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Trinity College
Hartford, CT

Aerial Image from Trinity College.

Lithograph Available from History Gallery.

Widenmann Courtesy of the United States Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site.

Burges Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Founded as Washington College in 1823, Trinity College originally occupied a rural setting of approximately 14 acres on the outskirts of Hartford. Starting with two modest brownstone buildings, the campus soon grew to include a third structure in 1845 as part of the burgeoning "College Hill" district. The grounds were improved with tree plantings and natural features to emphasize the site's proximity to the adjacent Park River. Development of Bushnell Park in 1854 increased the extent of parkland in what was quickly becoming a dense, bustling center of commerce.

In 1872, Hartford became recognized as the sole capitol of Connecticut; no longer would legislative duties be split with New Haven. Lawmakers soon began searching for available land in the central areas of Hartford that could be acquired for building a capitol. Trustees of the college agreed to part with the land in exchange for $600,000 and soon made plans to relocate to another site within the city. For a brief period between 1872 and 1878, both the college and the State Capitol occupied the site as the latter was under construction.

Trinity College wrote to Frederick Law Olmsted seeking his advice on the suitability of various sites for campus development1. Olmsted's handwritten report of May 25th, 1872 considered ten different sites with respect to the views, soil health, and distance to city amenities. He immediately ruled out seven of them as being too small to support future growth -- or lacking "adequate security in respect to the future character of the neighborhood". As a Hartford native, Olmsted knew very well how quickly the city was expanding its industrial and multi-family housing developments. Neither land use would be desirable as a backdrop for the contemplative, focused grounds of Trinity College. Nor would the city's many public houses with their earned reputations for "hard drinking, brawling, and licentiousness".


Olmsted argued that the college could not easily fix these sources of "inconvenience, demoralization, and annoyance" for students and faculty and should instead focus on the three sites that would encourage "quiet, decorum, and good order present with reference to the formation of scholarly habits". He noted that the Blue Hills site , Rocky Hill site, and Thrall property could each be made into a suitable campus depending on which attributes mattered most:


"A choice between them must be made chiefly upon a judgment of the convenience of relations which would be had with the City and of the degree in which the character of the neighborhood of each is likely, under the influence which the location of the college will exert, to be indirectly auxiliary to its purposes."

Unfortunately, the trustees did not concur with Olmsted's analysis, choosing to move forward with none of his recommended locations.. They initially made their offer to purchase the Penfield Farm site on the north side of Park Street for $2,000 which was soundly rejected. Jacob Wiedenmann, an Olmsted protégé, was engaged to develop a study for the Prospect Hill site along Farmington Avenue. but the trustees did not decide to go forward with a proposal. They later followed up with a another offer for the 80-acre Summit Street site at $225,000 which was accepted2. The land was a wooded trap rock ridge far from the city center and surrounded by cheap boarding houses, a far cry from what Olmsted had recommended.

The college hired English architect William Burges to develop plans for the new campus buildings and quadrangle, but he did so without the benefit of visiting the grounds. Francis Hatch Kimball, a local architect, executed the design in the High Victorian Style to create the iconic "Long Walk" of Northam, Jarvis, and Seabury Halls. The other three sides of the quadrangle were never realized as Burges drew them due to lack of funds.


Olmsted again consulted on the grounds in 1875, this time with a focus on design development. His sketches for the campus show efforts at making the challenging terrain work for educational campus use. Creating roadways and paths through the exposed ledge and shallow rock required accurate topographical surveying to minimize the use of backbreaking labor to remove rock materials. In some locations, placement of fill soils over the rock created flatter landscapes better suited for passive recreation and other traditional campus needs. Additional studies in 1893 created a streetscape and entry node along Summit Street that is virtually identical to the landscape we experience today.

The Cultural Landscape Foundation has documented many aspects of the current landscape as part of its media gallery. Visitors who are not current students may wish to view these images to orient themselves with the campus before they visit.

Historic Plans & Images

Sketch Courtesy of the United States Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site.

Historic Photo Courtesy of the Library of Congress.


Project Data and Further Reading

Job # 601(1872-1898)

This site has LIMITED ACCESS for public visits due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Visitors should refer to current information provided by Trinity College on its
website for more information.

Scans of Original Plans and Documents

1: Library of Congress: Frederick Law Olmsted Papers (Trinity College)

2: CT Explored: Frederick Law Olmsted in Connecticut
3: TCLF: Trinity College Hartford, CT
4:The Hartford Board of Trade: Hartford as a Manufacturing, Business, and Commercial Center (1889)


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