Historian Jeff Murray takes a look into West Hartford’s past to uncover some surprising information, stir up some memories, or reflect on how much life has changed – or hasn’t changed at all. Enjoy this week’s ‘From West Hartford’s Archives’ …
By Jeff Murray
The building in the foreground was the old North School, which had served the children of the north end of West Hartford along North Main Street. A much older schoolhouse had been near that site since 1745, but in 1884, the people in the district voted to tear it down and build the one pictured here. A few of the main timbers of the former building were used in the construction.
As the population swelled around Bishops Corner and along Albany Avenue, the North School handled the growth as best as it could. It was the site of prayer meetings, ice cream sales, the district library, and social clubs for many years. After WWI, it was the meeting place for the newly formed Parent-Teacher Association branch and the North End Community Club, both led by significant families in the neighborhood through the 1920s.
Between its construction and 1930, the schoolhouse had two additions built on both the north and south sides, making it a much longer facility. One of these additions was in the fall of 1913, the year this photo was taken. It’s possible that the photo was actually taken in anticipation of the addition.
By 1925, the town’s population was exploding. Much of the growth came from south of Bishops Corner on North Main Street or along Albany Avenue east. The town considered a replacement school, but with overcrowding and sanitary issues already a factor, a petition was circulated in 1930 to close down the school and just transport the 31 students to other schools, like the Beach Park School.
Ultimately, it was decided to instead completely renovate the building in 1931 – it was moved farther back from the street, placed on a concrete foundation, and the town moved to buy land nearby for a future elementary school. Unfortunately, it didn’t last long – the Great Depression led to decisions across town that tore into the education budget and West Hartford voted in May 1933 to close the school for good.
Of course, the building continued to be used. During WWII, an air raid siren was installed on the top of the empty building and it still was used for community meetings. As the land surrounding the school began to be developed into suburbs after the war though, it is no surprise that the school was renovated once again in 1951 and sold to J. Fergus Hunter as a residence. And it still is one! Numbered as 803 North Main Street, it is the red house in the middle of the bottom photo.
From a colonial school in the west division of Hartford to a renovated private residence, this house stands as one of the few hidden remains of this area of West Hartford.
Jeff Murray was born and raised in West Hartford and has been involved with the Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society since 2011 when he was a high school student and won the Meyer Prize for his essay on local history. Jeff routinely volunteers as local history researcher uncovering information for numerous museum programs such as the West Hartford House Tour and West Hartford Hauntings. Jeff works as a data analyst at Pratt & Whitney.
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