Exploring Hartford: A Grand Capitol Building and Home of Famous Author

Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch

We spent a day in Hartford, the capital of Connecticut. It is a very old city, having been established by the English in 1635. The city has been nicknamed the “Insurance Capital of the World” as many insurance headquarters were located here. That has changed some over the years as insurance is still a major employer but some companies have gone elsewhere. It was once the home of Samuel Colt firearms, one of the most important gun companies in America. Our goal for the day in Hartford was to see the capitol building and visit the home of a famous author. Above is a photo of the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch. It was completed in 1886 to remember the 4,000 Hartford soldiers who fought in the Civil War as well as the 400 who died. It is considered the first permanent triumphal arch built in America.

Connecticut’s Capitol Building

The Connecticut Capitol building is the most castle like capitol I have seen in my travels. During my visit here I felt I was visiting a European country. Completed in 1878, it is perhaps the grandest capitol building I have seen during my travels. The inside seemed to have a different flavor with a Moroccan or Middle Eastern look.

Connecticut Capitol Interior

One of the more interesting artifacts in the building is a drinking fountain built to provide water for the legislators’ horses. Unfortunately, the horses were not allowed in the building to get a drink, (that would have been a kick to see), but had to wait outside until their owners filled jugs of water and brought them outside to give them.

Drinking Fountain for Horses

I joined a tour with a group of high school students from Spain. We visited much of the building with an enthusiastic docent including seeing where the Senate and House meet.

Touring inside the capitol

Hartford has the historic home of one of America’s most famous authors -Samuel Clemens also known as Mark Twain. Twain lived here with his wife and three daughters from the time it was completed in 1874 until 1891. The house was paid for from his wife’s inheritance and cost a huge sum at the time of $40,000. He wrote his most famous works here including “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” The story of Huck is considered his most famous. I realized that I had never read this book so I got it on my kindle after our visit. What a great read it was – I thought it was so clever and funny, especially toward the end.

The home was a delight to tour and the guide one of the best I have had in my travels. No photos are allowed inside and the home has some original Twain furnishings and artifacts. It had the latest in modern conveniences including being lit by gaslight, seven bathrooms, hot and cold running water, flush toilets, a burglar system run on batteries and a telephone in the kitchen.

Mark Twain family home

Twain is known for his many quotations. He loved Hartford and is quoted as saying: “Of all the beautiful towns it has been my fortune to see, this is the chief. You do not know what beauty is if you have not been here.” This is high praise as Twain before moving to Hartford had done a lot of traveling in America and abroad.

Mark Twain was known for his quotes

Our camping site for the week we spent in Connecticut was located in a wooded and rural southeastern part of the state. Mark and I found the roads here to be particularly narrow and winding, not quite wide enough for our truck. Mark joked if someone left their mailbox open on the side of the road he would hit it as we passed by. Then there were the frequent signs along the roads – “Beware, hidden driveway,” “Dangerous intersection,” that kept us on our toes each time we ventured away from our campground.

Caution Dangerous Intersection

I loved the river at our campground. The flow of water varied throughout our stay. When we first got there so many big rocks were visible in the river bed that you could almost walk across to the other side. After we got a steady downpour for a day and night the rocks were all covered as the river had risen and it was roaring with water. The Quinebaug River was a beautiful place to sit and ponder nature.

Quinebaug River

Thanks for stopping in! I hope you enjoyed more of our exploring in Connecticut. In the next blog, a trip up the highest mountain in New Hampshire.

Hidden Acres Family Campground Pond

Connecticut’s Mystic Seaport Museum

Charles W. Morgan, oldest wooden whaling ship

One of Connecticut’s top attractions is a living history museum full of historic ships and exhibits in a reconstructed 19th century seafaring village. It is a wonderful place to visit with so much to see that one day isn’t enough, although we did our best to see most of it. For those that like historic vessels and all things nautical, this is the place to come. The centerpiece of the museum is the Charles W. Morgan, the only surviving wooden whaling ship built in 1841 and launched from New Bedford, Massachusetts, a town I wrote about in a recent blog. At one time there were more than 2700 whaling ships but the Morgan is now the oldest commercial ship still afloat in America.

Walking on deck of the Charles W. Morgan whaling ship

The Morgan is a very special ship and it was a delight to be able to walk around and explore her. For being so old, she has been kept in remarkable shape. During her whaling years she completed 37 voyages all over the globe in pursuit of whale blubber to make oil. Whaling was a dangerous and difficult business and many ships and their crews did not survive their journeys. Below is a photo of a docent demonstrating how a whale was speared with a special hook.

Demonstration of a spear used in whaling

We were able to explore not only the main deck but also the cabins below. There wasn’t much room down there for all the men but they made do with small bunks and living spaces. The captain had a more luxurious area, although his space was quite limited too. Below was also a larger area where the oil was stored. Here is a photo of the seamen’s bunks.

Sleeping areas below deck

It was a neat feeling to wander around this ship and think about how men lived and worked here in days past on the high seas, risking their lives on long voyages. One of these seamen, Nelson Cole Haley was aboard this ship for four years from 1849 -1853. He worked as a harpooner, responsible for first spearing the whale, one of the more dangerous jobs. He wrote a book called “Whale Hunt” about his experiences on the Morgan, a book that brought to life the fascinating life of a whaler. It was an enjoyable read after our visit to this historic ship.

Joseph Conrad sailing ship

Above is a photo of the Joseph Conrad sailing ship as seen from the deck of the Morgan. This ship was launched in 1882 in Denmark and used to train Danish sailors for merchant service. Later she served as a training ship for the U.S. until 1945 when she came to stay at Mystic Seaport as a museum ship. This was another tall ship we were able to board and tour.

Sabino Steamboat

The museum offers a chance to go for a ride on several of their boats including the Sabino pictured above. This is the oldest wooden coal fired steamboat in the U.S. in regular operation. It was built in 1908 and used to ferry passengers and cargo between Maine towns and islands. The Sabino took us on a pleasant cruise around Mystic harbor. It was a nice chance to see the Seaport Museum from the water. I also went below and watched coal being loaded into the furnace.

The Sabino is fueled by coal

The museum has businesses that were important in a seafaring town of the 19th century and offers a number of classes and demonstrations. Besides a tourist destination, the museum is a research and educational facility. A large shipyard is also on the premises and inside the huge building you can watch the old practices of building and repairing wooden ships. In another building the 60 year old Mayflower II wooden ship was being reconstructed in preparation for 2020 and the 400th anniversary of the pilgrims arrival in 1620.

Mystic Seaport Shipyard

In addition to the permanent exhibits the museum had a fascinating temporary exhibit on the Vikings with artifacts brought from Sweden on tour in the U.S. beginning at Mystic Seaport. There were 1,300 year old items of warfare such as helmets, shields and swords that had been excavated from a burial site. They were beautiful with much detail and for their age in amazing shape.

Viking helmet from Sweden
Viking shield from Sweden

Of the many nautical exhibits, my favorite was the room filled with figureheads. Figureheads are carved wooden decorations found at the bow of ships and popular during historic sailing times, especially the 1800’s. The ornamentation represented gods, spiritual beliefs and were used to protect and enhance the ship as well as symbolize what the ship stood for. The carvings are very detailed and are a classic symbol of America’s seafaring history. In the photo below are several examples although there were many more on display. The horrible lighting in the room made taking good photos difficult.

I hope you enjoyed a little of what can be found at Mystic Seaport Museum. This is just a sample of what is awaiting the visitor here. This was definitely one of the highlights of our travels and on my top ten best museum list.

Exploring Connecticut: Pez, Pizza and Yale

Standing in Front of the PEZ Candy Factory Store

The PEZ candy factory in Orange, New Jersey is fun, fun! Who can resist these colorful dispensers with the candy wafers that pop out the top. In this factory/store you will find the most PEZ memorabilia in the world. Many people are familiar with PEZ dispensers that have hundreds of different heads. In my opinion, the candy wafers are boring but the dispensers are a kick. At this location you can learn the history behind PEZ by visiting interactive game stations and following the historical timeline. We started out by playing PEZ Bingo, which encouraged us to go throughout the store looking at the large collection of Pez dispensers in the cases and trying to find the right ones in a row. When you hit a bingo you can take your card back to the counter for a free dispenser.

Playing PEZ Bingo

The history of PEZ is rather interesting. It was invented by Edward Haas in Vienna, Austria in 1927 as an adult breath mint and alternative to smoking. The name comes from the word for peppermint in German – pfefferminz, taking the P from the first letter, E from the middle and Z from the last letter to form the new name. The original shape of PEZ candy was round and called “PEZ drops.” The candy quickly evolved to the familiar brick shape that is still manufactured today. The PEZ dispenser was introduced in 1949 at the Vienna Trade Fair. In 1952 operations began in New York City. The first three dimensional character head dispenser, a Halloween witch was made in 1957. Popeye became the first licensed character in 1958. There are lots of other fun facts to read about here including the one below.

Santa Claus is the best selling dispenser of all time

Hundreds of dispensers displayed in glass cases can be seen here. They are grouped by category, for example the “Favorite Characters” that are shown below. These include characters from Peanuts, Smurfs, Sesame Street, Flintstones, Garfield and the Simpsons with the dates they were first introduced.

Favorite Characters on display

There were some dispensers that surprised us including one for every U.S. president. There are also those featuring popular movie characters.

PEZ presidential collection

The store claims to have the largest dispenser in the world, 14 feet high and motorized. As you watch, the head slowly opens up and a “candy” is dispensed before it closes again. I took the photo below looking down from the second story landing.

The largest PEZ

One of the favorite exhibits is the PEZ themed motorcycle made by the people from Orange County Choppers.

PEZ Motorcycle

Although you can’t see the candy or dispensers being made here, there are large windows that look out at the production facility where the dispensers are packaged. This was just mildly interesting as the reason to come is to see all the dispensers and learn about PEZ history. People also come to stock up on their favorites and there are plenty to choose from. Our two grandsons love PEZ so we bought some for them and they were excited to find out we had visited the factory store. In the photo below, Mark poses under a sign stating, “You aren’t famous until you have had your head on a PEZ dispenser.”

After the PEZ factory we headed to nearby New Haven, a historical city known for two things I wanted to check out, pizza and Yale University. Connecticut is known for having great pizza and the most well known is found in the Old Italy neighborhood of New Haven. There are several favorite pizza restaurants here and we decided to try Frank Pepe’s, which has been in business since 1925. Their signature pizza is white clam which we ordered as well as a pizza loaded with fresh tomatoes only available in the summer. They bake their pizzas in an old fashioned brick oven and they were as delicious as I hoped, especially the clam which was very unique. There is really nothing quite as good as a well made pizza in my humble opinion.

Frank Pepe’s Pizza in New Haven
Frank Pepe’s signature white clam pizza and fresh tomatoe pizza

I always enjoy visiting colleges and universities – there is something about walking around a center of higher learning and seeing the historical buildings, wonderful architecture and vibrant student atmosphere. Perhaps some of my interest is because I spent so many years myself in college attending classes part time working toward degrees. I had hoped during our travels to visit an Ivy League College and here was my chance in New Haven. Yale was founded in 1701, making it the third oldest university in America. Harvard is the oldest and the College of William and Mary is second. We visited William and Mary while staying in Williamsburg, Virginia and it boasts the oldest remaining building on a college campus. Yale is organized into about a dozen different campuses or colleges. I wanted to walk around the Old Campus which is the principal residence of Yale College freshmen and also contains the offices for some of the academic departments.

Yale University Old Campus

In the photo above is a statue of Nathan Hale and a view on the right of the oldest surviving building from the colonial era, Connecticut Hall built in 1750. The Old Campus buildings surround a four acre courtyard and green with a main entrance gate. It is a beautiful area with many shade trees and stone paths. The statue is of Nathan Hale, a Connecticut and Revolutionary War hero who attended Yale and lived at Connecticut Hall. He was a spy during the War who at the young age of 21 was captured and executed by the British. He is remembered for his famous saying, “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.”

Yale University Old Campus

Across from the Old Campus I found this grand entrance and gate leading to another campus. I will close with this photo and hope you enjoyed a look at our exploring in the New Haven area.