More From Clay Hill

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I thought I was going to be finishing my tour of the Clay Hill district today, hence the nondescript title, but I was wrong. Crawling through the images I have, I found one building that is just kind of cool, and I found a pair of buildings that are historically and socially significant. I also discovered that this latter pair of buildings are separately described in a National Register of Historic Places nomination form.

The first building is interesting because it has a corner door, two elevated porches and a series of bullseye dormer window. It’s a retail site with residential units on the upper floors. In a former life, in the late 1970s, it was a bar.

The pair of buildings are the remaining portion of what was the Hartford Widow’s Home. As in previous weeks, I’m going to let the NRHP nomination form speak for itself.

The Widows’ Home, constructed in 1864 and 1865, consists of two nearly identical brick buildings facing west along Main Street in Hartford. The property is now bounded on the north and south by empty land parcels, and to the east by modern housing projects. A small heavily wooded lot at the rear of the property once served for recreational use. Though now quite isolated from other historic buildings, the Widows’ Home formerly had a fine visual complement in the U.S. Arsenal, a three-and-a-half story stuccoed-brick structure built in 1805 a few hundred feet north of the site of the Home; it was demolished in 1909.

The Widows’ Home is a rare local example of institutional architecture from the mid-nineteenth century. It has substantial historical significance as a physical embodiment of the 19th-century approach to social problems, which was to rely almost entirely on private philanthropy. One of several charitable facilities established in Hartford in the nineteenth century, the Widows’ Home is distinguished by the fact that its buildings survive with much of their historical appearance intact. Despite changing uses and recent (written in 1982) neglect, the property retains a high level of architectural integrity, featuring a well-preserved combination of vernacular design elements, After the 1843 Mather Homestead, the Widows’ Home is the second oldest building in Hartford’s North End. The citizens of nineteenth-century Hartford conceived of their city as one of the leaders in the establishment of charitable institutions.

From 1821 through the end of the century, organizations were created to address a wide variety of social needs. Some of these, such as the American School for the Deaf and the Retreat for the Insane, became nationally known and established Hartford’s reputation as a benevolent community.

National Registry of Historic Places nomination form

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  1. HI Dan, I have been testing Michael on his American history and I am also am reading The Second Mrs Astor. Both activities have/are giving me a lot more insight into American history and the commentary here about private philanthropy is in keeping with my understanding and the whole ethos of America and how your government works. It is very interesting. Thanks for this history and the pictures.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. So many connections in this post — 1) the building that was a cafe/bar at one time mirrors a building here in downtown Tehachapi. It survived the earthquake of 1952 which leveled most of the town, and 2) the photos of the inside of that building that looked like a hotel. My maternal grandparents owned The Inn at Wise in Wise, VA many, many years ago. In 2004, my husband and I went back to Virginia for a family reunion and managed to get a tour of the hotel as it was being renovated. I got several photos of the rooms, and the exterior of the hotel, including the historic plaque on the front of the building. My mother was born in the attic of the hotel, as were most of her brothers and sisters. THANK YOU for reminding me of these moments in my life.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I am glad you were able to connect with that building for a little first hand history. I’m happy that this post reminded you of that. I would imagine the Widows’ Home was set up much like a hotel.


    • Thanks Sofia. I am always happy when I find interior photos. That’s why I decided to focus this post mainly on those buildings. It wasn’t until I found that nomination for that I realized I had captured the modern view of a historic structure.

      Your photos today is lovely.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I think it’s wonderful that The Widows’ Home has been preserved, not only for the sake of its sturdiness but for its story. Those photos of abandonment make it hard to imagine what it might have looked like when women lived there. It sure doesn’t look very homey in those photos! On the other hand, there’s the corner door. A corner door is always inviting, isn’t it?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I agree with Maureen, the original Widow’s Home sure didn’t look comfy and cozy. Nevertheless they provided shelter for those who needed it. Those buildings and the cafe were built to withstand both time and abandonment. And survive they did!

    What is it about a corner door that we love so much? Put that same door in a traditional position and we wouldn’t look at it twice! Love those porches and the dormer windows.

    Heartwarming to see these structures brought back to life and given a second chance to serve their community. Kudos to the individuals that made it happen.

    Liked by 1 person

    • We do love our corner doors, Ginger. As a cafe, I would have had a hard time walking by that door.

      I commend the people who moved to preserve the Widows’ Home. It is surrounded by vacant lots, and I could just imagine a developer eying the huge expanse if those two buildings were removed.

      It seems philanthropy was more direct in the 19th century. Not giving money to a large agency that might work around the globe, but addressing an immediate local need.

      I hope you enjoy some cooler days (until it heats back up), and have a great weekend.


    • That retreat is now The Institute of Living. It’s located on Retreat Avenue and I think it has become part of the Hartford Healthcare system. The website says it’s celebrating its 200th birthday this year. Shortly after I moved to Hartford, while working as a consultant, I did some systems work for the institute.

      I am glad widows have a better time of it, today. It hadn’t always been the case in New England.

      Corner doors are the best !


    • I would guess that the interior pictures were taken during the building’s low point. Probably when it was abandoned, as this is when they were trying to get it listed on the registry.


  5. I like the corner café, and am happy the two buildings were saved for a new use.
    I just picked up my copy of The Evil you Choose. I’m going to save it for an upcoming trip I don’t think I can wait until book 3 is released to read it afterall. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I cannot imagine living in that time and requiring charity. So much you read about it is less than supportive. Almost as if it was done but rarely spoken of. Like so much of those days. I love the pictures. Maybe because it is in black-and-white they seem so stark. Looking forward to reading your books…

    Liked by 1 person

    • New England had a long history of poorly treating widows, dating back to the mid-1600s when they accused them of being witches and hung them (to keep them from inheriting their husband’s land). This was certainly a good thing, and the guy who built these was successful in persuading the church to continue helping.

      I hope you enjoy the books.

      Liked by 1 person

    • It’s always good to see have you join us, Natalie. When I saw the Registry entry for “The Widows’ Home” I was curious. Then, when I realized I had a picture of those buildings, I had to share the story.

      Thanks for sharing your adventures with us. I hope you have a great weekend.


  7. I do love corner buildings so that one’s my favorite. I also enjoy the history in your posts each week. It sounds like a wonderful community, taking care of their most vulnerable. Unfortunately, it’s not always the case, and institutions were often awful places. Thanks, Dan!

    Well, here’s another post from Seville, Spain.

    Liked by 2 people

    • A corner door on a cafe is a clear winner, Brenda. Unfortunately, this neighborhood has been left to decay quite a bit. I wish the city would focus more attention (money) on helping this area and its residents.

      Your photos today are remarkable.


  8. The Widows Home looks like a cool place to tour, Dan, and thanks to your pics and historical overview, I feel as if I have. Words like “bar,” “cafe,” and “brew” were a bonus.

    Liked by 1 person

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