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Where We Live by John Silveira and Richard Blunt. Photos and commentary from Oregon and New England.

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Archive for March, 2015

 

Hartford — A City Of Majestic Architecture, Classic Art and Impressive History

Sunday, March 8th, 2015

Hartford is the capital city of Connecticut. It houses many insurance company headquarters, and is considered the insurance capital of this country. Named in 1637, it is one of the oldest cities in the U.S. Mark Twain lived in Hartford in an impressive 19-room Victorian Gothic home from 1873 until 1891. In 1962 the house was declared a National Historic Landmark, and is one of Hartford’s most popular museum attractions.  About the city, Twain wrote, “of all the beautiful towns it has been my fortune to see, this is the chief.” Over the years Hartford has experienced many of the same problems that have affected many eastern cities. However, like other great cities in this part of the world, Hartford is healing itself and slowly returning to the richness and prosperity that it held after the Civil War. It is the home of this nation’s oldest public art museum — the Wadsworth Atheneum; the oldest continually published newspaper, The Hartford Courant; and the oldest public park, Bushnell Park. My mother often spoke of a brownstone Civil War memorial that she visited while on leave in the Army in 1940. She was returning to Fort Devens Army Base in Massachusetts from New York, and was delayed for several hours in Hartford. One of the people that she was traveling with grew up in Hartford and suggested a visit to Bushnell Park to see the Civil War Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch. The park was within walking distance on this warm spring day, so my mom agreed. To this day I am not quite sure why my mother was fascinated by this brownstone arch, but whenever she would reminisce about her years in the Army she would describe her visit to the Memorial in detail. My first visit to the Memorial Arch was in 1971 while on a cross-country motorcycle trip. Since relocating to Connecticut 25 years ago, I have frequently visited Bushnell Park and the Memorial Arch. Each time, I tour the area while recalling my mother’s story of her visit so many years ago. Unfortunately, there was too much snow and ice to comfortably walk through the park, so I parked in the State House visitors’ parking lot and walked to the Arch.

The Mark Twain House — another classic museum in Hartford

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  The Connecticut State House

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A view of Bushnell Park with downtown Hartford in the background

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The Soldiers and Sailors Memorial was was dedicated on September 17, 1886. It was the first triumphal arch in America. Unlike many other war memorials in this country, it does not list the names of the individuals that fought and died in the war. There are two terracotta tablets crafted on the Memorial: one on the southeast tower and one on the southwest tower. Both tablets honor the 4,000 Hartford citizens who served in the war, and the 400 who died fighting. The arch was designed by one of Hartford’s leading architects, George Keller. It is made of brownstone from Portland, Connecticut, and is crafted in Gothic Revival style. The terracotta friezes are positioned 40 feet above the road and are 7 feet high.

The frieze on the southern side of the arch (in the photo below) was crafted by Casper Buberl and tells the story of peace, with a central female allegorical figure welcoming soldiers home with laurel wreaths. Spandrel symbols located on the north and south face of the arch identify the four military services: the anchor for the Navy, the crossed cannon for the Artillery, crossed sabers for the Cavalry, and crossed rifles for the Infantry. Six 8-foot-tall sculptural figures adorn the two towers — a farmer, a blacksmith, a student, a carpenter, a mason, and a freed slave breaking the chains of bondage.

The towers are topped with two bronze angels: one playing a trumpet and the other playing the cymbals. The ashes of the Arch designer George Keller and his wife are entombed in the east tower.

On September 17, 2011, I attended a re-dedication of the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch. The ceremony was held 125 years after the original dedication, which coincided with the 24th anniversary of the battle of Antietam. The event was climaxed with a 21-gun-salute by Civil War re-enactors.

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The Southern Frieze

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The Northern Frieze

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The dedication tablet on the Southwest tower

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The dedication tablet on the Southeast tower

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Angels at the top

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The Blacksmith

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The Mason

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Two military symbols — Cavalry on the left, Infantry on the right

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