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Historian Hosley To Lead Bicyclists Along Trail Of Hartford's Significant Sites

By STEVE GRANT

April 03, 2010

We pulled into Spring Grove Cemetery in Hartford and hopped off our bicycles. William Hosley of Enfield, a cultural resources consultant with a decades-long professional interest in the city's history, led the way.

This was the first stop in a trial run of a Hosley pet project that's in the works a bicycle tour of Hartford historic sites.

Over here is the grave site of city native Frederic Church, one of the most prominent Hudson River School landscape painters, who celebrated nature in his works.

Over there is the grave of Lydia Sigourney, the 19th-century educator and writer who was so famous, Hosley said, that even President Buchanan paid her a visit when he passed through Hartford. Nearby are the graves of the founders of some of Hartford's most famous institutions and the resting place of five governors.

Hosley will formally lead a Hartford history bicycle tour a "Tour de Hartford" as part of Connecticut's observance of National Trails Day June 5. In Connecticut, the event will include more than 100 hikes, many of them traditional woodland hikes on foot, but others on bicycle or horseback.

"Part of my goal is to show even the most die-hard Hartford-ophile some things they have never seen before," he said.

Hosley is still refining the route and deciding exactly which historic sites will be visited, but our trial tour included stops at Spring Grove and Old North Cemetery, both in the North End; the Mark Twain House; early 20th-century industrial sites in Parkville; Pope Park; Trinity College; and points of interest along Main Street. We rode about 12 miles. Hosley expects to shorten the route somewhat while including the State Capitol and possibly other stops, including Coltsville, South Church and Bushnell Park.

"It is pretty simple," he said of the route. "But there is an amazing concentration of nationally significant things and some magnificent stories."

At Old North Cemetery, our second stop, Hosley noted the grave of Frederick Law Olmsted, another Hartford native widely regarded as the father of American landscape architecture.

"If you are trying to identify maybe the top five greatest thinkers in the origins of the environmental movement in America, you have two of them right here Olmsted, with his urban park movement, and Frederic Church," Hosley said. "It would be difficult to understate the important role the artists played in showing Congress and the people why the environment and the park service mattered."

The Hosley history tour comes with his tip of the cap to some lesser-known, often overlooked historical details. Who pays any attention to the statue of industrialist Col. Albert Pope at the edge of a parking area in Pope Park? Or, in the old industrial area nearby, the faded paint on brick identifying Pope's long-gone Hartford tire company, just one of his businesses?

In coming weeks, Hosley plans to adjust the route to avoid heavy traffic while still touching on significant and little-known historic sites. He'd like one day to produce a field guide to historic sites in Hartford cemeteries or a guide to Hartford historic sites in general.

"Cycling might be the most perfect medium to experience the city's historic sites," he says.

Many of the sites are just far enough apart that it would be tiring and time-consuming to incorporate them in a walking tour. On the other hand, he figures, visiting them by tour bus or car is too disjointed and destroys a sense of city.

"With bicycling, you are outdoors," he said. "It is a much more intimate and connected experience, yet it moves along. You can do an amazing amount in 2 or 3 hours."

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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