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WEST HARTFORD West Hartford Statistics

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Like so many of Connecticut towns, West Hartford began life as a busy farming community — its woodlands and fields and streams providing a perfect setting for crops and livestock well into the late 19th century. But as the State’s capital city grew in size and sophistication, Hartford’s business leaders began building stately homes along the town’s eastern border along Prospect Avenue’s ridge, both for the view it offered of the city they were helping to grow and for its proximity to beautiful Elizabeth Park, designed in 1896 by distinguished landscape architects Frederick Law Olmsted and Sons and named for the wife of Charles H. Pond, who bequeathed the land to the City of Hartford.

As turn-of-the-century trolley lines made their way west, so did professionals and their families, first settling along Prospect Avenue, then north of Farmington Avenue and around Elizabeth Park — often in substantial brick Colonials, Tudors, and custom-designed homes that reflected their success. And over time, the development continued north on Bloomfield Avenue toward the University of Hartford and northwest into what is now called the Hartford Golf Club area. But West Hartford’s most robust development occurred following World War II, when the high-tech and insurance industries began to prosper in downtown Harford, creating a greater demand for new housing on the city fringes.

In the ’50s, the primary avenues — Albany, Asylum and Farmington — served as key commuter arteries. In the ’60s, major highways, such as I-91 North and South and I-84 East and West, made West Hartford highly accessible for families of more modest incomes. Likewise, road and related improvements farther west on Albany Avenue made land available for the subdivisions of ranch, split level, and smaller Colonial-style homes that soon encircled Bishops Corner. And along with those homes came businesses, turning Bishops corner into the commercial nexus of the late ’60s.

One of the first to locate there was The Crown Market, a kosher food landmark, which moved north to remain close to the Jewish population, then in the process of establishing a vibrant religious and residential community. Similarly, a segment of the Hartford’s north-end Irish community established a new neighborhood west of North Main Street in the ‘60s and ‘70s, when Northwest Catholic High School and St. Timothy’s Church and Elementary School were created.

Today, West Hartford continues to grow. But more importantly, it continues to renew itself, remaining every bit as desirable now as it was when those first mansions were going up along Prospect Avenue ridge. Indeed, with just over 64,000 residents, West Hartford has become an ethnically varied community in which some 66 different languages and dialects are spoken and a median home price of roughly $308,000 welcomes continued diversity. There are more than 30 places of worship. And through insightful planning, West Hartford has become home to a wide assortment of marketplaces.

Bishops Corner’s newest condos and apartments are now becoming occupied, and its commercial base continues to evolve, with almost every street welcoming either new businesses or exciting restoration and expansion. As Albany Avenue becomes Albany Turnpike — or Route 44 — and widens, it not only connects West Hartford to Avon but to Simsbury and Farmington, where impressive homes are perched along the western hilltops overlook Hartford, West Hartford, and the Farmington Valley, much like those first homes in West Hartford overlooked the city.

West of Bishops Corner, where North and South Main Streets intersect Farmington Avenue, is the geographical midpoint of the town — West Hartford Center. The Center, as it is commonly known, is the town’s principal retail district, the seat of the town government, and a favorite location for many community events. And with North Main leading north through Bishops Corner and Bloomfield to I-91, and South Main leading directly to I-84, it is ideally situated for such roles. In fact, despite having lost some of its longtime retail base to the malls and plazas sprouting up on the town’s fringes, the mid-nineties saw West Hartford Center leverage its small-scale architecture, pedestrian amenities, and convenient parking to not only reinvent but reassert itself, attracting some of the Hartford region’s most celebrated new restaurants and upscale clothiers, which, in turn, helped retain the older, well-established jewelers and other specialty shops.

Traveling west out of the Center, Farmington Avenue crosses Mountain Road, a major north-south artery, and becomes the most direct link to the town of Farmington. East of the Center, just beyond the town green, is Blue Back Square. Completed in 2008 and convenient to I-84 from South Main Street, Blue Back not only features 230,000 square feet of trendy retail, 60,000 square feet of offices, a major healthcare facility, a large market, 120 luxury condos, and a movie theater but is also poised to welcome a new hotel, adding an impressive dimension to what local media now refer to as “the region’s downtown.” The $30 million hotel, for which construction has just begun, is located Raymond Road, across from the West Hartford police station.

Heading further west along South Main, as well as Troutbrook Drive, contiguous to Blue Back Square, are two additional historic neighborhoods.

The first is the Park Road neighborhood, which extends a full 12 blocks west of the Hartford city line and retains much of its mid-1900s character. There is housing above some of the stores, along with many solid two- and three-family homes. And ethnic markets, affordable restaurants, longtime family businesses, and a host of corner taverns and saloons frequented loyally by local residents line the streets.

The second historic neighborhood is Elmwood Center, which links Quaker Lane South, New Park Avenue, and South Main Street to New Britain Avenue and Westfarms Mall. Here, the streets continue to weave tidy single and two-family homes into small neighborhoods — with a surge of renovation and redevelopment providing exciting new energy.
Of course, Elmwood’s main attraction continues to be food. And not fancy food. Just good, affordable food, with few meals priced over $20 and many priced as low as $10. And nearby, attracting artists and dancers, shoppers, fitness enthusiasts, and those with a weekly to-do list is a popular art supply super store, a storefront dance school that teaches students to fox trot and cha cha, two pharmacies and a convenience store, a bank, karate and Pilates studios, and an unobtrusive gas station.

Heading east from Elmwood is New Park Avenue, where specialized home products and design services have clustered, and New Britain Avenue, where a neighborhood of bustling Asian enterprises of all kinds have revived much of the old Shield Street Plaza.

Heading west leads to the Corbin’s Corner/Westfarms Mall section of town. Here, Conard High School, built in the late 1950s, and Rockledge Country Club, which is town-owned and open to the public — and which features a nice 18-hole golf course and a popular restaurant, are well-known landmarks. West of Conard and Rockledge are well-groomed neighborhoods anchored by several excellent elementary schools.

Just above Ridgewood Road are the Wood Pond and Woodridge Lake areas — once seasonal enclaves that have grown to become stylish waterfront addresses. And nearby, impressive town-owned swimming and skating facilities are complemented by Buena Vista Golf Course, a sweet 9-hole, par-32 setup that totals less than 2,000 yards.

Finally, on the town’s southwest fringe — situated mostly in Farmington but always identified with West Hartford — is Westfarms Mall itself, which was built in 1974. Sitting astride I-84, conveniently connected to the town’s main internal arteries and comprising more than 1.3 million square feet of stores and restaurants, Westfarms remains the granddaddy of regional retail centers.

Photographs by Lanny Nagler