Inside the CHS

Justice to Ireland

March 15, 2013 · Collections ·

One of my favorite things in the Graphics Collection at the Connecticut Historical Society is an 1866 hand-colored lithograph by E.B. & E.C. Kellogg of Hartford entitled “Justice to Ireland.”  It shows an allegorical figure of a woman personifying Ireland wielding a sword and waving the Fenian banner, while trampling on the prostrate body of…
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Mr. Veeder’s Neighborhood

June 10, 2013 · CHS Buzz ·

As if secret panels and an in-home car wash weren’t enough to delight visitors on our monthly Secrets of the Veeder House Tours, we’ve now added new information on the rapidly developing West End neighborhood that Mr. Veeder chose as the site of his home.  Before he began building the stone colonial revival home for…
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Monkeys in Connecticut

September 10, 2013 · Collections ·

What’s the monkey doing in this picture? When I started working on a talk about nineteenth-century prints of monkeys by Hartford’s Kellogg brothers, I was surprised to find that most of the monkeys in these pictures were domestic pets. Monkeys were often featured in the traveling menageries that toured Connecticut during the first half of…
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Planning the Transcontinental Railroad

October 8, 2013 · Collections ·

The Connecticut Historical Society has just completed a major map project, Maps and Charts: Finding Your Place in Connecticut History, with funding from Connecticut Humanities and the William and Alice Mortensen Foundation. Eight hundred maps from the CHS collection may now be viewed in the CHS online catalog. This 1853 map showing proposed routes for…
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A Specialist in Cemeteries

October 29, 2013 · Collections ·

Some engineers specialize in land surveys, others in laying out highways or railroads. Benjamin F. Hatheway specialized in the design of cemeteries. Hatheway was born in 1827. I’m not sure when he developed his interest in the lovely rural cemeteries that were so popular in the nineteenth century, but he designed a lot of them,…
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Heartbreak Hotel

November 5, 2013 · Collections ·

Does anyone recognize the grand Victorian structure in this drawing? Richard Welling drew the Heublein Hotel in 1965 as it was in the process of being torn down to make way for Bushnell Towers. At the time, Welling was experimenting with drawing with magic markers on soft sketchpad paper. The colors bled through to the…
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Monument to Progress

November 19, 2013 · Collections ·

Richard Welling had a way of coming up with perspectives that make us see familiar subjects in a new light. In this view of the construction of Interstate 84 in 1966, the piers that will support the highway loom like ancient monoliths, like the remains of a lost culture. What might future civilizations make of…
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Sarah Bishop’s Cave

November 26, 2013 · Collections ·

A photograph by Marie Kendall in the current exhibition at the Connecticut Historical Society depicts Sarah Bishop’s Cave, a hollow in the rocks overlooking a deep valley on West Mountain in Ridgefield, Connecticut.  Who was Sarah Bishop and what was she doing in this cave?  According to historian Samuel Goodrich, who remembered meeting Sarah in…
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Blinded by the Glare

December 3, 2013 · Collections ·

David F. Armstrong of Groton, Connecticut patented the device in this photograph in 1906.  At that time, most automobiles were equipped with acetylene headlights, which apparently gave an impressive amount of light.  The concept of low beams did not exist; drivers simply coped with the dazzling light of oncoming cars as best they could.  Accidents…
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Inside the Artist’s Studio

December 18, 2013 · Collections ·

When the family of artist Richard Welling gave the contents of his studio to the Connecticut Historical Society in 2011 and 2012, they not only donated a vast collection of drawings, prints, and photographs, they also donated the brushes and pens and magic markers that Welling used to create his iconic images, the binoculars that…
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Celebrating Christmas in Connecticut

December 24, 2013 · Collections ·

Looking at old prints and photographs in the collections of the Connecticut Historical Society, I’m surprised how little Christmas customs have changed over the years.  Though Christmas in colonial Connecticut was primarily a religious affair, by the Victorian age, it had become a family holiday, complete with presents delivered by Santa and those eight tiny…
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Sending New Year’s Greetings

December 31, 2013 · Collections ·

Did you know that New Year’s cards were once nearly as common and popular as Christmas cards?  While Christmas was at first a religious and then a family holiday, New Year’s Day was long a traditional occasion for visiting one’s friends and exchanging good wishes.  It was also a purely secular holiday, celebrated and enjoyed…
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You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby!

January 7, 2014 · Collections ·

Does anyone recognize the handsome piece of furniture in this 1920s photograph?  The booklet that the little girl is holding provides a clue:  It reads “Victor Records.”  Perhaps she’s picking out a favorite song to play on the new family phonograph.  “These wonderful instruments” were sold in music stores and department stores all over Connecticut…
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Sam Colt in Texas

January 14, 2014 · Collections ·

A month ago I visited Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on the south Texas Coast, the wintering grounds of the last wild flock of whooping cranes. The great white birds can be seen feeding in the vast marshes of the refuge, and also foraging in pastures and agricultural fields in nearby communities such as Lamar. In…
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Love Tokens

February 18, 2014 · Collections ·

Last week on Valentine’s Day I was musing about some of the objects in the collections here at the CHS that were given in former times as tokens of affection. Yes, we have Valentine cards–lots of them–but we also have more intimate artifacts that were exchanged by engaged couples or by husbands and wives.  These…
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Sledding Down Drive A

February 25, 2014 · Collections ·

When I found Drive A on a map last summer, when we were in the middle of our map project, “Finding Your Place in Connecticut History,” I knew that I had found my place. There it was on a map of Greater Hartford from the 1950s: Drive A in the housing complex known as Silver…
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Here We Go Again

March 4, 2014 · Collections ·

Winter isn’t over yet. Historically, some of the worst winter storms have happened between the end of February and the end of March. The Blizzard of 1888 took place March 11-14th. The Great Ice Storm of 1898 took place on February 20-22nd.  Looking at pictures of these historic storms reminds us that giant piles of…
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Seeking Asylum

March 11, 2014 · Collections ·

What nationally famous Connecticut institution was once located near the junction of Farmington Avenue and Asylum Avenue? How many people notice the statue that stands in the little wedge-shaped green park at this busy intersection, and how many people know what it commemorates? In 1817, one of the first schools for the deaf was erected…
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Looking at the Backs of Things

March 18, 2014 · Collections ·

Curators and catalogers spend quite a bit of time looking at the backs and bottoms of things, trying to glean information about pictures and objects.  Labels on the back of the frame of an oil painting may tell where and when it was exhibited or purchased.  Marks on prints and drawings may prove clues to…
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Men at Work

March 25, 2014 · Collections ·

Richard Welling was known as the “Artist in a Hard Hat” because he spent so much time at construction sites. He spent so much time drawing the World Trade Center when it was first going up in Manhattan that the Port Authority issued him a pass to the site—and his own hard hat. Welling was…
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The Last Wolf in Connecticut

March 28, 2014 · Collections ·

I drove into work this morning behind a car with a bumper sticker for the West Hartford Wolves, a youth hockey team. Today we think of wolves and tough and brave, as noble symbols of wildness and of the wilderness. We now view wilderness itself as something rather rare and precious, good for the human…
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A Good Many Chestnut Trees About

April 15, 2014 · Collections ·

Before the chestnut flight devastated the forests in the early 1900s, American chestnut trees were a prominent feature in the Connecticut landscape. Chestnut trees grew tall and straight and the wood was used in the construction of barns and houses and the making of furniture, telephone poles, and railroad ties. The nuts were used as…
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A-Tisket, A-Tasket, a Green and Yellow Basket

April 22, 2014 · Collections ·

In this photograph from the early twentieth century, two little girls in Hartford’s Mazzafera family are holding baskets of flowers. When I was cataloguing the photograph a couple of years ago, I described the baskets as “Easter baskets.” Maybe they are. The first mention I can find of “Easter baskets” in the Hartford Courant, however,…
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An Olympic medal, a G. Fox Bracelet, and a Katharine Hepburn Costume

April 25, 2014 · CHS Buzz ·

So, yesterday, on behalf of the Connecticut Historical Society, I attended the Connecticut Conference on Tourism in Hartford. Firstly, it is inspiring to see the number of wonderful institutions across Connecticut that are so passionate about what they are doing. There was lots of learning opportunities with workshops about social media, using video content, reaching…
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The Philadelphia Story… A Connecticut Story?

April 28, 2014 · Collections ·

The Oscar-nominated movie that is known for its many catch phrases (“The calla lilies are in bloom again”) has a few distinct connections with the Nutmeg State. Katharine Hepburn, born of Hartford, created the role of Tracy Lord on the stage in 1939, which immediately preceded the 1940 on-screen release of The Philadelphia Story.

The Mapmaker’s Daughter

April 29, 2014 · Collections ·

  It’s a Cinderella story. Mary Pierson (1874-1949) was the daughter of Stephen C. Pierson, a civil engineer based in Meriden, Connecticut. The CHS has a large map of Meriden surveyed by Pierson in 1891. In 1898, his daughter Mary married Horace Bushnell Cheney, a member of the Cheney silk manufacturing dynasty. The couple traveled…
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On the Road with Richard Welling: Octagon Houses

May 6, 2014 · Collections ·

An “Octagon House” is just what it sounds like: an eight-sided dwelling. Octagon houses were something of a fad in 1850s America. They were promoted by a New York phrenologist names Orson Squire Fowler, who believed such houses were cheaper to build, easier to heat, and cooler in summer. Octagon houses are scattered all across…
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On the Road with Richard Welling: Along the Maine Coast

May 13, 2014 · Collections ·

When I was growing up, my family spent two weeks in Maine every summer, and those were probably the best two weeks of my entire year. Later on, when I was grown up and living in the Boston area, I went to Maine frequently, both on weekend day trips and for extended vacations, exploring parts…
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What’s Not in This Picture?

May 20, 2014 · Collections ·

For the past few weeks I’ve been working on a series of photographs taken during the 1880s by an unknown itinerant photographer, probably employed by the Northern Survey Company. The photographer traveled from town to town taking photographs of people’s houses, usually with the members of the family and their prized possessions arrayed on the…
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Savin Rock Memories

May 27, 2014 · Collections ·

I didn’t really appreciate postcards until I began reading what was written on the backs of the cards.  Most postcard collectors like their cards in pristine condition, unused, never sent, but I prefer those that have been through the mail, carrying messages between friends and family members.  “Who said we couldn’t find our way?” a…
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Where in Connecticut?

June 3, 2014 · Collections ·

The gracious old house has a wide veranda and is surrounded by mature trees. In the photograph, it is autumn, and the ground is littered with leaves, but in spring, the gardens must have been a riot of color. There was a coach house, a barn with one of the first basketball hoops in the…
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The Mountain Laurel is in Bloom Again

June 10, 2014 · Collections ·

Certain flowers remind me of certain people. Trailing arbutus reminds me of my father, who knew where to find it growing in the woods around Manchester, where I grew up. Hybrid tea roses remind me of my mother, who grew them in her garden. Mountain laurel reminds me of a woman I never knew, who…
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Hartford Blooms at CHS

June 24, 2014 · Collections ·

At the end of the nineteenth century, much of the west part of Hartford was still farmland. Cows grazed in the meadows along the Park River, where small boys went swimming in the summertime. But the area was beginning to build up, primarily with great estates, but also with more modest homes in the neighborhood…
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A Moment in Time

July 1, 2014 · Collections ·

It’s the Fourth of July. An American flag is flying from Fort Trumbull, and a stately procession of tall ships is leaving New London harbor. The monument commemorating the Revolutionary War Battle of Groton Heights is visible in the background. It could almost be a snapshot taken during OpSail, but this drawing was made by…
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Who Was Hartford Louise?

July 8, 2014 · Collections ·

The gentleman driving the sulky is John A. Pilgard. The horse is Hartford Louise. Pilgard had come to Hartford as a poor immigrant boy and became a successful merchant, banker, and civic leader. A butcher and grocer by trade, Pilgard greatest love was fast horses, especially those that he bred and raced himself. He was…
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Who Were the Harvard Five—And What Do They Have to do with Connecticut?

July 15, 2014 · Collections ·

When most people think of Connecticut architecture, they most often think of Colonial saltbox houses or white steepled churches nestled in green hills. They usually don’t think of the International Style of modern architecture, and they certainly don’t think of Harvard University. But in the 1940s, five architects from Harvard settled in the green hills…
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What Does this Photograph of the Farmington River have to do with Downton Abbey?

July 22, 2014 · Collections ·

Inscriptions on the back of this 1930s photograph of the Farmington River provide quite a bit of information about it. The dam in the foreground is said to be in the same location as the dam for the first gristmill on the river, established in 1701. In the 1930s, there was still an active gristmill…
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I Love New York

July 29, 2014 · Collections ·

Artist Richard Welling loved to drawing buildings, especially very large buildings. He was therefore drawn to cities, and his two favorite cities were Hartford, Connecticut and New York City. His drawings chronicling the construction of the World Trade Center are today at the New-York Historical Society, but some of his other New York drawings came…
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The Artist and the Connecticut Landscape

September 16, 2014 · Collections ·

One of the things I like best about my job at CHS is the opportunity to network with other museum professionals throughout the state….

(Re)Building Bridgeport

September 30, 2014 · Collections ·

Bridgeport was originally a parish of Stratford and only became a separate town in 1821. An 1824 map shows its streets lined with houses—including several sea captains’ houses—and a few small businesses.

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