The East Armory Complex

The East Armory is privately owned and not open to the public.
You are able to walk around the complex, but please be respectful of the businesses and residents.

 

American industrialist and gunsmith, Samuel Colt, established a successful business developing and creating firearms in Hartford, Connecticut. The Colt’s Patent Firearms Manufacturing Company, located along the Connecticut River, is easily identifiable in the city skyline by the Blue Onion Dome and the gilded Rampant Colt statue that sites atop the East Armory.

Samuel established his first business, the Patent Arms Manufacturing Company, in the industrial city of Paterson, New Jersey. Aside from Colt’s firearms, fabrics, paper, and steam locomotives were all built along the Great Falls of the Passaic River. Today this historic site is managed by the National Park Service as Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park.

Colt’s Patent Arms Manufacturing Company, based in the Colt Gun Mill, closed in September 1842 due to poor sales. Colt refused to give up on his dream of a successful firearm business and in 1851 he began purchasing land in Hartford’s South Meadows.

 
Workers standing outside a factory.
Employees outside of the factory in 1876

Photo Credit: Connecticut State Library

Designed by Colt, H.A.G. Pomeroy, and Elisha Root, the earliest armory buildings were completed in 1855. The East Armory was an exceptional building with large windows for natural light, a ventilation system, and gas lighting. The factory became the largest private armament factory in the world for a time. In the years following the company’s founding, Samuel Colt spent the majority of his time perfecting precision machinery, designing and producing new arms, and securing patents and battling infringements upon them. By 1857 workers in the factory produced 150 finished firearms a day!

 

With the onset of the Civil War in 1861, Colt’s business was booming. Samuel received contracts for his Model 1860 Army Revolver and 1860 Navy Revolver, among others, for the Union Army.

Only one year into the war, Samuel unexpectedly passed away on January 10th, 1862. Elizabeth Hart Jarvis Colt, his wife, gained controlling interest in the company and Samuel's close partner, Elisha K. Root, was selected as President of the company. For the next two years, they successfully navigated running a business during the war.

On February 4th, 1864, tragedy once again struck the Colt family. In the middle of the Civil War, when Colt was the nation’s largest producer of munitions, a fire broke out in one of the buildings. The fire quickly spread and within minutes entire floors were ablaze. Shortly after 9 a.m. the iconic Blue Onion Dome crashed to the ground as Elizabeth watched. The cause of the fire was never identified.

 
A group of men and children gathered in front of the remains of a factory destroyed by fire.
The remains of the Colt Factory Office

Photo Credit: Connecticut State Library




“Cracking and snapping, the flames shot through the openings they made with terrible fury; timbers fell here and there…the black smoke curled in the air and shot out in full volumes; and the powerful streams of water from the engines were but drops to parking in the red flame…”

The Hartford Courant, February 6th, 1864

 
Over half of the factory burned to the ground with damage estimated around 2 million dollars as reported by the Hartford Daily Courant at the time. Elizabeth having foresight, had taken out an insurance policy but it didn’t cover half of the cost to rebuild. Samuel, himself, had refused to buy insurance on the Armory, which was ironic given Hartford, even at the time, had numerous insurance agencies. Elizabeth oversaw the rebuilding of the factory honoring Samuel’s original design but adding an additional story and fireproof measures. Colt’s Patent Firearms Manufacturing Company persevered through misfortune and the Blue Onion Dome and the Rampant Colt once again rose above Harford.
 
A blue onion dome, with rampant colt stands out amongst a city skyline.
The Blue Dome is easily recognizable in the city skyline.

Photo Credit: NPS/Nick Caito

Standing out amongst the modern skyscrapers today is the Blue Onion Dome, topped with the Rampant Colt sitting on the East Armory. Samuel, inspired by his trips to Russia, reproduced the Onion Dome but added his own flair by adorning it with his trademark Rampant Colt, carrying a broken spear in its mouth with the other half of the spear on its front legs. Since completing the rebuild in 1867, the Blue Dome continues to be a treasured part of the Hartford skyline.

Used equally as a marketing tool and a call for recognition, the dome and the Rampant Colt statue remain a pivotal part of the Colt legacy. Even today, Hartford residents know the East Armory structure as “Colt’s Dome” or “Colt’s Factory,” effectively keeping the man, the myth, and the legend alive just as he likely hoped it would.
 

Today, the East Armory is owned by Colt Gateway LLC and is leased out as office space and apartments. Other buildings contain an art academy, the office of a United States Senator, a cafe, and software development company. Colt’s Patent Firearms Manufacturing Company, renamed Colt’s Manufacturing Company LLC, remains in business today, with the headquarters located in West Hartford.

In 1976 the East Armory was a designated as a contributing building to the Colt Industrial District. In 2008 the Coltsville Historic District was designated a National Historic Landmark District. In 2014 the United States Congress authorized the creation of the Coltsville National Historical Park.

 
An aerial photo of a factory along a river with houses on the other side of the river.
The East Armory Complex sometime after WWII.

Photo Credit: Connecticut State Library

Last updated: April 7, 2021

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

Coltsville National Historical Park
c/o Springfield Armory National Historic Site
One Armory Square, Suite 2

Springfield, MA 01105

Phone:

(860) 500-6078

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