Saturday was the 200th birthday of Samuel Colt, and Hartford threw him a huge birthday bash. Colt draws his history back to the city in the mid-late 19th century, a time when it was a manufacturing hub. Colt Firearms happened to be one of the pillars of industry not only in Connecticut, but the whole country.
I was photographing the day’s festivities for the Hartford Courant, so make sure to check out all the photos here.
There was no irony lost on me that the manufacturer of weapons like the Colt 45 and M16 was being celebrated in the state of Connecticut. But any political or societal concerns aside, Colt was and is a part of the history of our state and city. The old Colt armory remains one of the most visible and iconic symbols of Hartford, with hundreds of thousands of I-91 commuters driving under its blue onion dome daily.
There was a lot going on, with historic walking tours, memorabilia displays, and all kinds of festivities incorporating numerous venues around the city. I decided to narrow my scope somewhat, focusing on just the main festival in Colt Park and a gala later that night.
The festival had... shall we say… a lower than anticipated turnout. When I arrived at 3 p.m. most of the vendors had packed up, well before the official 6 p.m. end time.
An event organizer acknowledged the issue, but also noted that other venues had overflow capacities for their tours and events.
I snapped a few photos and sauntered to one corner of the park where things were still happening, just in time to catch a skateboarding competition hosted by the guys from 860 Custom Skate Shop. This area of the festival seemed to have the best turnout, hosting a fashion show and b-boy competition.
While taking a few photos of the Colt dome before leaving, I noticed there were people at the base of the dome. I had to find out- was it possible to head up into the building’s dome?
It turned out tours of the Colt Building were being offered every half hour, and I was just in time. I would learn more than 800 people attended tours that day, proving that organizer correct. Maybe it just wasn’t a good day for a festival.
The building has been under construction for years, converting the empty industrial shell into dozens of loft-style apartments. The tour was partially historic but seemed mostly to show off the apartments, which was fine by me. Maybe it’s weird, but I love seeing the inside of beautiful and/or historic buildings.
We went past units still under construction, through what looked like an attic space, before going up into the dome. The view was what you would expect. Fantastic.
Hartford seems to be filled with opulent buildings that no one seems to know exist. One of them is the parish house at the Church of the Good Shepherd, where that evening’s gala was held. An event organizer gave me a quick history of the building- it was commissioned by Samuel Colt’s widow in honor of her husband and three of their children who died as infants. The building is rarely used for events because of fire code compliance issues (no elevator, very expensive to install one), which is a damn shame. This place was magnificent.
It had all the trappings of a building constructed with late 19th century robber-baron money. Intricate stonework. Symbolic details. Memorial passages inscribed in walls. Stained glass. Simply magnificent.
After taking photos I couldn’t help but creep around downstairs. Walking into a side room there was a man standing near displays of Colt memorabilia. We began talking, and he explained the technology and history of Colt Firearms in the twentieth century.
It was a whole day’s worth of history lessons and discovery.