Blue Onion Dome

Symbol of Coltsville

Nestled among the gleaming skyscrapers of the Hartford skyline sits something...unexpected; A bright blue dome, dusted with stars and topped by a rearing colt on top of a globe. With a few interruptions this monument has been a part of the cityscape since 1855, it sits on top of what was Colt’s Patent Fire-Arms Manufacturing Company. The dome is a reminder of Samuel Colt, his factory, his family, and their contributions to the industry of precision manufacturing in Hartford and the world.

 
 

Important Information

  • The dome is not open to the public and the NPS is not conducting tours at this time due to safety, liability, and accessibility reasons
 

History of the Dome

Completed in 1855 Colt’s Patent Fire-Arms Manufacturing Company with its blue dome was eye-catching and that may have been a part of the decision to build such a landmark in Hartford, CT. Because of its distinctive design many people wonder where the inspiration came from. It is believed to have been designed by the architect Octavius Jordan in, or around 1855, and was inspired by Samuel's travels through Europe, specifically Russia, where he had been presented at the Court of Czar Nicholas I. Samuel was a businessman and the dome was a sure way to advertise his factory, himself and his connections to Russia.

 
Bronze toned Rampant Colt against a blue background
The Rampant Colt, which was on top of the dome from 1865 until the late 1980's. The statue is available to view at the Museum of Connecticut History in Hartford, CT.

Photo Credit: Museum of Connecticut History by Robert Benson

 

As early as 1831 Samuel was using his last name to his advantage and was using images of horses in his marketing and designs. The rampant colt on top of the dome easily identified the building with him, and since it rears on top of a golden globe it could be interpreted as Samuel seeing himself on top of the world.

For the next 9 years the dome topped the East Armory until February 1864 when, not two years after Sam’s early death, a fire started in the attic and burned the armory to the ground, taking the dome with it.

"Cracking and snapping, the flames shot through the openings they made with terrible fury; timbers fell here and there...At about nine o'clock, the dome over the main building, on which was the large gilded globe supporting a large colt...fell with a tremendous crash..."

The Hartford Courant, February 6th, 1864

 
Black and white photo of worker on the Onion Dome being held up by ropes. Another worker is climbing a ladder.
Worker refinishing Colt Dome in 1973.

Photo Credit: The Hartford Times Collection, The Hartford History Center, and The Hartford Public Library

Not one to be discouraged by tragedy, Elizabeth Hart Colt chose to rebuild the armory, including the dome with the rampant colt on top that had stood for so much of what her husband had worked for. Between 1865-1867 the East Armory rose from the foundation of the previous building, and once again the colt reared above Hartford. There is evidence that the rampant colt on the rebuilt dome was actually built in 1860 as an ornament for the Colt’s private gardens and was rehomed during the reconstruction.


Although some maintenance was done in the 1970's, after more than a century the dome was falling into disrepair, until the late 1980’s into the 1990’s when Water-Way Properties, the company who owned the property, began refurbishing the dome. As they removed the colt from the building the head fell off and it was decided that it wouldn't be able to be repaired. It was then sold to an art dealer from Litchfield who eventually sold the statue in 1995 to the Museum of CT History, where it is now on display along with other Colt memorabilia.

After the dome was redone, it was without the colt for a few years, until the early 2000’s when Robert Shure was hired to create a replica statue. The current sculpture is made of fiberglass and was modeled off the 1860 colt to be as exact as possible without taking a cast. Now, once again, the dome is whole and shines on in Hartford.

 

A Sketch of the Colt Dome with a Rampant Colt

 
A sketch of the Colt Onion Dome with Rampart Colt

Photo Credit: Connecticut State Library

Last updated: December 18, 2020

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

Coltsville National Historical Park
c/o Springfield Armory National Historic Site
One Armory Square, Suite 2

Springfield, MA 01105

Phone:

(860) 500-6078

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