Hartford, Connecticut: Landmarks~History~Neighborhoods | Neighborhoods: Sheldon/Charter Oak ~ Coltsville.
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The greatest influence on the development of the Sheldon/Charter Oak neighborhood was Samuel Colt, inventor and industrialist. In 1855, he began buying up property and established the Colt Firearms Factory, recognizable by its onion dome topped by a rampant colt. He is given credit for the naming of several streets in the area where the Colt Firearms Manufacturing Company was located. In doing so, he paid tribute to the Native Americans who made it possible for Hartford to exist, as well as the Dutch who first came to Hartford.

Samuel and his wife, Elizabeth Hart Jarvis Colt, lived in a mansion on Wethersfield Avenue overlooking all of their property down to the Connecticut River where the factory stood. The home featured a steel and glass conservatory fashioned after London's "Crystal Palace." The estate included sweeping lawns, an orchard, greenhouses, a carriage barn, deer park, swan and duck pond and paths with statuary.

He also built a village so that he workers could live within walking distance to the factory. It included a community house and library. His employees and their families were encouraged to participate in the educational, cultural and sports activities he provided. Of the fifty brick, multi-family structures originally built, ten remain today.

When willow trees began to overrun his property, he decided to open a factory for the production of willow furniture. Hearing that the best willow workers in the world were in Potsdam, Germany, he imported an entire village of workers to his Hartford location, building German-style homes to make the workers feel comfortable. The community became known as Potsdam Village. Several of these houses also remain today. Examples of wilow furniture and other Colt artifacts may be found at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford.

Upon Colt's death in 1862, his widow, Elizabeth Jarvis Colt, oversaw the firearms business and built the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd as a memorial to her husband and their three children who died in infancy. Architectural details of the structure include a variety of gun parts, such as bullet molds, gunsights and cylinders. This unusual characteristic earns the building the title of likely being the only church in the world with a gun motif. One original architectural element that no longer remains is an ornamental cross that topped the west end of the church. It was removed by the Bishop of Connecticut when it was discovered that the cross was made up of revolvers.

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Several years later, Mrs. Colt built nearby the Caldwell Colt Parish House as a memorial to her son who had died at age 36 under mysterious circumstances while yachting off the coast of Florida. The building was designed by Edward T. Potter, the same architect who designed the Mark Twain House. This building also originally had an architectural element that no longer remains – a ship's mast.

In 1874, a tract of land adjacent to the Church of the Good Shepherd was leased by Mrs. Colt to Hartford's base ball club, The Hartfords, which became known as the "Dark Blues" due to the color of their uniform. A 500-seat grandstand was built and for the next few years, the cheers of excited fans was heard across the neighborhood. One of the regular patrons was Samuel Clemens. On one occasion, he had his umbrella taken by a lad at the ballpark. Two days after the game, on May 20, 1875, the following ad appeared in the Hartford Courant:

TWO HUNDRED AND FIVE DOLLARS REWARD–At the great base ball match on Tuesday, while I engaged in hurrahing, a small boy walked off with an English-made brown silk UMBRELLA belonging to me and forgot to bring it back. I will pay $5 for the return of the umbrella in good condition to my house on Farmington Avenue. I do not want the boy (in an active state) but will pay two hundred dollars for his remains. —SAMUEL L. CLEMENS.

Upon Mrs. Colt's death, Armsmear was converted to a home for widows of Episcopalian ministers and the adjacent 140-acre tract of land was given to the City of Hartford to be used as a public park. The residential community at Armsmear to this day is administrated by the Colt Trust, and Colt Park provides recreational facilities.

Sam and the infant children who died and were originally interred at the estate (where the monument now stands) were moved to Cedar Hill Cemetery when it opened. Elizabeth and Caldwell are also buried there at the family gravesite.

In 2008, Coltsville was designated a National Historic Landmark, indicating that Coltsville has national significance and that there is a high level of historic preservation. Efforts are underway to obtain National Historic Park status at which time many of the remaining Colt properties will be accessible to the public to learn about this important historic industrial area and the architecture, lifestyles and customs it represents.

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