Hartford was in its heyday when most of the homes in Asylum Hill were built. The city was then among the richest in the nation, and “The Hill” was its most fashionable neighborhood. People built well and built to last.
Hartford has changed a lot since then, as has Asylum Hill. But much of the magnificent architecture in Asylum Hill remains. Some have been allowed to run down, but other have been maintained and still others have been saved from the wrecking ball and restored to their original splendor.
Much of that restoration work has been done by NINA, the Northside Institutions Neighborhood Alli¬ance. NINA was created in 2003 by several Asylum Hill corporations to improve the quality of life in the neighborhood. Currently, NINA’s supporting institutions include The Hartford, Saint Francis Hospital and Medical Center, Aetna and Webster Bank.
Under the direction of NINA?Executive Director Ken Johnson, the organization decided to concentrate on restoring Asylum Hill’s housing stock in order to retain current homeowners and attract new ones.
Over the past eight years, NINA has renovated dozens of historic homes in Asylum Hill and participated in numerous activities to promote the neighborhood, such as walking tours. The organization first gained widespread attention when it moved a historic home seven city blocks to Ashley Street, where it was later renovated (see page 3).
This project was marked by a close cooperation between several organizations, and collaboration has become a hallmark of NINA’s style.
A case in point is one of NINA’s latest projects, the renovation of 33 Sargeant Street. Four major supporters and almost 300 volunteers, organized by ServCorps, have joined forces to build this spacious and energy-efficient new home designed to fit with the architectural and historical character of the neighborhood. Bank of America contributed the land, after the building that had stood on the property had been condemned and demolished. The Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) awarded NINA a green grant for energy-efficient measures in the house, and the City of Hartford provided key financing through its Neighbor¬hood Stabilization Pro¬gram. The Hartford Financial Services Group made a $25,000 contribution to the project, and nearly 80 employees from The Hartford donated their time to help construct the home. Additionally, some 200 volunteers from other organizations around the greater Hartford region worked on the house. These organizations included the University of Connecticut’s School of Social Work, Trinity College, area private schools such as Ethel Walker and Avon Old Farms, and local churches.
The construction of the new home at 33 Sargeant Street also provided on-the-job training for participants in the YouthBuild Hartford program of Co-Opportunity. These trainees are learning construction trades under the supervision of ServCorps, while Co-Opportunity provides these at risk young people with mentors, life skills training, and GED opportunities in conjunction with Capitol Region Education Council (CREC).
33 Sargeant is one of six homes NINA plans to develop and sell for homeownership in Asylum Hill this year. All have been completed in collaboration with ServCorps, a non-profit organization that grew out of Asylum Hill Congregational Church. ServCorps President Richard Grobe note, “We organize and support volunteers from all backgrounds to join together in the effort to revitalize the Asylum Hill neighborhood. High school and college students, office workers, retired executives, and inner city young people have all worked side by side to build 33 Sargeant Street.”
An open house and cookout at 33 Sargeant Street will be held on Wednesday, September 14 from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. to honor funders and volunteers who worked with NINA and ServCorps to build the house.