Back to Frog Hollow

Welcome to Thursday Doors, a weekly feature allowing door lovers to come together to admire and share their favorite door photos from around the world. Feel free to join in on the fun by creating your own Thursday Doors post each week and then sharing your link in the comments below, anytime between 12:01 am Thursday morning and Saturday noon (North American eastern time).

Last week, when I was poking around the National Registry of Historic Places (NRHP) images from the nomination from requesting registered status for the Frog Hollow neighborhood, I stumbled on the image featured here (see below).

If you’ve followed Thursday Doors for a while, you know that a lot of people consider corner doors to be special. So, when I saw the corner entrance to this building, located under that wonderful tower, I had to know more.

These days, that building is called Billings Forge, a successful apartment complex and neighborhood revival story that makes you think preservation efforts can be successful. The following was published at PreservationCT.org in 2018

We were thrilled to present a 2018 Preservation Award to Billings Forge, one of Hartford’s first major adaptive-use projects and the driver of community-based economic development. A coalition of stakeholders has re-rehabbed it for a new generation. || Even more important is its enhanced role as a hub of the Frog Hollow neighborhood, with apartments, job-training, a restaurant, a community garden and a farmer’s market. As workplace, residence, and neighborhood anchor, Billings Forge is a dynamic fusion of past and present.

PreservationCT.org
Billings and Spencer had factories on Russ Street, at the corner of Lawrence Street, at 1 Laurel Street and on Capitol Avenue. The company manufactured drop forgings for pistols, sewing machines, locomotives, trolleys and “machines of every description.”

So, what or who was Billings Forge?

Well, if you go back into the mid-19th century, you’ll find a company known as Billings and Spencer. Billings and Spencer was a tool manufacturer. They made precision hand tools by what is know as the “drop forge” method.

Drop forging is a metal forming process. A workpiece is inserted into a die and then hammered until it has assumed the shape of the die. The lower die is a stationary part, while the upper part is a moving hammer dropped onto the workpiece in order to deform it.

They made very good tools. Tools for machinery, typewriters, bicycles and, later, automobiles. They continued to operate in the south end of Hartford until the 1950’s when tool manufacturers, along with other heavy industry started moving south and overseas. Fortunately, the building has been saved.

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147 comments

  1. Hi Dan, this history is so interesting and I just love this name “Frog Hollow”. It is fun to research business from the past and see whether they have survived or not. Some manage to innovate and change and are still in existence. You have to take your hat off to the owners and management.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Interesting history of the Billings Forge. Too bad businesses can’t continue staying alive through generations as they used to. I hope the apartments built from the factory make a nice community.

    Liked by 4 people

    • So many negative elements piled up against this business operating in the city. The cost, the smoke from the forge. The noise from the drop forge process. I think it outlived its welcome. From what I read, there is a long waiting list for the market rate apartments and a longer one for the subsidized units. So much work remains to be done in this neighborhood, but this was a good start.

      Your doors are beautiful.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Thank you for sharing the history of Billings and Forge. It made me think of the industrial revolution and the characters in books by Charles Dickens – could imagine them working in a factory like this (the black and white picture). Your photographs show they’ve done a good job in preserving the old building and creating a community around it.

    And my link for today, based on my recent trip :)

    Thursday Doors

    Liked by 2 people

    • Charles Dickens visited this area a bit before these factories were built, but he would have found a scene much like that in the settings of many of his books and stories. The south end of Hartford was the industrial workshop of the city. Tool making became a defining industry for Connecticut, The working conditions had to be challenging, between the heat and the noise, but the company was well known for making high quality tools.

      Thanks for sharing your special doors today.

      Liked by 3 people

  4. Thanks Dan – I just love the name Frog Hollow – let alone the company name of Billings Forge … and I’m so pleased they’ve kept the building and it will continue to be used for today’s needs. Wonderful photos – thank you … cheers Hilary

    Liked by 1 person

    • When I saw the historic images in the various places, I searched for the building and found tons of articles about how it was repurposed. It was hard to find the history. The historical society has much of the information. I hope they put it on display at some point.

      I enjoyed eyeing your door very much!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. “A dynamic fusion of past and present” — what a great phrase. I love the concept. I also love the building. Having grown up in an industrial area, I think I can appreciate the place of such a building in the lives of the people. And that corner entrance is a beauty. The homes and churches of Frog Hollow are as intriguing as the name. Thank you for taking us there!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for coming along, Maureen. I think I’ll be here one more week, but this might be the best the area has to offer. It would have been an industrial neighborhood 150 years ago, so I think it’s a good thing that some of these buildings anchor the current neighborhood. Factories serving as residences. Churches serving as shelters for the homeless. There is much to be done here but it seems like the community spirit is still at work.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. So interesting to see the way Billings Forge is shown at different times: the painting, the etching, the old B&W photos, and your modern photo. There are some changes of course, but interesting how much has remained seemingly untouched. Of all things, it is the arch above the corner that seems to change a lot.

    Doors of Kumbharwada

    Liked by 1 person

    • I was happy to see that this building has been preserved. I’m glad you liked it as well. I would guess that the recent change to the entrance arch was a compliance issue. Apparently we care a little more for peoples’ safety in the 21st century than we did in the 19th.

      elightful contrast in your door collection this week.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Sherry. It was hard to find much history, I’m sure it’s out there, but the search engines focused on the recent activity. I do like that the building has been preserved, but I always like to know the origin story.

      Great doors from you today – thanls!

      Liked by 1 person

    • I guess the frogs left after they buried the river, but I’m glad they kept the name. The house on Columbia St is one I wish I could have gotten a better photo of. I’d have to be walking for that, and it’s almost impossible to park in this area.

      I like your collection today. An eclectic mix.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. It’s a beautiful building I’m glad they saved it and repurposed it for so many different uses today. I love that vibrant red brick. Were the bricks made locally from local soil? I don’t think of CT when I think of red soil but the bricks are so red there!

    The house with the corner turret is pretty neat.

    Wonderful history and I enjoyed seeing the old images and that painting.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Deborah. I almost didn’t include the painting, but I liked it. I would assume that the bricks were made in Windsor, CT, about 5 miles up the Connecticut River from Hartford. At one point, there were over 40 brickyards in Windsor, supplying bricks to architectural projects all over the region. They continued making bricks in Windsor until the 1960s. There are two companies still supplying bricks, but they don’t make them any longer on a commercial scale. I like that house with the large corner turret. It looks big enough to dance in.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. That side entrance is unique! I find manufacturing buildings fascinating. Your love of architecture and history shows in these posts, Dan. Buildings are so much more than mortar, brick, steel and wood. They have character. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Cheryl. They do have character and I’m so happy this one wasn’t lost to urban renewal. The effort to revive the neighborhood is also very good to see. I hope it can ultimately be successful.

      Like

  9. Oh, to live on Columbia Street–I think I’d be so happy. The Dr Seuss-style house–that is the strangest illusion. I keep going back to look at it again, and it still looks a bit wonky. How can that be?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I can’t be certain, but the information I found suggests that the shelter is sponsored by the Franciscan Sisters of the Sacred Heart, a Catholic ministry. I don’t know what their relation to the Hartford Archdiocese is. I do think it’s a good idea and a good use of the building.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Wonderful photo journey, Dan. It’s amazing what architects and engineers can do. If all goes as hoped, I’ll be visiting my kids in CT late May. Your history montages make driving through Hartford an adventure. 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Gwen. I love it when someone looks at a building like this and thinks of a way to save it and put it to new use. I’m still discovering the cities and towns in New England, but there’s a lot here and a lot of people who are trying to find new uses for these buildings.

      Like

    • Thanks Frank. I can only imagine the noise in that place when it was running, but they had quite a reputation for making quality tools. In addition to making fine tools, Billings made significant improvements to the drop-forge process and the company even sold drop-forges to other companies.

      Like

    • Finding my way back isn’t nearly as easy as it sounds, John. The road work in progress in this area is causing all kinds of delays, dead-ends and mandatory turns forced by jersey barriers laid across the road at odd angles. It’s like driving in a pinball machine.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Great post Dan. All these restored/repurposed buildings are absolute treasures. Hooray for Hartford to recognize that and get behind the drive to preserve them and give them a new lease on life. The craftsmanship in these beauties is amazing. They were built by people who intended them to be functional for years and years. Their intention/dream has been rewarded.

    I love that the church is now a homeless shelter. How fitting is that? So many places would do well to take a really close look at this area and apply this ingenuity to their own towns and cities.
    Ginger

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad you appreciate these buildings, Ginger. Unlike the buildings we see going up around here, there’s a craftsmanship evident in these buildings that makes them worth preserving. I can’t imagine that when the new Amazon warehouse closes, anyone is going to want to live in it. It’s just a drab concrete box.

      The church being turned into a homeless shelter is a great conversion. The purpose – serving the community – remains. I hope they can keep the building in good repair.

      I think the company that bought Billings Forge is a national company, so maybe these kinds of projects will be completed elsewhere. I hope you have a good rest of the week.

      Like

  12. The Lutherans win out this time, and the homeless shelter is really pretty. I love the first painting very much as well.

    First, do you even know what a marvellous anniversary we – Thursday Doors – celebrate these days? Have a look. Plus lots of slightly similar but still pretty door photos from a couple of courtyards. https://manjameximexcessive6.wordpress.com/2022/03/24/thursday-doors-24-3-22-castello-poggiarello-2/#Tuscany#7yearsOfThursdayDoors#Poggiarello

    Liked by 1 person

    • I did not know/remember the anniversary but I am very happy that you did and I enjoyed your post. You always find the best doors.

      I’m glad you like the shelter. I’m glad they were able to save the building. The Lutherans didn’t so much win, as they survived. They survived by opening their doors to anyone who wanted to come in. Perhaps there’s a lesson in that.

      Happy Anniversary to Us! Thanks for remembering,

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Hi Dan,
    Well, even my husband has started photographing doors these days. He returned last night from driving our son down to Geelong. He boarded a tall ship called the Young Endeavour and is in the process of sailing home. However, they spent a couple of days down there first and Geoff took some photos for me which I’ve supplemented using Google Earth.
    It was good to see more of Frog Hollow again this week, but I’ll pop back again tomorrow to take more of it in.
    Here’s my link: https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2022/03/25/touching-down-in-geelong-victoria-australia/#sailing#ship#Dad3Geelong #Australia
    Best wishes,
    Rowena

    Liked by 1 person

    • Good of you to get others involved in this crazy pursuit. Rowena. I’m glad you like touring this little neighborhood in Hartford. Geoff took some great photos. I hope you son has a grand time.

      Like

  14. so this was when tools were made right here in the USA (ha) and that painting from the historical archives reminds me how paintings back then were very special for preserving things and today we have photos and digital stuff to capture more.
    also, speaking of art, I am sharing an art show post for my Thursday doors this week.
    https://wp.me/p1VBv6-71G

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re right about the paining being the way they would preserve the “image” – I hadn’t thought about that. We did make some high quality tools here. After these mills closed, they moved the manufacturing 15 miles up the road to Springfield. After that, they headed overseas.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Wow – another “Springfield”! I once heard the Simpson’s fans talking about which “Springfield” that show refers to and I think they said it was picked randomly like “Main Street USA”

        Liked by 1 person

  15. I love the story behind the Forge building. I wonder if the residents know the story. I would love to have seen inside the lobby. Nothing like strangers wandering into your home! Ha ha ha ha. It is so wonderful to see old buildings been given a new lease on life. Their history is part of their story and I love the fact that you share it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • There was an exhibit in 2018, presented by the Connecticut Historical Society in a restaurant in the neighborhood. I am hoping CHS puts that exhibit on display in their space at some point. You can count on me to visit. I love the building.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad you enjoyed this, Natalie. Billings Forge is the kind of success story we need to see more often. The fact that the building can be repurposed into apartments that quickly draw a waiting list of tenants is a testament to the skill of the architects and builders over 150 years ago. I doubt anything we’re building these days will be desirable in 150 years.

      I loved the walk on the beach with you. That’s a sure sign of spring.

      Like

    • I’m glad you like this, Teagan. It’s true, The architects and craftsmen wanted these buildings to be an attractive element in the city. Today, function has won out over form.

      Like

  16. I am always grateful to read about preservation. Speaking of tools, if you get to Maine, you must visit Lie Nielson tools! Thank goodness all the manufacturers didn’t go south. I like the Dr. Seuss house!

    Liked by 1 person

  17. I’m always glad to see churches in your doors posts, and it was interesting to read about Billings Forge. Cool little piece of local history. Good pics, Dan, as always.

    Liked by 1 person

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