The Colt Building – Pt-1 – #ThursdayDoors

Restoration work on the east armory is progressing nicely.

Please accept my apology in advance for the day that I reuse some of these doors in a post after I tour The Colt Armory. In the meantime, I’ll start by mining the National Registry of Historic Places (HRHP) for some photos to accompany my photos from a quick drive past the building last week, and a brief walk around the parking lots of a magnet school and an apartment complex that are part of the revitalization of the Colt Industrial District. The district is a National Historic District now and will soon be managed as a National Park.

Samual Colt invented the automatic revolving pistol in the late 1830s, in New Jersey, but it wasn’t accepted, initially. In 1848, he established a manufacturing facility on the banks of the Connecticut River in the south end of his home town, Hartford, Connecticut. The Colt complex grew to include factory buildings that were 500 feet long (152.40m), a foundry, a green house, many units of single and multi-family worker housing and a part that was gifted to the City of Hartford. The following is from the NRHP Nomination form:

The Colt Armory has long been a Hartford landmark. The original armory (1855) was destroyed in 1864 by a fire suspected to have been set by Confederate sympathizers. The new armory, completed in 1865, was built as a facsimile of the original. This building is still in use.

The imposing 3-story Palladian structure is built of brick with rusticated brownstone sills and quoins. The long gable roof is crossed by five pedimented bays, which are embellished by ox-eye and arched windows under elaborate corbelled cornices. Above the crossing of the projecting central bay and roof is a large blue onion-shaped dome set into a ring supported by white columns. Prancing on the dome’s peak is a statue of the “rampant colt,” the insignia firearms company statue of the derived from Colt’s coat of arms. The dome originally had gold stars painted on the deep-blue background.

The armory was designed by Colt, his nephew, architect H. A. Gr. Pomeroy, and Elisba K. Root, inventor, manager and later president of the company. The armory was extraordinary in its tine for the amount of light and ventilation provided by the large, many-paned windows. This natural system was supplemented “by gas lights and piped-in air. A 350 horsepower engine with two 30′ (9.1m) boilers and a flywheel 30′ in diameter supplied power for the entire building through a system of noiseless’ belts and shafts. The old armory is surrounded by numerous 19th and 20th century additions. One, behind the armory, is a long single story shed constructed entirely in rusticated brownstone blocks. This is possibly a surviving section of the 1855 building.

Directly behind the factory Colt constructed multiple family houses for his workers after the completion of the original factory in 1855. Only ten of the estimated 50 original dwellings survive. These buildings, considered commodious in Colt’s time, are now unoccupied and threatened with demolition. Constructed in brick with brownstone sills, the buildings have been painted white. The blocky, austere structures are aligned in two rows of five houses each on streets on both sides of the complex. Both types of housing are surrounded by considerable open space, and are entered through the facades between buildings, rather than through the facade facing the street.

There is so much more information included in the nomination form, but I’m going to stop here for today. I have pictures of many of the buildings discussed thus far. I intend to get more from the area once the weather warms up a bit and the park is green instead of brown.


Thursday Doors is a weekly gathering of door-lovers from around the world. Heading up this fun blog hop is none other than Norm Frampton. If you are interested in participating, or if you just want to see more doors, hike on up to Norm’s place in Canada. Leave a link to your doors, view other doors, and most importantly, check out Norm’s doors.

83 comments

  1. Imposing building. It was certainly a different time with a different mindset. Employees were valued and encouraged now they are used and discarded. A different time.

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    1. It was different, but a future post will highlight that it wasn’t totally different. Housing was nicer for the highly skilled workers than it was for the semi-skilled and unskilled laborers. Samuel Colt was innovative and practical. He was also known for selling to both sides during the Crimean War and the US Civil war.

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    1. I do too, GP, but I’m at the point of “Whatever it takes to save this place” because it has come close to being torn down. They’ve had a hard time getting developers interested. And the school, of course has to meet every bit of the modern building code, which is hard to do in a 150 yr-old building. Still, I think they could have done a much better job of “blending” the new with the old. This is a pretty stark contrast.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Amazing structure with an impressive history. Love the dome. The design of this complex , and it’s inner workings, was way ahead of its time. So glad it’s being renovated and not torn down. I really like those archways and the beautiful stonework on the corners.

    Thanks for sharing this with us Dan.
    🐾Ginger 🐾

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Ginger. I hope they can find a way to salvage the west armory. The north and south buildings seem to have given way to modern structures. They seem committed to preserving the east armory, which is by far the most impressive.

      The reason he moved here instead of staying in New Jersey was that assembly line manufacturing wasn’t well-supported in NJ. This mill was designed to be an efficient manufacturing center.

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  3. Hello Dan. I found your blog through a comment you left on Suzanne’s Picture Retirement. I became fascinated with doors when my husband and I visited France (almost 10 years ago). Obviously I’m not the only one as there are books and blogs and link-ups. I wonder why that is…

    ~Christie

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for visiting, Christie. I follow a couple of people who have shared some wonderful doors from France. There’s just something universally attractive about a nice door (at least I think so).

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    1. You’re welcome, Amy. I’m glad you enjoyed this post. I do hope to visit the portion of the complex that’s open to the public. If I manage to do that, I’ll follow this up with a “then and now” post.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. IT was huge, Kathy. 500′ was a very big building at that time, considering that the machines were powered by overhead shafts and belts. The engineering was very much ahead of its time for this country.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I love the dome Onion and white pillars around it, and this ” rusticated brownstone” what a description!

    I also enjoyed seeing the cars from the ’60s? Not sure which era they’re from, but I think that’s close.

    It’s kind of hard to imagine a noiseless factory, isn’t it?

    I’m glad they’re getting some love, and restoration they’re beautiful buildings and its history is neat.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Deborah. I think the nomination was made in the early 70s, so you’re right about the cars.

      I’m guessing “noiseless” was a bit of an exaggeration. Lots of metal parts being cut, stamped, bent and formed. Still, it’s a beautiful building with a lot of potential.

      The onion dome has something to do with his business dealings in Russia. Maybe it just appealed to him.

      More to come later this spring.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Elisba K. Root? I’ve never seen the first name Elisba and am charmed by it. I know that’s not the point of this post, but I imagine that Elisba walked through some doors so it kind of is. Right?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Jean. Smiling at your magnet school question. I’m not sure where the term came from. They’re an alternative school so maybe children need to be attracted to them.

      I think about 10 of 50 dwellings remain. It’d not sure that they will all be saved. I hope so.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks John. At least some portion will be preserved for tourism. The whole site is close to becoming under the control of the National Parks system. It’s been a complex journey, with several close calls. I think the east armory is safe. That’s the main building. It seems to be mixed use right now. The west armory, the single-story barrow building is a question mark as far as I know. I would love to see a manufacturing museum, but they aren’t asking for advice.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Nice to see that an historic old place like this is getting some TLC, and I think it is really cool that some of the old employee’s residences have survived. I also like the fact that even with their modern look the new apartments seem to have stuck with the original concept of using lots of natural light…well judging by the wall of window in that one shot anyway.
    Excellent informative post Dan.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Norm. I’m not a fan of the new construction but they do have an industrial look, and I guess it was necessary to keep the project alive. If they preserve the easy armory and at least some portion of the west armory, I’d be a happy camper. I think only 10 out of 50 employee homes remain. At least some will survive.

      There’s so much going on here, I had to split it up. I hope to have the opportunity to get inside at some point.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad you liked this, Judy. The Colt 45 certainly was a staple element in the west, and in westerns. It even had a cameo appearance, along with Mark Twain, in an episode of Star Trek Next Generation. I wish the new construction here was closer to the original style, but I’m glad it’d being preserved.

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  7. Before we moved where we live now we bought one of the cotton mill hosiery houses that were built for employees back in the day. I really liked our cute little four-room house, but the neighborhood was looking rough. Most of the home owners died and their houses soon became rental property. That’s why we moved. It’s a shame that people don’t want to take care of the homes they live in regardless if they own or rent.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Me too, Dan. When I moved from my apartment the landlord didn’t have to do anything to it. I had just painted it and left it spotless. He was grateful. There’s no sense in taring up someone else’s property. That’s just wrong.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. The dome came close to being removed, Joanne. Fortunately, they were able to raise some private funds to restore it. The building just wouldn’t be the same without it.

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        1. Thanks Paul. I wanted to mention, I am halfway through The Season to Be Wary. I got is as a result of your post (years ago, I think) and it sunk to the bottom of the to-read pile. It rose to the top earlier this week. Now, I’m hooked.

          Liked by 1 person

  8. Ooooo… forget the doors — I love that blue dome. How gorgeous, and even more so, because it was completely unexpected.
    I find it very interesting that many large companies offered employee housing — some of them in not so distant times. Yet now they don’t even care if their workers can put a roof over their heads. :/
    Another intriguing Doors post Dan. Hugs.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad you like this, Teagan. The dome almost didn’t survive. It took a private fundraiser to get that restored well ahead of the other pieces falling in line. It just wouldn’t be the Colt Building without the onion dome.

      There’s a little twist to the employee housing that I’m saving for part-2 of this story.

      Thanks for adding this to your reading list. I hope you have a great weekend,

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Ah. A cliffhanger. ;)
        I hate to think of something like that dome going away. Kudos to those who took care of it.
        Now, I need to get motivated and clean my kitchen. Making myself go out to do errands with a friend, but I really don’t want to go out… but I know it will be good for me, so I’ll go.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Jennie. I’ve seen those doors from the highway, and I’ve always wanted to stop and take a picture. Of course, I’d get killed, but…

      I am glad this is being preserved. Compromises are being made, but I guess that’s the nature of the business.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. The dome is always striking and eye-catching in photos. I can’t imagine how vivid it is in person. The building is fantastic, because old and interesting. Definitely worthy of a doorscursion and a history lesson.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We almost lost the dome, Kirt. Before the funding was in place for the mor significant renovations, they had to raise private funds to repair and restore the dome. For a few years, it was the only good looking thing on that building.

      Liked by 1 person

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