The Old State House (1796)

August 1st, 2007 Posted in Federal Style, Hartford, Public Buildings

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The Old State House in Hartford was designed by Charles Bulfinch, who sent the plans from Boston. Bulfinch was perhaps influenced by the design of the Town Hall of Liverpool, England. The original design was much simpler than what is seen today. Many important features were added later, including the balustrade along the roof-line, added to protect firefighters, and the cupola, with a figure of Justice, completed in 1827. It was designed by John Stanwood and modeled on the cupola of City Hall in New York. The entrance to the Old State House faces the Connecticut River, emphasizing the importance of the river to the city at that time. The Connecticut General Assembly, which alternated sessions between Hartford and New Haven until 1875, held its Hartford sessions in the building from 1796 until 1878, when the new State Capitol Building was opened. The Connecticut Supreme Court also met in the Old State House until 1878. Famous events to take place in the building include the infamous Hartford Convention of 1815 and the first Amistad Trial in 1839.

The Old State House building next served as Hartford’s City Hall from 1878 to 1915, when the new Municipal Building was constructed. For many decades, a large Second Empire style Post Office building occupied the front lawn of the Old State House until it was torn down in 1934 and the open area in front was restored. In the twentieth century, the building was either neglected or in danger of being torn down on several occasions, but citizens groups stepped in to save it. It has also undergone several restorations and been open as a museum operated by several different organizations over the years, most recently the Connecticut Historical Society since 2003. The Old State House was in the news earlier this year due to a funding crisis. This prompted a variety of responses and ideas about the future of this historic building.

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