Old State House comes to Lebanon

By Melanie Savage
Lebanon - posted Tue., Jan. 25, 2011
The Old State House plays host to numerous school and other children's groups.
The Old State House plays host to numerous school and other children's groups.

The Old State House has a long and fascinating history. On Jan. 22, visitors to the Lebanon Historical Society Museum had an opportunity for a glimpse inside this historic Connecticut gem. Sally Whipple, director of Education and Community Programming for the State House, offered a wealth of photographs and interesting stories regarding the building.

Completed in 1796, and reportedly designed by noted American architect Charles Bulfinch, the State House initially shared the role of the seat of government in Connecticut with the state house in New Haven. “At that time, the capital city role was shared,” said Whipple. As one half of the seat of justice for the state, the Old State House played host to important parts of both the Prudence Crandall and the Amistad trials.

After the Civil War, it was decided that the state needed one capital city. P.T. Barnum, circus-founder, businessman and then a member of the Connecticut legislature, advocated for his home city of Bridgeport. “He argued that the state house in Hartford was a disgrace to Connecticut,” said Whipple. In the end, Barnum didn’t get his capital city in Bridgeport. But there was a new building erected in Hartford, and in 1878 the Old State House ceased to be the seat of government in Connecticut.

Currently managed by the Office of Legislative Management of the Connecticut General Assembly, the Old State house today is an amalgam of architectural and decorative styles. The exterior building and the Senate have been restored to the original Federal style; the Representative's chamber is Victorian; the halls and courtroom are Colonial Revival.

The building hosts a monthly lecture series, most recently hosted by Sen. Christopher Dodd. "History is All Around Us," sponsored by the Connecticut Historical Society, is an interactive multimedia exhibit which allows visitors to immerse themselves in Connecticut history. The "Joseph Steward Museum of Oddities and Curiosities" is, according to Whipple, the attraction that draws the most visitors to the building. "Everyone wants to see that two-headed calf," she said with a laugh. The exhibit, an authentic recreation of an exhibit which occupied the building in 1798, features other interesting oddities in addition to the irresistible calf.

The Old State House is located in downtown Hartford, and easily accessible from both I-91 and I-84. Parking is available at Constitution Plaza for just $5.00. “Come to the State House and spend the entire day in Hartford,” said Whipple. For more information, go to www.ctosh.org.

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