Hartford Blooms at CHS


Plan Showing Location of Trees on Lands of Messrs J. J. and F. Goodwin (detail). Drawing, 1898. The Connecticut Historical Society, 2012.312.164.

At the end of the nineteenth century, much of the west part of Hartford was still farmland. Cows grazed in the meadows along the Park River, where small boys went swimming in the summertime. But the area was beginning to build up, primarily with great estates, but also with more modest homes in the neighborhood that would later be known as the West End. One of the grandest of the great estates lay must outside the West End at the corner of Woodland Street and Asylum Avenue. This property belonged to Francis and James J. Goodwin; James Goodwin’s huge mansion was locally known as Goodwin Castle. The Connecticut Historical Society has many photographs of the house and a plan showing the location of trees and shrubs on the extensive grounds. It must have been lovely in May, when the cherry trees and crabapple trees were in blossom. Other flowering trees such as tulip trees and sourwood bloomed later in the summer. The red foliage of the sourwood and maples would have stood out against the green of the arborvitae and pines in the fall. The original plan for the Goodwin estate and other garden plans and architectural drawings will be on view at the Connecticut Historical Society from 9:00 to 5:00 on Saturday June 28, in conjunction with Hartford Blooms, a nine-day showcase of Hartford’s gardens and historic architecture. Stop by and see what this part of Hartford was like one hundred years ago.

A Good Many Chestnut Trees About


Edwin Whitefield, Old Tavern and Store, Bolton. Drawing, ca. 1880. The Connecticut Historical Society, 1976.68.0

Before the chestnut flight devastated the forests in the early 1900s, American chestnut trees were a prominent feature in the Connecticut landscape. Chestnut trees grew tall and straight and the wood was used in the construction of barns and houses and the making of furniture, telephone poles, and railroad ties. The nuts were used as food by Native Americans and early settlers. When the artist Edwin Whitefield made his drawing of an old tavern and store in Bolton about 1880, he noted that there were “a good many chestnut trees about.” Chestnut trees are frequently noted in John Warner Barber’s drawings of Connecticut towns, dating from the 1830s. If you go to Connecticut History Online and search for “chestnut,” you’ll find lots of pictures of trees–and even more pictures of Chestnut Streets throughout the state, reflecting tree’s former popularity. The fungus that caused the blight was accidentally introduced on imported Japanese chestnut trees in the late 19th century, and within decades, nearly all of Connecticut’s chestnut trees had succumbed to the disease. Today you’ll still find a good many chestnut trees about, though these are usually European or Oriental chestnuts planted in parks and yards. And deep in the forests, the roots of the old American chestnut trees continue to sprout and grow, only to die when they become infected with the fungus, which is still present throughout the state. Efforts to find a disease-resistant strain or hybrid have yielded promising results and perhaps someday this sad story will have a happy ending.