It seems that Hartford isn’t noted for its natural beauty or abundant culture. In fact we’ve been asked a couple of times why we chose the Connecticut capital city for a stopover and the simple answer is that we looked for a location roughly halfway between Brattleboro and Rhode Island and Hartford fitted the bill. Entering the city from the north off the Interstate the outskirts are a little run down and you get an impression of industrial decline and relative poverty – relative that is to many of the wealthy towns and villages that we’d passed through earlier in the day and elsewhere in New England. However, as you get further into the city the skyline is dominated by numerous large, mainly ugly, office buildings, most of which it transpires are occupied by the headquarters of America’s insurance industry – in fact Hartford is widely known as the ‘Insurance Capital of the World’. So Hartford isn’t a poor city, it just has the misfortune to be dominated by an industry that isn’t noted for its good taste or appreciation of beauty.
Fortunately there are one or two historic gems to found in this concrete wasteland (perhaps a bit of an overstatement!) and by good chance we happened upon the State Capitol Building where we enjoyed an hour wandering around the marbled halls and corridors on a self-guided tour. It seems that following the Civil War, when it came to accommodating their legislatures, each of the States made a particular effort to out-shine their neighbours and Connecticut certainly didn’t hold back when it came to marble and gilding. The highlight of the visit was an unexpected invitation by a kind member of staff to visit the Senate Chamber and pose for photos in the Charter Oak Chair. Delusions of power or what!
Next morning we walked the half mile of so from our accommodation to visit Mark Twain and Harriet Beecher-Stowe’s houses but on arrival decided that UK has quite enough gloomy Victorian buildings to satisfy our needs, so we passed up the opportunity and spent the rest of the morning on a drive out to the west of the city and through a new development of ‘mansions’ which are clearly home to the city’s rich and famous. The afternoon was spent wandering through US aviation history at New England’s Air Museum and being given a personal tour of their well conserved collection of US aircraft, which includes a B29 ‘Superfortress’ – the ultimate icon of America in the Nuclear Age. Boys’ toys at their best!