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Old State House Rescue Planned

Legislator Urges State Takeover As Costs Burden Historical Society

February 28, 2007
By JEFFREY B. COHEN, Courant Staff Writer

The feared summertime shuttering of the historic and financially strapped Old State House is an "unthinkable," unlikely last resort, state officials said this week.

A spokesman for Gov. M. Jodi Rell said she "certainly wants to see it kept open and intends to work toward that end," although the spokesman would not discuss details.

Rep. Denise Merrill, D-Mansfield, co-chairman of the legislative budget-writing committee, said she "can't imagine it closing" and is considering having the state take over the building and its operational costs.

For four years, the Connecticut Historical Society has been the steward of the building, on Main Street in Hartford, and the programs inside. But this year, the society informed the legislature that the roughly $600,000 annual cost of running the building and the programs is too much to bear. Without support from the state or other sources, the building could close at the end of June.

But that option looks less likely, officials said this week.

The Old State House rests on the site where, in 1639, English colonists enacted the first written constitution guaranteeing the right to representative government. Gen. George Washington and the Count de Rochambeau planned their strategy to win the Revolutionary War on its green. Inside, the celebrated trial of the African captives from the ship Amistad began.

Merrill said she would convene a group of interested stakeholders to consider the future of the building's educational programs. More specifically, she said, the state's legislative management office could easily assume responsibility for the building.

"I think it's going to be forthcoming, based on what I see happening," Merrill said.

But should the state opt to take over the building and not fund the programs, that could leave the society's executive director, Kate Steinway, in a pinch, she said.

"It would have to depend on how the state wanted to handle it as a building," Steinway said. "It doesn't take the big problem away. ... What's the building without any program in it? An empty shell would be, to my mind, sad."

The city, which owns the building, is open to the idea of turning it over to the state.

"It would be great news to see the state take a leadership role in managing and preserving the Old State House," said Matt Hennessy, chief of staff to Mayor Eddie A. Perez.

He said the decision to turn the building over would be a council decision, and said the mayor would support such a move only if the building were to remain open.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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