More than 4,000 Hartford men served in the Union Army and Navy during the Civil War, and nearly 400 of them died. To honor them, the city commissioned architect George Keller to design the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch in Bushnell Park. Dedicated on September 17, 1886, it is the first permanent triumphal arch in the U.S.
You'll notice from this postcard—which has the date November 22, 1908 penciled on its front—that the arch straddles a bridge over the Park River, which runs through Bushnell Park on its way to the Connecticut River. Fed up with frequent flooding of the park, the city channeled the river into a conduit and covered it in the early 1940s. That's why we now have the odd sight of a bridge that sticks a few feet out of solid ground.
At noontime on each Thursday in the summer, the Bushnell Park Foundation opens the towers of the Arch for free tours. The ashes of Keller and his wife, Mary, are interred in the east tower.
In 1987, the arch underwent a $1.5 million restoration. In the course of writing an essay for the rededication ceremonies, Hartford seventh-grader Airron Bethea did some research and came up with a list of the 128 African-American residents of the city who fought for the Union. Her list was put on a bronze plaque now affixed to the arch.