Just a few blocks away from the state capital and downtown Hartford sits Frog Hollow, a predominantly Latino neighborhood, home to about 10,000 of Hartford’s 125,000 residents. Decades of disinvestment poverty, and lack of opportunity in this once thriving industrial powerhouse, have taken a toll on the neighborhood.
Recognizing the opportunity to make significant change in a square block area, the Trust began a decade of deep investment in the north end of the neighborhood in 2003. We focused on both immediate needs and longer-term goals with a commitment to generating greater stability in the neighborhood by increasing community health and engagement, developing meaningful employment opportunities, and showcasing the neighborhood as a vibrant place for others to invest in and support. Our investments at Billings Forge and the surrounding area have resulted in:
- Over 100 renovated units of mixed income housing
- A year-round farmer’s market and community garden
- An award-winning farm-to-table restaurant
- A culinary training program
- A social enterprise kitchen and café, which serves as a catering and retail sales business for the community and beyond
- A home for local nonprofits and meeting space for the community
The Melville Trust’s Role
With local leadership and investment, we believe that Frog Hollow can again be a thriving neighborhood of opportunity.
In 2003, the Trust made its first investment in the Frog Hollow neighborhood, purchasing and renovating the historic Lyceum building.
Originally built in 1895 as a gym and community center for the waves of immigrants coming to work in Hartford’s booming factories, the stately brick building has also served as a box factory, a social club, and an ad agency.
Today it’s a hub of housing advocacy and community organizing, providing a home for nonprofits and meeting space for community members, and policy makers, and organizations concerned about affordable housing.
The Lyceum is managed by and the home of the Partnership for Strong Communities, the housing policy and advocacy nonprofit founded by the Trust in 1998.
Learn more about the Lyceum and how to book the space for an event
Billings Forge Apartments
In the early 19th century, the grand Billings Forge Complex was home to one of the most successful manufacturing sites in the state. First as a producer of firearms, then a producer of wrenches and other tools, Billings Forge was a thriving economic engine of the area. In the 1970’s Billings Forge was converted to 98 apartments. Approximately 50% of the apartments are subsidized by Section 8 housing vouchers.
In 2005 the Trust purchased the Billings Forge Complex and some neighboring houses and began rehabilitating and restoring these properties. From 2005-2011, we worked to improve the safety and quality of the 112 apartments and to ensure that they remain affordable residential units for the community.
In 2014, we entered into a partnership with Preservation for Affordable Housing (POAH), a national nonprofit, to leverage investment for capital improvements to the properties while ensuring that they remain affordable and resident services are available. If you visit Billings Forge today, you’ll notice a classically restored façade that meet historic preservation standards enclosing beautifully upgraded and modernized apartments.
Learn more about the partnership between the Trust and POAH
Billings Forge Community Works
After renovating the apartments, we began to focus on ways the Trust could foster community engagement and economic opportunity in the community. In 2007, we provided seed funding to establish the nonprofit Billings Forge Community Works. Based in the Billings Forge Complex, Billings Forge Community Works provides residents and the local Hartford community with dynamic programming centered around healthy food including:
The Kitchen: This cafe and bakery provides job training for local residents and a successful retail and catering business at Billings Forge and the Hartford Public Library. It’s also our go-to caterer and lunch spot!
The Garden: At the center of the complex sits a thriving organic community garden of raised beds and an edible classroom.
Youth: Continuing the focus on food and community, Billings Forge runs culinary arts, urban agriculture, and entrepreneurial skill-building for young people in the neighborhood.
Farmers Market: Every Thursday, Billings Forge hosts Hartford’s only year-round farmers market, bringing fresh and local food to the neighborhood.
Studio: The studio provides performance, event, and class space for the neighborhood.
Learn more about Billings Forge Community Works
In the hope of attracting residents from across Hartford to Frog Hollow, providing local workers jobs in their own communities, and stimulating much needed economic development in the area, the Trust launched the award-winning farm to table restaurant Firebox in 2007.
Located in the Billings Forge Complex, Firebox’s magic formula of serving hyper local food and drink and hiring local residents has paid off. Of the 40 staff members, about 25% are Frog Hollow natives. Firebox has won a slew of awards and accolades from foodies across the country, with reviews in Gourmet Magazine and The New York Times. All Firebox profits are cycled back to support the work of Billings Forge Community Works.
Learn more about Firebox
For more information
Please contact Cary Wheaton, Executive Director of Billings Forge Community Works: firstname.lastname@example.org