“But for you Gold Street would still be a blot on our beautiful city, and we all owe you a debt of gratitude. Now if those stables could go, there would be nothing to offend the eye when the street is finished.”
These words were written to Emily Seymour Goodwin Holcombe by Elizabeth Hart Jarvis Colt in June 1899 (Ms 66889). Mrs. Colt was responding to an invitation to be present at a ceremony that would be held on June 17th to mark the transfer of Gold Street land to the City of Hartford.
On February 5, 1895 Rev. George Leon Walker, pastor of Center Church, read a paper before the Connecticut Historical
Society in which he recommended something be done to clean up the area around Gold Street and the Ancient Burying Ground. As The Hartford Courant noted the following morning, “Few of the living of the present Hartford have ever set foot there or set eye there even. It is shut out from sight and it and its are forgotten.” An area such as that, the resting place of approximately 6000 citizens, deserved better.
The woman to take up the charge was Emily Seymour Goodwin Holcombe. A descendant of the founders of Hartford, Mrs. Holcombe was also Regent of the Ruth Wyllys Chapter of the
Daughters of the American Revolution. The work was done under the auspices of the DAR. In January 1897 Mrs. Holcombe and her committee appealed to the Court of Common Council, who passed the matter to the Streets Board. Soon after meeting with the Streets Board, the project was approved. Fundraising was swift and most of the money, almost $24,000, had been raised by October.
Even though the owners of the buildings on the north side of Gold Street were willing to sell, the destruction of those tenements did not begin till April 1899. Two months later, though, they were gone. The street had been widened, the cemetery cleaned up, and it was time to celebrate.
The Courant reported that the
dominant feeling of the great gathering ws one of gratitude that the shame of the old Gold Street, with all its uncanny and wicked associations, had vanished forever before the unremitting efforts of the women of the chapter and their friends, and that in its place there was a wide avenue, full of June sunshine, and that just where the line of the old rookeries backed up against Hartford’s precious but neglected God’s acre, there was the open of sweetness and light just tempered by the shade of a few trees that have withstood bad treatment and lived until their tall branches could once more drink in the warmth of the sun.
Bands played, speeches were given, and Mrs. Holcombe was presented with a cup for her efforts. The deeds for the property, purchased by the DAR, were formally presented to the City of Hartford.
In 1913 the Court of Common Council reserved space for Mrs. Holcombe’s own burial in the cemetery she worked so hard to preserve. She died at her home in Hartford on March 28, 1923.