Hartford CT: A Capitol Idea For A Getaway

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WHY GO: If you’ve ever been curious about why Connecticut is called The Constitution State, Hartford CT is the best place to find out. The groundwork for the US Constitution was laid right here – in a 1639 sermon, The Fundamental Orders, by the Reverend Thomas Hooker – calling for a representative government in Connecticut.

Home to the State Capitol, Mark Twain, Harriet Beecher-Stowe, a state-of-the-art Science Center, America’s first public Art Museum, and a plethora of great restaurants,  there’s more to this Insurance hub than actuarial tables.  Come for the business, stay for the pleasure on this Constitutional Getaway.

Things to Do in Hartford CT

Connecticut's Old State House Museum, Hartford CT

VISIT: Connecticut’s Old State House

This is the only place on earth where you can see Mark Twain’s bicycle, a large Gilbert Stewart portrait of George Washington, rooms in which the Amistad captives were tried, and a two-headed calf all in the same building.

Dwarfed by insurance skyscrapers that surround it, the Old State House was one of two State Capitol buildings in Connecticut (alternating with New Haven) before it became Hartford City Hall in 1878 to 1913. 

In 1996, the State House was renovated to include a wonderful interactive exhibit: History Is All Around Us. You’ll find out how Asylum Ave. got its name. Ok, I’ll tell you: it was named after the Asylum for the Deaf and Dumb, now American School for the Deaf.

From Native American settlement to a colonial era town, as a factory city, then a national insurance hub – the history of Hartford unspools in an entertaining way.

Courtroom Old State House Hartford CT
Courtroom Old State House Hartford CT

Upstairs, tour the old Court Room where the Amistad slaves and abolitionist Prudence Crandall were tried. Circus master, PT Barnum, served in the CT House of Representatives, which met in these chambers.

Museum of Curiosities Old State House Museum Hartford CT
Old State House Museum Hartford CT

Maven Favorite Museum of Curiosities is also on the second floor. Though it’s stocked with Victorian-era oddities, like “newly-discovered” creatures from the China Seas, it also features a Barnum/Ripley esque taxidermied Two Headed Calf – the most photographed curiosity here.

Don’t forget to pick up some CT-made items in the gift shop.  Whiffle Balls and Bat sets, made in Shelton, CT,  are just $10 each.  Open 10am-5pm Mon-Fri., Summer Tues-Sat. $6 adults, $3 kids.

Connecticut State Capitol Building, Hartford CT

TOUR: Connecticut State Capitol Building

Take a self-guided tour of Connecticut’s High Victorian Gothic style State House, built in 1878 and completely renovated in 1989.

Statues of state heroes Prudence Crandall (who was arrested for accepting an African American girl into her private school in 1832), and Nathan “I regret that I have but one life to lose for my country” Hale stand proudly in these gilded-age halls. 

Connecticut Capitol Building interior
Hartford Capitol interior

Check out the fountain beneath the staircase used to fill buckets of water for the legislator’s horses hitched to the back porch. The fanciful Victorian-era interior, ornately painted and carved, is worth seeing if only for a few minutes. Guided tours are also available and free, on the hour 9:15-1:15 Mon-Fri.

On the Slopes at Connecticut Science Center Hartford CT
Connecticut Science Center Hartford CT

VISIT: Connecticut Science Center

At nine stories, the LEED Certified green Science Center looms over the Hartford waterfront. Its top floor provides incredible views of the Connecticut River and beyond. But that’s not why you should visit. 

Of course, museums like this are the key to making science entertaining and relevant for the newest generations. But you don’t have to be a kid to have a blast here. Step inside a Hurricane Force wind tunnel – where 80MPH gusts whip your eyelashes around.

Sim Man, Connecticut Science Center, Hartford CT

Give the lifelike “Sim Man” a heart attack or allergies, and see how he reacts: disconcertingly, his eyes swell up as an allergic reaction. Try your skill on the “Downhill Dash” ski racing arcade game, program a 1 ½ ft tall humanoid robot to dance, and create the new big thing in the “Invention, Dimension and Explorer” Exhibit.

Race sailboats, play basketball with a computer, scream your head off in a soundproof room and indulge in other Mad Scientist adventures. Hundreds of games, displays and state of the art experiments will keep you happy for hours, if not days. Open 10am-5pm Tues-Sunday, $24.95 adult, $16.95 kids.

Sol LeWitt Murals, Wadsworth Antheneum, Hartford CT

VISIT: Wadsworth Atheneum

Opened in 1844, the Wadsworth was the country’s first public art museum. It has been on the cutting edge of art acquisition ever since.  Avant guarde for its time, the Wadsworth was the first American museum to display works by Salvador Dali, Joan Miro, Piet Mondrian, and Max Ernst.

Interior Wadsworth Atheneum Hartford CT
Wadsworth Atheneum Hartford CT

And with over 50,000 pieces in a variety of galleries, the Wadsworth is a terrific place to wander and discover those that call to you. If Sol LeWitt is your man, you’re in luck, as his murals grace several soaring spaces throughout the museum.  

John Singleton Copley’s 1780 Portrait of a Lady Wadsworth Antheneum Hartford CT

The “Lady” in John Singleton Copley’s 1780 Portrait of a Lady bears a striking resemblance to Dame Maggie Smith as the Dowager Countess of Grantham on Downton Abby. I could have also lingered longer around the massive John Trumbull oils – especially The Signing of the Declaration of Independence and The Battle Of Bunker Hill. But countless other galleries beckoned. 

Jonathan Borofsky’s 1984 Half A Sailboat Painting Wadsworth Antheneum Hartford CT

Sadly, I left without knowing the story behind Jonathan Borofsky’s 1984 “Half A Sailboat Painting,” which is literally, half an oil painting of a sailboat. $10 adults, kids under 12 free, Wed-Fri 11-5, Sat/Sun 10-5.

Mark Twain House Hartford CT
Mark Twain House Hartford CT

VISIT: Mark Twain House and Museum

It’s incredible to think that a couple of decades ago, Samuel Clemens’s (pen name, Mark Twain) Hartford home was in danger of financial collapse. Now, no less than National Geographic declares the Mark Twain House one of 10 Best Historic Homes worldwide. (In the US, only the Twain House, Monticello and Mount Vernon made the cut).

Subsequently, Twain lovers flock here by the tens of thousands. After the Southern humorist married Olivia Langdon, a Yankee girl from Rochester, NY in 1870, they moved to Hartford to be near Twain’s publisher. Twain wrote most of his best known books –  Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, The Prince and the Pauper, and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court – during his time here from 1874-1891.

Tour Twain’s House

A tour of the 11,500 square foot home takes you through many of the 25 rooms. The first floor, designed by Tiffany to suggest Moroccan, Indian, Japanese and jungle themes, is arguably the most dramatic. 

Learn about the joys and tragedies in Twain’s life, why he might have been considered Best Dad Ever to his three beloved daughters, and how he would routinely rile up his prudish wife each evening as she edited his writing by the fireplace.

Livy nicknamed her husband “Youth,” because he always acted like a kid. Twain called his darling wife “Gravity,” as she kept his feet on the ground.

Mark Twain Bedroom Hartford CT
Mark Twain Bedroom Hartford CT

A lover of gadgets and an “early adopter,” Twain installed central heating, purchased one of the first home telephones, and rigged up a bedside gas reading lamp using a rubber tube that extended from his gaslight chandelier (and still set up this way). 

Mark Twain Billiards Room Hartford CT
Mark Twain Billiards Room Hartford CT

My favorite room is on the 3rd floor, where Twain played billiards with friends. I can just imagine the trash talk around the pool table: the great writer’s presence is still palpable there.

According to some staff accounts, in fact, visitors report the smell of cigar smoke, which has on occasion, mysteriously set off the fire alarm. By timed-ticket Tour only, adults $20, kids $11, Open Wed-Mon 10:30-5:30.  90-minute Stowe-Twain House combo tour $23 adult, $15 kids.

Harriet Beecher Stowe House National Historic Landmark

VISIT: Harriet Beecher Stowe Center

“So you are the woman who wrote the book that started this Great War…”  – purportedly stated by Abraham Lincoln to Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of the anti-slavery Uncle Tom’s Cabin, in 1852.

Harriet B. Stowe, daughter, sister and mother of a line of well-known Ministers, first composed what became the book Uncle Tom’s Cabin as a serialized story in the Washington DC Abolitionist newspaper, The National Era.

From her home in Maine, Beecher-Stowe wrote with seven small children underfoot. (Her husband, who she referred to as “my Rabbi,” was a Professor of Theology at Bowdoin College).

Stowe was surprised by increasing public interest and frenzy over her installments. Released in 1852, Uncle Tom’s Cabin became a significant best seller in the 19th Century, second only to the Bible. Beecher-Stowe’s book was instrumental in changing public opinion about slavery in America.

Uncle Toms Cabin Harriet Beecher Stowe House Exhibit Hartford CT
Harriet Beecher Stowe House Exhibit Hartford CT

As today, there were product tie-ins –commemorative plates, figurines and booklets.

No doubt Solomon Northup took note of all this interest. His memoir, Twelve Years A Slave, was released the following year.

Harriet Beecher Stowe's portable medicine cabinet, Stowe Center, Hartford CT

By the time the Stowes moved next door to Mark Twain in the mid 1870’s, Harriet had written most of her 30 published books.

The Stowe Center, a National Historic Site, offers a wide selection of provocative and timely programs and tours. By Tour only, adults $16, kids $10, Open Mon, Wed-Sat 10:30-5, Sun 12-5.

DO: Ride the Bushnell Park Carousel

One buck gets you 3 ½ minutes on one of the 48 hand-carved horses of this 1914 carousel.  Open seasonally.Nighttime view of Hartford CT on Connecticut River

 

EXPERIENCE: Riverfront Recapture Events.  From May – November, the Connecticut Riverfront bursts into song, dance and quirky events.

RIDE: DASH. Free transportation! The DASH bus makes 12 stops throughout downtown Hartford from the Convention and Visitor’s Center. Runs every 15 minutes Mon-Fri 7am-7pm. FREE.

Best Restaurants in Hartford CT

Max Downtown Hartford CT
Max Downtown Hartford CT

EAT: Max Downtown

Max Downtown is one of nine restaurants in the “Max” group. This high-end, leather-clad, atmospherically clubby steak house also serves up fish from “top of boat” and other inventive dishes sourced from local farms and purveyors. “Chophouse Classics” from $38-$48.

EAT: Trumbull Kitchen

Typical contemporary tavern décor, but small bites are creative and good. Signatures include Rock Shrimp & Sweet Potato Fritters, Grilled Fillet Mignon with Truffled “Tater Tots” and Blue Cheese Fondue, and a delectable Chiang Mai Curried Noodles.

EAT: Salute

Let’s say it’s zero degrees out with snow in the forecast.  What to order at this very popular downtown eatery?  Anything pasta.  Burgers and sandwiches are very good, but the Sweet Potato Ravioli and Chicken/Shrimp Piccata with onions and leeks tumbled in essence of tomato broth over linguini will warm you till the storm passes.

Stay the Night in Hartford CTDowntown Marriott, Hartford CT

STAY: Marriott Downtown Hartford

Hartford is businesslike and traditional when it comes to lodging.  For a comfy, north-of-mid-level stay, the Marriott Downtown set between the Hartford Convention Center and Connecticut Science Center (and across from a brand new multiplex cinema) offers fine rooms and exemplary service. 

Little things mean a lot to this traveler, and this particular Marriott has a few. Not that it’s a “little thing,” but service is so friendly, your stay here will feel the opposite of impersonal.

Cool toiletries, Downtown Marriott, Hartford CT

Breakfast in the Concierge-level lounge includes a smoked salmon and bagel platter (with onion/chive cream cheese!) – worth the extra $40/day alone for lounge privileges (though it also offers many more perks and meals through the day).

Rooms are upscale traditional Marriott – with great bedding and cool  products in a granite-sink bathroom. Rooms $160-$450 per night. Higher rates reflect Concierge Level with breakfast and unlimited snacks and services.

For more leisure travel information about visiting Hartford,
contact the Central Regional Tourism District:
 

7 thoughts on “Hartford CT: A Capitol Idea For A Getaway”

  1. Pingback: Ten Great Reasons to Visit Hartford, CT, Now - HotelsFlash - All About Hotel News!
  2. Is this the same Hartford where the poet Wallace Stevens lived and worked?
    If so, why is he not highlighted here? Where might one get specific information
    about Stevens?

  3. HI Dorothy – yes apparently this is the city where Stevens lived and died (though not born – that’s Reading PA – another Getaway Mavens town in PA). He is not one of the hugely known poets, or at least has no homestead or sites to visit there. But I did find this which might be helpful to you: In 2009, the Hartford Friends and Enemies of Wallace Stevens completed work on the Wallace Stevens Walk, a 2.4 mile self-guided walking tour that traces the path the poet took each day to and from his Hartford home. Beginning at what was once his workplace and ending at 118 Westerly Terrace, the walk traverses the Asylum Avenue section of Hartford’s Asylum Hill and West End neighborhoods. The course of the Wallace Stevens Walk is marked by thirteen Connecticut granite stones, each uniquely carved and engraved with a stanza from “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird,” a poem that’s among Stevens’s most well-known and frequently studied works. – hope this helps.

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