A critical moment in state history will take place next month when a committee of the National Park Service decides whether to recommend that parts of Coltsville, including the onion-domed arms factory and 19th-century worker housing, be designated a National Historic Landmark.
The designation is key to persuading Congress to make the area of Hartford developed by famed gun maker Samuel Colt Connecticut's second national park. To become a national park, a site must be found to have historic significance. A landmark designation from the secretary of the interior would be official acknowledgment that Coltsville is worthy.
There are many historical sites in the nation, but relatively few national landmarks. Armsmear, the home that Sam Colt built for himself and his wife, Elizabeth, already enjoys landmark status. But the nearby Colt armory and remnants of the industrial village deserve to be elevated to that level.
Colt's enterprise was at the heart of the nation's golden age of manufacturing. He was an innovator whose production techniques were a model for other industrial giants such as Henry Ford. His example made Hartford a humming hub of production and his marketing skills helped Colt become an international household word.
The Colt story is also a love story. When Sam Colt died young in 1862, his widow, Elizabeth Hart Jarvis Colt, took over the business and ran it for nearly 40 years. She also became a civic benefactor and art collector whose influence is visible today in Colt Park, the Church of the Good Shepherd and the Wadsworth Atheneum's Colt wing.
As good timing would have it, the Atheneum will mount a new exhibit titled "Samuel Colt: Arms, Art and Invention in Hartford," on Sept. 20. The show will embark on a national tour after it closes here in March. Presuming Coltsville gets landmark status, the exhibit's stops in Omaha, Oklahoma City, Spokane and Canyon, Texas, will engrave the Colt legacy on the minds of many just as Coltsville's bid for national park status is making its way through Congress. It can't hurt.
The Courant is hardly objective on this subject. The newspaper has been advocating for Congress to make Coltsville a national park since the historic armory lay abandoned and crumbling. Now that it is being transformed into a vital residential, commercial and industrial showcase, it is appropriate that the Colt legacy be recognized as an important emblem of the nation's progress.
James O'Connell, project manager at the National Park Service's Boston office, urges the public to submit comments in support of the nomination to the National Park Service Advisory Board Landmarks Committee. The committee will take up the Colt matter Oct. 10 or 11 in Washington, D.C. Let's hear some cheerleading. Letters of support can only enhance the project's chances of success.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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