Chapter H1 header

byline in italics, needs internal link

Over a century ago, the press declared Hartford as "the richest city in the United States" per capita, a label from the past that seems strange to anyone familiar with its extreme poverty in the present day. That tagline came from journalist Charles Clark, who wrote a cover story on Connecticut's capital city in 1876 for Scribner's Monthly, one of the most popular illustrated literary magazines of its time. While Clark may not have invented this slogan, he certainly popularized it, based on some loose arithmetic of the city's accumulated wealth, relative to the size of its population, approximately 40,000 people. His essay opened by surveying the value of vast financial and industrial corporations based in the downtown area. The city's well-known insurance companies, including The Hartford and Aetna, held more than $113 million in assets, which rebuilt Chicago after its disastrous 1871 fire. Added together, the city's numerous banks amassed over $50 million in deposits and capital. Five railroad lines fed Hartford's extensive factories, including Colt's Arms Manufacturing Company, "perhaps the most famous in the country" for its rifles and revolvers during the Civil War. Summed together, these businesses pushed the city's taxable property value to more than $200 million.

In addition its financial assets, Clark also praised Hartford's abundant cultural riches. The nation's best-known authors, Samuel Clemens (more commonly known as Mark Twain) and Harriet Beecher Stowe (whose best-seller, Uncle Tom's Cabin, influenced the Civil War), both took up residence in the city, alongside many of their literary companions, editors, and publishers. In addition to serving as the state capital, Hartford prized its extensive libraries, museum, and hospital. "The Hartford school buildings are said to the finest in the State," Clark added, and called special attention to his alma mater, Hartford Public High School, the second oldest in the nation, which also enjoyed "a reputation with all the leading colleges as one of the best of all the preparatory schools." [1]

In fact, the education that young people received in the city's public school system far surpassed what was available in the outlying rural towns, known today as the suburbs.

H2 header: Explore the Source: Hartford, "The Richest City in the United States," 1876

Scribner's Monthly in 1876 declared Hartford as the richest city in the United States, relative to its population. Digitized by Google Books. [1]

Today we recognize Clark's "richest city" slogan as boosterism. The twenty-eight-year-old son of a local congressman was a rising reporter at the Hartford Courant, the nation's oldest continuously published newspaper, and would later become its editor and owner. Clark "had an investment in the city," observes historian Steven Courtney, and later served on the boards of corporations and philanthropies his essay praised. [2][3] He did not offer a definitive statement on Hartford's total wealth per capita, nor any direct comparison to financial statistics for other cities, to the extent they were available. Today, the idea of measuring a city by the wealth of its total corporate wealth, rather than the assets actually owned by individual residents, makes little sense. In 1903, nearly four decades after Clark's essay, skeptics questioned some of its claims. One critic was Alexander Merriam, a Hartford Theological Seminary professor in the brand-new field of sociology. Although Hartford was still "computed as one of the richest cities of its size in the country," he observed, "local wealth is not so large and available as the statistical aggregate might seem to indicate." Residents included both "wealthier citizens. . . scattered in different parts of the city" and also "a slum of almost the first magnitude" of the poorest citizens along the banks of the Connecticut River. While Hartford still had significant pockets of wealth, they were not uniformly distributed. In fact, while Samuel Clemens lived in Hartford, he and his co-author satirically named this era the Gilded Age, referring to a thin gold layer that symbolizes wealth, but masks underlying social problems [Citation not found].

Leaping over paragraphs. . .

A century later, that relationship had reversed, as home values in the city fell to nearly the lowest in the region, while some outlying farm towns—known today as elite suburbs—climbed to the top. In 2010, the average sales price for a single-family home in Avon climbed to $536,000, more than three times the average $178,000 sales price in Hartford. In some eyes, the once-powerful city-based economic powerhouse had become a doughnut—a fiscally depressed center surrounded by an affluent suburban ring—though with wide variation in the middle.

H3 header: Explore the Map: Home Value Index in Hartford County, CT, 1910-2010

Follow the money in this interactive map as the most valuable single-family homes (in dark green) shifted from the capital city to selected suburbs over time. Click the tabs or use arrow keys to advance years. Hover over towns for details. Home values have been indexed (where county average = 1.0) to adjust for rising prices over time. Missing values appear in gray. View source data for 1910-1980 from Connecticut Tax Commissioner, author's calculation of average dwelling value from equalized assessments; 1990 from Capital Region Council of Governments, median single-family home sales price; 2000-10 from State of Connecticut, Office of Policy and Management, average single-family home sales price (2000-2010). Learn more in INTERNAL LINK TO ANOTHER CHAPTER in this volume.

How do we explain this reversal of fortunes between Hartford's city and its suburbs? Histories of twentieth-century suburbanization point to multiple factors, including white flight, urban rebellions, interstate highways, and job migration. But this book argues that the pivotal relationship between private housing and public schooling reshaped central Connecticut. During the first half of the twentieth century, the city's public school system—and its crown jewel, Hartford Public High School—earned the highest reputation in the region, while most small-town and rural school districts were viewed as woefully behind. When the first generations of city dwellers moved to outlying suburbs, they were attracted by housing opportunities, not substandard schools. Yet this relationship quickly changed during the latter half of the century, when rising suburbs actively competed for upper-class white families and created elite public schools that acted as powerful magnets, while state policies kept most low-income black students at a distance. As the most privileged families fled Hartford, the concentration of poverty and limited resources led the city's most prized high school to nearly lose its accreditation in the 1990s, while elite suburban public schools rose to the top of new ranking systems.

To tell this story about the changing relationship between housing and schooling, this book begins by retracing the lines that were drawn to separate the city and suburban towns, and later its school districts. During the 1800s, town boundaries were still a work-in-progress, and public school districts were relatively porous until the early twentieth century. Connecticut legislators sharpened these divisions under a 1909 school consolidation law, with deep consequences for a school desegregation lawsuit that arose eight decades later. Yet while mass suburbanization prompted more metropolitan governance for water, sewer, and transit between towns in the region, public schooling became more restricted to only families that resided inside local district boundaries. In today's politically fragmented Connecticut, most policies about housing and education are made either at the State Capitol or in 169 individual town halls and school boards. Even the phrase "metropolitan Hartford" has no officially consistent meaning here. As a result, local self-interested policy decisions have generated some of the nation's highest levels of inequality between the city and its suburbs, and also between suburbs of different social standing. This chapter visually describes what happened in the Hartford region, as a prelude to later chapters that explain in more detail why it happened, and how civil rights activists have challenged the status quo in different ways.

1Clark, Charles H., The {{Charter Oak City}}, 1876.
2Nunes, Joseph F., The {{Lasting Legacy}} of {{Charles Hopkins Clark}}, 2014.
3Courtney, Steve, Commentary: {{Was Hartford}} '{{The Richest City In The United States}}'?, 2014.

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