Skip to Top NavigationSkip to Utility NavigationSkip to Search
Mobile Menu
Pages Within Harrison Libraries

Chapter 1 — Section I

Across the middle of the campus, beginning next to what is today the computer center and administration building, and running down towards the Gray Center and the library, there is a row of trees. Once, back before the University of Hartford came to this suburban location, there was a track beside these trees descending to a little river, known variously as the Hog River or the Park River, that ran on past Nook Farm and the houses of Mark Twain and Harriet Beecher Stowe, to join the Connecticut River to the southeast. Much of that river is now underground, hidden beneath the streets of Hartford, but here, as it runs down to the pond at the center of the campus, it is still clear and sparkling, and there are places along its banks that have not changed in a hundred years. Katharine Hepburn, whose family home is now a part of the University, remembers wandering through these fields, and for many local notables they were a place to spend a summer childhood catching fish in the river or playing a pick-up baseball game.

One president of the University proposed creating a deer park in the center of the campus, and a road sign still bears witness to the idea. Certainly the park-like nature of the original fields has been maintained on much of the campus. Over the years, the University has acquired upwards of two hundred acres to add to its original hundred and fifty, and they have been preserved as undeveloped land, most of it lying to the north of the present University buildings. In fact, this entire area has always been on the edges of the communities surrounding it. To the north lies Bloomfield, to the east the city of Hartford, and to the west the town of West Hartford. Most of the built campus is either in Hartford or West Hartford, but around a third of the University's landholdings are in Bloomfield.

The two little houses at the entrance to the campus, one of them now serving as the admissions office, are all that is left of the era before the University's constituent parts moved here from downtown Hartford. New buildings have been added over the years, primarily in two phases, in the 1960s and the 1980s. The buildings are spread out in an arc surrounding a central green space extending down over the hill towards the river to the north. On the other side of the river, a residential area has been created for students, stretching into the woods towards Bloomfield. While they are modern buildings, many of them maintain a certain New England feeling, with their clapboard exteriors and their placement along the contours of the land. As for the names of the University's principal buildings, they are a positive roll-call of the University's many benefactors.

Sometimes it is a rather confusing roll-call. There is, for example, a classroom building named Auerbach, a computer and administration building named Auerbach, and an auditorium named Auerbach. This last is in a classroom building named Hillyer, which happens to house Hillyer College, but several other programs besides. And in any case today's Hillyer College is different from the one that existed before the chartering of the university and became one of its founding institutions. Such apparent confusion (and the real confusion it sometimes causes our visitors) is a part of the nature of an institution that grew up, like so much else in New England, in a certain spirit of compromise -- not unplanned exactly, but taking advantage of changing circumstances, and benefiting from local philanthropy.

One could argue that to survive and prosper in New England has always meant being able to adapt, to change with the times -- but also to respect the past, and to hold on to what is enduring. Certainly the University of Hartford has done these things: our newness is built on a solid foundation, and the values that we try to convey to our students and the community are tried and true values, though we adapt them to the very different circumstances that we face as we enter a new millennium.

Hartford, Connecticut, was a town ideally suited for the eventual development of a comprehensive university, because it had a past to build on, and because its entire history has been one of adaptation. Hartford has always been a trading place, a commercial city providing the resources for industry and for economic development. The insurance industry that grew up here and that made Hartford the insurance capital of America combined innovation with a certain caution and conservatism. Hartford, as the home of Sam Colt, played a special part in the development of American firearms, and in the development of bicycles and automobiles. In our own day, it has become a world leader in the aerospace industry, in health care, and in high technology.

Certainly the Hartford in which the three constituent colleges of the University developed in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was no provincial town. The Yankee pioneers who created the city were joined as the nineteenth century progressed by an influx of Jewish immigrants from the New York City area who tried their hand at dairy and poultry farming in the region and found that they prospered particularly in the business and commerce of the city. Thus, two distinct and yet mutually respectful aristocracies grew up in Hartford from the mid-nineteenth century onwards: the old, established Yankee community and the newer Jewish aristocracy, so proud of its European heritage. The cosmopolitan blend of these two groups added a flavor to Hartford that made it quite unlike inland river towns elsewhere in New England. As industry grew in the area, other groups followed -- the Italians and Irish, for example; African Americans; and two groups attracted here in part by jobs in the tobacco industry, namely English-speaking Caribbeans from Jamaica, Barbados, and other islands, and Spanish-speaking Puerto Ricans and Dominicans. Today the Catholic presence in the city is strong and important, as evidenced in such institutions as St. Francis Hospital, St. Joseph College, and the grand cathedral on Farmington Avenue.

The interest in advanced education shown by the Yankee and Jewish communities sustained the constituent colleges of what was to become the University, and it was these two groups particularly who came together to make the University a reality. By definition, a University, as opposed to a college, is an institution that takes as its province the whole world -- or universe -- of knowledge. The progress from three independent institutions -- Hartford Art School, Hillyer College, and the Hartt College of Music -- to a University of Hartford, was as careful and deliberate and intellectually aware as Hartford itself.

more> Chapter 1 — Section II