The Draw: History, art, culture and a true community.
The Vibe: Residential; urban, but with lots of green space; the hub of Black and West Indian culture
If you’re looking to explore one of Hartford’s most storied and proud neighborhoods—look no further than the North End. While the area is mainly residential, it is undoubtedly the place where you will find a thriving community made up of restaurants, organizations, and nonprofits that celebrate and nourish Black and West Indian culture.
Hartford’s North End comprises five key neighborhoods: Upper Albany, Clay Arsenal, North Meadows, the North East, and Blue Hills. Upper Albany and Clay Arsenal are adjacent to Hartford’s Downtown and are home to one of Hartford’s most undeniably famous performance spaces: The Artists Collective.
The Artists Collective was founded by Jackie McLean, a world-renowned alto saxophonist, composer, and educator (he also began the Hartt School’s African American Music Department, now known as the McLean Jazz Institute of Jazz). The Artists Collective is the only multi-arts organization of its kind, emphasizing the cultural and artistic contributions of the African Diaspora. On top of public performances and private events, the nonprofit provides year-round professional training in dance, music, drama, visual, and martial arts.
North Meadows is home to Riverside Park, one of four parks that are a part of Riverfront Recapture. Riverside Park is excellent for families looking to get out and explore some of the city’s green space—it has walking trails, a boathouse that can be used for public and private events, picnic tables and grills, and a playground. In the coming years, the riverwalk from Riverside Park will be extended further through the North End, connecting the park systems all the way to Windsor. Pro-tip on a fun way to get into Downtown with gorgeous views—start at the boathouse and walk or bike the trails up to Mortensen Riverfront Plaza.
North Meadows also holds the Xfinity Theater, which is the spot to see big names during the summer. Past performers have included Dave Matthews Band, Dead & Company, The Jonas Brothers, KISS, and the annual show, Farm Aid, featuring Willie Nelson and Neil Young. Long-time Hartford residents will tell you that the Xfinity Theater is actually called the Meadows—don’t argue with them. They’re right.
The North East and Blue Hills areas surround Keney Park, one of Hartford’s greatest assets. The park was established in 1896 and has 695 acres, 100 of which extend into the town of Windsor. It contains an 18-hole golf course, cricket fields, tennis courts, baseball fields, a swimming pool, basketball court, and playgrounds. It is also home to the Keney Park Sustainability Project, which provides hands-on training, education outreach, and community collaborations to help families become more self-sustainable and environmentally conscious.
We would be remiss not to mention Keney Park’s other great nonprofit—the Ebony Horsewomen Equestrian and Therapeutic Center. Founded in 1984 by Patricia Kelly, the Center strives to level the playing field for inner-city youth by providing access to the same opportunities, resources, equine-based programming, and equine-assisted therapy as their suburban counterparts. The organization has defied stereotypes and broken barriers with its work since its inception by improving the physical and psychological well-being of everyone—with or without disabilities—through the use of horses. Impressed? Yeah, us too. You can learn more about Patricia’s incredible work, her programming, and opportunities to get involved here.
Theater lovers can’t miss visiting the University of Hartford’s Mort and Irma Handel Performing Arts Center, part of the Hartt School. If you’re hoping to catch one of Broadway’s soon-to-be stars, check out the Hartt School’s performance calendar. The Center hosts performances in intimate black box theaters as well as a larger 100-seat space. The arts center also has five dance studios, where aspiring dancers can sign up for public classes through the Hartt Community Division.
It’s impossible to talk about the North End without talking about the food. Soul food? Check. Authentic Jamaican? Yup. Puerto Rican? You bet. Our favorites are below:
The last stop on our North End tour is one of its newest residents: The Swift Factory. The space is beautiful, featuring exposed brick, gorgeous original rafters, and historic artifacts that were found in the building when construction began. The Swift Factory is a work-from-home dream. If you’re searching for co-working space or private office space for rent, Swift is the place to start. They also offer loft kitchen incubator space for up-and-coming chefs, as well as for chefs who have a cottage license and sell food on their own.
The North End is full of hidden gems. Go explore and tag us on social to let us know what you find!