October 11, 2017

Coltsville National Park establishes visitors center site

The East Armory's blue onion dome in Coltsville.
PHOTO | Library of Congress
A historical sketching of Colt Manufacturing in 1857.
Photo | Karen O’Maxfield
Larry Dooley of Colt Gateway, center, signs an agreement donating two of the oldest structures in the Colt Complex to the National Park Service for use as a visitor center.

Coltsville National Historic Park in Hartford reached another milestone Wednesday with the establishment of a new visitors center site.

The developer of the former Colt manufacturing complex and a National Park Service representative signed an agreement Wednesday morning for the donation of two brownstone buildings that will ultimately be transformed into a visitor's center at the park.

Larry Dooley, the owner of CG Management Company, which is the managing partner for the donor, Colt Gateway LLC, and James Woolsey, superintendent of the Springfield Armory in Coltsville National Historic Park, signed the pact at Dooley's office this morning.

The collection of buildings and neighborhood in the city's South End, known as Coltsville, where Connecticut manufacturer Samuel Colt assembled his handguns and housed his workers, were designated as Coltsville National Historic Park in Dec. 2014. Hartford officially became involved in Dec. 2016.

"We're very happy the National Park Service will be restoring these buildings and telling the story of Sam and Elizabeth Colt to many more people," Dooley said. "For us as a developer, it was a difficult task because the buildings are in the center of our campus, but it was well worth the effort. We know now those buildings are going to be restored properly and will tell the story in the right way."

Although the donation of the buildings meets the final condition needed to establish the national park, conducting environmental assessments and redrawing property boundaries has to occur with the upcoming property transfer, Woolsey said -- a process that could take up to a year. In the meantime, the single-story brownstone buildings, which are in poor condition, will be stabilized immediately, with the redesign and restoration expected to take several years, he said.

Dooley said the buildings are "smack dab in the center of our entire development" and come with easements, making the property donation complicated. Also donated will be parking for about 40 spaces next to the buildings, he said.

"We had to donate in a way that didn't diminish anything for the park service or anything for our residential and commercial tenants," he said.

Although a lot of work remains, the park is closer than ever to being complete, and a mobile visitor's center will make it accessible to the public later this spring, Woolsey said.

"We're very happy the park is coming close to establishment," Woolsey said. "We're excited to work with the city of Hartford to create a new national park in everybody's backyard here in Hartford."

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