Frog Hollow Neighborhood

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“It cuts a busy, colorful swath through one of the city’s largest Hispanic communities. It is a troubled area where community pride battles unemployment and crime. It is also a street alive with good people.” Suzanne Bilello, Hartford Courant Staff Writer

From Washington St. to Park Terrace lies a part of a neighborhood known to most Hartford residents as “Park Street”, or “La Park”, but its name is Frog Hollow. Of the three paths of the Heritage Trail, Frog Hollow is the most contained as the neighborhood is dense. At one time the neighborhood was the most poor and populated. Today, Frog Hollow is home to 9,323 people %72 of which are Latino.

Frog Hollow’s unique name is derived from a brook that flowed through the vicinity of Broad and Ward Streets. One can only imagine it overflowing with frogs; it was said that the brook was so populated by the creatures that on summer evenings as one sat on “the Rock”(now Trinity College campus) the sounds of the nocturnal serenade would entertain the senses. (Hartford Conservatory News, September 1975. volume3. no.3)

In 1852 most of Frog Hollow was farm land. The development of its shops and housing was a result of the industrial development of Capitol Ave. by Sharps Rifle, Albert Pope, Pratt & Whitney and Charles Billings and Christopher Spencer. They fell in line with the nation’s industrial revolution and exploited the land. They brought the production of complex mechanisms such as guns, sewing machines, bicycles, and automobiles. “Pratt and Whitney machine tools were critical in the development of Frog Hollow because the company provided capital and factory space for several companies that built around them.”(HACN) Mr. Pope was another important figure as he created an empire in Frog Hollow. He would eventually donate what is now beautiful Pope Park.

In its day, Pope’s factories employed over 3,000 workers and produced 60,000 bicycles a year. (Southside Neighborhood News, 8/1/1994) The district rivaled that of Sam’s Colt.

Pope’s demise began in 1895 when his manufacturing moved to producing automobiles. Pope became entangled in an extensive lawsuit with Henry Ford. He lost and with that came the decline of his, and by default, Hartford’s involvement with automobile manufacturing. Pope sold his property on Capitol Ave. to Pratt and Whitney. Along with F. Rentschler, they helped establish a new venture, designing and manufacturing an air-cooled aircraft engine called the Wasp. By 1928 their facilities had become too small, and they abandoned the neighborhood and took with them the much-needed jobs. Their current site is in East Hartford.

During their time in the neighborhood, the industrial activity along Capitol Ave. stimulated the rapid development of residential property. The Babcock’s, The Russ’s and The Hungerford’s long established families in Hartford sold their farms and estates for building. The Babcock farm was divided and multi-unit housing was built. The Hungerford and Russ estates gave way to more housing and the naming of the current streets.

Frog Hollow’s most characteristic residential type are constructions of three or six family homes; they are divided horizontally into flats. Hungerford, Babcock, and Putnam Streets still have good examples of the three family dwellings. Morton Street, Putnam Heights which just recently underwent revitalization and parts of Park Terrace are lined with the classic structures known as “the perfect six”. The immigrants and migrants that began to move in were drawn by the jobs offered by the industrial district. With them they brought their social and cultural richness: Danish, Swedish, German, Irish, French, Canadian, Lithuanian, Polish, Greek, Portuguese, Puerto Rican, South American, and Vietnamese people all composed the ethnic mix of the neighborhood. They made Frog Hollow.

This neighborhood is currently made up of parks, recreational facilities, mass transportation, schools, churches, good shopping, banks, restaurants, medical care Hartford Hospital and Trinity College (technically in the area called “Behind the Rocks”). Inexpensive housing and its close proximity to work, social services and Downtown are assets that continue to support and keep people in the area.

It is also a place where families live in turn of the 18th century tenements whose interiors are crumbling from disrepair. Most apartments are above store fronts are red brick walk-ups. Large amounts of the people who live in the Park Street area receive some type of public assistance. Fr. Donager said in 1982, “Park Street is an alive street, it’s a street with problems: problems with drugs, problems with crime, and problems with idleness. But it is also a street alive with good people.”  (Hartford Courant, “Park Street” Sept. 19, 1982)   Not so much has changed since then; Park Street with all of its social issues can be and is the beginning of a new life for immigrants and migrants alike.

Puerto Ricans settle

The Downtown redevelopment plan and the constitution plaza project had attempted to create urban renewal, but it displaced and pushed out the Puerto Ricans who had begun to settle in the South Green area.   Puerto Ricans like E. Caro understood what continuous movement meant amongst the Puerto Rican Community: “Park Street is the last Mohegan as far as Puerto Rican neighborhoods go in Hartford…our potential for developing political power is being destroyed by constantly moving neighborhoods.”  (South Side Neighborhood News, “Park Street Speaks About Its Future”,  June 2, 1982 volume IV, Issue 9) He understood that we needed to grow roots, and that we needed to claim an area and be productive citizens by educating our children, and running our own businesses and civic organizations.

Over the years Puerto Ricans set down roots and took over as the largest ethnic group in the Park Street area. They have lived with all previous immigrants and now live side by side with new immigrants from Mexico, Columbia and Somalia. There are still small pockets of Europeans, particularly Portuguese, but the area is more culturally diverse than ever.

La Park Street

“Park Street, it’s a jungle and it is a paradise. its a jungle because its a constant struggle to survive, and there are other things, beautiful women, children, you can see the kids running around playing.”

~Lenny Durio, member of Street Gang Nomads and Neighborhood resident in 1982, Hartford Courant Sept. 19, 1982

Park Street is considered the commercial spine of Frog Hollow. “Originally called Malt Lane, it derives its name from Barnard Park (the South Green) which in 1821 was the only park in Hartford.”(Hartford Architecture Conservancy News, September 1975, volume3. no.3 ) The commercial buildings on Park Street are small, resembling those in NYC. Many shops began as residences, but as the need for commercial services grew, storefronts were added. Most of the storefronts you see today were being built around the turn of the 18th century at street level with apartments above (Cubanitos Bakery, for example).

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Park was one of Hartford’s most desirable retail districts until the late 1950’s when the loss of nearby industry and the trend toward suburbanization sapped much of its vitality. In the past few years, there has been a renewed interest and revitalization of Park Street thanks to entrepreneurs of Latin American descent. That interest is symbolized by the colorful pastel cool island ethnic façades that are part of the Streetscape project sponsored by SAMA, the Spanish American Merchants Association.

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The factories in the neighborhood began to leave after WWII as a result, the worker population which filled the tenements off Park and patronized Park Street businesses looked for job opportunities and housing elsewhere.  The neighborhood then became available for new migrants to inhabit. In the early 1970’s due to Urban Renewal a stream of Puerto Ricans who had previously lived in Clay Arsenal and South Green began to move into Frog Hollow. The population spilled into Frog Hollow from the South and North of the City. By 1980 a large wave of Puerto Rican migrants took over “La Park”; most of the population was poor with little or no English language skills. Many people had nothing but the hope of someday having something, and they made the best of it. Some continue to work in minimum wage jobs, others receive their welfare checks, or do a little chiripas to make ends meet and raise their families the best way they know how. The spaces chosen in the Frog Hollow neighborhood are a direct reflection of that growth.