Lately billed as New England's rising star, the Insurance City Connecticut's state capital is making a comeback from its low point in the early 1990s when people, jobs, retailers and the major-league hockey franchise left for greener pastures. A revitalized downtown riverfront, a convention center and a hotel-retail-cultural-entertainment complex called Adriaen's Landing were in the works in the new millennium to supplement the buildings of Constitution Plaza, the nation's earliest urban renewal project.
The Mark Twain House, 351 Farmington Ave., Hartford.
Samuel Clemens (a.k.a. Mark Twain) had this extravagant, red brick Victorian Gothic mansion designed to resemble a Mississippi River steamboat. He built it in 1873 in Hartford, a publishing center that was America's richest city per-capita at the time and the most beautiful city he ever hoped to see. He referred to this variously as his "dream house," a "palace" and "the loveliest home that ever was," and he and his family lived there for seventeen years at the height of his career. He and other residents gathered about them in the surrounding Nook Farm area the leading literary and artistic lights of the day. The nineteen-room mansion with wraparound porches and towering turrets is where he penned several of his masterpieces. Shown on informative guided tours, the interior is a showplace of Victorian riches. Clemens commissioned Louis Comfort Tiffany to decorate the first floor, which is one of only two surviving Tiffany-designed interiors open to the public. Full of fascination, the house contains many pieces of Clemens family furniture, including Twain's ornate Venetian bed, his billiards table and an intricately carved mantel from a Scottish castle.
(860) 493-6411. www.marktwainhouse.org. Open Monday-Saturday 9:30 to 5, Sunday noon to 5. Closed Tuesday, Columbus Day to Memorial Day, except December. Adults $9, children $5.
Wadsworth Atheneum, 600 Main St., Hartford.
This art museum is the nation's oldest (1842) and considered among the twelve finest in the country. The early emphasis was on American landscape and historical paintings by prominent artists who were friends of founder Daniel Wadsworth. J. Pierpoint Morgan's gift of 1,325 works in 1917 added priceless European paintings and decorative arts. Under longtime director A. Everett Austin Jr., the Atheneum created one of the most important collections of baroque art in America and gained a national reputation for leadership and daring. Among its more than 50,000 works of art are distinguished collections of Old Master paintings, English and American silver, German and French porcelains, costumes and textiles, Colt firearms and innovative contemporary American art. The Wallace Nutting collection of Pilgrim-Century furniture and decorative arts is the largest of its kind. The Amistad Foundation African-American Collection documents the history of African-American culture from the slave period to the present. The Atheneum is renowned for its collection of Hudson River School landscape paintings, the largest in the world, and for its Matrix Gallery of changing contemporary exhibitions and performances, one of the first of its kind in the country. More than fifteen special exhibitions a year, some of them world-class, are staged. The Museum Café serves innovative lunch fare during museum hours. The museum undertook a major expansion program in 2002.
(860) 278-2670. www.wadsworthatheneum.org. Open Tuesday-Sunday 11 to 5. Adults $7, children $3.
Old State House, 800 Main St., Hartford.
Dwarfed by surrounding office towers, this 1796 Federal-style building designed by Charles Bulfinch is the nation's oldest statehouse. The building is opened and closed each day with a salute from a Revolutionary War cannon. It was the site of George Washington's first meeting with the French during the Revolution and the celebrated 1839 Amistad trial, which is re-enacted regularly in the Great Senate Chamber. The Senate Chamber is restored to its original look in 1796 and the House Chamber to the 1877 period when it was used by City Hall. Costumed interpreters portray pivotal figures in Connecticut history. Children enjoy Mr. Steward's Museum of Curiosities and its two-headed calf.
(860) 522-6766. Open Monday-Friday 10 to 4, Saturday 11 to 4. Free.
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The Goodwin Hotel, l Haynes St., Hartford. (860) 246-7500 or (800) 922-5006.
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