Hartford, CT (HFD)
Completed in 1889, Hartford Union Station acts as downtown’s western boundary; in the 1980s, it underwent a phased rehabilitation and now houses transportation and commercial uses.
One Union Place
Hartford, CT 06103
Annual Station Ridership (2016): 138,682
- Facility Ownership: Greater Hartford Transit District
- Parking Lot Ownership: Greater Hartford Transit District
- Platform Ownership: Amtrak
- Track Ownership: Amtrak
For information about Amtrak fares and schedules, please call 1-800-USA-RAIL (1-800-872-7245).
Completed in 1889, Hartford Union Station acts as downtown’s western boundary and is the visual transition point between the central business district and the residential neighborhood of Asylum Hill. A stop on the Springfield Line, Hartford is well connected to the spine of the busy Northeast Corridor that runs between Washington, D.C., and Boston. Amtrak trains and intercity and regional buses do not occupy space in the historic station, which was renovated in the mid-1980s to accommodate retail and office use. Instead, they operate out of an addition that was constructed immediately west of the building underneath the viaduct that carries the tracks through downtown.
Approached from Spruce Street, it contains ticketing desks for various transportation providers, spots for convenience retail, and a common waiting area. To access the tracks, rail passengers must ascend one level. A mural entitled “Movement in Space” by Cleve Gray—an artist known for large-scale, colorful abstract paintings—is installed along the western edge of the viaduct. At more than 600 feet long, it features bright shapes in primary colors against a white background.
Hartford is also a projected stop on the route of the proposed New Haven-Hartford-Springfield (NHHS) Rail Project, a partnership between the State of Connecticut, Amtrak and the Federal Railroad Administration, as well as the states of Massachusetts and Vermont. At an estimated total cost of approximately $650 million, this multi-year effort is aimed at creating new commuter and enhanced intercity passenger rail services benefiting the cities along Amtrak’s Springfield Line. This 62 mile corridor is also considered essential to future plans for high-speed rail service in greater New England.
As of early 2016, the NHHS Project had received almost $191 million through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and other federal funding programs in order to double-track and upgrade portions of the route. Additional funding will be required to complete the remainder of the improvements. Connecticut has approved the use of up to $435 million in state bond proceeds to invest in NHHS Rail Corridor improvements. An assessment of the project’s environmental impacts was released in May 2012, and the commuter service is expected to launch in early 2018.
In the first decade of the 21st century, the city began to consider ways to revitalize the western portion of downtown. One of the plans called for the construction of CT fastrak, a bus rapid transit route between New Britain and Hartford. Largely built on abandoned railroad rights-of-way, it opened in March 2015 and uses Union Station as its northern terminus. By completing the NHHS and CT fastrak, city planners believe that the area around the station—with Ann Street as the focal point—will be ripe for redevelopment as a mixed-use neighborhood.
Although today the capital of Connecticut, Hartford was under the jurisdiction of neighboring Massachusetts through its earliest years. The first Europeans to explore the shores of the Connecticut River were Dutch sailors and traders led by navigator Adriaen Block, who worked to map much of the New England coast. In 1614, he and Cornelius Hendricksen sailed from New Amsterdam (present day New York), and made their way up the Connecticut to the present site of Hartford. It was another decade before the Dutch established a post—Fort “Goede Hoop” or “Good Hope”—to foster trade with the Pequot American Indians. The Dutch were not alone for long, as English settlers from the Massachusetts Bay Colony arrived in 1635.
Early communities in and around Boston had started to grow, and new arrivals from England were concerned with finding enough land to support their farming operations. That first westward migration of 60 pioneers from Cambridge, Mass was led by John Steel, and it was followed in 1636 by a party under the direction of the Reverend Thomas Hooker. A well regarded Puritan preacher, Hooker had left England for Holland before sailing to America in 1633. At the time, Puritans, who wished to “purify” the Church of England of remaining Roman Catholic influences, faced push-back from King Charles I, and leading figures fled in search of safe havens. For many, the New World presented a unique opportunity to craft an ideal society.
Hooker and about 100 followers received permission from Massachusetts Bay leaders to move to the Connecticut River Valley to begin their own community, which joined nearby English settlements at Windsor and Wethersfield. The three “River Towns” were under the control of Massachusetts Bay until 1637 when they came together to form their own system of government, partly in response to the need for common security. In 1639, the towns—now known as the Connecticut Colony—adopted the Fundamental Orders. Inspired by one of Hooker’s sermons, they lacked any reference to the authority of the English crown, required no religious test for voting, and allowed freemen to elect representatives to the General Court. The document’s eleven provisions are considered an important foundation for the body of law that influenced the writers of the Constitution of the United States.
Originally called Newtown, the settlement on the west side of the river was soon renamed Hartford in honor of the English birthplace of Samuel Stone, a Puritan minister and friend of Hooker’s. Residents received two acres of land for a homestead within the village, as well as a parcel further afield for farming. A house had to be erected within a year, or the land would revert back to the town government. Hartford became the center of the Connecticut Colony and grew in importance as an administrative and economic center. As the English community expanded, the Dutch presence waned and by 1654 Fort Goede Hoop was abandoned. In 1664, the Connecticut Colony and its southern counterpart at New Haven finally joined together at the urging of the English Crown. As a result of the merger, a system of dual capitals was born that lasted until Hartford was made the permanent seat of government in 1875.
During the 18th century, agricultural pursuits dominated the economy, but Hartford also established maritime trade with cities along the coast, as well as with British colonies in the Caribbean. As in most frontier communities, local streams and rivers were tapped for water power to drive grist and saw mills. By mid-century, overland links between the two capitals were improved, and stagecoaches connected Hartford to the major colonial ports of Boston and New York. Located about half-way between those two cities, Harford was a natural stopping point and therefore hosted numerous taverns and inns.
Due to its abundant and fast flowing rivers, New England was the first region of the young United States to industrialize starting in the 1790s. The need to move products quickly and facilitate shipping gave rise to early railroads. One of those was the Hartford and New Haven (H&NH), chartered in 1833 to link its namesake cities. Despite delays caused by the financial panic of 1837, the line was in full operation by 1839. That December, it bore the first steam locomotive in the state, ushering in a new era in transportation.
To prepare for the initiation of service, the railroad constructed a simple two story depot near present-day Pulaski Circle. Trains had to use a wye to back into the station from the main line. Accounts vary in their description, but the building seems to have had a ticketing office and waiting room on the ground floor with company offices upstairs. It was replaced in 1850 by a larger $60,000 Union Station that stood in the general vicinity of the current Amtrak facility. Designed in the romantic and popular Italianate style, the building’s primary façade featured corner campaniles with shallow hipped roofs. They framed a large train shed spanning two tracks that entered the station; others ran around the building.
Many of Connecticut’s early railroads, such as the H&NH, were oriented north-south due to the undulating coastline which was marked by numerous streams and rivers that would have to be bridged. The challenge was not undertaken until the New York and New Haven Railroad (NY&NH) was chartered in 1844; by 1849, the line had opened between the two named endpoints, with access over the New York and Harlem Railroad into Manhattan.
Realizing the value in helping one another and shutting out rivals, the H&NH and the NY&NH agreed to merge in 1872, resulting in the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad, or the “New Haven.” Over the next few decades, the New Haven became the dominant freight and passenger line in southern New England, absorbing smaller railroads in order to control the route linking Boston and New York City. By the 1920s, the New Haven had more than 2,000 miles in its portfolio and it was estimated that the railroad carried 10 percent of American passenger rail traffic.
Just as the railroads were connecting Hartford to greater New England, local industry began to take off. Native son Samuel Colt contributed to a major evolution in the armaments industry prior to the Civil War. Inquisitive, he developed his first designs for precision instruments as a teenager and in 1836 patented the prototype for his signature revolver. The weapon was successfully used during the Mexican-American War, and Colt was subsequently contracted by the U.S. Army to produce 1,000 units. At the Colt Armory, identified by its signature deep blue onion dome stenciled with gold stars, improvements in precision machines, coupled with steam power, helped workmen make arms with interchangeable parts. Each worker oversaw the production of a specific piece of the revolver, and the final products were assembled by another crew. Although the inventor died in 1862, his partners carried on and ensured that the Colt name was recognized across the world; the company remains in business and is headquartered in West Hartford.
During this period, Hartford also fostered numerous insurance companies; firms such as Travelers and Aetna remain household names more than a century later. From early marine insurance, local banks expanded into other areas, such as fire risk, accident, and life policies. The first American automobile insurance was written in Hartford in 1898, and the 527 foot high Traveler’s Tower was the tallest building in New England upon its completion in 1919. Hartford remains a center of the American insurance industry, although many of the companies are now headquartered outside of the city center.
In the late 19th century, as the city grew in wealth and prominence, the Nook Farm neighborhood gained national attention for the beauty of its fashionable homes and their high-profile inhabitants. From the early 1870s until 1891, humorist and writer Mark Twain lived with his family in an elaborate Victorian home with interiors designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany. Within its walls, he worked on classics such as The Gilded Age and Huckleberry Finn. His next door neighbor was Harriet Beecher Stowe, known for her anti-slavery tomeUncle Tom’s Cabin. Both houses are now museums, and contain collections of the writers’ personal items, manuscripts, letters, and other memorabilia.
To better accommodate the needs of the city, a new Union Station—considered the largest and most expensive one in the state—was opened to the public in 1889. The older depot had become crowded, and city leaders complained about congestion since the tracks were at-grade with the streets. Local architect George Keller conceived of a plan to elevate the tracks over downtown thoroughfares and construct a modern passenger rail facility to the side. The actual design contract was awarded to the well-known Boston firm of Shepley, Rutan, and Coolidge. They had taken over the firm headed by Henry Hobson Richardson upon his death in 1886.
In time, work by Richardson and his followers was referred to as “Richardsonian Romanesque”—characterized by squat, compact buildings usually constructed with unfinished stone in dark red, tan, brown, and gray hues. The asymmetrical compositions were often pierced by deep-set, round arches reminiscent of Medieval Romanesque structures found in Europe; polychrome decoration was also a common feature. Hartford Union Station consists of a center block three stories high flanked by recessed two story wings to the north and south. Originally, the center block was capped by a dramatically steep hipped roof above the row of large arched windows on the ground floor. A series of five dormer windows with gabled fronts and Gothic detailing overlooked Union Place. After the station was severely damaged in a 1914 fire, it was rebuilt and modified by architect Frederick Mellor, who added the full third story and a flat, fireproof roof.
As their principal material, the architects employed rock-faced brownstone quarried in Portland, Conn. that was laid in a random ashlar pattern. The large blocks emphasized the building’s solidity, and alluded to the strength of the New Haven. As the sun works its way through the sky, the stone’s rough surface creates a play of shadow and light across the façade. The station’s visual weight is punctured by the row of nine closely spaced, giant round-arch windows that run across the ground floor, with the middle one outfitted with double doors to allow access to the two story waiting room. The robust load bearing arches reveal some of the building’s structure while the large expanses of glass allow ample sunlight to flood the interior.
Above the top edge of the arches, what appears to be a belt course with modillions is actually the former cornice line that marked the transition to the hipped roof. Repurposed in the post-fire reconstruction, it brings attention to the third story arched windows; the central one contains a stone panel carved with the year “1914.” Above these windows, Mellor added a wide belt course with an ornate foliate design carved in high relief. From it, a parapet rises a few feet to hide the roof. To the sides, the gabled roofs of the wings were rebuilt, and they are covered in tile; small shed dormers allow light into the attic. At the far corners of the main elevation, the wings terminate in octagonal towers with stone turrets and finials.
The airy, open waiting room once contained ticket offices for the two railroads sharing the station: the New Haven and the New York and New England. Four staircases on the back wall lead to the platforms which are about 12 feet higher than the ground floor. Above the central platform door, a tile mural depicts the city seal flanked by symbols of the New Haven’s past and future: steam and electric locomotives. The railroad was a leader in electrification efforts, and was proud to showcase its innovative and modern spirit.
The southern wing had eateries on the ground floor and at the platform level, and a dumbwaiter allowed items to be easily sent between the two areas. Baggage rooms and parcel express offices were located on both stories of the northern wing. Hydraulic lifts could move a loaded baggage cart between levels. The second floor also had offices for the New York and New England Railroad and a room for the trainmen. Running along the platform, a wide sloping canopy is supported by oversized metal brackets with circular insets and scrollwork designs. Large lunette windows provide views into the waiting room below.
After World War II, federal transportation funding was shifted to infrastructure projects that supported travel by personal automobile and airplane. Railroads struggled to maintain service, let alone keep up properties such as stations. In the 1950s, the New Haven attempted to revive its fortunes by focusing on new commuter friendly stations that included abundant parking. On a 1954 visit to Hartford, New Haven President Patrick McGinnis called Union Station a “useless monstrosity.” By 1965, the railroad was in bankruptcy proceedings and the station was sold to local developer E. Clayton Gengras who was also chairman of a regional bus company. Proposing to tear down the wings and lower the height of the center block, he later switched courses and, with the help of a $30,000 grant, undertook a basic rehabilitation of the structure to include work on the roof and the masonry. The station was rented out to various office tenants, including a secondary school.
Throughout the 1970s, the Greater Hartford Transit District (GHTD), a quasi-municipal corporation that provides all forms of land transportation in the capital region, discussed the possibility of leasing a renewed transportation facility at Union Station, but could not come to terms with Gengras over the cost of the lease. During this period of uncertainty, concerned citizens worked to have Union Station listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In the early 1980s, GHTD threatened to condemn the property in order to gain control of the station, and the owner finally agreed to sell it to the transit district in 1981 for approximately $1.5 million.
Estimates put the cost of rehabilitation at about $15 million. After years of planning and discussion with federal, state, and municipal agencies, the GHTD developed a phased rehabilitation strategy. First, the railroad viaduct adjoining the station was reinforced; second, the roof was repaired; and third, the brownstone was cleaned, the new transportation facility was constructed, and the station interior was reconfigured to accommodate shops, restaurants, and offices. A $4.5 million grant from the Urban Mass Transit Administration, predecessor to the Federal Transit Administration, was awarded to help fund construction of the Amtrak and intercity bus facility. A generation later, Union Station continues to stand as a downtown landmark, and is poised for an expanded role in Hartford’s transportation network.
Amtrak does not provide ticketing or baggage services at this station which is served by 12 daily trains.
Springfield Shuttle service between Springfield and New Haven is financed primarily through funds made available by the Connecticut Department of Transportation and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation. TheVermonter is financed primarily through funds made available by the Vermont Agency of Transportation, the Connecticut Department of Transportation and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation.
- Accessible Payphones
- Accessible Platform
- Accessible Restrooms
- Accessible Ticket Office
- Accessible Waiting Room
- Accessible Water Fountain
- Dedicated Parking
- Elevator Accessible
- Enclosed Waiting Area
- Help With Luggage
- Long Term Parking Spaces
- Parking Attendant
- Pay Phones
- Quik Trak Kiosk
- Short Term Parking Spaces
- Ticket Office
- Wheelchair Lift