Old State House visit offers fresh produce, lots of history

This summer, state residents and visitors, friends and family will have the opportunity to soak up some history while doing a bit of produce shopping -- all the while participating in a tradition that dates to more than 350 years ago.

Now until Oct. 26, the 2012 Farmers' Market at Connecticut's Old State House, in Hartford, will operate Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The market is offered outdoors on the Old State House plaza; admission is free.

The Old State House Farmers' Market is considered the oldest such market in Connecticut, spokesman William Bevacqua said.

As the epicenter of the original Connecticut Colony, the General Court ordered on July 5, 1643, that a "weekly market" take place on Meeting House Square, where townspeople gathered to "learn the news, and exchange goods and services," including cattle.

The modern farmers' market has been in continuous operation at Connecticut's Old State House since 1978.

Nowadays, residents and visitors can explore what area farmers have to offer while helping the state's agricultural industry and economy, he said.

Bevacqua said that paired with the annual summer/fall market, a tour indoors at the Old State House makes for an educational and fun day-trip family destination.

"Where else in Connecticut (or the world for that matter) can you go to see an original Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington, a two-headed calf and Mark Twain's bicycle, all in the same place?

"For more than 375 years, the Old State House (initially built in 1636) and the land it sits on have been at the center of Connecticut's history and mythology. Our democracy was born here, some of the most historic events you've never heard about (and some you have) happened here.

"Folks who spend the day with us get to see a mixture of the inspiring, the unusual and the downright surprising, while learning a little bit about Connecticut's history, its government and what pulls us together as one big community.

"We offer guided and self-guided tours, and we feature a combination of beautifully restored historic rooms and an interactive multimedia exhibit spanning more than 10,000 square feet on the lower level (in addition to) the Farmers' Market three days a week" and hands-on activities for kids.

The building served as the Constitution State's original seat of government from 1796 to 1878.

Lectures and other special events also are planned throughout the summer. "America's Most Unpopular War: What Really Happened at the Hartford Convention of 1815, and Why" will be discussed on Tuesday, July 10, noon to 1 p.m. by historians Jack Chatfield and Wesley Horton. Noted author and television host Diane Smith will be the moderator.

Connecticut's Old State House will validate parking tickets from the State Street South Parking Garage (formerly the Constitution Plaza garage). The cost, after validating, is $5.

Connecticut's Old State House, 800 Main St., Hartford. Summer hours: July Fourth through Columbus Day, Oct. 8, Tuesday-Saturday 10 a.m.-5 p.m. (Open Monday-Friday all other times of the year.) $6, $3 ages 6-17 and seniors. 860-522-6766, www.ctoldstatehouse.org.