Categories: Business and Industry, Civil War, Civil War and Reconstruction, Disaster, Hartford, Samuel Colt, War and Defense

Colt Armory Burns – Today in History: February 4

Armory Fire
The Colt Armory after the fire on February 4, 1864
– Connecticut State Library, State Archives, PG 460, Colt Patent Fire Arms Manufacturing Company

On February 4, 1864, most of Colt’s East Armory burned to the ground. Located in Hartford on the Connecticut River, the Armory complex covered 260 acres and consisted of forge shops and foundries, Colt’s mansion Armsmear, 20 multifamily houses, and numerous outbuildings that supported the bustling factory.

At about 8:15 in the morning, workers discovered smoke coming from the attic. Workmen tried to extinguish the fire but could not, and the fire quickly spread to the roof. By 9:00 the Armory was completely engulfed in flame, and the dome over the main building—a gilded globe that supported a large statue of a rearing colt—crashed through the burning building. From the main building the fire spread to a covered bridge that connected the East Armory to the office. The fire destroyed both.

At the time, the factory employed about 900 men whose sole manufacture was pistols and revolving rifles. Speculation soon spread about the factory fire; because it took place at the height of the Civil War, some believed Confederate sympathizers started the blaze. However, no one ever discovered the real cause.

The fire caused almost $2 million in damages and killed one man. Elizabeth Colt, Samuel Colt’s widow (he died in 1862), opted to rebuild rather than close the factory. Designed by General William B. Franklin and completed in 1867, the new five-story brick building boasted a distinctive dome, similar to the original one that burned.

Today, the factory complex is known as Coltsville and contains many of the original 19th-century structures. The entire area was recently designated a National Historical Park.

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