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School History

Hartford Public High School has a long history that began in 1638. 
Learn more about the history of the school by clicking here.
Learn why it is called the second oldest secondary school by clicking here.

HARTFORD PUBLIC HIGH SCHOOL:
A HISTORIC SCHOOL

Steadfast in their belief that the settlement at Hartford would be an inspiration for all, a place for all humanity to look up to in their search for the Infinite, the English settlers under the leadership of Thomas Hooker established a school that would prepare their young men for the Puritan ministry.

This first school was most likely in the home of the Rev. Hooker, a scholarly man and noted theologian of his time. His home was somewhere along the present Prospect Street, which in the 1630's was a dirt lane between houses and farms. As Hartford grew from a simple farming community into a village, then a town, and finally a capital city, there would be many buildings and locations given to the school which today we call the Hartford Public High School.

Hartford was, in the 17th Century Puritan idea, a theocracy like Boston, a "city on a hill. " It would be a model Christian community. Education was a strong part of that concept. A pupil at the school was called a "scholar," and he would have to know Scripture, be well-trained in Latin, and have a good command of the English language in order to be prepared for the ministry. This is evident in the various names given to the school in the first century of its existence: Free School, Latin School, Free Grammar School, and finally Hartford Grammar School. It was a free school in the sense that it operated through endowments; the largest of which was provided for in the will of Edward Hopkins, dated March 7, 1657. The school also was supported by the rental of lands, for example that of Pennywise in Wethersfield, and also of lands purchased through the Hopkins will and located along stretches of the River from East Hartford to Haddam.

By the early 1800's, changes in the country brought about the need for different types of schools. Academies, for example, became popular, and schools such as the Hartford Female Seminary finally made the education of women a reality. Henry Barnard, a graduate of the Hartford Grammar School and the first U.S. Commissioner of Education, led a movement in Hartford for a "high school." This dream was finally realized by adding an English Course of Study to the Classical Course of the former Hartford Grammar School and naming the resulting institution the Hartford Public High School. Henry Barnard gave the opening address at the dedication ceremony on December 1, 1847. Women were admitted for the first time, but the school functioned with almost total separation of the sexes.

Hartford was proud of this school building. It represented the latest in school design with one spacious classroom on each floor. But this compact, modest wood frame building was quickly outgrown. A larger Neo-gothic brick building was built on the Asylum Hill site in 1869. Even this building had to be enlarged in 1877. By this time, the Hartford Public High School enjoyed a national reputation for excellence; it was one of the top secondary schools in the country.

This lovely building was destroyed by a spectacular fire in January, 1882. Very little was salvaged from the fire, but some records had been kept by the city and found their way into the archives of the Connecticut State Library. A few items were in the school safe, which survived the fire. But in spite of this setback, education in Hartford continued. The students received classes in the Batterson Building on Asylum Avenue, and soon work started on designing a new school.

Architect George Keller's greatest building was the school erected on the Asylum Hill site in 1883. Its facade faced Hopkins Street on the east toward the hill where the State Capitol building was newly erected. This imposing building was a school of the future in a sense, because it was a forerunner in terms of science facilities. It would have the famous Hall telescope and observatory, state-of-the art laboratories, and the remarkable gift of fossil collections, notably that of the famous dinosaur tracks which were donated by James Batterson. His daughter was a student in the new school at that time. The Hopkins Street building was enlarged in 1897 and quickly became a famous landmark with its two tall, elegant and steepled towers. A manual training building was added, and in 1914 the complex doubled in size with the erection of the Broad Street building where business and industrial courses were given. This immense educational complex, the pride of the city of Hartford, was demolished to make way for the new Interstate 84, the East-West Highway of the 1960's.

The Forest Street building opened in 1963 amid century-old trees on Forest Street in the former Nook Farm literary neighborhood. Thanks to the effort of loyal alumni, the observatory and telescope, statuary, and some architectural fragments of the Hopkins St. building were transported to the new site. Forest St. was thoughtfully lined with two rows of English columnar oaks to enhance the institutional flavor of the neighborhood. The Mark Twain, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Day houses received a new neighbor, but it was really an old friend whose history was intertwined with the history of their own families.

As the 1990's came to a close, the Forest St. building showed many signs of wear and a need for upgrading. Plans for a renovated building with a large addition were drawn up after the citizens of Hartford voted to fund the project in conjunction with additional state funds. The new plans called for a design that would bring back the feeling of the cherished Hopkins St. building. When the architect filed bankruptcy, the design had to be downsized. At present, the facade will have at least some vestiges of that design.

R. J. Luke Williams - November, 2002 - Top or Home

 


Second Oldest Secondary School Explained

Thomas Hooker’s Latin School (1638) evolved into the Hartford Grammar School in the 1700’s. During this period, it was the only secondary school in Hartford. It was exclusively for young men who were planning to attend college (i.e.,Yale) for the study of theology and preparation for the ministry.

The school was funded by several sources, one of which was the bequest of Governor Edward Hopkins, 1600-1657, who died in England after returning there from the colony of Connecticut.

There were movements to provide secondary education to girls in the first half of the 19th century; in addition, there was a desire to set up schools which would prepare young people for work in the growing business world of New England cities. The Boston Latin School, for example, was joined by the Boston English School in 1821. Academies appeared throughout New England and high schools began as well. For example, Middletown High School began in 1840.

The idea for a high school in Hartford was put into motion in 1839 when the First School Society voted to establish it. The efforts of Henry Barnard and Horace Bushnell resulted in the dedication of the Hartford Public High School on December 1, 1847. The Hartford Grammar School college preparation course was joined by the English course for those young people who were heading for the world of business and finance. This combination became the Hartford Public High School. The continuity among these various schools can be seen in their funding. A portion of the interest derived from the Hartford Grammar School fund was used until 1937 for part payment of the salary of the Hopkins Grammar School Master who would direct classical studies at the high school.

Thus, the Hartford Public High School did not begin as a "high school," but has always been a secondary school. The term "high school" came into being two hundred years after the school’s original Latin School established instruction on that level in the city of Hartford.

R.J. Luke Williams  - July, 2005 - Top or Home

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Hartford Public High School, Hartford, CT 06105

Last Updated:
03/10/2010

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