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You are at stop #1 on the Connecticut History tour

History of the Site: The site of the Connecticut State Capitol is the highest hill in the central part of Hartford, separated from the commercial riverfront and Main Street by the river valley that is today Bushnell Park. The land had been the location of Washington College built in 1823 (name changed to Trinity College in 1843). Called College Hill, the 13 acre hilltop was crowned by Trinity’s neoclassical chapel/library, classroom and residence halls. In the early 1870s, the decision was taken to build a premanent Capitol in Hartford culminating a 40 year-practice for the legislature to meet alternatively in New Haven and Hartford. The Old Statehouse had been the prior venue for the legislature when it met in Hartford. Securing an advantageous site in Hartford was the decisive factor in convincing the legislature to make Hartford its permanent location. The Capitol Commission Committee approached the Trustees of Trinity College to buy the College Hill campus. The college agreed triggering a search for a new campus and a simultaneous effort to design the Capitol for the State. The Capitol Commission Committee launched a competition to select an architect.

The Architect and Design: On April 18, 1872, Upjohn’s Victorian Gothic design was chosen over 13 other architects with his high Victorian Gothic proposal for the Capitol. Richard Upjohn Jr.’s (1828-1903) Connecticut State Capital was designed and built between 1872-1879. Upjohn initially planned to build a clock tower in the center of the building instead of a dome, but months of fierce negotiation with his architectural firm finalized the building with a golden dome. The exterior was built using marble and granite with a gold leafed dome in the center of the building, standing over 240 feet high. The New State House Commission originally set funding for the building at $1,000,000, but the final cost in 1885 amounted to be $3,347,550, including all interior decorations.

The Symbolic Program: The State Capitol was built with four grand entrances on each side to symbolize the four cardinal points on the compass. The compass is a proud motif seen many times throughout the building in paint, stone, and glass. Directly below the dome inside the building, a large eight pointed compass is the most obvious example of this. Upjohn also provided the sculptural program q.v. for the Capitol.

Sources

  • Richard M. Upjohn, State Capitol Plans. Vols. 1-58: Connecticut State Library, Hartford, 1874-1879. :