The Connecticut Historical Society moved into its current headquarters building at One Elizabeth Street in Hartford in 1950. However, the organization pre-dates the move to this location by more than 100 years and it had several earlier locations. The CHS was founded in 1825 and is one of the oldest state historical societies in the country. In the early years of the 19th century, the founders were responding to a sense of urgency about preserving the revolutionary past. Just as today we realize that the generation that fought in World War II is disappearing, they realized that the people who had fought the American Revolution were dying off.
Chartered by a resolution of the General Assembly, the CHS held its first organizational meeting at the Old State House in Hartford on May 30, 1825 and began the task of collecting historical materials. A call was issued for donations of early newspapers, sermons, memoirs, books, and pamphlets published within the state. Thomas Robbins, an active collector and local historian, was a key player in this early effort to collect and preserve Connecticut materials. During these early years, the organization met only five times and had no permanent location.
In 1839, CHS renewed its charter and expanded its program under the leadership of Henry Barnard, a progressive educator, and found its first settled location, moving into “modest quarters over the store of Humphrey and Seyms,” the first building south of Center Church at 124 Main Street in Hartford. The rent was $40 a year for the second floor rooms. Although there were no regular hours, arrangements could be made with Charles Hosmer, the “librarian and curator” to visit and study the collections.
In 1841, Daniel Wadsworth began his plans to build a “gallery of fine arts” next to his home on Main Street. Influenced by the ideas of Henry Barnard, his original plans for the “Wadsworth Atheneum” were expanded to include the Hartford Young Men’s Institute and facilities for the Connecticut Historical Society. The Atheneum was to be the home of the CHS until 1950. As early as the 1920s, however, the collections were threatening to outgrow the space at the Atheneum. Finally in 1950, the Fire Marshall threatened to close the CHS because of the over-crowded conditions.
At this crucial time, the Curtis Veeder property at One Elizabeth Street, with its “fire-resistant building and generous acreage just ten minutes from downtown,” was offered to the CHS at a modest price. Inventor and industrialist Curtis Veeder had died in 1943, and his widow Louise was ready to move to a smaller home. The generous financial arrangements made it possible for CHS to allocate some of its funds for operating costs and future expansion. Library stacks were added immediately to deal with the most pressing storage needs. An auditorium wing was added in 1956 and, in 1971, a new wing added additional gallery and storage space to make up the facility we know today. Behind-the-scenes “Secrets of the Veeder House” tours are offered on a regular basis. For more information visit chs.org.