The Hartford Club: The Heart of Hartford Since 1873
In many ways the history of The Hartford Club is the history of Hartford. Since 1873, some of New England’s most influential people have lived, taken their leisure and held conversations that have shaped the city, state and region within its storied walls.
When the Club was founded 130 years ago, it was not, by far, the first organization of its kind in the city. In fact, beginning in 1809 Hartford boasted many organizations dedicated to philanthropy, leisure pursuits and intellectual exchanges. The Monday Evening Club, The Saturday Morning Club, The Thursday Club and The Twilight Club were among the most notable, and many of Hartford’s well-known citizens could be counted among their members.
The first meeting of “Gentlemen who had agreed to form an Association for the promotion of social intercourse, art and literature, and to lease the house known as 'Trumbull House' for a clubhouse” was held in August of 1873. Among its founding members were William James Hamersley, whose firm Hamersley & Belknap published works by Horace Bushnell and Lydia Sigourney, his son William Hamersley, who founded the Connecticut Bar Association and served as state’s attorney for over 20 years before being appointed as a judge to Superior and then Supreme Court, and Charles M. Pond, who bequeathed Elizabeth Park (named for his wife) to the city of Hartford. By far the Club’s most famous member was Samuel Clemens, who joined in 1881.
For its first 30 years the Club rented increasingly larger clubhouses, always on Prospect Street, until 1901, when its members merged with the larger but less prestigious Colonial Club, and authorized the purchase of land, architectural design and expenditures for a new clubhouse at 46 Prospect Street. The Boston architectural firm of Andrews, Jacques & Ranford (partner Robert D. Andrews was a native of Hartford) designed the current Georgian Revival clubhouse, and, in a style similar to it, two other Hartford landmarks, the Governor’s Residence and the Connecticut School for the Blind. The current Clubhouse opened to the membership on January 1, 1904, to much fanfare and acclaim. A separate ballroom, with squash courts and a bowling alley beneath, was built in 1913 at the insistence of Morgan G. Bulkeley, who wanted an appropriate venue for his daughter's coming-out party. This building was torn down in the late 1960s.
As Hartford grew and prospered, membership in The Hartford Club became something of a necessity for the enterprising men who wished to stay at the forefront of the city's banks, stores and insurance companies. They served on each other's boards, invested in each other's businesses, and shared the same values and politics. In the late 1800s and very early 1900s, Prospect Street was a residential enclave, not unlike Park Avenue in New York or Beacon Hill in Boston. As its inhabitants died or moved away, it became more urban in character, lined with businesses and anchored by The Hartford Times, The Wadsworth Atheneum and The Hartford Club.
Past Club rosters read like a Who's Who of Hartford: Brainerd, Bulkeley, Clemens, Colt, Gatling, Goodwin, Pond, Shipman, Sikorsky, and every Governor of the State, including, most notably, Wilbur Cross, a widower who actually lived at the Club rather than the Governor's Residence during his tenure. Since the Club membership was predominantly the city's business leaders, its success as an organization waxed and waned with the changing tides of the economy. The Club saw hard times during The Great Depression, and during and after WWII, and relatively easy times during the prosperous 1980s. Regardless of the economy, if an important event was happening in Hartford, it happened at The Hartford Club. A political campaign would never get off the ground without a fundraiser at the Club. Inaugural parades for Governor began with a joint luncheon at the Club for both the incoming and outgoing leaders. Visiting celebrities and dignitaries were always hosted at the Club, as much for privacy as for an opportunity for leaders of the city's cultural institutions to show off to fellow Club members.
As the country's business communities began to diversify, so, too, did the Club's membership. As times, and Hartford society, changed, women and minorities were welcomed as members, and various customs regarding separate entrances and dining rooms for ladies were abolished.
As in its past, today The Hartford Club is committed to providing its members with a first class venue to facilitate their business and social requirements. Member privileges include fine dining, elegant residential-style banquet and meeting rooms, special member activities, and concierge-style services. The Clubhouse is a private and elegant location for leaders in business, government, philanthropy and academia to comfortably gather and socialize. The private club experience is further enhanced with reciprocal privileges at over 200 clubs worldwide.