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.

Pages

History
3:57 pm
Fri December 14, 2012

Windham in the Winter

Get out your snow shoes! It’s snowing outside!

Read more
History
2:39 pm
Fri December 7, 2012

Murder on the Map

The “murder map” is, at first glance, unremarkable – hand-drawn, it depicts a section of an unnamed town, one that contains various houses and businesses, was near the water, and had railroad tracks running through it. Things get decidedly more compelling when it becomes clear that it depicts the scene of a sensational crime in Bridgeport, Connecticut:

Read more
History
9:14 am
Sat December 1, 2012

The Faithful Dog (and Cat)

Tis but an olden theme

To sing the faithful dog.    

    

Lydia Sigourney, Hartford’s famous Victorian poet, published those lines in her poem “The Faithful Dog” in 1850. Poets, writers, and artists have celebrated the love and loyalty of animals long before and ever since. Selected prints, drawings, paintings, and photographs depicting “faithful dogs” (and cats) are on display in the CHS exhibition, “Cats & Dogs in Art and Life,” open through April 6, 2013.               

Read more
History
3:22 pm
Fri November 23, 2012

Setting the Table in Historic Style

When setting the table for Thanksgiving dinner, you probably bring out your best china and glassware, perhaps including some that have been passed down for generations.

Read more
History
2:34 pm
Fri November 16, 2012

Iron and Water

Connecticut’s early railroad history had at its core the goal of linking New York City and Boston through a hybrid system of steamboats and trains. This strategy allowed relatively fast schedules without the expense of constructing a rail route along the irregular Connecticut shoreline and avoided exposing steamboat passengers to the dangers of the Rhode Island coast. Using protected Stonington Harbor as its rail/water connection the New York, Providence & Boston Railroad linked the two cities beginning in 1837.

Read more
History
3:40 pm
Fri November 9, 2012

Textile Designs in New England

New England played a major role in American textile production in the early 1800s.  Although American women had woven textiles in their homes for centuries, and Europe and India had been printing textiles for more than a century, America only established its first textile mills in the late 1700s and its first textile-printing companies in the 1820s. 

Read more
History
3:46 pm
Fri November 2, 2012

Symphonies, Ballets and Personalities

Young Bill Mortensen was just twenty-six years old in 1929, when he was appointed director of the Horace Bushnell Memorial Theater by its founding trustees.  The son of Danish immigrants, William H. Mortensen was a college dropout, who would go on to become Mayor of Hartford—and a self-made millionaire.  Hartford in the 1930s was a vibrant city.  “Chick” Austen was bringing modern art and theater to the Wadsworth Atheneum;  Mortensen provided Hartford audiences with a vast array of alternative experiences during the Bushnell’s early years.

Read more
History
3:42 pm
Sat September 8, 2012

New Connecticut on Lake Erie

If you drive through the area of Ohio still called the Western Reserve today, you will find towns named Norwich, Saybrook, New London, Litchfield, Mansfield and Plymouth. Many of these towns have a town green or square and the ubiquitous white-steepled church common in Connecticut.

Read more
History
3:17 pm
Fri February 24, 2012

A Beautiful and Goodly Tree

When Thomas Hooker and his party reached Hartford in 1636, they would have found majestic elm trees growing in the meadows along the Connecticut River.

Read more
Antarctica
11:55 am
Fri January 27, 2012

Sixty Degrees Below Zero

"What a night - couldn't see my hand in front of my face, so dropped down on all fours and crawled in the direction of the tractor, - just a few feet away mind you, and I just don't know how long it did take me to reach the back door of the tractor which was now half buried in the snowdrift...recorded -60 below." wrote Connecticut native John Henry Von der Wall on September 25, 1934. Von der Wall was a member of an Antarctic expedition led by Rear Admiral Richard E. Byrd. Byrd was the first person to fly over the South Pole and North Pole.

Read more
History
2:10 pm
Fri September 30, 2011

The “Fancy Chair” Craze of the 1800s

John T. Kenney

During the second quarter of the 19th century, “fancy chairs” were all the rage for middleclass American parlors and dining rooms. These emblems of social mobility were often called “Hitchcock chairs” after Lambert Hitchcock (1795-1852), the Yankee inventor who started the craze.

Read more
History
2:29 pm
Fri September 23, 2011

The Great Danbury Fair

Korker

The Danbury Agricultural Society held its first fair in 1821 to exhibit the region’s agricultural products. Initially, the fair was held in a grange with a few adjacent tents that displayed vegetables, livestock, pigeons, poultry, flowers, and preserves.  Ox and draft horse pulls took place outside. Residents of Hartford and New York enjoyed train transportation, provided by the New England Railroad Company, bringing them directly to the fairgrounds at discounted rates. By 1881, the fair attracted more than 20,000 visitors and was considered the largest fair in the state.

Read more
History
3:30 pm
Fri September 16, 2011

The Woodside Circle Development

In the early twentieth century, Hartford’s West End presented a bucolic picture.  Cows grazed in the fertile fields of the Goodwin estate and the sweet odor of new mown hay scented the air.  Children fished and swam in the branch of the Park River that flowed through the neighborhood.

Read more
History
9:34 am
Sat September 3, 2011

Fire Horse Memories

In the year 1861, the Hartford Fire Department purchased the latest in firefighting technology, a “steam engine”, which it named “Phoenix no. 3.”  Horses were deployed to pull it.  Fire horses were known to be very affectionate and were considered brave by most people because they were the only horses that were not afraid of the “steam engine”. 

Read more
History
4:15 pm
Fri August 26, 2011

Women and Defense

Arthur J. Kiely, Jr

On December 2, 1941, five days before Japan’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, 1,000 women attended the first Connecticut Conference on Women in Defense in New Haven to hear speakers on topics such as “Mobilizing the Volunteer” and “The Consumer’s Part in Defense.” The conference was sponsored by the Connecticut Defense Council, which had been organized earlier that year to coordinate local efforts to prepare and mobilize citizens for the coming war.

Read more
History
8:51 am
Fri August 19, 2011

Sporting Women, What to Wear?

The Connecticut Historical Society. X.1953.2.5

The cycling craze of the 1880s provided women with independence that was unfamiliar to them.  Once women were able to ride about town unchaperoned and accountable to no one but themselves, they also began experiencing freedom in the way they dressed.  Although this freedom of dress did not begin with the cycling craze of the 1880s, the cycling craze certainly helped to propel dress reform into its next phase of acceptance.

Read more
History
2:16 pm
Fri August 12, 2011

What is a Nutmegger?

One of Connecticut’s many nicknames is the “Nutmeg State,” making those who live here “Nutmeggers,” but the origin of the name is something of a mystery.

Read more
History
2:23 pm
Fri August 5, 2011

Nathaniel Lyon

Nathaniel Lyon was perhaps the most colorful Connecticut native who served the Union in the Civil War. Born in Ashford in 1818, Lyon was a career soldier who had graduated from West Point in the Class of 1841. He amassed a distinguished combat record in the Army after his graduation, serving with distinction in the Seminole and Mexican Wars, against American Indians in various western posts, and against Missouri border “ruffians” in the Bleeding Kansas affair. On the eve of the Civil War, Lyon was a Captain serving with Company D of the 2nd U.S. Infantry, posted in St. Louis, Missouri.

Read more
History
10:01 am
Sat July 30, 2011

The Great Wallingford Tornado of 1878

On the afternoon of August 10, 1878, laborers heading home from work in Wallingford noticed a great dark cloud looming over Lamentation Mountain.  Within moments, a powerful tornado came roaring through town, ripping up trees and carrying away the upper stories of houses and barns.  About fifty buildings were completely destroyed.  Thirty-four people were killed and seventy were injured, some of them severely.

Read more
History
2:18 pm
Fri July 22, 2011

A Sunny Summer Staple

Edward Saxe

Prior to the 20th century, women’s fashions concealed them from the harsh sun, and the prying eyes of male onlookers.  However, with the popularization of the sun tan in the 1920s, women began to bask in the sun’s rays rather than hide from them under long sleeves, long skirts, and parasols.  The shift from porcelain-skinned beauty to sun-bathed beauty coincided with fashion’s shift from concealing to revealing the female form. 

Read more
History
3:21 pm
Thu July 14, 2011

Cash Crop

Both small farms and large companies have shaped the history of tobacco production in Connecticut. Native Americans grew tobacco and passed their knowledge on to colonial settlers. Since then, from the broadleaf variety grown prolifically during the 1800s to the innovative shade-grown tobacco that remains a major Connecticut crop today, tobacco has had a significant economic and cultural impact on Connecticut.

Read more
History
4:05 pm
Fri July 8, 2011

Diamonds of the Past

There’s something magical when you first step out from the tunnel of a baseball stadium on a summer night. The field, as a whole, glows. The grass is greener, the dirt looks clean and the foul lines sharp. The cries of the concession dealers mingle with the excited murmur of the crowd.

There used to be places like this in Hartford.

Read more
History
2:24 pm
Fri July 1, 2011

The First Battle of Bull Run

The First Battle of Bull run was fought outside Manassas, Virginia on July 21, 1861. It was the first major battle of the American Civil War, involving over 50,000 participants on both sides, and was a military fiasco for the North. The State of Connecticut did not suffer terribly on this particular field, but men from the State took a prominent role in the events of that critical day.

Read more
History
2:19 pm
Fri June 24, 2011

Elizabeth Park’s Rose Garden

For more than a century, the month of June has drawn visitors to Hartford’s Elizabeth Park to enjoy the amazing spectacle of the park’s world famous Rose Garden in full bloom.  Postcard views in the collection of the Connecticut Historical Society chronicle the lasting appeal of this garden over time. Today, the Elizabeth Park Rose Garden boasts 15,000 bushes and about 800 varieties of roses, and is the oldest municipally operated rose garden in the country. 

Read more
History
2:07 pm
Fri June 17, 2011

Protecting the Delicate Complexion

Now, practically obsolete, hats and bonnets were once a staple in every woman’s wardrobe.  Hats and bonnets provided protection of the delicate female complexion against the harshness of the sun.  Prior to the 1920s, suntans were a symbol of manual labor and were unbecoming to ladies of leisure, and those who wished to be perceived as ladies of leisure.  Bonnets, which became very popular during the 1820s and 1830s, ranged in shape, style, and decoration.  The exorbitant brims of two particular styles of bonnets provided a great deal of sun protection.

Read more
History
11:53 am
Fri June 10, 2011

Shakespeare in Stratford

The American Shakespeare Festival Theatre opened in 1955 as a living memorial to English playwright, William Shakespeare (1564-1616). Under the guidance and directorship of Lawrence Langner, John Houseman and Michael Kahn, the theatre provided memorable theatrical experiences for more than thirty years.

Stratford, Connecticut was an appropriate setting for the theater, echoing the name of Shakepeare’s birthplace, Stratford-on-Avon in England.  The octagonal shape of the theater recalled the Globe Theatre in London, where Shakepeare’s plays were performed during the 17th century.

Read more
History
11:24 am
Fri June 3, 2011

Caribbean Connecticut

John Groo, 2001

They came as farm workers. Many came from Jamaica, a few from Guyana.  They are the foundations for all of us. (Walter Benjamin, Guyana)

Read more
Veterans in History
10:13 am
Fri May 27, 2011

Hometown Hero

Frank and Bogumita Budleski immigrated from Poland in the early 20th century. Their two children, Frances and Stanley, grew up on the family farm in the Yalesville section of Wallingford. Frances attended Skidmore and New York University and taught and performed music in Wallingford for many years.

Read more
History
10:13 am
Fri May 27, 2011

Hometown Hero

Frank and Bogumita Budleski immigrated from Poland in the early 20th century.  Their two children, Frances and Stanley, grew up on the family farm in the Yalesville section of Wallingford.  Frances attended Skidmore and New York University and taught and performed music in Wallingford for many years.

Read more
Where We Live
11:03 am
Tue May 24, 2011

Preserving the Character of Connecticut

susteph, creative commons

May is “Preservation Month” in Connecticut - and preservationists just celebrated a six-year milestone.

The wide-ranging Community Investment Act was signed into state law in 2005.  It increases investment in the areas that preservationists have shown the most concern about - open space, farmland preservation, historic preservation and affordable housing.

Read more

Pages