After getting a diner breakfast in Albany, Rob and I hit the road and drove towards Hartford. It was a short, scenic drive through the hills and forests of New England. The evergreens were coated in frost and the roads were white with salt reflecting the winter sunlight. It wasn’t long before we arrived at our hotel just a short distance outside of the city.
After we checked into our hotel, we relaxed for a little while before driving into the city to get dinner. We decided to go to a place that we had been to once before on our way up to New Hampshire. It was a Mexican restaurant downtown called the Agave Grill, hidden amongst all of the high rises, but luckily parking was not difficult to find. We went inside and were seated immediately.
We ordered tableside guacamole, I ordered chicken enchiladas, and Rob ordered tacos. Our entrees were done and brought to our table before the guacamole was even prepared, and I wasn’t particularly thrilled about the enchiladas. They were just really bland, and that was pretty disappointing considering that I remembered the food being much better in our previous visit.
The next day we got some breakfast before heading downtown to see the Capitol. I visited the Connecticut Capitol once before in August of 2013 when we did the rest of the New England states. Unfortunately, the first time, the entire Capitol was full of a huge group of students that were touring the building, and our only option for an official tour that would grant us entry to the chambers was to tag along with the school group. Now, I normally wouldn’t have a huge problem with that, but because of how many pictures I need to take for my posts, large tour groups aren’t very practical for this trip. Because of that, I was happy that when we returned in February, the building was mostly empty.
When we entered, we spoke to the guard at the front because we were unsure of any security measures. Also, there was a brand new metal detector waiting to be installed right next to the door, but she said, “Not yet. Soon, but not yet. After Sandy Hook, we’ve had to rethink our security policies.”
We continued to the tour office and spoke to the docent that was on duty. She said she’d have to wait another 15 minutes until the official start time, but if no one else showed up, she’d be happy to give us a private tour. We enthusiastically accepted and wandered around the main floor for a little while, passing the time until the tour. I was struck by how different this Capitol's architecture was compared to the common neo-classical styled buildings. Connecticut’s Capitol is reminiscent of a gothic cathedral, with countless arches, ornate carvings, and detailed paintings. It also seemed to have more statues than any other Capitol, around the entire exterior and plenty on the inside as well. It’s one of those buildings that can almost be a little bit overwhelming to walk through because there are so many things to look at all at once.
The tour began with the statue honoring the heroine of Connecticut, Prudence Crandall. She established the first academy for African-American girls in New England in 1833. For 18 months, Crandall and the girls she taught withstood harassment and violence during the school’s short time in operation. Crandall stood trial twice for breaking a law that was designed to make the school close, which it did in 1834 even though charges against her were dropped. Crandall and her students demonstrated inspiring courage in taking a stand against prejudice.
The next stop was at the statue in the center of the rotunda. The soaring female figure is called the “Genius of Connecticut,” and it is the second such statue that has been at the Capitol. The original was 17 feet 10 inches tall, weighed 3.5 tons, and was cast in Munich, Germany. It stood atop the Capitol dome from 1878 to 1938 when a hurricane damaged the statue. The replica was made in 2009, but the state has yet to raise the funds to lift it to the top of the dome, so it remains in the rotunda.
One of the other artifacts displayed on the main floor was the figurehead of the USS Hartford. In 1864 at the Battle of Mobile Bay, Admiral David Glasgow Farragut famously ordered the flagship to proceed through dangerous waters with his command, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!” This quote has become an iconic symbol of American bravery, although some historians assert that it has been altered with time, or was possibly never said at all. Around the corner from the figurehead is a model of the USS Hartford.
To the left of the model ship, there was a large, old tree trunk peppered with cannon balls standing behind a black metal barrier and supported by the wall. A small sign read, “From the Battle of Chickamauga, September 19-20, 1863.” No Connecticut troops fought in that battle, but the tree was removed from the battlefield by a Hartford interior decorator by the name of E.S. Yergason, and he donated it to the state of Connecticut to ‘show the horrors of war’.
After looking at a number of other things on the first floor, we ventured upstairs to see the chambers, which are only accessible if you are with a tour guide. First was the Senate Chamber, which is smaller and considered more exclusive. The desks were arranged in a circle around the state seal with the President of the Senate’s desk sitting directly across from the chamber entrance. A gallery stood watch on either side of the room, allowing the public to watch the proceedings. The chairs and carpet were a fantastic crimson while the walls were pale green, and the soaring ceiling had gorgeous wooden moldings and gold details. Overall it was one of the more grand chambers that I have seen on the trip, but I have to admit that I wasn’t wild about the color scheme.
Next was the House Chamber, which was much more ornate than its Senate counterpart. The Speaker sat on the same wall as the entrance, with the desks of the representatives arranged like seating in an amphitheater, in a semi-circle with each row elevated higher than the one in front of it. There was almost every color imaginable in this room; the carpet was royal blue, the walls and columns were various shades of red, green, and yellow, and the ceiling was a combination of all of those and then some. The stained glass windows along the back wall complemented the color choices, as well as the moldings and gold details on the ceiling. Compared to some other Capitols, the chandeliers were fairly simple, but their simplicity helped balance out some of the chaos of the rest of the room.
As the tour came to a close we were heading back downstairs when two important looking men began walking upstairs past us. The guide stopped and said, “Governor Malloy!” just as I realized who I was looking at. I immediately stuck out my hand and said, “Hi, my name is Elizabeth Henneman, and I am visiting all of the state Capitols...”
The Governor smiled and said, “Hold on, let’s at least get off the stairs,” and gestured towards the landing. Once we got upstairs I told him about the trip and the blog, and he asked, “What do you think of this one? It’s the only one like it, you know.” I replied that it was one of my favorites, which is true, and he flashed that perfect politician smile again and said, “Let me tell you a story of the first time I dined in the Governor’s Mansion.” He beckoned us toward the railing overlooking a portion of the main floor, and he pointed to the figurehead of the USS Hartford, the ship commanded by Admiral Farragut when he said his famous quote, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!”
The Governor said, “The first time I had dinner in the Governor’s Mansion… Have you been to the Governor’s Mansion? No? Well the first time I had dinner there, I noticed a large punch bowl, and it had that figurehead as each of its handles. Apparently I was the first person to ever notice that.”
After Governor Malloy left, the guide told me that it’s very unusual for him to stop and talk to people. “You must have caught him on a good day,” She said, “Normally you’ll get a hello and a wave, but it’s very rare for that to happen.” I was pleased that I had gotten a chance to meet the Governor, even if it was a short encounter, especially because it was purely by chance.
We braved the bitter cold once again to go across the street to see the state museum, and the Supreme Court Chamber. The chamber was beautiful, decorated in blue with a heavenly mural on the ceiling. It was by far one of the largest and most aesthetically appealing of the Supreme Court chambers that I’ve seen. It is definitely worth looking in on if you are visiting the Capitol already.
The museum itself was interesting. The main room of the building housed a number of displays about the Charter Oak, which is an important part of Connecticut history. The story of the Charter Oak goes that when James II succeeded the throne of England, royal forces came to Connecticut to try and take their charter. While each side of the conflict sat in a candle-lit room on either side of a table, with the charter resting in between them, the lights went out and when the candles were re-lit, the charter was gone. Captain Joseph Wadsworth is credited with taking the charter and hiding in the oak on a large estate, therefore keeping it safe. This Charter Oak is a symbol of freedom and rebellion against tyranny in Connecticut’s history, and it is also the official state tree.
I noticed Moravian tile on the floor of this main room, which I talked about in the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania post. Henry Mercer famously made Moravian tile in Doylestown, Pennsylvania where his factory still remains. I wouldn’t be surprised if the tile on this floor was some of the same, because it is very similar in style, design, and material, but I haven’t been able to find definitive proof anywhere.
The other exhibits consisted of various historic artifacts, mostly from the Revolutionary Era. The last display, however, was a very large collection of Colt Firearms that took up an entire room. I enjoyed looking at all the different variations from all different time periods. Some were more practical and commonplace while others were more ornate, unique, and collectable. Most museums have some firearms on display, but this was by far the largest collection that I’ve seen. Since Colt’s founding, more than 30 millions firearms have been produced, almost all of them in the Hartford, Connecticut area. Even though it is not something that I would have associated with Connecticut before visiting this museum, it was interesting to see its home state pay homage to the iconic American company.
After exploring the museum we hurried back to the Capitol and stepped inside to warm up from the biting wind before having to walk through the building to the parking lot on the other side. I was thrilled that I had met the Governor, and that another of my favorite Capitols was so close to home. It was definitely a wonderful visit to Connecticut. Now it was time to head home, and prepare for our next segment of our journey when we’d be heading west to the Rocky Mountains, with a few stops along the way.