Save the Old State House

Disgraceful.   That was the reaction most of us had today upon hearing that the Old State  House may close.   It is running out of money.

Built in the 18th century, the Old State House is a national treasure.   It opened when George Washington was President.   It once served as Hartford City Hall.   In typical Connecticut fashion, it was proposed for demolition years ago…for a parking lot! 

I’ll let the pundits debate why the Old State House is in the mess it is in, but I believe there are some changes that should be made right away that could help.

1.   Open on Sundays.   This is a no-brainer.   Go to the OSH on a Sunday and you will see tourists posing for pictures in front of a closed building.   I’m not kidding.  They have their maps and their cameras and they read the plaques about Adriaen Block and George Washington and peer beyond the locked gates in wonder.   Many are conventioneers, in our capital city to see the sights.     If you are around the block from the Connecticut Convention Center, and there are thousands of people at a convention, you need to be open.   If it means closing on a Wednesday, then so be it.   Go to Boston on a Sunday and their Old State House is swarming with people.  Kara and I are amazed and disappointed when the malls around here are packed on Sundays.  Many are there because there is nothing else to do.   The Old State House would be a nice family destination on Sundays.

2.  Bring back a real gift shop.    The current one sells mere trinkets compared to the collectibles, artwork and fine souvenirs sold in the old gift shop.   Kara and I still treasure a gorgeous piece of Hartford art that was a house warming gift from Denise in 2000.   In fact, Denise loved to shop there for meaningful gifts celebrating Hartford’s and Connecticut’s rich history.   I also have a print of the Old State House that I purchased at the old shop.  Another co-worker bought a giant print of the Colt Building.   The new store didn’t sell those items.   There is not a place downtown where you can buy a UConn shirt or a Connecticut license plate key chain.   This could be the place.  It used to be.

3.   Ask Morton’s to add outdoor dining.   This should be pretty easy.   If you see the empty patio overlooking the Old State House, you”ll agree.    It is a spectacular location, and other Morton’s around the country are proof they do outdoor dining well.   A businessman from Terre Haute will be awe of this 212 year old masterpiece as she scarfs down a filet mignon.  

4.    Bring back the cannon.    Until 9/11, men dressed in revolutionary garb used to fire a cannon twice a day to the delight of tourists.   The cannon fire was featured in national magazines, and television shows.   The tradition was discontinued after the terrorist attacks, because the sound understandably startled some people.   But by not resuming the rich tradition, is it allowing the terrorists to win?    If we can rebuild the World Trade Center, shouldn’t one of the original thirteen colonies be able to celebrate a cherished tradition?

5.     More events.   Kara and I brought Helena to the State House to pose for a picture with Santa Claus in December.   I tell you….the setting was like a postcard.  It beat the mall, and the crowds were much smaller.   I look forward to assisting the Old State House with the Santa Claus event this year.

6.     Required Field Trips.   The state should require that school districts bring students on a field trip to the Old State House and the State Capitol.  Several years ago, I was shocked when one our associate producers didn’t know where the Capitol was because she had never been there.  She was a lifelong Connecticut resident, and a graduate of a high school in one of the Windsors and Central Connecticut State University.   

I’d love to hear your suggestions.  

Watch our report on the State House




Categories: Uncategorized

9 replies »

  1. Dennis,

    I couldn’t agree with you more; I am still in disbelief after having watched the segment on the State House closing. The city of Hartford performs a disservice to itself more times than not, but this one truly takes the cake. I work downtown and enjoy looking at this spectacular building any chance I get. I would love the chance to encourage my daughter’s school to require field trips to see it. Moms like me enjoy the trips too. More folks from the suburbs should embrace landmarks like the Old State House, if nothing else but to appreciate all that they have.


  2. Dennis,
    I worked at the Old State House as a costumed Interpreter from 1999 to 2004. I was the guy who cleaned, loaded and fired the old cannon twice each day and for special events. The cannon firing was ceased the day of 9/11 but did continue after about 6 or 8 months. When the Connecticut Historical Society took over management of the buidling in 2004 they got rid of all the fun stuff htat people enjoyed like the cannon and gift shop and fired all of the costumed staff and gift shop staff with the idea that they were going to come in a whip the place into shape and make a real museum out of it. Thier biggest accomplishment was tearing out the elegant Puppet Theater in the basement in favor a $3 million exhibit that nobody cares about or goes to see. I must say that I am delighted at their monumental failure. I think the building should remain open but CHS should not be involved, for the second straight year they have threatened to close the doors and have proven to be incapable of operating such an important piece of Connecticut history. As far as being open on Sundays, I don’t think it would work, even when admission was free (it’s now $6) we could not even draw enough people on Saturdays to justify staying open. Having worked there so long I developed a great respect for the building and its potential and like so many others I hope it remains open and accessible to everyone. I would be glad to share additional thoughts on the building and my time working there, I would love to give a tour to you and Kara for a channel 3 news story.


  3. Dennis: I feel the same way. My friend and I were out and about and decided to eat in Hartford. We went to the old Brown Thompson’s (I forget the new name of the resturant) and it was closed. On a Sunday at 2pm???? On the door was a little sign saying they are closed until 4pm or a big event happens in Hartford…we sat in the car and counted all the people who came by, read the little note and walked away. Within 15 minutes there had to have been more than 23 people. We ended up in West Hartford…


  4. Dennis, I so agree with you. Schools do need to do more educate our children of our state’s history and field trips to the Old State House would be a great place to start. I know my children’s schools would take them to Mystic Seaport and to Olde Wethersfield. Both places are very good also but The State House should be on the list of field trips in our state. Opening on Sundays is also a great idea.


  5. Since this is the nations oldest state house, and houses an original Washington portrait, it is a National Treasure, and should get support from our Federal Goverment and make it a site of National Historic Interest. This will get the Old State House MUCH MUCH more publicity and visitors.

    PS. I like the idea of a better gift shop too. And if it becomes a NHS, will have a National Park Service stamp for visitors to stamp their national parks passport book.


  6. Dennis,

    I agree with you, too. The first thing you see when you arrive in Downtown Hartford is the Old State House. The oldest landmark in the city. I have been to this landmark on several occasions with school and my church (South Congregational Church on Main). Opening it on Sunday will further the economy and also help the other establishments downtown thrive. It’s a ghost town after 6:00 p.m. and on weekends. The shootings don’t help matters. I’m happy the state police finally stepped in to police the streets. One more reason to keep it open.


  7. Dennis – I was appalled to read about the probable closing of “our” Old State House. I worked across the street at what is now Bank of America for 20 years. I was very fortunate to have a view of the Old State House for all of those years and truly enjoyed it. The boom of the cannon scared me on occasion but it was a “good” scare. In fact, I was one of the people who shot off the cannon for a charity benefit. I was very proud of the site and would point it out to many business people who visited our offices always mentioning it was the oldest in the country. Closing this building so rich in history and so vital to downtown would be a disgrace to the Capitol of Connecticut. Come on Hartford, surely something can be done. What about the “Rising Star” campaign. How can we “rise” while closing down such an important designation. I would also like to mention that your ideas/suggestions are very good ones indeed.

    Holly Michaels


  8. I fired the cannon too, everyday for five years. I was on staff at the Old State House from 1999 to 2004. I always wondered how the folks in the neighborhood really felt about the cannon, if they loved it or hated it, I am sure there were some of both. As Ms. Michaels said, we often had “Guest Cannon Firers” who always seem to enjoy the experience, although for safety reasons I was the one who did the actual firing. I think there is a great potential for the Old State House, I hope it will be managed to reach that potential. So here’s looking forward to celebrating the Old State House and to many great years of operation for a beautiful building with a glorious history.


  9. Dennis,

    As a child I remember the “old Hartford” and the wonderful things that it offered. The sidewalks were mobbed with people shopping at G.Fox, Brown Thompsons, Learners, Grants and all the other great stores that were open. At Christmas time the beautifully decorated windows of these stores were worthy of a night drive into the city to be viewed by families. We had the aisle of safety for busses that took us in and out of the city and one never had to wait long for the bus. There was always somewhere that you could stop and eat, enjoy good company and spend the day having fun. They had several movie theaters as well. I grew up looking at the Travelers Tower light and marveling at how tall the building seemed. There was a shoeshine man in the front entry of the Travelers Tower. The Old State House is a landmark of history for the capitol city and I wish I could go and tour it on a Sunday as I’m sure many other folks do too. It’s so hard to find anything in Hartford now that gives credit to the rich history it has. I love that beautiful blue dome on the Colt building, a gorgeous landmark. I have visited the Mark Twain House and just loved it. We also took the tour of the Stowe House as well. If Hartford would take it’s rich history seriously instead of shutting it off to people, they would truly be a “Rising Star”! It’s unfortunate that crime has made the city lose it’s luster but that could be changed as well with dedicated hard work. Hartford was once “The Star” of Connecticut and could be again if we all cry out loud enough. Connecticut has a beautiful landscape throughout its countryside. It’s history is deep and very interesting. The Connecticut River is a beautiful river that is hardly ever truly enjoyed. I am old enough to remember the “Old Front Street” and the richness of it’s ethnic qualities. I agree that schools should put these wonderful historical landmarks into their trip agenda’s for our children. I will make be making it my business to bring my Grandchildren to see them. It’s part of their heritage.


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