Hartford History is just under our feet


Email now to be notified about the date for the next walk: stephen.thornton1199@gmail.com

The Shoeleather History Project conducts walking tours of Hartford’s “history from below,”  the ordinary people who are the real makers of history.

As Howard Zinn said: ” History is not inevitably useful. It can bind us or free us.”

Currently, we are conducting the “Justice & Faith” tour.  It primarily focuses on Hartford’s first African American church, Talcott Street Congregational, and the extraordinary collection of abolitionists, writers, poets, and everyday heroes/heroines who were associated with it. Among the stories we explore are The Hero and the Fugitive, Center of Resistance and Power, The War Criminal and the Patriot, ABC of Freedom, Cinque, John Brown, & Frederick Douglass, and much more.

The East Side Tour covers the Front Street neighborhood and the Old State House Square on Central Row.  It includes Emma Goldman, James Connolly, Big Bill Haywood, John Brown, union organizer Rebecca Weiner, suffragist Josephine Bennett, Augustus Washington, Mary Townsend Seymour, artist Alton Tobey, Emmeline Pankhurst, and much more.

UConn students on the tour, reading from first-hand accounts of local history.

The Charter Oak Tour(Charter Oak Avenue to Huyshope Ave.) introduces Hartford’s boy genius and the golden boy, the Solidarity priest and the radical rabbi, the doctor who was a Puerto Rican revolutionary and the doctor who created the first WMD, struggles of women factory workers, tenants, the unemployed and homeless, Mark Twain, baseball and more.


HartBeat interns taking on historic Hartford personalities.

The Demimonde Tour is Union Place, site of the historic train station, the birthplace of the city’s counter culture, the garment workers strike of 1919, gypsies, tramps and thieves, and much more. This walk is under an hour; the others take place for 90 minutes (or so).

Lego international team (!) on the tour.
Urban semester students ready for the tour
Teaching and learning along the route.
District 1199 Union Training Fund students use the tour for summer school writing prompts.



Hartford middle school students training to be tour guides at the Ancient Burying Ground.

“If there’s a self-guided option available, I usually take it because I need to move at my own pace. Steve Thornton’s walking tours are an exception. He’s engaging, conversational, and though he’s knowledgeable, his stories are not delivered on autopilot. Go to his website and get on his email list to learn about upcoming tour dates.”



Re-imagining Union Place.
Ken K’s Trinity bike tour.
Justice & Faith tour, September 2022.


  1. Hey Steve – great web site, including article on John Brown! Do you do tours in the cold winter time? We still have not gotten together for lunch –
    Kenny Foscue

  2. I volunteer at the Unitarian Church in Westport in several capacities, and am a Girl Scout leader, and just discovered your tours despite working in Hartford for 11 years (left recently)! Thank you for your wonderful article about grassroots advocacy; I am familiar with, and participate with, some of the organizations mentioned, as well as others, and agree with indigenous community values of the community over self.

    1. Teryl- Thanks for the note! I’m glad you liked it, and I appreciate all your work in this important time. Feel free to pass the article on. I haven’t done many walks this year, of course. Maybe in the future you can bring the scouts up here and i can do a tour for them! Thanks again, Steve

  3. Greetings Steve, I hope you and yours are doing well. My tutoring reading classes are delayed. I have taught 6 classes on zoom. I have been doing meetings on 3 of the 5 committees I am on, via zoom. (At 72 & 3/4) I call myself the baby boomer zoomer. Although, the several tours (3) and lectures (5) that were requested and scheduled are delayed. As always, the research continues ! Thank goodness for the library and City Hall to be open ! I look forward to things getting back to normal. When they do, please add me to your list for notification of your upcoming events. As always, you may gmail me as I now have an gmail address. It is hartfordhistorylady@gmail.com Best regards to you and yours. Be well and take care. Wendy Pawlak (docent/tutor/advisor/teacher/consultant/tour guide/)

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