Track 3: For Power or For Passage: Re-envisioning Historic Industrial and Transportation Infrastructure

General Abstract

3 - Re-visiting and re-using a ‘dark, satanic mill’: the Colt Patent Firearms Factory, Hartford, Connecticut

Tuesday, September 25
10:30 AM - 12:00 PM
Location: BNCC-106AD

This paper describes a previously undiscovered mechanical air supply and exhaust system, likely driven by steam-driven fans, found built into two industrial buildings that date from 1855. The structures housed as many as fifty hearths, cupolas, and steam-powered drop-hammers, yet contemporary visitors marveled at the indoor air quality. This discovery should foster re-thinking the nature and history of ventilation in American industrial buildings, which has been focused on plan form and natural ventilation, and encourage re-examination of building systems in remnant industrial structures.
At his Patent Firearms Factory, established on the west bank of the Connecticut River, Samuel Colt, an inveterate experimenter, pioneered accurate mass-production of gun parts, minimizing hand-finishing costs and permitting simple replacement of worn or damaged parts ¬̶ advances immediately attractive to the US Army and Congress. While we must regret the growth of firepower, the industrial methods perfected here were central to the late C19 growth of American industry, and of mass consumption of items like bicycles, typewriters, printing presses and lawn mowers, all produced in this same factory.
Colt, an imaginative innovator in business practices, was also an enlightened entrepreneur, providing, in Coltsville, adjacent to the factory, worker housing, a church, a school, and a park. They still serve the community. He was Mark Twain’s Connecticut Yankee.
After World War II, the Colt Company moved production off-site and demolished or sealed many structures, but maintained a few for storage. The site, and the surrounding urban area, languished.
Thanks to persistent efforts by the local community, developers, the town, the state and the National Park Service, Coltsville is now a National Historical Park that can showcase a fascinating C19 industrial site. Many challenges of reuse have already been met. Brownfield materials have been removed and two later multi-story armory buildings rehabilitated. Public use of the riverbank has been addressed.
The original forge and foundry, two long, single-story brownstone buildings, remain unused. The NPS recently assumed responsibility for them and, anticipating their possible re-use as a visitor center, commissioned an historic structure report. During the 2017 site survey, the author noticed brick patches on the inner brownstone faces of every alternate pier, typically two above head height and one around knee height. Probes revealed vertical flues behind them; early photographs showed no chimneys above them. The flues connect to 250-foot-long voids concealed in the entablatures. Air could not have exited such horizontal ducts without a powered draft. Steam power drove the drop-hammers in the forge. Archival evidence support the hypothesis that Colt used steam-powered fans to exhaust air from a central chimneystack.
Antiquated building support systems are often replaced in rehabilitation projects; at Coltsville the original ventilation features deserve to be preserved and highlighted.

Learning Objectives:

Christopher Tavener, B. Arch (The Cooper Union); R.A. (NY State); Leed AP

Architectural preservation consultant

Christopher Tavener, with an architectural degree from The Cooper Union and a prior background in history and anthropology, is an architectural preservation consultant, formerly at EYP Architecture and Engineering in Albany, N Y. His career has focused on the challenges of the stabilization and rehabilitation of government and educational buildings. He delights in integrating the historic, social, technical, and aesthetic underpinnings of a structure in the analysis of the problems and potential of clients’ buildings.


Send Email for Christopher Tavener

LaLuce Mitchell

Historical Architect
Flynn Battaglia Architects

LaLuce Mitchell is a Preservation Architect at Flynn Battaglia Architects in Buffalo. During college he interned in Buffalo and fell in love with its historic architecture. Recent restoration projects have included the Williamsville Water Mill in Williamsville, NY and the Richardson Olmsted Complex in Buffalo. He is a licensed architect in New York State. He was an APT Student Scholar in 2010 and is vice-chair for the 2018 APT conference. When he’s not out preserving old buildings, he enjoys eating the craziest, most interesting food he can find and taking roadtrips to explore little-known corners of the US and Canada.


Send Email for LaLuce Mitchell


3 - Re-visiting and re-using a ‘dark, satanic mill’: the Colt Patent Firearms Factory, Hartford, Connecticut

Attendees who have favorited this

Please enter your access key

The asset you are trying to access is locked. Please enter your access key to unlock.

Send Email for Re-visiting and re-using a ‘dark, satanic mill’: the Colt Patent Firearms Factory, Hartford, Connecticut