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At home on Kenyon's first block - our favorite street in Hartford.
                  
Picture of Kenyon homes, East side    Picture of Kenyon homes, East side

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Here's a glimpse of who we are and where we live - 
and how we keep our city neighborhood a great place to live.

We Are     About:     The Block    The Website    The Neighborhood    The City  
 How To:    Build a Neighborhood    Build a Website 
Site Map    Contact Us


 

   We Are   We all look the same when we're doing a job.  Long shot of Kenyon Steet with 20 neighbors busy planting trees  

We are the neighbors who live on Kenyon Street's first block.   
We share a love for these beautiful Victorian homes and prefer living in the city.  We place a high value on appreciating our differences,
and discovering our sameness.

Some of us are new to city living, others have lived here for decades.  
We love to tell our story and share information.  

To learn more about the people who live here, click here for links to some of our interests. Arrow-click to link

 

 

 

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                     About the Block:   Long shot of historic Kenyon Street with neighbors chatting on a porch
                                                                          Kenyon Street  

Kenyon is only three blocks long, but it seems nearly every Hartford area  native had a relative who lived on Kenyon at one time over its nearly 140 years. 
The houses are eclectic Victorian.  They attract eclectic owners, too. 
Our block - the first block, is charming and vigorous at the same time.  

Close enough to Farmington Avenue to walk when we want something.  
We're right between the Seminary-Law School-Historical Society-U Hartford complexes, which are good for the mind, and 
Elizabeth Park which is good for the soul.  
It's easy to get anywhere from here - and easy to get exposure to ideas and activities.   See our central location.

In the past year it has been easy to: 

  • take a business course at U of H's annex, 

  • attend an author's lecture at the Harriet Beecher Stowe house, 

  • enjoy Wednesday eves in winter, hearing from gardening experts at  Elizabeth Park, 

  • take an internet marketing course at the library, etc, etc.  

Others commuted a great distance to fit these into their schedules, or just couldn't find the time, or more likely never knew about them. 
Living here, you hear more about what's going on, and then it's really a matter of swinging by.  In a age when most are isolated from their neighbors and pressed for time, we have the gift of being in the center of everything, including a community.

Because we work at it, we have the best parts of an old-fashioned neighborhood. To see our lovely homes, visit House Map .  To see the growth of homes on the block from 1869 to 1909, go to Historical Hartford Maps.  You can download these.  Arrow-click to link

 

 

 

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                    About    100 West End concert-goers enjoy the late afternoon sun under towering trees on the Seminary lawn
                   the Neighborhood:  
 
                                                         The West End


Imagine its 1869-
It has been only four years since the Civil War.  Mark Twain wont build his magnificent home on Farmington Ave. for another 4 years. There is no neighborhood in the West End.  It's all farmland west of the Park River, divided only by the major routes west and north: Farmington, Asylum, Albany and Bloomfield avenues.  Sisson Ave. and Prospect St. exist, too.  Only 29 families live along these roads in the neighborhood.

Picture yourself standing at Farmington Ave. and the Park River.  The horse-drawn trolley, one of the first in the nation, only runs out Asylum Ave. as far as Woodland Street.  You had to walk the rest of the way through the mud.  You are standing on a covered wooden bridge over the Park River.   As you look toward Prospect there are only 4 homes on the north side of the street and another five on the south.  All of them use well water, despite the fact that the water supply for the whole city runs beneath Farmington Ave.  But this year, Farmington Ave. will become an official city street, beginning to provide water and sewer service along the Avenue. 


Next year the first home will be built north of Farmington Ave. Kenyon's farmhouse up a path from developer Eugene Kenyon's estate (at 96 Kenyon).  Another will be built across the street a few years later.   In 1871, the City replaces the covered wooden bridge over the Park River with a stone bridge, costing $28,000.  Within a year, there is horse trolley service out Farmington Ave.  Three Second Empire style homes go up on Sherman St.  in 1877.  However, the economic downturns of the mid-1870's hit and Eugene Kenyon goes broke.  There is no real development in the West End for another 10 years.  

Fast Forward:  The Early Decades in the West End
In 1899, the West End was the fashionable place to build. Throughout the twenties and thirties sophisticates were on the cutting edge (Chic Austin built his home here).  During World War II in the 1940s and into the 1950s, groups of young engineers from Pratt and Whitney, just married, lived in the West End in rooming houses and got on the company van to get to work.  Young singles lived in Little Hollywood and had a reputation for having fun.  In the 1960s, families had grown up and out, leaving their older parents in the family homestead.  By the end of the 1960's, some of these big houses became crash pads for hippies.  

 

The 1970's in the West End
In the 1970s, a handful of young couples - "urban pioneers" bucking suburban sprawl bought neglected Victorians at bargain prices and taught each other how to renovate "your Victorian house in the city".  The Old House Journal was the renovator's bible.  Activists at heart, they knew the tools of organizing.  Nearly everyone had a story of having to insist that real estate agents show them property in the city.  Lenders and insurers were accused of red-lining the city by refusing to make loans or insure property.  The West End Civic Association (WECA) got a reputation for knowing the nuances of the zoning code and turning out votes.  

There were living room concerts, the West End players, a craft group that specialized in jug wine, a monthly neighborhood newspaper, The Westender, and great parties at the drop of a hat.  Everyone sent their preschoolers to Knight Hall at the Seminary (pre-Law School) and Noah Webster School.  The neighborhood moms published Fun Spots - a book of day excursions to take the kids.  

WENDCO incorporated as a non-profit organization and began planning to save the Colonial Theater.  Federal funds were found to landscape and plant trees on Farmington Avenue.  "At Home in Hartford" buses brought thousands of suburbanites on house tours all over the city.  First it was one house per block bought by a renovator, then two, then three.  Each paint job was celebrated, and each young couple was added to the party list.  Moms bonded through playgroups, The West End book group held its first meeting.  And a neighbor's four year old  became a plaintiff in Sheff v O'Neil, Connecticut's landmark school desegregation case.  

By the early 1980's  the West End had "turned around".  Housing prices jumped - the West End was hot.  Suddenly, there were neighbors here you had never met.  This activism is the legacy of today's West End.

 

The West End Now
Thirty-five years later the West End flourishes.  The West End Civic Association (WECA) has been a bulwark of action throughout the decades - advocating for the community, keeping us vital and strong.   The trees on the Avenue now tower over the street, the facade of the Colonial Theater  survives, reincarnated as Braza, a new gathering spot.  New people are still discovering the neighborhood.   

The Farmington Avenue Alliance has completed plans for improving the streetscape for all of the Avenue, and the Farmington Avenue Business District (FABD) has championed a Hartford Business Improvement District (BID) along Farmington Avenue in Asylum Hill and all of downtown. There's a new West End Community Center with services and programming for kids and adults.  The book group, the craft group and the playgroup all are still going strong, even though the babies are all grown up.  We still party - the hardest ticket to get in town is for WECA's  annual progressive dinner and fundraiser: West End Dine Around....

The West End is the essence of a great city neighborhood because we work at it. 

West End Demographics:
While the city as a whole has lost 11% of its population from 1990 to 2000, the west End has gained 3%.  The West End has the most even distribution of races in the city and in greater Hartford: 36% white, 28% black, 21% Hispanic (2000 census).  With 18% of its population under age 18, the West End has an average older population tahn other neighborhoods, the city and greater Hartford.  There are almost 4,300 households in the neighborhood, almost half are 1 person.  The average household income is about $45,000 - the average for the city is about $30,000 and the region about $61,000.  About 25% are below the poverty level, compared to 30% for the city and 7% for the region.  Almost 18% have a master's degree or higher, compared to 5% for the city and 12% for the region.  In the West End 21% are foreign born, compared to 18% for the city and 10% for the region.  (mostly from Jamaica, Vietnam, Brazil and China).

About the block    About the city    Hartford Neighborhood Demographics   

 

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                        About the City:   Photo of Federalist Old State House clock tower
                                        Hartford


Hartford at the Beginning
The City of Hartford has been here since 1636 when the Rev. Hooker split from the Boston Colony Puritans because they were too conservative.  We compete with Windsor and Wethersfield for the "who is oldest in Connecticut" contest.  Her institutions are a litany of "firsts" in the nation.  We make the bald-faced claim that ours was the first constitution in the world that lead to a democratic government.

This is at least the 7th life stage for Hartford, beginning as a Puritan center of merchant commerce:  the highest navigable point up the Connecticut River. 
(It still is - would Mark Twain have settled anywhere without an important river?)  

To see the growth of Hartford from 1637 to 1909, go to Historical Hartford Maps.  You can download many..

 

Hartford in the 1700 and 1800's
Connecticut's charter from King George gave us the right to vote for our own governor - the only colony that actually had the authority to declare war on England.  Washington slept here, too.  His portrait by Stuart still hangs in the Old State House (1796), an architectural gem by Charles Bullfinch in the heart of downtown - and site for much of the action of the Amistad slave case.  The "new" state capitol on the top of Bushnell Park dates to 1878 when Trinity College donated the site for the capitol and moved about a tenth of a mile away.  Get a sense of the times by visiting the Butler-McCook Homestead.  

 

Colt
Hartford became a major supplier of weapons and supplies for the Revolution - not to mention the Civil War (Colt firearms), WWI (Gatling gun), WWII (Pratt engines).  High Tech defense still plays an important part of the Connecticut economy.  Colt's main man was an engineering genius who trained the next generation of innovators in his early industrial incubator at the Colt factory, soon to become a national park.   

 

Stowe and Twain
We had our progressive types back then, too. Uncle Tom's Cabin turned more than a million readers into empathizers with the slave cause.  Lincoln credited Harriet Beecher Stowe as being the "little lady" who caused the Civil War.  Her neighbor, Mark Twain was our own truth-telling international celebrity.  Both Mark and Harriet left us their legacies when they left their homes - now important institutions in the city.  

We had our own little gilded age as Hartford's early industrialization paid off.  Elizabeth Colt endowed the Wadsworth Athaneum with her art collection.  J.P. Morgan endowed a wing - local boy does good.  Hartford "magnates" established institutions such as the Hartford Public Library, the Bushnell and a magnificent park system.  

 

Hartford in the First Half of the 20th Century
Katherine Hepburn grew up in Hartford, riding her bike to Elizabeth Park.  Her mom organized for "Votes for Women".  The Athaneum was center stage on the national arts scene, hosting the Ballet Russe, famous for it's Black and White Ball and early collection of impressionist greats, bought at bargain prices.  Visit the Austin House in the West End to get a glimpse of Chick Austin, the man who pulled off cutting-edge innovation in conservative Hartford.  Gradually, finance replaced manufacturing as the insurers stepped center stage.  

 

Hartford in the 1950's and 1960's
The insurance industry had been around since 1810, insuring the merchant shipping from the Port of Hartford, but it blossomed in the 1950s and '60s as more Americans came to have more, and wanted to hold on to it.   The nation's file cabinet somehow left room for a brilliant poet. Wallace Stevens was an insurance company exec who wrote his poetry while walking to work each day from the west end down Asylum Ave. to the office.  You can walk his route.

The post-war race to the suburbs affected New England cities more than the rest of the country.  Hartford is only 2 miles wide by 7 miles long - geographically, it's tiny.  Other cities incorporated surrounding suburban areas - not possible in this postage stamp-sized city.  Something had to give. 

 

Hartford in the 1970's
In the 1970's, Hartford's famous rose garden in Elizabeth Park became a symbol of disinvestment.  The city's poverty and strapped budget could no longer maintain her extensive park system.  So the city wrapped the famous rose garden in a towering burlap "fence" as a way of demonstrating that since no one but Hartford would help pay to keep it up - outsiders would have to pay admission.  

The Friends of Elizabeth Park was born, and has been a wonderful resource ever since.  (Our block has adopted a rose bed).  The state has yet to solve the problem of taxing and service equity, but, you know -  Hartford wasn't built in a day....

 

Hartford Today
All the richness of Hartford's history is here to enjoy.  Plus a host of newer institutions like Hartford Stage, TheaterWorks, Real Art Ways, the Connecticut Forum, Riverfront Recapture, the Hartford Preservation Alliance and new plans for exciting developments in Pope and Colt parks.    The legacy of  activism here gets re-channeled as successes are checked off the list. 

Hartford's tiny 17 square miles contains a concentration of all the institutions of any major city: the seat of state government, 4 major hospitals, major colleges and universities, some of the largest financial and tech corporations in the US, major media, the crossroads of the state's transportation system, a wealth of history, arts and entertainment and about 120,000 residents - all packed into the small footprint of this city - home to so much.

History of the West End             

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                           About    Three year old watering while neighbors dig in a newly planted street tree
                                 the Website   

A digital camera can be an addictive thing.  
It was given as a holiday gift and made its debut at the Kenyon Street tree planting on April 22, 2006.  

Despite the gray mist, the day was incredibly energizing - the block was in bloom and over 30 neighbors wielded shovels, ready to plant new street trees.  It was as if someone had staged a heartwarming event for a T.V. commercial.  But this was for real. 

Then there were all these photos that documented this wonderful bonding experience.   How to share them?   With a penchant for building websites as a way of sharing all of life's interests: (the bookgroup, the foodgroup, the jewelry and card business), a website for Kenyon Street was the obvious choice.

  • The Kenyon Street website started with one page - It tells the story of the "Knox Tree Planting" with pictures.  

  • The block's annual progressive dinner is a "must".  Why not put the Kenyon Street "Event Calendar" up, too?  

  • We polled everyone about what they liked and they told us, hence "We Love".   

  • The "House Map" was a natural, since Doug's phone list is laid out that way.   Here your historic Victorian is your pride and joy - why not share  it? 

  • Why not post it when houses on Kenyon Street are up for sale?  "For Sale Signs" is a great way for people in Greater Hartford to find out about Kenyon Street.  

  • As one who has lived in Hartford for several decades, "Links" was a chance to pass along valuable tidbits of information along with the history of Hartford, the West End and Kenyon Street, both practical and obscure.  

  • When the gardeners started to share their gardens every other week, "Garden Walks" became a resource documenting it all. 

 

This website is a love poem, really. 

 

 

 

 

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                    How To Build     Generations lounge on the wide Victorian porch and visit
                            a Neighborhood -

                                 
one block at a time

       10 Steps

  1. Garden in the front yard, or hang out on the front porch and chat with everyone who passes.  Get out of your car and walk.  You will meet people.

  2. Call up a neighbor and have coffee, then dinner together.  

  3. Introduce everyone to everyone.  

  4. Someone has an idea to do something fun.  Someone invites everyone they know on the block, even if it's only three people. When you get together, offer a tour of the house - we all love to see each other's houses.

    * It helps to have a "social engineer", a cheerleader who loves to entertain. 

  5. Someone collects phone numbers and e-mails. Give everyone on the list a copy.

    * It helps to have an organizer, someone who will collect the information.

  6. In the winter, suggest a dessert party to set the social calendar for the year -
    whoever wants to host something suggests a date.  Once a year, once a quarter, once a month.  It doesn't matter how often, if it's periodic and you give it a name, it will seem like an institution even the first year.  
    Do up a calendar and get a copy to everyone.  Then remind people. Twice.

    While e-mail is indispensable, a flyer delivered to the house will turn more people out.  A phone call even more, and a personal written invitation (on paper with an envelope) will mark the occasion as a special one.

    * It helps to have a communicator, someone who wants everyone to know.
     

  7. Have a progressive dinner where people sit at tables - it's a real chance to discover people you haven't met.  Everyone is an expert at something.  Now you have "experts" to ask.

  8. Pull the whole block in when you can - someone wanted to do a tag sale - in the end 14 houses on the block participated.   
    One of us was a gardener, turns out lots of us are gardeners - now the interested folks "walk" the gardens twice a month, sharing tips and plants.   

  9. When an issue comes up that needs a solution, you already know everyone and how to reach them.  E-mail , e-mail, e-mail!   Organize, Call on your resources.
    But start with the fun stuff first.  

  10. Offer to help your neighbor.  Once you know them, you'll discover ways to help each other.  Mutual support is what makes a real community and strengthens it.

A neighborhood is about people.  
Here, the people think this place is special.  We work to make it special.
To learn more about some of the people who live here, click here for links to some of our interests. 

 

 

 

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                                                                Kenyon Street -
                         How to Build
 
                                                                      a Website      

  10 Steps

  1. Decide the purpose of the site and who your audience is.  Never lose sight of the point and who you're talking to.

  2. Take a free basic course at the library.   

  3. Buy FrontPage or another website software tool.  Not mandatory - it's just a lot easier.

  4. Locate a free website host.  This one's up on angelfire.com.  They have lots of help for newbies.  
    If you can afford $100 - $150 a year or so (every year), you get your own domain name (website address), have the site on a more reliable website host, won't have advertising forced on your site and will have more tech support and capacity for larger files for photos, etc.. 

  5. Learn the basics:  Posting text, photos, files and how to do hyperlinks. 

  6. Bring a digital camera to block events.  Go out on a beautiful day and snap the good stuff.

  7. Ask what people would like to see on the site.  Jot down the main ideas and organize them into pages.  Type them up, add pictures and post the pages.  Start small.  It will grow as you have time to add.  Remember to keep people's privacy.   

  8. Test the site, test the links.  See how it works on different computers.

  9. Let everyone know.

  10. Keep it lively - adding new things and bringing it up-to-date.   (Google Books and Google Images are both invaluable research tools.)
    Then remind everyone whenever new features are added.

     

    * It helps to be organized, dogged and have good color and graphic sense.    

     

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                              Site Map    Standard potted rose casts shadows on a teal garage

    To see a Table of Contents for the Kenyon Street website, click here.
    You'll find an index of major features on this website at a glance.

 

 

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Contact Us

We welcome all comments.  If something is incorrect or out of date, let us know.   

If you have an event or information you'd like to get out to Kenyon Street's first block, e-mail us with enough advanced notice, and we'll get it out.

E-mail us at 
C. West Designs:  cwestdesigns@snet.net

 

 

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  2009