I drive by this building a lot, and even before I was on the lookout for interesting doors, I liked this one. It’s on the corner of the street that my barber’s shop is on and it’s only a few doors down. I took this photo on my way to get my hair cut. I’m not sure if the ironwork is original or if it was added during one of the crime sprees that seems to periodically plague Hartford. The city has already surpassed last year’s murder rate, but that’s another story for sure.
Despite its small size, Hartford has a very rich history. We celebrate Mark Twain, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Colt Firearms, the first Woolen Mill in America, as well as the fact that sewing machines, bicycles and machine tools were invented, or manufactured or innovated here. Insurance has enough history to let me form a subset of Insurance Company Doors and, to the point, Hartford has over 400 properties listed on the National Register, including 21 National Historic Landmarks. For a city of about 125,000 people, there’s a lot going on. OK, maybe I should say “a lot has gone on in the past” but I’ll cut the city some slack.
The Webster Memorial Building sits at the one of the prominent entrances to Hartford’s signature Bushnell Park, and the fact that this building hasn’t been blown up or torn down is a testament to someone’s foresight and appreciation of history. Sadly, both the interior and the exterior of the building have been renovated to the point that many of the original architectural details are gone from sight. The saddest part, according to the National Register application, is the fact the ceilings were lowered. I don’t know if that was a cosmetic lowering or if it involved the destruction of what I am guessing were beautiful works of plaster.
One of the things I learned while researching this little building is how much you can learn by reading the Nomination Form for inclusion on the National Registry of Historic Places. I learned, for instance that:
“The building’s brick walls, laid in common bond with Flemish variation, rest on fieldstone underpinnings which are concealed above grade with brownstone facing. Brownstone also forms the simple lintels and sills of the rectangular window openings, now fitted with six-over-six double-hung sash.”
I also learned that the building was built as a three-family residence and that the three families included a tobacconist, a confectioner and a toolmaker. Until very recently, there was a tobacconist across from my barber’s former location in the city. I’m guessing there may still be a confectioner working in the downtown area, but there are no tool makers in downtown Hartford.
This building later served as home to Hartford’s Charity Organization Society, a private relief organization. The formation of this organization is said (in the nomination form) to have been one of the key developments of the Progressive Period. The idea was to streamline private giving into combined charities…hmm, that seems oddly familiar to the organization that dips into my paycheck week after week. You can read all about this in the nomination form, but I will leave you with one more extract that caught my attention:
“On its 20th anniversary, the Society took pride in the fact that it had steadily reduced private charity outlays from $33,000 in 1890 to a little over $3,000 in 1910. By thoroughly investigating and counseling its clients, is felt it had largely eliminated the ‘imposition, indolence and debauchery connected with the pauperism of that time (the 1890s)’. “
1890 seems like it was a tough time to be poor. Hartford still has a significant population in poverty today. I would like to think that the city and its surrounding suburbs have a better attitude toward the poor today, but I don’t think that’s really the case.
This post is part of the amazing and fun series of Thursday Doors started by Norm Frampton. You can join us on any given Thursday.