No area of Hartford has more history or economic development potential than Coltsville.
So it's exciting that the former factory village and industrial crucible developed by entrepreneur and inventor Samuel Colt has passed muster for the second time in its bid to become a National Historic Landmark.
In Washington, D.C., the National Park Service Advisory Board voted as predicted Tuesday to approve the December recommendation of its National Landmarks subcommittee to include the Coltsville Historic District among the nation's most significant sites. The signature of Dirk Kempthorne, U.S. secretary of the interior, is all that's needed to make it official.
We're told it's safe to uncork the champagne. There's no reason to doubt that the honor long sought by historians, preservationists, cultural leaders and community advocates has cleared its most difficult hurdle and will come to pass within weeks.
Landmark designation for the blue-domed Colt armory and related environs is critical to the process of having Coltsville named a national park, long a goal of this newspaper and others. The legacy of Sam and Elizabeth Colt deserves a wide audience. Theirs is a great love story, an American tale of industriousness, genius, perseverance, benevolence, tragedy and triumph that helped shape the nation.
It would make a compelling visitor experience, especially since many of the buildings erected by the Colts remain standing.
Federal landmark status is a step closer to that dream. There are 76,000 historic sites recognized by the National Park Service, but fewer than 2,500 are National Historic Landmarks. Connecticut is home to 59 of them, including Armsmear, the Sam Colt homestead; the Old State House; and the Mark Twain House. The designation is reserved for special places of national significance, a key criterion in the creation of national parks.
Tuesday's vote was validation for a state that is steeped in history yet has just one national park — Weir Farm in Ridgefield, home of the painter J. Alden Weir. Surely it merits another.
Besides prestige and a step toward a national park, what will National Landmark status bring to Coltsville and the factory complex now undergoing renovation? Not a lot, materially. Owners of landmarks may be eligible for certain grants to help preserve their integrity. They will be given priority to tap federal expertise about properly restoring or renovating the buildings included in the district. But they will not be restricted from making changes to their property, nor are they in for a financial windfall.
It would be great, though, if the feds' anointing of this treasured site emboldens investors and lenders so that work on the historic factory, now stalled due to lack of cash, can proceed. Sound financial footing on the part of private owners would not only protect it from deterioration, but improve chances for national park approval.
It took the vision and persistence of many people working together to arrive at this proud moment for a Connecticut landmark. It's important to maintain momentum.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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