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Fort Would Make Dutch Connection

November 26, 2006
Commentary By MIKE McGARRY

The announcement that Northwest Airlines will start daily nonstop service next summer between Amsterdam and Bradley International Airport will change our lives in Greater Hartford to a degree little understood today. For many travelers in Southern New England and New York, the time devoted to European trips will be halved. Our new connection with the Dutch will bring substantial benefits to travelers and businesses.

One way to celebrate and enhance the new air service would be to join New York in a major celebration of our Dutch heritage.

New York state is preparing a massive gala in 2009, a quadricentennial celebration of Henry Hudson's 1609 exploration in his ship the Half Moon of the river that now bears his name. It will be an excuse for a big party. We'll hear a lot more about the influence of Holland - Hudson was an Englishman working for the Dutch-owned United East India Company - and we'll see a good deal of the full-scale replica of the Half Moon that is tied up in Albany, in season. It all will be a good tie-in for the air service, because many New York state residents will drive an hour or so to Bradley rather than go from Albany to JFK, by car or plane.

Connecticut should get in on the action because, though it is not as extensive as New York's, we have an interesting history with the Dutch.

The Dutch claimed much of the Northeastern corner of our country, based on Hudson's explorations. In 1613, Adriaen Block, a Dutch sea captain, was exploring the Hudson River when his vessel burned. He built a yacht, the Onrust ("Restless," in English) and proceeded to explore the New York city area, Long Island Sound, the Housatonic and Naugatuck rivers, and, in 1614, the Connecticut River. Block landed at a fortified Indian village near today's Hartford and learned of the possibility of a lucrative fur trade.

The Dutch proceeded to colonize New York and spread trading posts around the region. One was established at, yes, Adriaen's Landing, at the confluence of three rivers today called the Connecticut, the Hockenum and the Park. This trading post was finished by 1633 and called "Huys der Goede Hoop," the House of Good Hope. Dutch traders built an extensive fur trade with Indians until they were overwhelmed by the English two decades later.

Much of the New York celebration will be based around replicas. In addition to the 85-foot Half Moon, a group in Rotterdam, N.Y., near Schenectady, is building a replica of the Onrust. It may be ready by next summer, if fund-raising proceeds apace, and its creators have plans to visit Hartford.

Many of the 17th-century Dutch trading voyages were in sailing barges, and a replica of such a vessel is berthed in Kinston, N.Y. Next year its owners plan to transverse part of the Erie Canal, the Hudson, Long Island Sound and the Connecticut rivers.

Hartford does have a chance to get in on all this with its Dutch fort site. Why not build a model of the "Huys der Goede Hoop"? In 1918, the Hartford Electric Light Co. bought the fort site on the river - still known as Dutch Point - for a bigger power station and in so doing set aside a piece of land on Vandyke Avenue for a memorial - one wonders what happened, was it ever built?

What a great and modest project for Northeast Utilities: Do further research and build a child-size Dutch fort somewhere near the site of the original. One possible location would be the tiny park, about 150 feet by 100 feet, that sits along the Whitehead Highway on Vredendale Avenue. It's a short walk from Adriaen's Landing.

I've not been able to find an original drawing of the fort, but some research in Holland could probably produce a good likeness. We know that it was 26 feet 9 inches long and 17 feet wide, two stories high and boasted a pavillion-like shingled roof. It was armed with two cannons. Surely, the Dutch built similar forts elsewhere and an approximate representation would certainly serve the purpose.

The advent of our new KLM Dutch connection and the historic date, 2009, seem to give us good reason to explore our Dutch heritage.

Would it be something to again have the Onrust again visit Hartford, and stop at the "Huys der Goede Hoop?"

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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