Visitors to the Port of Hartford will find many opportunities for fun and entertainment. Lovers of history will want to check out the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, America's oldest public art museum, and the homes of Mark Twain and Harriet Beecher Stowe. There are many examples of early American architecture within the Port of Hartford, including the late 16th Century Butler McCook House and Garden. As an added attraction, the Port of Hartford is within a two-hour drive from two of the United States' most popular tourist destinations, New York and Boston.
The Port of Hartford enjoys a humid continental climate where summers are hot and muggier than one might expect in New England, and winters are cold with lots of snow. The Port of Hartford gets about 45 inches of snow each winter from November through March. Thunderstorms are common in the summer, and the Port of Hartford gets the rare tropical storm and remnants of hurricanes. Temperatures in the Port of Hartford range from an average high of 29°C (85°F) in July to an average low of -8°C (17°F) in January. Precipitation is distributed fairly evenly throughout the year.
The Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art is the jewel of the Port of Hartford. The oldest public art museum in the United States, it was founded in 1842 by Daniel Wadsworth. Its collections cover five thousand years and contain almost 50 thousand works of art that include Greek and Roman antiquities, European decorative arts, costumes and textiles, African American art and artifacts, the Samuel Colt firearms collection, and American colonial furniture and arts. Among the many paintings exhibited at this Port of Hartford Museum are Hudson River School landscapes, Impressionists from Europe and America, modernists, and contemporary works of art. The Museum also offers the George A. Gay collection of prints and the Serge Lifar Collection of Ballets Russes drawings and costumes.
The Port of Hartford's Connecticut Science Center offers 150 hands-on exhibits to thrill and educate kids of all ages. The Science Center has a state-of-the-art 3D digital theater, four educational labs, and daily programs and events. It covers a wide range of science topics including physics, forensics, geology, and astronomy, to name a few. The Sports Lab Gallery has a Ski Simulator where an arcade-like experience also educates visitors about gravity, friction, and inertia as experienced by Alpine skiers.
Gallery scientists lead demonstration, group challenges, and investigations as part of the Center's education program and on 15-minute mini-tours of the galleries. KidSpace is designed for children under grade 3. Designed to open their minds and senses to science learning, the Waterplay exhibit in KidSpace encourages experimentation with water and colored balls. KidSpace also has a cozy reading nook for pre-schoolers. Forces in Motion explores the physics of motion-related phenomena and the world of extreme engineering.
The Center's Sight and Sound Experience makes visual arts accessible to sight- and sound-impaired visitors by helping visitors use all their senses to experience the forces involved in light and sound. Exploring Space helps visitors explore the cosmos with current scientific tools and technologies.
The Old State House in the Port of Hartford was the State's original capitol building from 1797 to 1873. Visitors can explore the restored legislative chambers, the courtroom, and the executive branch offices through interactive tours (either self-guided or with experienced guides. Visitors to the Port of Hartford will be amazed at the Joseph Steward Museum of Oddities and Curiosities inside the State House. This re-creation of the original 1798 attraction contains colorful exotic stuff birds, albino woodland animals, a giant lobster claw, and a two-headed pig and calf among many other interesting and strange mechanical devices, conventional mounts, and even some of Steward's own artwork.
The Port of Hartford's Mark Twain House and Museum is devoted to the life and relevance one of the country's greatest writers. Twain and his family lived in the house from 1874 to 1891, during which time he wrote his greatest works: Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. This 25-room home in the Port of Hartford is a National Historic Landmark that is a wonderful example of the Gothic architecture of the time. In addition to tours of the home, the Twain House and Museum also offers educational programs and activities that tell the story of the author's life and legacy.
The Harriet Beecher Stowe House and Library in the Port of Hartford illuminates the life and influence of the writer who changed the course of history in the United States with her masterpiece Uncle Tom's Cabin. Today, the Stowe Center's activities and programs are designed to link the issues of 19th Century America with contemporary issues of race relations, gender and class, equality in education, and economic justice. By the 1870s, the Port of Hartford had become a center for New England literature and activism. Journalists, politicians, feminists, painters and writers, and spiritualists created a community that attracted greats like Stowe and Twain to the Nook Farm neighborhood. Collections in the Stowe House and Library include some six thousand objects and more than 200 thousand pamphlets, books, manuscripts, and images that illustrate the important issues in the United States of the 19th Century. These issues include the Beecher activist family, women's history and suffrage, African American history, and race.
In the early 19th Century, the importance of a national parks system and local parks was emerging in the United States. Andrew Jackson Downing advocated private urban parks created with private funds. In 1853, the land for New York City's Central Park was purchased by private interests. Later than hear, the Reverend Horace Bushnell proposed creating a public park in the Port of Hartford with public funds. Although there was significant opposition by skeptical residents and nervous businesses, the Port of Hartford's City Council voted unanimously to buy a parcel of land for $105 thousand US, and voters approved the move by a 1687-to-683 vote, establishing the first municipal park in the country - Busnell Park.
Over time, over 157 varieties of trees and shrubs were planted and several architectural features were added. In the latter half of the 20th Century, urban growth and change transformed the park. Today, the Port of Hartford's Bushnell Park is a refuge in the heart of the city.
The Bushnell Park Carousel, operating from May through October, is a vintage 1914 carousel in a 24-sided pavilion. The carousel features 48 hand-carved wooden horses and two lovers' chariots that whirl while the Wurlitzer band organ plays. One dollar buys a 3-1/2 minute ride into the Port of Hartford's past.
In 1947, the US Army Corps of Engineers used stones from the Port of Hartford's old Park River bridges to construct the Pumphouse as part of the Connecticut River Flood Control Project. In addition to being a working pumphouse, the quaint Tudor-design building is also an art gallery that features the work of local Port of Hartford artists. The Bushnell Park Café and Gallery has outdoor seating for 150 and features a menu with daily specials and a full bar.
Port of Hartford architect George Keller designed the arch in Bushnell Park that was dedicated in 1886 to honor the four thousand city residents who served and the 400 who died in the American Civil War. Made of brownstone, the Gothic monument cost around $60 thousand at that time. A terra cotta frieze depicts Civil War scenes, and 2.4-meter (8-foot) statutes represent the residents who fought in the war. A bronze plaque honors 128 Port of Hartford African American residents who fought for the Union.