The first European settlements in the Connecticut River Basin were centered around Hartford in the 1630s. During the initial 100 years of development, the water and lands of the Connecticut River Valley provided a transportation route to the interior, as well as food and vast quantities of timber for shelter and fuel. Timber exploitation from 1700 to 1850 removed about three-fourths of the basin's forest cover. Following the timber-cutting era, cleared land was used for raising sheep and goats. The farm economy dwindled by the 1850s, and the land began to revert back to its forested condition.
The upper basin in New Hampshire and Vermont has retained a more rural character, although suburbanization is replacing traditional farm areas in some locations as the small northern towns expand. The 52-mile-long tidal section of the river in Connecticut between Long Island Sound and Hartford has traditionally supported shipbuilding and has been used as a major route for waterborne commerce, mostly petroleum products. Land use in this lower basin includes large-scale industrial and commercial development in Hartford. In the past, major industries in the Hartford area included woolen mills, paper mills, and machine tool factories. In recent decades, the economy of the lower basin has shifted from manufacturing toward a service economy. Beginning with the Hartford Fire Insurance Company in 1794, insurance has become a multibillion-dollar industry. Hartford has been deemed "the insurance capital of the world." The Connecticut River is not currently used as a public water supply in the state of Connecticut. Most of the Connecticut River water used by agriculture in the Connecticut River Valley is used to irrigate tobacco, vegetable crops, fruits, and nursery stock. In 1980, approximately 11,500 acres of the 33,922 acres of harvested cropland in Hartford County were irrigated with water from the Connecticut River or the Farmington River (a major tributary just north of Hartford) (USACE, 1981).
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