Hartford, Connecticut: Landmarks~History~Neighborhoods | City Center: Riverfront
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Native people in this area for centuries were the Algonquin-speaking River Indians who called the river Qinnecktekut (there are actually over 40 phoenetic spellings of the word), meaning "long tidal river." Their peaceful lifestyle included creating shelters and artifacts from grasses and trees along the river, hunting and fishing—particularly, for shad—gardening, revering nature as having spiritual significance, and—for the men—indulging in kinnickkinnick, a mixture of tobacco with other leaves and herbs to produce euphoric properties while undergoing vision quests into the spirit world. All of that changed when the Europeans arrived.

The banks of the Connecticut River is where Hartford began. The Dutch established a trading colony here called The House of Good Hope by 1633 at approximately where the Park River now spills into the Connecticut.. A few years later, a small band of colonists migrated to the area from Newtown, Massachusetts led by the Reverend Thomas Hooker and created dugout huts along the river in order to survive the New England winter. The settlers made peace with the local Algonquin Indians, who called the area Suckiaug ("Black Fertile River-Enhanced Earth, good for planting") and renamed it after Hertford, England.

For many years, the river served merchants, manufacturers and farmers with access to transportation that would allow them to trade with other river and seaports in America as well as in the West Indies, Europe, Africa, Asia and the Pacific Islands. Up until the 1840's Hartford was known as the Port of Hartford, and its affluent sea merchants and river captains were known as "River Gods" because Hartford was the farthest upstream port accessible to deep draft sailing vessels.

In the early 1800s steamboats began to service passengers traveling between Hartford and New York. In 1844, there were 2,000 vessel arrivals and departures in one year. Successive waves of immigrants arrived and settled in the tenements at the river's edge.

Oddly, there have been several sightings of a "sea monster" over the years—enough for it to have acquired a name: "Connie." Most of the sightings took place in the middle of the state—Middletown, Cromwell—though at least one was by an East Hartford resident in 1894 who had seen the large "snake" swimming downstream on the Hartford side of the river. Reported sightings dropped off at the end of the 19th century and there was none until 2010 when Connie was once again spotted in Middle Haddam, a river town about 20 miles south of Hartford.

Freshets and flooding of the Connecticut River caused problems for years. The great floods of 1936 and 1938 saw the river cresting at 37 feet and 34.9 feet respectively. Two years later, a severe hurricane innundated the city with flooding and Hartford's Flood Commission authorized the construction of a 45-foot high dike with pumping station to control the river. This, along with the constrution of Interstate 91 changed forever the relationship between the Connecticut River and the city of Hartford. For years, Hartford was cut off from the very body of water that had given the city its birth.

In the early 1980s Riverfront Recapture established itself and began gaining momentum to reconnect downtown with the river. Incremental progress was made over the next few decades and today, the river is once again accessible to pedestrians, boaters, bicyclists and sightseers. The river has been clean enough that fish have returned and the water provides several recreational opportunities.

The Phoenix Gateway is on a pedestrian bridge that spans Columbus Boulevard, connecting Constitution Plaza with Mortensen Riverfront Plaza. Grassy terraces cascade down to a stage where the public may enjoy music, dance and other performances for free. Mortensen also connects to the Bulkeley Bridge where a broad swath is dedicated for the use of pedestrians and bicyclists, reconnecting Hartford with East Hartford and leading to the riverwalk along the eastern bank of the Connecticut River.

On the Hartford side of the river, a paved pathway stretches from the boathouse at Riverside Park north of the city, approximately 1.7 miles to the gazebo at Charter Oak Landing.

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