Categories: Everyday Life, Hartford, New Britain, Windham

A Turn-of-the-Century New Year’s Eve

Illumination of Old State House, Hartford, December 31, 1900
Illumination of Old State House, Hartford, December 31, 1900 – Connecticut Historical Society and Connecticut History Online

Hailed as the “Century Celebration,” the evening of December 31, 1900, saw revelry and reflection as individuals throughout the state welcomed the New Year. “The neighborhood of City Hall should be a lively place tonight,” predicted The Hartford Courant. And, indeed, the capital city’s festivities drew praise the next morning. The dramatic illumination of City Hall (which then occupied the former State House) received particularly glowing reports. More than 600 electric lights, of red, white, blue, and green, “hung in graceful lines” from the flagpole and “glistened over the edges of the roof.”

Above City Hall’s Main Street entrance, white lights traced out the year 1900, which upon the stroke of midnight changed to 1901. “It was the first time the building was ever illuminated in this way and everybody was pleased with what had been done,” crowed one observer. A 21-gun and cannon salute, a midnight parade, band music, and choral performances by a number of German singing societies, including the Sängerbund, rounded out the formal program.

A Time for Reflection, Hope, and More Revelry

In Hartford, as elsewhere around the state, religious observances also marked the year’s end. Write-ups before and after the holiday recounted in some detail the variety of Christian services held (but made no note of other religions’ gatherings). Catholics attended midnight Mass. Methodists, Swedish Lutherans, Baptists, and other Protestant denominations held watch night services. Some of these began at 8:00 pm and lasted past midnight, as those assembled listened to addresses and sermons, remembered the deceased, worshipped, and, sometimes, partook of light refreshments during an intermission in the proceedings.

Reports from Willimantic focused on the community’s hopes for the New Year. Noting that the past five had “not been particularly exhilarating,” in terms of business matters, the Courant’s reporter boasted that recent developments had given residents “every reason to believe that the old time prosperity” would soon return. The Willimantic Linen Company, founded in 1854 and newly a part of the American Thread Company, had finally brought its latest mill up to full capacity—with the prospect of adding on some 600 workers. There was even talk of local parties seeking a charter to build a trolley line through town. (In 1903 the Willimantic Traction Company would, in fact, open a line that took passengers to Baltic in nearby Sprague where they could catch a connecting trolley to Norwich.)

Not to be outdone by Hartford, New Britain treated itself to a “general noisy time.” Before midnight, a band of trumpeters stood poised on the outdoor balcony of the Hotel Russwin ready to salute the dawn of 1901. On the streets below, bonfires lit up the night at Franklin Square, Walnut Hill Park, and at the junction of Walnut, Arch, and Main Streets. “Bells in all the churches rang, whistles screamed and volleys from all sorts of firearms thundered in honor of the birth of a new century,” reported the Courant of the “boisterous,” but “on the whole orderly,” celebrations. Declared one writer, “the new century ought to feel proud.”

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Websites

“Hartford Saengerbund,” 2013. Link.
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