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Around New England: A Hartford Lament

November 11, 2013 12:52 PM  

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Photographs by William Morgan

Not the best view of Hartford, Connecticut.

For much of the 19th century, the Connecticut capital was a city to be reckoned with: wealthy, beautiful, a commercial and intellectual powerhouse.

Today, Hartford is a ghost of the city of Mark Twain, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Wallace Stevens. Beset with poverty, potholes, and uninspired development, the once pleasant city on the Connecticut River is an urban disaster.

Without going into the political, economic, and social reasons for a once proud metropolis’s decline, some conclusions can be drawn just from the view from my downtown hotel room during a recent visit.

Not so many years ago there were few skyscrapers downtown, the early 20th-century Beaux Arts tower of Travelers Insurance acting like an inspired solo beacon. You could still see the gilded dome of the magnificent Victorian Gothic state capitol, surrounded by a lovely greensward of park. One did not have to pick through the hideous boxes of thoughtless overbuilding to see such nationally important architectural treasures as the Romanesque Revival railroad station by H.H. Richardson or the picturesque Gothic Wadsworth Athenaeum by Alexander Jackson Davis. You have to wonder where were great architects during the city’s recent mad rush to reinvent itself as a New England version of Los Angeles on the freeway.

One surviving gem is Christ Church Cathedral, designed in 1827 by the noted architect Ithiel Town. You can barely make out the spiky English medieval outline of the cathedral, dwarfed and overpowered by mediocre office blocks. A pilgrim on foot trying to reach this house of worship would likely be killed trying to cross the many lanes of traffic, seemingly speeding cars and trucks away from downtown.

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The spiky medieval Christ Church Cathedral, designed by Ithiel Town in 1827, is dwarfed by the city’s office buildings.

Juxtaposed with this urban nightmare is the hotel swimming pool, a surreal oasis in the asphalt dessert of downtown Hartford.


Great design is always at your fingertips — read the November/December 2013 issue online!

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About this blog

An insider's look at must-have products, fresh trends, and inspired spaces from the team at Design New England magazine.

Gail Ravgiala is editor of Design New England and a fan of both the region's historic architecture and its growing inventory of modern houses and public buildings.

Courtney Kasianowicz is associate editor of Design New England who scouts the area for new design, charming products, and local artisans both innovative and daring.

Jill Connors, Design New England's editor-at-large, is an antiques maven and design scout and will post about trends and discoveries in the field.

Bruce Irving, Design New England's contributing editor for architecture & building, is a renovation specialist who will share his insights on design and construction.

Estelle Bond Guralnick, Design New England's style & interiors editor, will post about interior design and interior designers and her favorite finds.

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