Springfield Armory, Hartford's Coltsville Have A New Superintendent

Apr 16, 2019

The Springfield Armory National Historic Site has a new leader. 

Kelly Fellner started April 1 as superintendent of both the Armory and what will become Coltsville National Historical Park in Hartford.

Fellner said she got her start in the park service right out of college.

Kelly Fellner, National Park Service: It was really a professor, as I was in my senior year, who gave me a flyer, and said, 'Hey, why don't you try this site? It's Women's Rights National Historic [Park] in New York.' And I was like, 'Well, I've never been to New York!'

I thought I was going to New York City, but it was the Finger Lakes. And it was a wonderful beginning of the story of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and the 1848 women's rights convention, and the fact that the National Park Service — which I didn't realize how much of the National Park Service was devoted to historic sites, that that was even a possibility for me.

So as I started to work there [for] a summer season, [I] considered being a high school history teacher, but started moving around to other parks — like Lowell, Massachusetts, and Lowell National Historical Park — I realized this was the best classroom for me.

Carrie Healy, NEPR: Have you been in the Northeast for most of your career? It spans 30 years.

Yeah, I really have been in the Northeast, which was a shock to many of my friends out West.

Most of my career has been in parks: the Longfellow House, Olmsted National Historic Site, and I spent 10 years at the Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area, which was a new and expanding park.

I also realized that one of my passions was to work in urban areas, and to help young kids who had no idea they lived next to national parks understand that they could have a career in those parks. So that was really an exciting part for me.

The Springfield Armory National Historic Site in Springfield, Massachusetts.
Credit National Park Service / Public domain
The former Colt factory's iconic "onion" dome in Hartford, part of what will become Coltsville National Historical Park.
Credit Madyson Frame / Connecticut Public Radio

Your latest urban area is now Springfield. But it's also as the superintendent in Hartford, Connecticut, at Coltsville, right? Is that an unusual position, to be split with two different parks?

Yeah, it's not as unusual anymore, as it used to be. We do have sites that superintendents are over — a couple of different sites, now. For here, it was a natural progression.

With Coltsville becoming authorized — we aren't totally established yet — but being authorized, we have the chance to not only tell the story here, but along the Connecticut River valley, of the armaments industry, of industry itself and the importance of that throughout the Connecticut River valley. So I'm excited to work with the community in Hartford, and to link those stories between here and there.

What has struck you as surprising and very interesting that you didn't come into already knowing?

Well, one, the staff, and how passionate they are. It didn't surprise me. I certainly had heard that. My predecessor — James Woolsey — he had really built a great relationship with a lot of community groups here. And that's another thing I'm excited about.

The thing that surprised me is sort of the outpouring of people reaching out to me, both here and in Hartford, to want to be involved, to want to help the communities understand that they have a national park in their backyard.

Is there anything that you have seen in the brief time that you've been here — stories you've heard from people who have toured — something about this place has just opened their eyes to something for the first time?

Our curator, Alex, and one of the park rangers did a presentation to a young group of recruits from Fort Devens who just popped in. There were about 20 of them. And Alex and Scott kind of scurried, and said, 'Well, we'll just throw a few things together.'

I went down to watch them, and they were showing these young recruits the entire history, leading them up to the types of weapons that they'll be responsible for using in the field, and being able to show them that this was a place for research and development.

They had their phones out, taking pictures, of course, probably tweeting about it. And that, to me, was really exciting to see. I didn't realize that that was one of our functions. But being able to continue what had been part of the history of the Armory — of being this research and development, of being this place of study — relates to our young soldiers today.