Hartford has many important landmarks, and the blue onion dome at the former Colt firearms factory is certainly one of them. The dome represents much more than an architectural landmark; itís about the manufacturing genius of Samuel Colt, and how he and his factory workers put Hartford on the global map more than 150 years ago.
Although the Coltsville Historic District was named a national landmark in 2008, the federal Interior DepartmentĎs U.S. National Park Service recently released a study ó begun in 2004 at a cost of $250,000 ó that determined Coltsville met only two of the four criteria required for recommendation that Congress declare it a national park. The study found that Colstville has national significance and is suitable as a national park, but feasibility and the need for National Park Service management had not been demonstrated.
Connecticut Congressman John Larson, a long-time champion of restoring and reusing Coltsville, is doing the right thing by calling together Coltsville stakeholders to develop solutions to the issues raised by the national park study.
It is important that the group Larson calls together, which includes representatives for the governor, mayor, the developer, Urban Smart Growth, and his lenders, move forward in resolving the two issues raised by the park service before Monday, Dec. 14, when the service holds a public hearing about the results of its Coltsville study.
Saving Coltsville is important because it is a reminder about Hartfordís prominence during the Industrial Revolution, what the city became and what it can become again: a place where people want to work, live and play.
What Sam Colt accomplished was unprecedented at that time. He created a self-contained industrial compound that enhanced the quality of life for his factory workers with numerous benefits, and cultural and social activities. In 1855, Colt constructed worker housing, a store, boat dock, railroad depot, a school, recreational facilities, a community center, a sewer system, roads, gas works and a beer garden, all within the 260-acre Coltsville complex. He even organized a brass band made up of armory workers.
When the Colt factory burned to the ground in 1864, two years after Samuel Colt died, his widow, Elizabeth Colt, decided to rebuild. A few years later, she built the Church of the Good Shepherd, another architectural gem, in the complex. Upon her death in 1905, she left her 1,000-piece art collection to the Wadsworth Atheneum, the family mansion, called Armsmear, to the Colt Trust for widows of Episcopal ministers, and 200 acres of the complex, which is now Colt Park, to Hartford.
Sam and Elizabeth Colt had a comprehensive vision for energizing Hartford and boosting its economy. Itís an accomplishment for which state and city leaders should also strive.
Coltsville is Sam and Elizabeth Coltís legacy; saving it will become the legacy of todayís business, community and government leaders.
It wonít be easy. And it wonít be cheap, which is why obtaining national park status is part of a widely supported strategy to redevelop Coltsville as a historic, cultural and tourism attraction. A national park designation also is coveted for its potential to raise its profile and hasten commercial and residential redevelopment of surrounding neighborhoods, including the Colt Gateway project.
Hopefully, with Larsonís leadership and the cooperation of other community and government leaders, the restoration and reuse of the entire Coltsville complex will be realized.
The National Park System will hold a public hearing on its Coltsville study on Dec. 14 at 5:30 p.m. in Gray Hall at the South Congregational Church at 277 Main St. in Hartford.