Connecticut State Library with state seal

The Connecticut State Library and Supreme Court Building

We hope you enjoy this online exhibit that describes the construction of the building from 1908-1910, as well as the architectural details that still impress us today.

Click on "begin" to view the entire exhibit, or choose a particular area of the building by clicking on the links below:

050 Fundamental Orders

Construction/Exterior

Main Lobby

  Memorial Hall

Courtroom

Reading Room

Ground Floor

 

Construction and Exterior

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The newly built Connecticut State Library and Supreme Court Building at 231 Capitol Avenue in Hartford was described in 1910 as "one of the most beautiful structures in this country and said by some to be the handsomest building in New England." Hartford Courant Dec. 17, 1910, p. 18

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Prior to 1910, the State Library was located in the State Capitol, where it had been housed since 1878.  By 1906, the space for the Library was inadequate.  The collections were dispersed in four locations throughout the building and over 13,000 new items were being received each year.  Portraits of the Governors of Connecticut were displayed along the walls, and the Charter of the Colony of Connecticut and other valuable archival material were stored in free-standing vaults.  

 

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In his 1906 Annual Report State Librarian George Godard comments:  "It has been my thought and hope that some provisions might be made ...whereby all the books of the library could be brought together, where the several portraits and paintings could be properly and safely hung, where regularly constructed vaults for invaluable records and papers might be accessible, and where rooms or special apartments for study could be provided and  proper provisions made for the development and work of our State Library."



 

 

The Commission to Make Repairs on the Capitol and to Procure a Site for a New Building for State Officials was charged with solving the space problem, not only for the State Library, but also for all the other agencies that were residing in the State Capitol.  A New York Sunday Herald article from August 5, 1906 presented its solution:                                          

004 New York Sunday Herald article Click image for details

 

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Architects Donn Barber of New York and E.T. Hapgood of Hartford envisioned a design based on an adaptation of the Italian Renaissance style of architecture.  The design included three wings off of a central lobby, the State Library on the left, Memorial Hall in the center and the Supreme Court on the right.

 

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"According to the architects, the classical features outlined in their proposal of 1906 expressed the "dignified purpose of the building".  Though  not in the Gothic architectural style of the Capitol, the similarity in "color and materials, scale and general mass" between the two buildings ensured that the structures would "harmonize well". Connecticut Bar Journal v. 67, 1993, p. 484

 

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The property purchased for the new building was directly across the street from the State Capitol.  This plot map indicates with a faint white T-shaped outline the placement for the new building.  The front stairs will be where the word "of" appears in "State of Conn" in the foreground.  All the surrounding properties were privately owned. 

 

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With the groundbreaking on July 29, 1908, Godard's vision for a new library was underway.  This photo taken Jan. 7, 1909, looking south from the State Capitol, shows the progress of the excavation.  The main entrance of the building will be near where the largest tree stands in the middle foreground.  The grid of planks on the right outlines the excavation area for the Supreme Court.  Washington Street in on the far left (east), Lafayette Street on the near left (east) and Oak Street (partially shown) on the right (west). 

 

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The builder and general contractor for the project was Marc Eidlitz & Son of New York.  Construction began on October 23, 1908 and according to the terms of the contract, the building was to be completed by October 1, 1910.  This view is looking southeast, toward Lafayette Street, and shows the excavation of the Memorial Hall and Library sections of the building.  The foundation for the central portion of the building extends down to bedrock.  Private residences were precariously close.

 

 

 

 


 

 

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Men excavated the site with shovels and pickaxes and loaded the debris into horse-drawn wagons.

 

Looking south from the State Capitol.  Derricks are in place and foundation footings are visible on the Library side (to the left). In the foreground on Capitol Avenue, horse-drawn wagons are carting away debris while an automobile travels down the street.  Photo taken Jan.1, 1909. Click for image details
 

 

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Over 5 million bricks were used in the construction; many were manufactured by the Tuttle Brick Co. of Middletown, Connecticut.  These men are laying bricks on January 22, 1909; the high temperature was only 27 degrees. 

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Looking south into what will be the basements below Memorial Hall.  The Library is on the left side, the Court on the right.  All the footings for the building are of stone concrete, and the foundation walls, up to the finished grade, are of brick laid in Portland cement mortar.  Photo taken February 5, 1909.

 

Click for image details Looking south from the State Capitol on February 23, 1909.  Foundation walls for the Supreme Court side are visible (right) and progress continues on the granite exterior walls of the Library side (left).  The granite is from the Bethel Quarry in Bethel, Vermont.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Looking north on April 26, 1909.  The State Capitol is in the background.  Bricklayers are working on exterior basement walls.  The steel beam will support the floor of the ground level offices under Memorial Hall.  The area will be used for a packing room, repair shop and bindery, a general storeroom and a locker room.  The large rectangular opening with scaffolding at the middle top of photo will be the entrance to Memorial Hall.  In the center of the photo, the small arched doorway with the ladder inside is still used today at the bottom of the lobby stairs. 

 

Many of the men working on the project were Italian immigrants.  One worker, Francesco DeCorleto of Hartford, hid a letter in a wall and it was recently discovered.   Read "Message in the Wall",  in   The Connector , April 2004 for details of the discovery.

 

Unidentified laborers

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Looking south from the State Capitol.  Exterior walls are progressing for the Library and Supreme Court Side.  The three large arched opening in the center are in the ground level probate vault.  Horse- drawn wagons loaded with debris head down Capitol Avenue.  Balustrades under the Library Reading Room windows have been installed.  Click for image details

 

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On May 25, 1909 the cornerstone was laid in the northeast corner of the building facing Lafayette Street.  Library staff, including the Misses Penfield, Evans, Herman, Prickett, Yale and Pearson celebrated on the Capitol lawn.  The cornerstone  contains Connecticut and U. S. flags, books, photographs and coins, a piece of the Charter Oak and the day's Hartford newspapers. 

 

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Looking east toward Lafayette and Washington Streets with the Supreme Court room in the foreground.  Men are laying bricks on what will be the front (north) side of the building.  Workers are also up on the balcony level of the Library Reading Room.  The stairs in the center background to the right of the derrick are off the Balcony going to what is now level 6.  The large rectangular opening on the left of the stairs frames the big window on the east end of the balcony.

 

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By June 23, 1909, the T-shaped outline of the building was clearly evident.  The State Library on the left, the Supreme Court on the right, Memorial Hall (now part of the Museum of Connecticut History) in the center.  The ramp in front is leading into the Main Lobby. 

 

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Looking south from the State Capitol. Roof
balustrades for the front and sides of the building
are being installed.  On the Library side, steel
beams will support the roof over the stacks area. 
By September 1, 1909, the front facade is nearing completion.  The three openings framed in brick
above the main entrance are doorways in the high
attic. A horse and buggy wait on Capitol Avenue. 

 

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Artisans on top of the scaffolding finish decorative carvings over the main entrance.  The granite pillars were turned in Barre, Vermont, and each weigh 25 tons.  Thirty-four granite steps lead up to the entrance. The terms  "Knowledge"  "History" and "Justice" are inscribed over the portal. 

 

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The back (south) of the Supreme Court side of the building. Memorial Hall is on the right.

 

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The back (south) of the Library side of the building.  Memorial Hall is on the left.  Most of the windows opened into the book stack area.  Photo taken December 22, 1909.

 

The view from the roof looking east.  The sloping faces of the roof are covered with copper and the flat portions with vitrified tile.  The triangular  skylights will filter light into the attic areas. Memorial Hall is on the right with three small windows and the huge skylight.  The three windows on the left are in the high attic.  Click and select "full resolution"  for image details

 

Click for image details Artistic landscaping complimented the building and unified the site with the State Capitol Grounds. 
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Four ten-foot high statues created by French sculptor Francis M. L. Tonetti adorn the intricately carved pillars by the sides of the main entrance.  Representations of the Arts and Science are placed over the pillars on the Library side; History and Justice decorate the Supreme Court side.  They were completed in September 1913 and lifted into place by crane the following month.  Information on  the  model for the "History" statue is available at The Connector, January 2001,"Rae M. Jones and "History".

 

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Art History Justice Science

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050 Fundamental Orders

Construction
Exterior

Main Lobby

  Memorial Hall

Courtroom

Reading Room

Ground Floor

 


THE MAIN LOBBY

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The magnificent Main Lobby.
"Passing through the main entrance one at once receives an impression of sweeping arches, lofty pillars and impressive stairways..."
Hartford Courant Dec.17,1910, p. 18. Tennessee Pink marble is used in the flooring, base course, and treads of the stairs, while Tavernelle Pink marble is used in all other areas. 

 

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"The ceiling is of plaster divided into deep plaster mouldings.  These are ornate to the extreme and consist of large octagonal and smaller square panels.  They are toned in white and light yellow to correspond to the general coloring of the hall." Hartford Courant Dec. 17,1910 p. 18. Intricate carvings beautify the marble pillars and doorways. 

 

 

 

 

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050 Fundamental Orders

Construction
Exterior

Main Lobby

  Memorial Hall

Courtroom

Reading Room

Ground Floor

 


MEMORIAL HALL

 

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Memorial Hall was designed to properly display the portraits of Connecticut Governors and provide exhibit space for items relating to Connecticut History.  The floor is red Moravian tile, and the walls were covered with heavy, gold silk brocade.  The room is fifty-one feet wide, eighty-five feet long, and thirty-five feet high.  Memorial Hall is now used as the primary exhibition area for the Museum of Connecticut History. 

 

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"The light comes from a  great central skylight, made of colored glass...Above the skylight are rows upon rows of electric lights in brilliant reflectors.  These are entirely invisible from the hall itself, and when the lights are turned on they will flood the room with a radiance like that of the brightest day." Hartford Courant Dec. 17, 1910 p. 18-19

 

 

 

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Two vaults were installed on either side of the main entrance for display of the Mitchelson Coin Collection
and to safely and securely display other important artifacts.  The elaborately carved oak balcony over the entrance is accessible from the Main Lobby. 


Against the south wall, the original 1662 Charter of the Colony of Connecticut was, and still is, securely enclosed in its specially constructed vault under a Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington.  (The portrait now hangs in the Old State House)


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050 Fundamental Orders

Construction
Exterior

Main Lobby

  Memorial Hall

Courtroom

Reading Room

Ground Floor

 


SUPREME COURT COURTROOM

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The Supreme Court courtroom is forty-three feet wide, fifty-six feet long and thirty-five feet high, and "running entirely around it is a wainscoting of light oak, eight feet high, carved with remarkable beauty and showing in the various panels thirty-four reproductions of the seal of Connecticut...The walls above the wainscoting are of artificial Caen stone, and studding them at regular intervals are twelve gold wall lamps.  A heavy stone cornice surmounts the wall and above this, flaming with reds and blues and greens, and dominated by the gilding, is the cornice with the seal again the chief design. " Hartford Courant Dec. 17, 1910, p. 18-19.

 

Click image for details Behind the bench hangs a mural painted by Albert Herter, The Signing of the Fundamental Orders of the Constitution          1638-39

 

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Detail of the Seal of the State of Connecticut in the oak paneling surrounding the Courtroom

Click image for detailsDetail from the chair backs in the Courtroom
View of the Courtroom from the bench.  The carved oak balcony is accessible from the Main Lobby.   

 

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The design for the Court side included an office suite for each Justice, workspace for their staffs, a robing room, and several conference rooms.  This conference room off of the Main Lobby featured heavy oak paneling, a lavatory, a fireplace, and windows along the south wall. 

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050 Fundamental Orders

Construction
Exterior

Main Lobby

  Memorial Hall

Courtroom

Reading Room

Ground Floor

 


LIBRARY READING ROOM

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The elaborate Beaux Arts style ceiling is highlighted with greens, gold, reds, and three central panels painted to resemble the sky and clouds.  It is illuminated by 2 huge, intricately cast chandeliers and surrounded by 14 smaller chandeliers.  The chandeliers were all attached to winches in the attic so they could be lowered to change the hundreds of light bulbs. 







 

The Hartford Courant described the ninety foot long, forty-three foot wide, thirty-five foot high Reading Room as "a strikingly handsome room in which the same massive and brilliant decorative scheme that characterizes the rest of the building is not departed from ." Hartford Courant Dec. 17, 1910, p. 18-19  

 

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Protection from fire was a chief concern of the architects and Mr. Godard.  The Art Metal Company from Jamestown, New York installed 14 foot high steel wainscoting and bookcases around the perimeter.  All the steel was painted and treated to resemble a richly grained Circassian walnut wood.  This view from the west end of the Reading Room is looking south into Mr. Godard's office. 

 

The two tiers of bookcases lining the southern third of the Reading Room were also steel.  Flooring was red Moravian tile and one-half inch thick cork.  The patron tables are steel and bronze, and feature built in electric lighting and bronze medallions of the state seal.  Patrons were also provided with inkwells, trashcans and spittoons.  Click and select "full resolution"  for image details
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Reading Room table detail

 

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Thoughtful design even went into
the brass doorknobs on the metal
doors, which feature the Seal of
the State of Connecticut.

 
The architects designed intricately carved window arches for the east Balcony window and elaborate cornices.  They selected Caen Stone for the walls.  

 

 

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Patrons using the Reading Room

 

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Originally, only 4 levels of book stacks were completed.  The stacks area provided 17,000 linear feet of shelving
and featured an electric book lift and adjustable, all-steel shelves.  Windows lining the south wall of each level, as well as small electric lights, illuminated the stacks and
thick translucent glass floors served to disperse the light.

Unfinished Stack Levels, 5, 6, and 7. Doors in the background lead to the stairs by the west elevator and the railing in the center protects the stairs leading down to completed stack levels 1-4.  Planks cover the openings in the glass floors where book stacks will be attached in the future.  Emergency fire hoses were installed on each level. 


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050 Fundamental Orders

Construction
Exterior

Main Lobby

  Memorial Hall

Courtroom

Reading Room

Ground Floor

 


The Ground Floor

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Guastavino tiling, a fireproof system of construction was employed to create  the vaulted ceiling of the public areas of the ground floor.  Rafael Guastavino developed this method of vaulting space utilizing the ancient technique of "timbrel" vaulting.  This technique was very popular when the Library was built and was used in many municipal buildings including Grand Central Station and the Main Hall at Ellis Island

 

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Detail of Guastavino tiling in the Lower Lobby

 
 
The cavernous Lower Lobby was referred to as the "Rathskeller".  

 

Click and select "full resolution"  for image details In the Probate Department, the second tier of the stack area was surrounded by the railing originally used in the Library Reading Room in the State Capitol, decorated with bronze carvings of the State Seal. 

 

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The extensive fireproof Probate Vault on the ground floor featured all metal cabinets and tiled floors and ceilings. 

 

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State Librarian George Godard and his staff moved their offices to the new building on November 28, 1910.  Godard reflected in his 1910 Annual Report: "We have seen gradually brought to completion our new State Library and Supreme Court Building, dignified and beautiful in its architecture, solid and substantial in its construction, and complete and convenient in its arrangement."

 

With grateful appreciation to all those who helped compile this online exhibit:

Mark Jones, State Archivist;
David Corrigan, Museum of Connecticut History;
and from the State Library, the staff of the History and Genealogy Unit, Carol Trinchitella, Stephen Slovasky, and Lynne Newell

Nancy Peluso
October 2004