Will Coltsville Join the National Park System?

The blue onion dome on the Colt East Armory.

The blue onion dome on the Colt East Armory. NPS photo.

Unless you're from Hartford, CT, or are a serious fan of firearms history, you may not be familiar with Coltsville. Local boosters hope to have the area added to the National Park System, and Congress directed the NPS to evaluate the idea. The results of a lengthy study have now been released. Is a Coltsville NPS site now a long shot?

Coltsville derives its name from Samuel Colt, the 19th century industrialist who became famous for development of the revolver and the Colt Fire Arms Company. According to the NPS study,

The Coltsville Historic District in Hartford, Connecticut, was the site of important contributions to manufacturing technology made by Samuel Colt (1814-1862) and the industrial enterprise he founded, Colt's Patent Fire Arms Manufacturing Company.

Coltsville also is noteworthy because Samuel Colt planned it as a fully-integrated industrial community that includes manufacturing facilities, employee housing, community buildings, and landscape features built largely under the direction of Samuel Colt and his wife, Elizabeth Colt.

The Coltsville Historic District covers 260 acres, and has previously been listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 2008 the District was designated a National Historic Landmark, which affords some recognition but does not involved NPS ownership or management.

As is the case in similar situations around the country, local business and civic leaders have been promoting designation of the area as a unit of the National Park System, believing that would increase tourism and serve as a catalyst for local economic development.

Congress authorized a study "regarding the national significance, suitability and feasibility" of the Coltsville Historic District for potential designation as a unit of the national park system," and the results have recently been released.

Four standard criteria are applied to any area being considered for addition to the National Park System. The area must:

(1) possess nationally significant natural or cultural resources;
(2) be a suitable addition to the system;
(3) be a feasible addition to the system; and
(4) require direct NPS management instead of alternative protection by other public agencies or the private sector.

In this case, the study found:

the resources in the Coltsville Historic District meet the criteria for national significance and suitability but, at present, do not meet the criteria for feasibility and need for NPS management.

Key issues at Coltsville include the complicated status of property ownership of the numerous structures in the District and the "lack of public access to interior spaces of many of the Coltsville Historic District’s resources." Those factors do not make an NPS site feasible. The document also notes,

it impossible at this time to determine that a need for NPS management exists. The study team has been unable to determine what resources would actually be managed and protected by the NPS and what level of visitation and visitor services may be required.

Does this mean the idea is dead? Not necessarily. The report states,

"…it is possible that the feasibility and need for NPS management criteria could potentially be met if the feasibility issues discussed in this report are resolved."

Some local leaders are taking the "glass is half full" approach, citing the report's recognition that Coltsville passed muster on the questions of national significance and suitability for addition to the NPS. A Hartford newspaper reported earlier this week that U. S. Representative John Larson, a supporter of the Coltsville national park proposal, has called a meeting of local business and government officials to "resolve the ownership issues."

So, what happens next?

The "Coltsville Special Resource Study" has been published for public comment, and the NPS will hold a public meeting on the study on December 14, 2009 at 5:30 p.m. at Gray Hall in the South Congregational Church, 277 Main St. in Hartford. If you'd like to read or download a copy of the report, you can do so here.

The public will be able to make comments on the Coltsville study at the meeting. If you're interested in the issue, you can also submit written comments via this website.

The NPS will receive public comments until December 18, 2009. At the conclusion of the public response period, the report with any appropriate changes resulting from public comments will be forwarded to the Secretary of the Interior, who will transmit the completed study to the United States Congress.

Once the NPS forwards its report to Congress, it's up to the politicians to decide what steps to take…if any.

Do you agree with the conclusions of the study? If the "feasibility" issues are resolved by local leaders, is there a need for a new NPS site at Coltsvile?

The current comment period would be a good time to voice your opinion as part of the official record. It's a safe bet the good folks of Hartford will do so.

Comments

I hate to say it, but Coltsville doesn't belong in the NPS. Our gun history is already honored with the Springfield Armory and the gun collections at various sites (including the excellent one at Chickamauga). We can't have every old factory in the country part of the NPS. One to represent a major industry is enough.

I live in the greater Hartford area, and believe me, I'd like nothing more than to have an NPS site in our area. But I don't think Coltsville is worthy.

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My travels through the National Park System: americaincontext.com