The Butler-McCook House is a sunny, yellow gem that stands proud in the middle of downtown Hartford, beckoning curious passersby to explore this Colonial structure, nestled among the modern-day buildings of Main Street.
Four generations of an extraordinary family lived here and watched the city transform from the American Revolution to the mid-20th century. Original furnishings and artifacts were left to Connecticut Landmarks, a non-profit network of nine historic museums across the state, making the house feel like a time capsule. Parents and children can wander into the War Room, filled with armor from the Middle Ages and Civil War maps, as well as a nook showcasing classic sports memorabilia, such as big-wheeled bikes and banners from Trinity College in the 1800s. Seeing these heirlooms enlightens a youngster and gives him wisdom about his place in the world.
"We all kind of need to know where we are and where we're from. And we need to make it fun because history really is about stories," says Sheryl Hack, executive director of Connecticut Landmarks, which is launching a season focused on children on Saturday, April 20, with a 3-hour walking tour starting at 9 a.m. from the gardens at the Butler-McCook House through the Coltsville section of the city, guided by historian Dave Carrier dressed as infamous industrialist Sam Colt.
"You may hate him, you may like him, but you will definitely have a strong opinion of who this guy really was," says Carrier, as he details the growth Hartford experienced after Colt built his firearms factory. Carrier is always struck by the insight he hears from children during these strolls: "Sometimes you just don't give kids enough credit for understanding things, and they can say the most amazing things to you."
A new membership program invites families to "travel through four centuries of Connecticut history" by visiting many of our state's fascinating properties, such as the Nathan Hale Homestead in Coventry and the Bellamy-Ferriday House & Garden in Bethlehem, which is holding a "Fairies & Wizards Festival" in early May. As opposed to a standard history class, Hack aims to make these lessons interactive and multi-sensory in a vibrant landscape, as boys and girls witness activities like cooking on a fire instead of an electric stove: "It's got to come from a kid's perspective and it's got to come from an understanding of what they'd be doing if they were living back then."
An expressive work of art at the Butler-McCook House, created by American sculptor John Rogers in the late 1800s, provides a particularly poignant moment for many kids. The tabletop statue, called "The Wounded Scout," shows a freed slave helping an injured soldier from the South walk to safety, a symbol of the human spirit. This profound image inspires yet another lesson from the past that could affect a child for a lifetime.