suffered from influenza while serving in the United States and Europe during World War I. The Connecticut Historical Society, Gift of Mrs. Fritz W. Baldwin.
Connecticut Historical Society

Every year, each winter, flu season hits. Citizens are urged by the government and healthcare workers to get flu shots, to protect themselves and others against the disease. The Centers for Disease Control estimate that between the years 1976-2007, the number of deaths from flu in the United States has ranged from 3,349 in 1986-87 to 48,614 in 2003-04. It is the 1918-1919 outbreak of Spanish influenza (also classified as H1N1), however, that is remembered as one of the deadliest natural disasters in history.

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