What do the Bigelow Carpet Company of Enfield, Underwood Typewriter Company of Hartford, and Cheney Brothers Silk Manufacturing Company of Manchester have in common? They, and many other companies, had factories in Connecticut which survive to this day, while the companies that built them do not.
In recent years, many former factory and mill buildings have found a rebirth, not as centers of industry, but as office space, apartments, and arts venues. Rehabilitating these buildings is much more cost-effective than tearing them down and constructing a new building on the site, and can be much more environmentally friendly than a new structure. As a result many of these structures, such as those formerly belonging to the Bigelow and the Cheney companies, have been converted into apartments or condominiums.
By putting these buildings back to work, they are revitalizing their surrounding communities with convenient and inexpensive residential, office, and retail space, and helping the culture of their neighborhoods thrive by providing arts venues such as Hartford’s Real Art Ways, which is housed in a former Underwood Typewriter Company building.
These relics of a past industrial age are being preserved and re-incorporated into the cities and towns they once helped sustain. Through this repurposing, communities gain two things: convenient and low cost housing and office space as well as the preservation of their history in the continued survival of these buildings. Compared to the approach taken in the previous half-century—tearing down the old and building new under the guise of “urban renewal”—the adaptive reuse of existing buildings is a means of truly renewing urban communities throughout the state and nation.
To find out more about the industrial past of Hartford and the changes caused by urban renewal, visit "(Re)Building Hartford: A City Captured by Artist Richard Welling." The exhibition will be on view at the Connecticut Historical Society through March 14 2015. "(Re)Using Hartford's Historic Buildings," a satellite exhibit at Connecticut’s Old State House explores the adaptive reuse of some of Hartford’s surviving historic structures. A second related satellite exhibit, "Building a Home in Hartford: A Brief History" is currently on view in the Firebox Restaurant at Billings Forge.