Saturday, June 08, 2013

A piece of Hartford history that probably won't be missed

A Hartford institution that opened in 1940 and served pretty much everyone who had anything to do with the city is about to disappear.

Don't rack you brain for the name of a bank, restaurant, or store. We're talking about the landfill in the North Meadows.

The Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority (CRRA), which has leased the landfill from the city since 1982, announced this week that it has awarded an $11.6 million contract for the final phase of capping the site.

Reading a CRRA fact sheet on the landfill serves as a reminder that not everything about Hartford's past deserves the glow of nostalgia:

The City of Hartford opened the landfill on Leibert Road in the North Meadows for use as an open-burning dump in 1940.

In 1951, the Hartford Fire Department burned shacks erected on the landfill by "dump dwellers."

Between 1953 and 1977 all waste produced in the City of Hartford was burned in the then-state-of-the-art Hartford incinerator. Byproducts from the burning were emitted into the air without any pollution controls. During this period the landfill received incinerator ash and bulky wastes.

The city leased the landfill to the CRRA in 1982. By 1988, the landfill's days of accepting raw garbage were over. Instead, CRRA began using it to deposit ash from its Hartford trash-to-energy plant, along with assorted bulky and special wastes. Still, it emitted a smell that gave visitors driving into Hartford along Interstate 91 a bad first impression of the city. It was no fun for the neighbors, either.

In 2008, CRRA began the process of installing a state-of-the-art synthetic cap over the entire 80-acre landfill. The cap, made of a thick plastic material, will mean there will be 90 percent less infiltration of the landfill by rain water, according to CRRA.

The agency also announced that the closing will allow the making of more history. The final section to be capped, measuring about 35 acres, will have photovoltaic panels mounted on top of a special artificial turf. The project is expected to generate about one megawatt of electricity, or enough to power about 1,000 homes at peak efficiency."The Hartford landfill will be the first in the state – and one of only a handful in the country – to generate solar power," according to CRRA.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Fascinating new history blog

If you love the mementos of history, check out The Vault, a new history blog on Slate. Here's how The Vault bills itself: 

Every weekday, we’ll publish one archival document or object of visual and historical interest. Here you’ll find carefully selected photographs, pamphlets, maps, buttons, toys, letters, ledgers, and the occasional lock of hair, along with a bit of explanation to give you some context for what you’re seeing. Just this week we’ll be looking at Benedict Arnold’s loyalty oath, a microscope set for girls of the 1950s, and a memo from a Nixon aide pleading with the president to call the Space Shuttle the Space Clipper instead.

So far, the postings have been amazing, especially this test color film that Kodak created in 1922:

Monday, November 12, 2012

Stowe House moves closer to designation as national historic landmark

The nomination of the Harriet Beecher Stowe House for national historic landmark status cleared another hurdle in Washington last week, with the National Historic Landmark Committee giving its unanimous approval and sending the nomination on to the National Park System Advisory Board.

The Advisory Board must now make its recommendation to the Secretary of the Interior, who has the final say.  

According to the National Park Service, fewer than 2,500 places in the U.S. have historic landmark designation. It is reserved for places that "possess exceptional value or quality in illustrating or interpreting the heritage of the United States." Among other things, a national historic landmark designation can open the door to grants, tax incentives, and technical preservation assistance from the federal government.

Connecticut's two senators, Joseph I. Lieberman and Richard Blumenthal, along with 1st District Congressman John B. Larson, issued statements expressing their continued support of the effort.

"Harriet Beecher Stowe left an indelible mark on American history, and through the preservation of her house in Hartford, current and future generations can come to learn and appreciate her extraordinary accomplishments and the lasting legacy they have had," Larson said.

Here's the National Park Service's nomination of the Stowe house, complete with historic and current photographs (PDF, 40 pages). Here's a two-page summary (PDF.) And here's a list of the Connecticut properties that have won designation (PDF, 3 pages.)

Monday, August 20, 2012

Honoring Hartford's soldiers in the Battle of Antietam

September 17th marks the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Antietam, the bloodiest day in U.S. history. The Civil War engagement, fought near Antietam Creek in Maryland, claimed an estimated 23,000 casualties on both sides. Among those fighting for the North were 36 men later buried in Hartford's historic Cedar Hill Cemetery. You can learn their stories on Saturday, August 25, when Mary Falvey conducts a commemorative tour at the cemetery, at 453 Fairfield Avenue, starting at 10 a.m.

According to the Cedar Hill Cemetery Foundation's website, you'll learn about the bravery and valor that occurred during the battle, the anguish and suffering survivors would later endure, and the contributions the returning veterans made to Hartford history. Admission is $5 (free for Let’s Go Arts members.)

Friday, August 17, 2012

Constitution Plaza: Worth it?

For the most recent edition of its Conversations at Noon series, the Old State House posed a question that always stirs up strong feelings in these parts: "Did Hartford's Constitution Plaza Hurt or Help the City?"

The August 1 event began with a talk by historian Jason Scappaticci, followed by a panel discussion that included Scappaticci, Christopher Wigren of the Connecticut Trust for the Historic Preservation, and Tom Deller of the city's Department of Development Services.

Here's full video of the discussion from the indispensable Connecticut Network (CT-N):

Monday, August 13, 2012

Wanted: Photos of G. Fox & Co.

As mentioned in the previous post, I'm preparing a book on the history of Hartford's most famous department store, G. Fox & Co. While I have many photographs at this point, I could use some more, so if you have any to share, please contact me at You would, of course, receive a "courtesy of" credit in the caption.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Technology to the rescue: inflation calculators

If a muskrat coat was valued at $200 in 1948, how much money would that be today, adjusted for inflation?  I wondered about this because I'd come into possession of a storage receipt in the course of my research for a book on Hartford's G. Fox & Co. department store.

Thankfully, the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics has an online calculator for just such a job. Your tax dollars at work.

The answer, by the way, is $1,904.38.

If you own an iPhone, there are also apps for that, of course.