Long before it was our capital city, the Connecticut River shaped the land in and around Hartford. It’s been a settling place for Native Americans, Dutch explorers, and Jewish migrants. Today we may not even notice it because it’s been walled off and separated from our daily lives.
“There’s something about being in a city atmosphere, and having something so beautiful, and calm, and relaxing alongside it,” said rower Rebecca Likar early one morning. “It’s absolutely beautiful. You have the city lights. There’s so much wildlife, which is crazy.”
The river is a great resource now in part because of all the effort that went into cleaning it up. It’s become a much healthier waterway since 1972, when the Clean Water Act was implemented. Before then, a lot of industrial waste went directly into the river, including untreated sewage. Today, it’s so clean it’s even safe to swim in. Well, mostly. U.S. Geological Survey hydrologist John Mullaney said he still might hold off after a heavy rainfall.
The Connecticut River is also susceptible to floods. In this episode of Radius, we learn about what one synagogue community had to do to save its Torah scrolls when the water started rising in 1936. Riverfront businesses and homes were devastated, and the Jewish community on Hartford’s Front Street was hit hard.
“I am still in awe of the wonderful contributions that the Jewish community made to Hartford,” said Estelle Kafer of the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Hartford — like Gerson Fox, the founder of G. Fox, and famous vaudeville performer Sophie Tucker. Tucker’s father had a restaurant on Front Street where she would sing songs as a young girl.
Hartford’s riverfront has undergone a lot of change. The city razed the Front Street district in the 1960s after the floods, and it built Constitution Plaza in its place. Since then, Hartford has been trying to bring people back to the river.
Connecticut Riverfront Extras:
At the end of the 19th century, Hartford’s Front Street was a settling place for many immigrants – bustling with Jews, Irish, and Italian families that lived in tight tenement housing, and worked in retail or local factories. Learn more »
Listen to more audio from the Connecticut River radius:
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