5 Historical Facts You Didn’t Know About Connecticut

September 14, 2015 8:00 AM

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Connecticut is one of the original 13 states, and as such, is rich in history. Not all of that history, however, is taught in schools, and some of it predates the days when the Puritans founded what became the state’s capital city. Dinosaurs once tread the river valleys of Jurassic-era Connecticut, and they have left their marks. Connecticut has a castle, much like those found in Europe, and was home to American legend Mark Twain in his later days. Many famous people lived and visited Connecticut, and according to some, their ghosts continue to haunt the Nutmeg State.

Connecticut Has A “Jurassic Park”
Dinosaur State Park Arboretum
400 West St.
Rocky Hill, CT 06067
(860) 257-7601

www.dinosaurstatepark.org

In the Jurassic era, dinosaurs roamed the river valleys of Connecticut, and their bones and footprints can still be seen at Dinosaur State Park in Rocky Hill. A museum and visitors’ center in the park houses many artifacts and fossils from the time when those giant creatures flourished in Connecticut, and there is a path visitors can take that goes alongside the fossilized tracks the dinosaurs left as they traveled through the state. The park is also an arboretum which includes examples of hundreds of plants, flowers, trees and other flora native to the state, as well as displays with live reptiles, small mammals, bugs and birds — many of them distant descendants of the great dinosaurs.

Mark Twain Lived And Wrote In Connecticut
The Mark Twain House
351 Farmington Ave.
Hartford, CT 06105
(860) 247-0998
www.marktwainhouse.org

It is no coincidence that one of Mark Twain’s best-loved stories is about a man from Connecticut. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court could have had Massachusetts or Maine in his title instead of Connecticut, but the Nutmeg State is where Twain chose to make his home for most of the last two decades of his life. His charming 25-room mansion in Farmington, just outside of Hartford, is now a museum, and one where visitors can see the billiard room where Twain relaxed, the library where he did his research and the conservatory where local musicians played to entertain Twain and his guests.

Connecticut Has A castle
Gillette Castle State Park and Mansion
67 River Road
East Haddam, CT 06423
www.ctvisit.com/gillette-castle-state-park

Connecticut has a castle. It was not built by a medieval king, but by a prince of the theater — the legendary stage and silent screen actor William Gillette. Best known in his day for portraying Sherlock Holmes, Gillette was also a playwright and a director. He was born at a farm outside of Hartford, a city his Puritan ancestor on his mother’s side helped found. Gillette was fascinated by medieval architecture and by trains, and found the Seven Sisters Mountain Range of Connecticut to be especially beautiful. The castle he built sits atop a peak in the midst of that range in East Haddam, and today it is part of a state park. The mock fortress may look imposing from the outside, with its stone towers and battlements, but inside it is comfortable and elegant mansion packed with great art, period furnishings and Gillette’s collection of railroad memorabilia.

Related: Top Haunted Graveyard Tours in Connecticut

The ghosts Of Jimi Hendrix, Geronimo And Others Haunt New Haven
Ghosts of New Haven
1070 Chapel St.
New Haven, CT 06510
(203) 747-8266
www.ghostsofnewhaven.com

Many famous people were born, died or passed through Connecticut in its history, and according to the Ghosts of New Haven tour guides company, some came back to haunt the state — or at least New Haven. Rockstar Jimi Hendrix, for example, quite regularly returns to Woolsey Hall (where he played in 1968) to tune his guitar, and the Apache war chief Geronimo is said to make frequent visits to the Skull and Bones Secret Society on High Street — where his skull is reportedly hidden and used in initiation ceremonies (an ancestor of Presidents George H. and George W. Bush allegedly stole the skull from the warrior’s grave). Among the other spirits who allegedly still hang around New Haven, according to the tour guides, are Noah Webster of the dictionary fame, Eli Whitney who invented the cotton gin and numerous colonial and Revolutionary era notables, including Benedict Arnold, who was born not far away in Norwich, Connecticut.

Hartford Has A “Central Park” Connection
Bushnell Park
Elm, Jewell and Trinity Streets
Hartford, CT 06123
www.bushnellpark.org

At the same time he was offered the commission to create New York City’s iconic Central Park, noted and now legendary architect Frederick Law Olmstead was offered the job of creating a similar oasis in downtown Hartford. Bushnell Park, on the grounds just below the state capitol building, was to have been his masterpiece — but Olmstead decided he could not do justice to both Hartford and New York, and thus suggested another man for the job in Connecticut. That fellow was a botanist and naturalist architect named Jacob Weidenmann, and it was his vision that turned Bushnell not merely into a park with stately walks and watery vistas, but also a living, breathing, growing arboretum and botanical garden.

Related: Walking tour of Connecticut’s Guilford Neighborhood

Mark G. McLaughlin is a professional and prolific writer with a proven publishing record in a wide variety of fields. An historian, novelist, freelance journalist, ghost-writer, book reviewer, magazine editor, web and magazine columnist, Mark has more than 30 years of experience. His work can be found at Examiner.com.

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