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Historic Buildings and Districts

There are numerous buildings and blocks on or near Farmington Avenue that have been designated historic and are listed on the State and/or National Register of Historic Places. The Mark Twain Home at 351 Farmington Avenue is also listed as an National Landmark, a designation reserved for very significant historical or cultural sites.

Individual buildings listed as having historical significance are:

  • 86 Farmington Avenue (office)
  • 180 Farmington Avenue (Funeral home)
  • 237-239 Farmington Avenue (private condominiums)
  • 351 Farmington Avenue, Mark Twain House (museum)
  • 360 Farmington Avenue, Immanuel Congregational Church
  • 551-553 Farmington Avenue, Rusden Lake House
  • 36 Forest Street, (office)
  • 66 Forest Street (office)
  • 71 Forest Street, Harriet Beecher Stowe House (museum)
  • 77 Forest Street, Day-Chamberlain House (museum office)
  • 140 Hawthorne Street, John and Isabella Hooker House (apartments)
  • 22 Woodland Street, (Town & County Club - private)
  • 49 Woodland Street, Perkins Clark House (office)
  • Elizabeth Park (public park)

Historic Districts:

  • Asylum Hill District
  • Laurel and Marshall Streets Sub-district
  • Nook Farm and Woodland Street Sub-district
  • Imlay and Laurel Streets Sub-district
  • West End Little Hollywood Historic District
  • West End North Historic District
  • West End South Historic District
  • Prospect Avenue Historic District


Asylum Hill

Until the mid 1850’s Asylum Hill was mostly farmland and known as Lord’s Hill, named after one of Hartford’s original settlers. One farm, the Imlay farm, was as large as 100 acres. Area farmland also included Hartford’s Town Farm and Almshouse in the Sigourney Square area, located on the northern section of the neighborhood.

The neighborhood became known as Asylum Hill after the American Asylum for the Education and Instruction of Deaf and Dumb (now American School for the Deaf) was built in 1821 on land later bought by the Hartford Fire Insurance Company. The asylum was built by a prominent Hartford doctor whose daughter, Alice Cogswell, became deaf after a bout with spotted fever.

Dr. Cogswell established a school with Thomas Gallaudet to teach deaf people to communicate by sign language. Gallaudet traveled to France to learn the newly developed technique of sign language and brought his knowledge back to Hartford to establish the first school of this kind in the United States. In 1953 the National Association for the Deaf erected a bronze statue of Alice Cogswell at the junction of Farmington and Asylum Avenues that serves as a welcoming gateway to the neighborhood.

Asylum Hill began to emerge as a residential district as living conditions in downtown Hartford became crowded by the rise of immigrants who came to work in factories. Homes in Asylum Hill were developed for the upper middle class and the very wealthy. It was a fashionable place to live and its residents had prominent roles in Hartford’s economic, cultural and political life.

In 1851 John Hooker and Francis Gillette bought the 100-acre Imlay farm. They called it Nook Farm as it hugged a large bend in the north branch of the Park River. Hooker and Gillette built homes on the former farm and then subdivided the land and sold it to family and friends. Hooker’s enormous Gothic style house, built in 1853, still stands near the corner of Forest and Hawthorne Street, tucked behind some 1950’s era apartment buildings.

Nook Farm became internationally known as a literary and politically active community. Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of numerous books and internationally known for the antislavery bestseller Uncle Tom’s Cabin, moved to Nook Farm in 1863. Stowe’s sister was married to John Hooker. Stowe’s Gothic revival home with Victorian gardens are beautifully maintained today and opened to the public as a museum, research library and program center.

Samuel Clemens, better known by his pen name, Mark Twain, was so impressed by the Asylum Hill neighborhood he brought his bride to live at Nook Farm. Twain built an extraordinary home, with lots of gables, colored and textured brick, porches and other effects said to be inspired by the style of Mississippi River steamboats.

Mark Twain lived in Hartford for nearly 20 years. He and his wife Olivia raised three daughters and were very happy in their home. Here he wrote most of his major works including Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, and a Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. A bad business investment in a typesetting machine brought Twain to the brink of bankruptcy. He moved in Europe in 1891 to economize and raise money to pay off his debts. Sadly his wife died in Europe and a few years later his daughter Susy died suddenly from meningitis while living at the Farmington Avenue house.

After these two tragedies Mark Twain never lived in his Hartford house again. It was sold and became a boy’s school, apartments and a Hartford Public Library branch. Restoration of the house for a museum began in the 1970’s. Today it has many of the original furnishings, stained glass and even one of the original typesetting machines that led to Twain’s financial ruin. The Mark Twain House has the distinction of being designated as a National Historic Landmark.

All around Nook Farm other farms were sold off and developed for middle and upper middle class families. The homes on Gillett, Laurel and Marshall Streets were well built, modestly imitating many of the features of the grand homes in the neighborhood such as textured masonry, ornamental shingles, front porches, stained glass and fancy trim. The north section of Laurel Street is a good example of the kind of housing that was built in Asylum Hill in the late 1800’s.

As the neighborhood developed as a residential area, churches and a hospital were built. St. Francis Hospital was opened in 1897. Three large Gothic brownstone churches were erected in the late nineteenth century. Asylum Hill Congregational Church was built on Asylum Avenue in 1864-65; Trinity Episcopal Church on Sigourney Street in 1891-98 and St. Joseph’s Cathedral in 1892. Immanuel Church on Farmington Avenue, dedicated in 1899, was a completely different style from what was popular at the time. Architect Ernest Flagg used a fourth-century, Renaissance style church in France as a prototype. Immanuel has green and yellow Byzantine tiles above the front door of the church that were so controversial that they were plastered over and not uncovered until the 1980’s.

By the time Hartford Fire Insurance Company moved from downtown Hartford to Asylum Hill in 1920-21, Hartford had become known as the insurance capital of the nation. Conservative management by Hartford Fire and other local companies had enabled them to pay out all claims and remain solvent where other companies faltered when disaster struck in 1871 with the great Chicago fire and years later in 1906 with the San Francisco earthquake.

In 1929-31 Aetna Life and Casualty Company built an enormous brick, classical Colonial style home office at 151 Farmington Avenue. Other companies would follow, such as Connecticut Mutual, Security and Covenant.

Asylum Hill became an employment center for tens of thousands of people. Most of the single-family residences were replaced with apartment buildings designed for single workers, changing the character of the neighborhood as population density and traffic increased. Large institutions – corporations, churches and cultural – remain a major and important feature of Asylum Hill.

Though the neighborhood has changed greatly in the last 150 years, many architecturally interesting buildings from by-gone eras remain, especially within one block of, and on, Farmington Avenue.


West End

The West End of Hartford was developed as a residential neighborhood mostly between 1890 and 1920. While neighborhood streets were laid out decades before and some houses were built in the late 1870’s, periodic economic slumps caused unsteady development of the area. Enterprising real estate developer Eugene Kenyon went broke as he tried to cash in on homes built on speculation.

Residences built on the main arteries in the West End, Farmington, Asylum and Prospect Avenues, were for the wealthy and the side streets in between were for the middle and upper middle class. Houses were constructed in a variety of styles, such as Second Empire cottages, Gothic Revival cottages, Queen Anne, Colonial Revival, Georgian Revival and Tudor Revival and were influenced by other architectural styles such Renaissance Revival, Mission, Swiss Chalet, Bungalow and Prairie.

The mix of architectural styles in the West End is not incompatible. In fact, it has made this well-preserved residential neighborhood one of Hartford’s most visually interesting.

The neighborhood has two architecturally significant public schools, Noah Webster and the University of Connecticut School of Law. Noah Webster, named after the author of the Webster dictionary, was built in phases, beginning in 1900. Its Tudor style, with stone, timbers and stucco, blends in well with nearby residences. Some of its classrooms and library were built with fireplaces. Special architectural features of Noah Webster may be attributed to the additional funds neighborhood residents collected for its construction.

The University of Connecticut School of Law was originally built in 1923-29 for Hartford Seminary Foundation. Built on 30-acre campus with multiple Gothic style buildings, Hartford Seminary educated men and women for the clergy. In the late 1970’s the complex was sold to the state to house its growing law school. When the state expanded the campus by building a four-story library in the 1990’s, it duplicated the style and materials used in campus’s early construction. The builders did research to find the quarry used for the original buildings and constructed a Gothic style library using the same local quarry. As a result the library blends in perfectly with the original buildings.

Although Hartford Seminary sold its campus for the law school, it didn’t leave the West End. It hired noted architect Richard Meier & Partners to construct a post modern style new building that is a regular attraction for architects from around the world.

While most residential areas of the West End look as they did when they were built at the turn of the twentieth century, Farmington Avenue has not fared as well. A few of the original houses remain and have been converted into office use. However, low-rise commercial construction, geared to accommodate the automobile, has replaced an avenue once lined with gracious homes.

Most of the West End neighborhood is listed as an historic district in the National Register of Historic Places.

More information on the Asylum Hill and West End neighborhoods can be found in Hartford Architecture Conservancy’s publication, Hartford Architecture: Volume Three: North and West Neighborhoods, the Hartford Collection at the Hartford Public Library and the library of the Connecticut Historical Society, located on Elizabeth Street, in Hartford’s West End.



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