In Depth Contemporary Hartford is a dynamic blend of the past and future—its Ancient Burying Ground is only blocks away from the boat-shaped headquarters of Phoenix Life Insurance Co., while Bushnell Park, the nation's oldest public park, sits across from Union Station, the city's bustling transit hub.
Although much of Hartford's reputation rests on the creation and collection of insurance premiums, this state capital can claim a boisterous history. Hartford grew from a Dutch trading post in 1633 into an English settlement founded 1636 by the Rev. Thomas Hooker and Samuel Stone. Its name derives from Stone's birthplace in Hertford, England.
Hartford was the site of one of the first Colonial efforts to resist English rule. In 1687 Sir Edmund Andros, the English governor, demanded that Hartford's citizens relinquish a 25-year-old charter granted by King Charles II that gave the colony its independence; the colonists hid the charter in the trunk of a large oak tree for about 3 days. A round stone marker on Charter Oak Place marks the spot where the oak stood until a storm brought it down in 1856.
By the 1870s Hartford had the highest per capita income in the country, and philanthropists and world literary figures made their homes here. Mark Twain and Harriet Beecher Stowe were neighbors in the lovely and exclusive Nook Farm area. The newspaper they read, The Hartford Courant, was founded in 1764 and today has the oldest continuous name and circulation of any newspaper in the country. The Mark Twain House, a 25-room brick Victorian Gothic Revival mansion, was built to the Twain's family's specifications and was home to the couple and their three daughters for 17 years. “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” and “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” were written in this place about which the author said, “It is a home - and the word never had so much meaning before.”
Hartford's path to insurance capital of the world began with the establishment of the Hartford Fire Insurance Co. in 1810; eventually insurance companies expanded both in number and in scope of coverage until they formed today's multibillion-dollar industry. And they're an architecturally interesting lot. The 527-foot Travelers Tower is the city's second-tallest building (and was the seventh tallest in the world when it was completed in 1919).
Brownstone, red brick and a gold dome characterize the design of Aetna's corporate office on Farmington Avenue. The Colonial Revival building was modeled after Connecticut's Old State House. The green-tinted headquarters of the Phoenix Life Insurance Co. at Constitution Plaza is known as the “Boat Building” because of its distinctive two-sided shape; it incorporates early 1960s Modernist design features that also turn up in New York City's United Nations Building and Lincoln Center (all three were designed by the same architect).
Education always has been important to Hartford. Founded in 1823, Trinity College, 300 Summit St., has some fine examples of collegiate Gothic architecture on its 96-acre campus. The interior of the chapel has many carvings in stone and wood. The Austin Arts Center features changing exhibitions and theatrical and musical performances. The University of Connecticut School of Law is on 20 picturesque acres near Elizabeth Park Rose Garden.
An ongoing effort to reconnect downtown Hartford with the Connecticut River has resulted in a rejuvenation of the riverfront district. Once a prime part of the city's economy, the river is now used mainly for recreational pursuits. A combination of new and restored riverfront parks on both banks of the river provide boat launches, river walks, fishing access and picnic areas. Each park has its own assortment of other amenities, including playgrounds, a volleyball court, a rowing facility, bicycle and nature trails, amphitheaters and sculptures; festivals, concerts, outdoor movies and boat races take place May through October. Contact Riverfront Recapture for more information; phone (860) 713-3131.
Expert not just at innovating, Hartford also adopts and adapts. In a creative variation on Yankee hospitality, the city has stationed in downtown the Hartford Guides, roving on-street ambassadors of goodwill in blue uniforms and baseball caps. Assisting visitors, workers and residents, these professionals offer insights into the city's history and information about its amenities, facilities and events.
AAA’s in-person hotel evaluations are unscheduled to ensure the inspector has an experience similar to that of members. To pass inspection, all hotels must meet the same rigorous standards for cleanliness, comfort and hospitality. These hotels receive a AAA Diamond designation that tells members what type of experience to expect.
Connecticut sales tax is 6.35 percent. Room occupancy tax in the greater Hartford area is 15 percent. The car rental tax is 9.35 percent with an added $1 per day tourism tax.
Hartford Hospital, (860) 545-5000; Saint Francis Hospital and Medical Center, (860) 714-4000.
One Constitution Plaza 2nd Floor Hartford, CT 06103. Phone:(860)256-2800
Bradley International Airport
Hertz, at the airport and at several downtown locations, offers discounts to AAA members; phone (860) 627-3850 or (800) 654-3080.
The Amtrak station, (860) 727-1776 or (800) 872-7245, is downtown in the Union Station Transportation Center at 1 Union Pl.
Greyhound Lines Inc., (860) 724-7080 or (800) 231-2222, Peter Pan Bus Lines/Bonanza Bus, (800) 343-9999, and other intercity buses operate out of the Union Station Transportation Center at 1 Union Pl. Taxis and CTTransit buses also are available.
Taxis hired at the airport taxi stand charge $45 to downtown (for up to four people). Cab companies include Yellow, (860) 666-6666. Base fare (for up to four people) is $3.00 for first one-ninth mile, then 30c per each additional one-ninth mile.
The buses of CTTransit, (860) 525-9181 or TTY (860) 727-8196, run on more than 30 routes servicing Hartford and its surrounding towns. The buses operate daily, with reduced schedules weekends and holidays. Regular fare $1.75; all-day pass $3.50.