The original Colt Armory was built in 1855 and was a central part of Samuel Colt‘s firearms-making empire. Based in the district of Hartford known as Coltsville, the armory was later joined by additional buildings, including housing for workers. The Colt mansion, Armsmear, was also built on a nearby hill, overlooking the factory complex. Three years after Colt’s death, the original armory was destroyed by fire in 1864. It was then rebuilt by Colt’s widow, Elizabeth Colt, using designs by the company’s general manager, General William B. Franklin. The new building was designed to be fireproof and also larger than its predecessor. It was also more decorative, with a design based on the styles of the Italian Renaissance.
The new Colt Armory also carried over the most dramatic feature of the original structure, the blue onion dome with gold stars, topped by a gold orb and a rampant colt, the original symbol of the Colt Manufacturing Company. Today, a gilded fiberglass replica is used, the gilded wood original now being displayed at the Museum of Connecticut History. As for Sam Colt‘s use of the famous onion dome, a distinctive feature easily noted by drivers on I-91, there are different theories concerning its origins, ranging from its being a tribute to his early Russian business contacts, to simply being a dramatic marketing statement which no one would forget. Coltsville is now undergoing plans for adaptive reuse and there is support for transforming the complex into a National Park.