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March 17, 2023

Could the USS Hartford’s ship bell become a prominent city landmark?

Michael Puffer | Hartford Business Journal The USS Hartford Bell in Constitution Plaza.

A ship’s bell that once rang out from the USS Hartford, the flagship of famous Civil War Rear Admiral David G. Farragut, sits in a lonely corner of Hartford’s Constitution Plaza office park, gathering tarnish in a decrepit granite display.

Capital Region Development Authority Executive Director Michael Freimuth stumbled upon the bell during a recent walk and is now on a mission to move it to a more prominent location, where it can be honored and serve as an identifiable emblem and city landmark.

“It’s forlorn, sitting in a decrepit concrete garden,” Freimuth said. “It was given to the city by the U.S. Navy as a symbol of the USS Hartford, the city’s namesake ship. And it needs a little more respect.”

The bell was long ago loaned to the Travelers Cos., which at one time occupied part of Constitution Plaza. Freimuth said he’s spoken with representatives of the insurance company, who are agreeable to handing it back to city control. Freimuth has also spoken with shipwrights in Mystic and area historians about how to restore and honor the bell. He’s not certain where it might be moved.

One place under consideration is the nearby Connecticut Convention Center, which sits by the river and offers great amenities but bears little adornment. A recent study of the convention center determined it needed more "Instagramable" spaces — places that could identify Hartford in social media posts, Freimuth noted. 

“The convention center, for all its glory, is a bit pedestrian,” Freimuth said during a recent CRDA board meeting. “It looks like Anywhere USA.”

City officials would have to sign off on a move.

“I’m strongly supportive of it,” Mayor Luke Bronin said during the CRDA meeting. “I think it’s a tremendous piece of history that we should highlight.”

There could be some reservations, however. 

Mary Falvy, executive director of the Hartford Preservation Alliance, had opposed a prior proposal to move the bell to the University of Hartford, where one of the USS Hartford's anchors already resides. There is a long-running tradition of rival athletic teams painting that anchor in their university colors, and so Falvy feared the bell could be vandalized.

The anchor may be isolated in its current location, but has stood safe and unmolested in a public spot for decades, Falvy noted. She would not want to see it installed inside the convention center, which could mean some restriction to public access.  

Falvy said she is not dead-set against a move. But she would want to be assured it resides in a place that is public, safe and respectful.

National Museum of the U.S. Navy Naval History and Heritage Command
The USS Hartford

The 2,900-ton sloop USS Hartford launched from the Boston Navy Yard on Nov. 22, 1858, measuring 358 feet in length, with rigging for sail but also with a single propeller powered by a steam engine, according to a 2004 report written by local historian Bill Caughman for the League of Women Voters.  
The warship was to be crewed by 302 sailors. 

USS Hartford carried 18 nine-inch Dahlgren smoothbore cannons, two 20-pounder Parrott rifles, one 30-pounder Parrott gun and three 12-pounder deck Howitzers. 

Commissioned on May 27, 1859, the ship began its service with the East India Squadron but returned to American waters with the outbreak of the Civil War. It was to serve as the flagship to Farragut, who became a household name.

The ship participated in the Battle of New Orleans, Siege of Vicksburg and then, in 1863, the Battle of Mobile Bay. The latter is probably the ship’s most famous action, where Farragut led a fleet to capture one of the Confederacy’s last major ports.

It was at this battle, where Farragut was said to rally his commanders who worried about sea mines (then known as “torpedoes”) with the famous battle cry, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!”

The USS Hartford continued in full service until 1887, when it was decommissioned in California for use as an apprentice training vessel, according to the National Museum of the U.S. Navy. The ship was rebuilt and recommissioned in 1899 to serve in the Atlantic as a training vessel for midshipmen. The ship was put out of service in Charleston, South Carolina in 1926 and moved to Washington, D.C. to serve as a museum in 1938.

In 1945, following the close of World War II, the Hartford was towed to Norfolk, Virginia, where it rotted away until it sank in 1956. The following year the ship was pushed aground and stripped. 

USS Hartford cannons at Trinity College

Pieces of the famous ship have been scattered widely. Two USS Hartford cannons overlook the playing fields at Trinity College in Hartford.

One anchor sits on the campus of the University of Hartford, and has been ceremoniously used over the years as an object that rival athletic teams have painted over and over in their colors.

Another USS Hartford anchor can be found at Mystic Seaport.

The bowsprit of USS Hartford — a wooden spar extending from the bow of the sloop — is on display at the state Capitol building.  

Other relics reside at the National Museum of the United States Navy, in Washington, D.C. 

Some pieces have ended up in odd spots. One of USS Hartford's Dahlgren naval guns went to a hotel parking lot in Hagerstown, Maryland. 


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