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Future Of Coltsville National Historical Park Hinges On Two Dilapidated Buildings

Madyson Frame
The East Armory was the main building for manufacturing Colt firearms. It's Russian-inspired onion dome can be seen from downtown Hartford and I-91. Colt Gateway Management now owns the building, which houses apartments and office space.

Officials from the National Park Service gave an update this week on the status of the Coltsville National Historical Park in Hartford, a tribute to Samuel Colt and his role in the firearms industry as well as the Industrial Revolution. Congress approved the park in 2014, but it's far from complete.

The update at the Old State House in Hartford came with a caveat – national parks, no matter how large or small take time to complete.

“Establishing a national park sometimes can feel like we are Sisyphus pushing that rock up the hill," said Amy Glowacki, Coltsville’s Chief of Interpretation. “John D. Rockefeller, it took him almost 30 years to work out the land transfer to create Grand Teton National Park.”

Much of the Coltsville holdup involves two long brownstone buildings, the oldest surviving structures from the original Colt factory. The buildings are slated to be the focus of the park, housing the visitor center and exhibition space. Andrew Long from the National Park Service said in the five years since congressional approval, transferring the building's land to the agency has been a struggle.

“These two buildings sit on kind of a jigsaw puzzle of properties, about four or five different parcels,” said Long, “and there's even a corner of one building, it's about four or five square feet we have to carve out from someone else's property. And just that four or five square feet requires easements and right of ways, and all kinds of other federal bureaucracy.”

The Hartford Courant reported earlier this month that the developer of the Colt complex agreed to donate the two buildings to the National Park Service, but the agency has not yet indicated whether they will accept the donation. The Park Service’s Kelly Fellner, who oversees the Coltsville project is confident the agency will approve the donation.

Credit The National Park Service
The National Park Service
The National Park Service sees the two long brownstone buildings in the foreground as the focal point of Coltsville National Historical Park.

“I think the [Hartford Courant] article has to set some sort of tone to get people fired up,” said Fellner. “It’s decades of work, and we have to keep that perspective. I would just make one correction from that article. It made the impression of ‘if’ we will do it. But it really is about ‘when’ we do it.”

Another issue hindering completion of the park is the brownstone buildings themselves, which are in a state of disrepair. Once the donation of the buildings is approved, the park service must find $1 million in funding just to stabilize the structures.

Ray Hardman is Connecticut Public’s Arts and Culture Reporter. He is the host of CPTV’s Emmy-nominated original series “Where Art Thou?” Listeners to Connecticut Public Radio may know Ray as the local voice of “Morning Edition”, and later of “All Things Considered.”
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