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Colt Story Begs To Be Told

Editorial By Courant

August 26, 2007

Patience is at a premium for those at the national, state and local levels who yearn to see the dreams of Coltsville realized, The Courant among them.

The $110 million rehabilitation of the 19th-century arms factory complex in Hartford built and run by Samuel and Elizabeth Colt, a large and complicated project, has been stalled at times as the developers juggle various funding sources.

But the more vexing delays have been in its designation as a National Historic Landmark.

This is a no-brainer, and yet federal bureaucracy has kept it from happening. The Colts' residence, Armsmear, is already a National Historic Landmark, one of only 2,500 in the nation. The proposal being presented to the National Park Service's Landmarks Advisory Committee would put that building in broader context by extending the landmark designation to other parts of the 260 acres once owned and developed by the Colts.

The factory buildings, the Church of the Good Shepherd and its parish hall, Colt Park, worker housing, a stable and a flood control dike would also be part of the honored district. These additions would give a holistic picture of the industrial age by including not just the home of the wealthy industrialist, but the factory's impact on the workers and on the community.

This designation is an important step in establishing the national significance of Coltsville, a prerequisite for its hoped-for designation as a national park. The still- recognizable landscape was a hotbed of innovation in the machine age, a proving ground for inventors. It made Colt a household name internationally.

It would be an ideal setting in which to educate the nation about Connecticut's extraordinary contribution to precision manufacturing and world commerce.

There have been some frustrating obstacles to the designation. Now, a meeting of the National Park Service's Landmarks Advisory Committee, planned for October, is in limbo pending action by Congress.

The House of Representatives did its part by approving the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations Act for 2008 in June. The budget bill contains the money necessary to reauthorize the committee of experts who bestow significant status on national landmarks that help tell the national story. But there's no guarantee the Senate will approve the reauthorization in time to get the committee together before next spring.

This is a shame because the Colt application got a raw deal last fall when it was turned down, to the shock of many, partly because of misinformation given to the committee. Since then, to its credit, the National Park Service has agreed to recommend reconsideration of Coltsville as a landmark. Emissaries were sent to Hartford over the winter to inspect the site. The response, we are told, was enthusiastic.

Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne can approve the Colt re-application on the word of advisers and the overwhelming evidence that this authentic piece of American history is essentially intact and nationally significant. How about it, Mr. Secretary?

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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