I have been driving across Connecticut 8-10 times a year for most of the last two decades without ever stopping for much more than the occasional hour, so when I had a short four day vacation coming to me in August I decided to go down there for a couple of days as a change from routine. We stayed at a hotel on the Berlin Turnpike in Berlin, about 10 miles south of Hartford, and close to the front line where "New England" in the cultural sense comes to an end and the "New York" homeland, which encroaches a little farther into Connecticut every few years, begins to be predominate. My sense was that we were still pretty squarely on the New England side, though in the way that Alsace is decidedly a part of France while having much more in common with Germany than for example the Loire Valley.
1. Scenic Vista, Devil's Hopyard State Park, East Haddam. This was another recommendation from my 1966 (which I sometime mistakenly refer to as my 1962) encyclopedia, and it was a modest but pleasant site, some mild hiking and a waterfall, as well as a campground. I thought this view had an especially colonial, or maybe an infancy-of-the-republic look about it. Though this is the Connecticut River Valley--itself one of the most idyllic stretches of land I am familiar with--it calls to my mind the spirits of Washington Irving and some of the painters of the Hudson River School.
The affluent town of East Haddam with its antique but still functioning riverside opera house, remains safely within the boundaries of New England. The area around it for a good 15-20 miles in every direction was surprisingly rural, twisting two lane roads, no regular (i.e., non-boutique) hotels, few restaurants. I had originally planned to stay nearer to the park, but the closest hotels were a half an hour away, and these appeared to be or belonged to chains which in our advancing age we consider to be substandard; so we ended up staying closer to Hartford on a busy and somewhat built up though not suffocating stretch of state/U.S. highway where we were able to eat and shop for supplies and of which I grew rather fond by the end of three days.
2. Dome of the State House, Hartford. We also went to Mark Twain's house while we were in town, but that was evidently so much fun that we forgot to take pictures--it has been a long time since we have been to any literary sites and are out of practice as far as recording the occasion goes. We made up for it with lots of pictures at the capitol, which building is subtantially larger than the other state houses I am primarily familiar with, those in Annapolis and Concord. The one in Boston actually looks rather huge too, but I never gone inside it.
3. Monument to Nathan Hale, The Official State Hero of Connecticut. I made the joke elsewhere that while I love the guy as much as anyone else, Nathan Hale is probably the most overrated of the really famous founding parents, even Molly Pitcher reputedly having brought more actual pain to bear on the enemy. Still, the story of the Revolution and the founding of this republic has a satisfying and classical beauty. I was surprised by how many little reminders and commemorations of this period are to be found in Connecticut, which one does not ordinarily think of as having been a central state in the struggle. Most of the historical reminders are understated, but after a while there are so many of them that the cumulative effect begins to stir feelings of pride and second hand strength in such as are susceptible to them.
4. Son #3 Rolling Around on the Grass Outside the State House. While largely devoid of people and activity, the setup of the area around the state house in Hartford looks a lot like a mini-Boston. There is a large park like the Common, maybe 1/4 to 1/2 as large, gathered around one side of it, with a carousel and paved walkways and I believe a place for skating, and many of the streets right off of this park had the same Boston feel of narrowness and a mixture of dignity, age and modern economic necessity emanating from them, including at least one major hotel. As I say though, there were not many people around, I saw mostly intense 20 and 30 something professional types, doubtless employed either in the government or the insurance industry working out (running) in the park. They did not look, as people running sometimes do in Boston, as if they resided anywhere nearby.
5. Under the Portico Outside the Main Entrance. As I mentioned in a previous post a few weeks ago, Hartford does not have a positive reputation as a city. The demographics are extremely un-New England like, being 41% Hispanic, mainly Puerto Rican, 38% black and just 18% non-Hispanic white. My guess would be that the suburbs around it would be almost all-white: just checking a couple of well-known places, Berlin, where my hotel was, is 97% white, Middletown is 80% white and West Hartford, where the median family income is $98,000 (in the city of Hartford it's $27,000), is 86% white. While Hartford city has demographics more akin to cities in New Jersey or elsewhere in the mid-atlantic, the layout of the streets, housing stock, style of restaurants, bars and other businesses, recognizable chains and of course the vegetation are still predominantly of a New England character. The parts of it that I saw anyway do not look like a place where %30 of the population lives in poverty. It looks tough and a little run down like a lot of the older cities in New England, but compared to poor neighborhoods in the south or the mid-atlantic it looks somewhat livable, and not terribly menacing. The crime statistics that I am finding don't look all that bad, but crime is down almost everywhere from what it was when I was a teenager and in my early 20s, when the murder rate was, looking back at it now, almost unbelievable. I guess the point is, my impression of Hartford is that it's OK, and seeing as I pass through it all the time, maybe I'll stop in again. The Wadsworth Atheneum, their art museum, is apparently a serious place, and there are several other above average touristic attractions there.
6. This is Back at Devil's Hopyard. The hiking trails began at the foot of this bridge (on the left). We had our swim first in the pool by the waterfall.
7. In the Room at the Best Western in Berlin, CT. I liked our hotel, but one thing I find objectionable about the mid-market chains is that they almost all seem to put too much chlorine in their swimming pools. And yes, breakfast could be a little more dynamic, but I suppose we are lucky we get anything at all.