A Place in America

April 7, 2011 § Leave a comment

We’re standing just about on the border between Hartford (behind us) and Wethersfield, Connecticut. The street ahead is Hartford Avenue, very close to its intersection with the Silas Deane Highway, a sort of “Miracle Mile” that’s loaded with shopping centers and fast food franchises. The overpass in the distance carries the Wilbur Cross Parkway, a major north-south route before the Interstate was built (and named in the optimistic days when a busy highway could be thought of as a “parkway”). I think the railroad tracks are a spur of the old Hartford and New Haven, although I’m not sure. In its heyday, Hartford was a major manufacturing center, and it’s possible this line ran a mile or so north of here to Samuel Colt’s firearms factory.

Just behind us and to the right, there is a building with a sign that says “Ukrainian Self Reliance” and just beyond that is a building called the Ukrainian National Home. Not too far away over the housetops you can catch a glimpse of a small, jewel-like Orthodox church with its gleaming onion domes. The neighborhood is now mostly Hispanic and African American, and the street (the Silas Deane Highway turns into Wethersfield Avenue close to here) is a long buffet of Spanish and Vietnamese restaurants mixed with Polish and other Central European delicatessens. Ahead of us and slightly to the left is the village of Old Wethersfield, its streets lined with well-preserved Colonial homes (the town was settled in 1634).

Sharply to our left is a muddy little dirt road with a sign that says it leads to the “Folly Brook Sluiceway Project.” For millennia, the Connecticut River ran very close to here, but in the late 17th century a massive ice jam diverted the main channel so it now runs about half a mile to the east of its original course. The area between us and the river is a maze of dikes and (apparently) sluiceways.

It’s a modest little spot, a place where no one stops and no one pays much attention. But it’s a place that has seen much of what America is–native Americans on the Connecticut, English colonists in the old town, immigrants from Russia and Central Europe in the late 19th century, folks from Puerto Rico and Colombia and Mexico today.

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