Much more than the “Insurance Capitol of the World” or just the capital of Connecticut, Hartford has a thriving downtown neighborhood culture these days. Best of all, it’s a very walkable area. A walk along the Connecticut River through one of the many riverside parks brings you to the doorway of one of the state’s newest attraction, the Connecticut Science Center, which opened in 2009 and draws over 150,000 visitors annually. Half a block away in one direction is the newly establish Front Street District where restaurants such as Ted’s Montana Grill and Capital Grille have opened alongside the newest tenant, Infinity Music Hall – Hartford, which opens August 28th. Around the corner from there are several staples of Connecticut culture including the Wadsworth Athenaeum, the Old State House, the Bushnell Performing Arts Center and Bushnell Park, the oldest publicly funded park in the country.
The Wooster Square Historical District neighborhood in New Haven is a citadel of Italian-American culture in Connecticut and is a quintessential example of the growth of immigrants in the early 20th century. In 1925, Frank Pepe, an Italian immigrant born on the Amalfi coast of Italy, along with his wife Filomena, opened one of the first pizza places in America. Today, diners at “Pepe’s” can also order the White Clam Pizza, invented in the mid 1960s and named the #1 Pizza in America by several outlets. Pepe’s, along with Sally’s APizza and Modern APizza, are considered pizza royalty nationwide, especially in terms of “New Haven-style pizza,” notable for its thin, charred crust. Just to the west is the historic New Haven Town Green where several significant activities have occurred including the Amistad trial, civil rights movement and even the invention of the Frisbee. Today the green is shared by locals, business people, Yale students and hosts numerous city events such as the annual Jazz Festival. Speaking of Yale, drop in to the Peabody Museum, one of the country’s strongest educational museums, or the New Haven Museum, located just south of Yale University.
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Although residents of Polish ancestry in Connecticut number merely eight percent of the population, more than 20 percent of New Britain residents come from the eastern European country, which created one of the city’s nicknames, “New Britski.” The heart, or “serce,” of the Polish community lies along or within a stone’s throw of Broad Street, near the center of town, known itself as “Little Poland.” For a brief moment or “dwa” (Polish for “two”), you may even feel like you are in a small part of the eastern European country itself, with Polish bulletins, posters, foods and dialect everywhere. About 80 percent of the businesses along a half-mile block are Polish-owned, including Polmart, the largest re-seller of Polish products on the East Coast, Kasia’s Bakery and the Cracovia, Belvedere and Staropolska restaurants.
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Native Connecticut ~ Uncasville, Mashantucket & Washington
Originally there were about 20 Native American tribes in Connecticut, but today, the Mashantucket Pequot Nation and the Mohegan Tribe are the only two federally recognized Indian tribes in Connecticut. Of course, their success in the gaming industries has been well documented with the Foxwoods (Pequot) and Mohegan Sun (Mohegan) casinos, but it’s the community elements that render cultural significance. The Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center is simply inspiring and literally places visitors in the Pequot community. In addition, the Institute for American Indian Studies (IAIS), located in Washington, Connecticut, excels at modern-day interpretations and programming of Native American life and community.
Edward Main is a freelance writer covering all things Connecticut. His work can be found on Examiner.com.