Growing up in the Constitution State, it’s easy to take the history and New England beauty that comes along with it for granted. We see it every day. Driving by the Fall leaves, not realizing that the changing colors and seasons is not something that everyone is lucky enough to witness. Part of living in one of the oldest states in the nation is having some pretty note-worthy historical districts and some pretty bizarre local folk tales. Here are my personal favorites with a few juicy tidbits that make them so unique.
Historical District # 1: Manchester – Home of the Cheney Mansions
The Cheney Historic district is full of what was once a cluster of textile mills and the Cheney Brother’s glorious mansions. These thread and fabric factories employed thousands of workers. Today these onetime mills are a series of residence apartments and historic landmarks such as a theater and even a historical society’s museum.
Along with old buildings comes the stereotypical bed and breakfast. The homes of the former mill owners have been transformed into historic inspired modern day bed and breakfast, otherwise known as AirBnB. Not far from the Cheney mill apartments and former mansions is the notorious Case Mountain. From the top of Case Mountain, you’ll spy the Hartford skyline. Case Mountain is full of old mill routes through the woods and random structures. One of the random structures is a not so random cabin, tucked away on the side of the mountain, and away from all paths, surrounded by a pond, and a small boathouse.
It is no secret that this cabin in the woods was the set for the horror movie, “Animal.” Whether the woods are home to actual horrors or those that have been fabricated for entertainment purposes is up to you. Claims of a boy drowning in the lake hundreds of years ago have been made, as well as the suspected home of an Indian Burial Ground. Only a visit to this hidden cabin will bring forth the truth.
Historical District # 2: Hartford’s West End
This awe-struck district is known for its local author, Samuel Clemens or otherwise known as the infamous, Mark Twain. Within his Hartford home he raised his daughters and wrote his most famous story: Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. His former home is directly next to the Harriet Beacher Stowe home. In 1852, Stowe published Uncle Tom’s Cabin, a novel that contributed to the nation’s unrest over slavery. In some people’s eyes, the novel contributed to the start of the war.
The Twain’s home was not always the dream that it presents to be. Twain’s daughter, Susy, died while her parents were traveling in Europe. Now, tour guides at the Mark Twain house are convinced that the soul of Susy is still very present within the home. She can be seen running around upstairs, out of the corner of tour guides’ eyes.
Within the boundaries of this majorly historic area resides the famous Bushnell Theatre, which is a huge landmark in Connecticut’s state capital. This building once offered a bit of opulence to what was and sometimes is considered to be, the middle of two great cities, Boston and New York. This small state’s treasured theater is adorned with gold paint, paintings on the ceiling and patterns in an Art Deco style. When you step into the theatre, it is as if you stepped into another era. This treasure of a theatre is within our own backyard!
Historical District # 3: Mystic
Ever wonder why the local Hartford team was originally The Whalers? Mystic may have something to do with that. What was originally a New England whaling town and shipbuilding village is now one of the greatest tourist destinations within the state. In fact, Mystic Seaport is a very realistic representation of how the town looked in the 18th century. Mystic seaport contains historic homes and whaling ships such as the Charles W. Morgan and the Joseph Conrad. Both of these ships were products of the original Mystic Seaport’s shipbuilding era.
Fair warning to those who opt to visit these ships under the darkness of night. It is said by the staff members of Mystic Seaport that the captain of the Charles W. Morgan never left his ship. He puts the old saying, “the captain must go down with the ship,” to a whole new level, since the ship never went down.
Fun Fact: Mystic was home to the famous movie Mystic Pizza. This famous pizza shop is still open and ready for business, but beware the movie is not nearly as good as the pizza!
Historical District # 4: Willimantic
Much like historic Manchester, Willimantic has a history of industrial factories in what was once known as the Thread City. This historic town’s favorite symbol is a frog. This town went so far into the frog symbolism as to add four gigantic frogs to their designed bridge to represent their importance within the area. On what is commonly known as “The Frog Bridge,” spanning the Willimantic River, stand sculptures that represent spools of thread, for the silk thread mills that were once the engine of the town’s economy, but why a frog? Why not say a whale, like the former Hartford hockey team?
The answer to that is from a local tale, known to some, as the Legend of the Frog Wars. This story has many different names and many different theories behind it. As the story goes, one hot June Summer night, townspeople heard what sounded like screaming coming from the local pond. Townspeople stayed in their beds, scared that the noises were from neighboring Indian attacks. Come morning, there were hundreds of dead frogs sprawled across the streets, leaving townspeople to believe that the frogs had all battled one another until death.
Truth? The deceased frogs were most likely the result of a warm June’s increased heat and decreased rain amounts. Still it makes for a cool story and a pretty beautiful bridge.
Historical District # 5: Simsbury
Founded in 1670, this lovely and historical town is filled to the brim with historical buildings and rich in history. Somehow, out of all the areas in the world, it was once home to the first American copper mine. Copper is an important element in steel, what would be known as a key factor within the industrial revolution.
Steel grew to be one of the most influential building materials for buildings, train tracks and bridges. The world’s very first steel mill was started in Simsbury Connecticut. Believe it or not, Simsbury was one of the primary towns within the State of Connecticut and even within the United States.
Many people who hear the town, Salem correlate it to the term, ‘witches’ and the infamous Witch Trials. What those people do not know is that the first ‘Witch Trial’ in New England took place in Simsbury, not the famous Massachusetts town. Simsbury is the hometown of Alyce Young, Hartford’s first hung witch. Not much is documented besides dates and the original names, as things go missing in translation and over time.
Headline photo courtesy of Jasperdo.