By William Pollock
Colt Park is a large public park located in the Sheldon/Charter Oak neighborhood of Hartford. The 60 acre park has been a fundamental part of Hartford’s culture, athletics and social events since 1906. The expansive park has seven baseball diamonds, two football fields, one soccer field, six tennis courts, and open spaces of grass. At the entrance of the park, there is a large statue in honor of Samuel Colt, and a small store that sells goods and items produced in Connecticut. For over a hundred years, the park has offered events ranging from weekly amateur baseball games to large-scale rock concerts. While the conditions and usage of the park have changed over the years, the basic goal of providing a public place for the community has remained. In recent decades, the park has been an excellent example of the growing Puerto Rican influence in Hartford. Click here to listen to Mayor Eddie Perez speak on how the Pueto Rican community utlized the park.
The park was originally the yard of Armsmear, Samuel Colt’s historic mansion located next to the Colt factory in Charter Oak. Samuel Colt created the mansion but passed away in 1962. His widow Elizabeth Hart Jarvis Colt controlled the grounds and the Colt Company from the mid 1860s until her death in 1905. The land that is now Colt Park originally connected the property of Armsmear to the Connecticut River. Before her death, Elizabeth Colt donated the land to the city of Hartford in memory of her husband and commissioned Theodore Wilth to design the park. Overlooking the original Colt factory, there is a large monument to Samuel Colt near the entrance to the Park. It shows a younger Colt carving a revolver as a sailor in front of a larger bronze sculpture of Colt as a grown man.
Since the park’s creation in 1906, baseball has been an important part of its identity; the original design of the park had a dozen baseball diamonds. Every summer for the past 103 years, the park has offered baseball games for adults and children. The baseball leagues have mirrored changes in the city’s identity over the decades. While the original teams were named after insurance companies and surrounding towns, more recent teams have Hispanic names. In 1979, the Puerto Rican community created the Ed Figueroa Little League that was named after the most successful Puerto Rican baseball pitcher of the era. In 1998, a monument to Roberto Clemente, another famous Puerto Rican baseball player, was erected in Colt Park. This longstanding facet of the park has helped legitimize Puerto Ricans and their cultural connection to the space.
While the Park has usually served as a place for large cultural events, recent years have once again shown the growth of Puerto Rican influence. Back in the 1930s, Colt Park had live music on the weekends with ten-cent entrance fees. In 1976, the Grateful Dead had a large concert in the Park and there was a crowd of over 20,000 people. Colt Park also became the destination of the annual Puerto Rican Parade, starting 1963. Quickly, the parade became an important venue for local political leaders. The parade in 1972 drew over 5,000 people and ended with short speeches from Maria Sanchez and other Puerto Rican government officials.During the parade, there have been both cultural displays and political motivation, as local leaders take advantage of the ethnic pride of the day. Beyond the Puerto Rican parade, there have also been live music concerts at the Park. In 1976, twenty bands from 5 Latino countries performed in front of 5,000 people.
In 1999, a man claimed to see an apparition of the Virgin Mary in the bark of a tree in Colt Park. The man was a Puerto Rican immigrant and quickly created a lot of regional attention as worshippers came from around the state to place candles and leave prayers. In less than a month, hundreds of people came to see the tree and a shelter was created around the tree to protect candles, mementos and notes. When the City Council ordered the shrine demolished because of safety risks, there was a large controversy over religious uses of public space and freedom of speech. Many say the city was insensitive in the demolition of the shrine. Today, the shrine still exists opposite the Hartford Courant building on the south side of the park.
Currently, the city is hoping to use some of the old Colt buildings located on the property to create a botanical garden. The garden would have restored historical buildings with a mixture of indoor and outdoor gardens that would be used for education and show.
 “First Spring Day in City Parks”, The Hartford Courant, April 18, 1906.
 “No Title”, The Hartford Courant, June 8, 1982.
 Yantz, Tom. “Ed Figueroa League Begins…But Something is Missing”, The Hartford Courant, June 24, 1979.
 Neyer, Constance. “Clemente Monument Going to Hartford”, The Hartford Courant, March 10, 1998.
 Hatsian, Kirk. “A Time When Coffe Cost 5 Cents” The Hartford Courant, June 25, 1993
 Giacomo, Carol. “Concert Called Most Peaceful”, The Hartford Courant, July 25, 1976.
 “5,000 March in Puerto Rican Parade”, The Hartford Courant, September 25, 1972.
 Giacomo, Carol. “5,000 at Latin Music Concerts”, The Hartford Courant, July 26, 1976.
 Renner, Gerard. “Priest Wary, Questions Motives of Man Who Publicized Apparition of Mary”, The Hartford Courant, September 15, 1999.
 Weiss, Eric M. “Shrine Supporters Feel Betrayed”, The Hartford Courant, October 16, 1999.