Part 2: Defining City and Suburban Lines

Suburban Growth without Annexation

Jack Dougherty

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Explore the Map: Connecticut Moves to the Suburbs, 1900-2010


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When the carving up of town borders finally ceased in 1920, the relatively small state of Connecticut had been subdivided into 169 local town governments. But not all were content with the contours of the political map. After West Hartford separated from Hartford in 1854, residents on both sides of the line debated whether to merge the former “West Division” back into the city. One annexation proposal arose in 1895, shortly after West Hartford began to emerge as a “streetcar suburb,” with the introduction of trolley lines that made downtown commuting much more feasible, and an economic boom in the construction of larger, more expensive homes. Annexation supporters focused on the high taxes and lack of services in West Hartford, particularly in the more affluent east side neighborhood that shared a border along Prospect Avenue with the city’s West End. But farmers living in the western half of West Hartford rallied to defeat this measure.[1]

Again in the 1920s, Hartford’s most prominent business leaders advanced proposals for annexation, with support from suburban allies. During their initial 1922 campaign, the Chamber focused primarily on annexing West Hartford’s east side neighborhood, home to some of the city’s wealthier businessmen. W.L. Mead, a former newspaper editor, outlined the Chamber’s argument that money which had been earned inside the city was unfairly moved across the border to suburbs that reaped its benefits, yet did not pay for Hartford’s infrastructure. When Connecticut collects taxes from Hartford businessmen who reside in West Hartford, the state redirects the city’s revenue to the suburbs. “By drawing an imaginary line,” Mead suggested, “this [tax revenue] would reach Hartford, where it morally belongs.” Mead believed that consolidation of the city and suburb was inevitable. “The best interests of Hartford and West Hartford are wrapped up in the greater city and the bringing together of the two towns under the same municipal government., it would seem, cannot be delayed infinitely,” he concluded.[2] But West Hartford political leaders, particularly those affiliated with the local Republican Party, sharply criticized the annexation plan. “The proposal originates with Hartford, not with West Hartford,” noted State Representative Huntington Meech, who added that it would be “a mighty good business proposition for the city, which would get a small area, thickly populated, well developed, with improvements all in.”[3] Meech and other West Hartford residents refused to hand over the wealthier and more established portion of their suburb, and they prevailed in a public referendum and in the state legislature.

Despite this initial defeat, the Hartford Chamber of Commerce launched a bolder campaign in 1925 to “bring West Hartford back home.” In response to past criticism that Hartford tried to steal away the wealthier east side of the suburb, the Chamber advanced its new proposal to annex the entire town—both developed neighborhoods and undeveloped farmland—into the city. Moreover, the Chamber submitted its annexation bill to the state legislature with the backing of twenty of the most prominent business leaders, including residents of both the city and the suburb. The “back home” campaign was backed by Louis Butler, president of Traveler’s Insurance and Samuel Store, president of Colt’s firearms manufacturing (two of the nation’s largest companies in their industries) and Samuel Ferguson, the president of Hartford Electric Light and also a West Hartford resident. The annexation bill also received a strong endorsement from the Hartford Courant, the Republican-leaning newspaper based in a heavily Democratic city. “The interest of both Hartford and West Hartford would be best served by a return of the situation prevailing prior to 1854 when West Hartford was set off from the city,” read the Courant editorial, noting that there was simply “no just ground for opposition to the bill” that the wisest and most experienced business leaders supported. Yet suburban leaders strongly disagreed and successfully blocked these annexation efforts. The Hartford-West Hartford boundary remained unchanged.[4]

Download the PDF file 1925 Hartford Chamber of Commerce on West Hartford Annexation Proposal.


Read excerpts from the Hartford Chamber of Commerce campaign to annex West Hartford in its January 1925 publication, scanned from the Connecticut State Library.[5]

Similar annexation debates rose—and fell—in other towns, sometimes motivated by suburban aspirations to improve local education by joining forces with more established city public school systems. In Newington, a rapidly growing streetcar suburb, located on Hartford’s southern border, annexation advocates sought to make a deal with a larger urban neighbor during the mid-1920s to gain better services at a lower property tax rate. While Newington’s center district briefly considered merging with Hartford, residents of the suburb’s western neighborhoods actively lobbied to be annexed by the adjacent City of New Britain. But neither of these proposals survived in the state legislature. By 1930, Newington’s population had doubled over the past decade to about 4,500 residents, but the town still lacked its own high school. That year, residents from the town’s Elm Hill and Maple Hill neighborhoods voted in favor of annexation with New Britain by a margin of 200 to 7. Some of these suburban families most likely already sent their children to high school in New Britain, with costs subsidized by a state grant for rural communities without high schools. New Britain was the home of Connecticut Normal School, the first teacher training college in the state. The proposed merger had benefits for both sides. Suburban Newington families would receive access to New Britain’s better school facilities, as well as fire and police protection, reportedly at a lower tax rate. In return, New Britain would benefit from millions of dollars in taxable property and also gain access to Newington’s station on the New Haven railroad line. In 1931, New Britain’s mayor arranged to negotiate the terms of a partial annexation with leaders from Newington and three other towns: Southington, Plainville, and Berlin. But suburban opponents to annexation killed the bill in the state legislature. In 1933, Newington’s Republican leaders finally agreed to build their own high school, and accepted federal Public Works Administration funds from the Roosevelt Administration to achieve this goal, rather than redraw their boundary line.[6]


  1. Elizabeth Sweetser Baxter, The Centennial History of Newington, Connecticut (Newington, CT: Lucy Robbins Welles Library, 1971); "Annexation Bill Rejected by House,” Hartford Courant, March 21, 1925, http://search.proquest.com/hnphartfordcourant/docview/553948362/abstract/1004F5FC89AB4EB7PQ/12?accountid=14405; “Annexation of Elm Hill Is Agitated: Petition Circulated to Secure Sentiment of Residents --Maple Hill May Be Included Newington,” Hartford Courant, May 15, 1927, http://search.proquest.com/hnphartfordcourant/docview/557364020/abstract/1004F5FC89AB4EB7PQ/16?accountid=14405; “Annexation Favored In Newington: Maple Hill and Elm Hill Residents Vote Approval of Plan to Join New Britain,” Hartford Courant, November 26, 1930, http://search.proquest.com/hnphartfordcourant/docview/557917194/abstract/1004F5FC89AB4EB7PQ/2?accountid=14405; “New Britain Takes First Step In Plan For Annexations: Mayor Authorized to Name Committee to Negotiate With Towns,” Hartford Courant, February 19, 1931, http://search.proquest.com/hnphartfordcourant/docview/557959785/abstract/1004F5FC89AB4EB7PQ/4?accountid=14405; “Newington Legislator Dead At 64: George W. Hanbury, in Assembly Since 1927,” Hartford Courant, April 1, 1933, http://search.proquest.com/hnphartfordcourant/docview/558278076/abstract/C53B3A30E2054013PQ/33?accountid=14405.
  2. “West Hartford’s Annexation Will Be Recommended,” Hartford Courant, August 8, 1922, http://search.proquest.com/hnphartfordcourant/docview/557093317/abstract/9EA85A45E6224EADPQ/3?accountid=14405.
  3. “Willing to Fight Ceding East Side of West Hartford: Representative Meech Would Accept Renomination by Republicans Expects Issue to Come up in Assembly Annual Loss of 5,000 in Taxes to Town Involved, He Says,” Hartford Courant, August 19, 1922, http://search.proquest.com/hnphartfordcourant/docview/557093626/abstract/9EA85A45E6224EADPQ/2?accountid=14405.
  4. The Chamber of Commerce, “Formal Steps For Bringing West Hartford ‘Back Home,’” Hartford 10, no. 4 (January 1925): 1, 4, 14.“Editorial: Hartford and West Hartford,” Hartford Courant, April 28, 1925, http://search.proquest.com/hnphartfordcourant/docview/553973807/abstract/9EA85A45E6224EADPQ/4?accountid=14405.
  5. The Chamber of Commerce, “Formal Steps For Bringing West Hartford ‘Back Home,’” Hartford 10, no. 4 (January 1925): 1, 4, 14.
  6. Elizabeth Sweetser Baxter, The Centennial History of Newington, Connecticut (Newington, CT: Lucy Robbins Welles Library, 1971); "Annexation Bill Rejected by House,” Hartford Courant, March 21, 1925, http://search.proquest.com/hnphartfordcourant/docview/553948362/abstract/1004F5FC89AB4EB7PQ/12?accountid=14405; “Annexation of Elm Hill Is Agitated: Petition Circulated to Secure Sentiment of Residents --Maple Hill May Be Included Newington,” Hartford Courant, May 15, 1927, http://search.proquest.com/hnphartfordcourant/docview/557364020/abstract/1004F5FC89AB4EB7PQ/16?accountid=14405; “Annexation Favored In Newington: Maple Hill and Elm Hill Residents Vote Approval of Plan to Join New Britain,” Hartford Courant, November 26, 1930, http://search.proquest.com/hnphartfordcourant/docview/557917194/abstract/1004F5FC89AB4EB7PQ/2?accountid=14405; “New Britain Takes First Step In Plan For Annexations: Mayor Authorized to Name Committee to Negotiate With Towns,” Hartford Courant, February 19, 1931, http://search.proquest.com/hnphartfordcourant/docview/557959785/abstract/1004F5FC89AB4EB7PQ/4?accountid=14405; “Newington Legislator Dead At 64: George W. Hanbury, in Assembly Since 1927,” Hartford Courant, April 1, 1933, http://search.proquest.com/hnphartfordcourant/docview/558278076/abstract/C53B3A30E2054013PQ/33?accountid=14405.