Some names come up again and again in West Hartford -- Noah Webster, William H. Hall, Edward Morley, Florence Smith.
While Webster, the town's famous lexicographer, is most often recognized, what about Hall, Morley, Smith, or any of the other names that adorn the town's 15 schools?
In fact, West Hartford's school buildings were all named after famous locals -- the majority with a tie to education -- from the author of America's first dictionary and a world-renowned scientist to a beloved school guidance counselor and a well-regarded school board chairman.
It was the naming of William H. Hall High School in the 1920s that set the pattern. Hall, the first superintendent of schools and principal of the town's first high school, was given the honor when the town built what was at the time a state-of-the-art school building (now the town hall). Hall, who was also a noted historian, lived to place the cornerstone of the school that would bear his name.
Former Mayor Nan Glass, herself a local history buff, said there was no conscious decision to start naming schools in honor of famous locals.
"It has just evolved and become tradition," Glass said. "There's that sense that it is a great honor to have a school named after you. West Hartford has a lot of pride in the community and its people and I think it is out of respect for that -- for the locals -- that buildings were named that way." It wasn't always so.
The town's first schools in the early 1700s were named after their locations, like the North, Center and South schools. As the town grew in the early 1800s, more schools emerged, but the names were based primarily on their philosophy of teaching, or subject matter. Former town historian Nelson R. Burr noted in his 1976 book on West Hartford's history that some of these schools included the "Grammar School" which covered Latin, Greek, English, writing and geography, as well as the "School for Improvement," which focused on reading, writing, spelling, rhetoric, the use of the dictionary, English grammar, "and the usual manners and morals." It wasn't until the 1940s and '50s that a growing school enrollment led to the need for more schools, and names for them.
And it was at that time that society revered its teachers, said Janet T. Murphy, archivist at the Museum of West Hartford History at the Noah Webster House.
One such honor was bestowed upon Mary Louise Aiken, a guidance counselor at then-Sedgwick Junior High School, who was one of the few classroom teachers ever to give her name to a West Hartford public school. A north end elementary school was renamed following her death.
"It was a smaller town back then, more intimate, and they revered those people," Murphy said. Superintendents and others, she said, like Hall or Lloyd H. Bugbee, also stayed in the system for decades "and they did nice things like that to honor them. Now, you only name things after people if they donate a million dollars or two."
While the majority of school buildings are named after locals with some connection to education -- Frederick U. Conard was a school board chairman at the time the south end high school was built -- there are a few exceptions. Charter Oak School derives its name from the tree made famous in Hartford for protecting Connecticut's charter from the British. Similarly, King Philip Middle School is named after a Wampanoag Indian chief who battled with English settlers in the 1600s. West Hartford is not bucking a trend by choosing locals over more famous national heroes like John F. Kennedy or Martin Luther King, Glass said. The town had simply already built many of its school buildings -- and were closing some -- long before those men gained national recognition.
"Over time in West Hartford," she said, "the person gets lost but the name remains."
School namesakes and their history was respected and loved by them." An award is still given each year in Aiken's name at Sedgwick Middle School.
A history of the town's schools written in 1964, says the name Braeburn "is a most appropriate one for the school -- "brae" being Scottish for the slope adjacent to the spacious field on which the building stands, and "burn" for the brook which flows through the nearby woods."
Lloyd Harrison Bugbee
Articles from The Courant say Bugbee was "one of the best known and loved school superintendents" who served for 25 years as the town's second superintendent of schools beginning in 1922, and for five years previously as a high school principal. During his tenure, the school system grew from 1,315 students to 5,100.
Louise Day Duffy
A graduate of the old West Hartord High School in 1902, Louise Duffy taught at her alma mater from 1908 to 1912. A founder of the West Hartford League of Women Voters, Duffy was chosen in 1932 as delegate to the Democratic National convention and later served on the board of education from 1938 to 1948. She was a founder and president of Hall High School's first parent-teacher organization.
Edward W. Morley
Born in 1838, Morley moved to West Hartford at age 2 and spent his youth at his family's farm. But he is best known as a scientist whose experiments served as a building block of modern scientific theory. Morley collaborated with Albert A. Michelson in performing landmark experiments that determined that ether does not envelop earth and alter the speed of light -- experiments that paved the way for Albert Einstein's theory of relativity. He was also honored around the world for his discovery of the atomic weight of oxygen. He returned to West Hartford in 1907 upon retirement.
Florence E. Smith
The former Seymour School was renamed in 1948 in honor of Smith, who from 1926 to 1958 served as the school's principal. Smith, who previously taught classes in Hebron, Cromwell and New Haven, also served as a member of the board of education.
Whiting Lane School
The school and street are named after the Whiting family who were prominent members of the town in the mid-1800s. Emerson A. Whiting, a noted dairy farmer, served as a grand juror the night West Hartford organized its first government in 1854. His brother, Alfred Whiting, ran a nursery, the "Whiting Greenhouses," and was considered a pioneer in the florist profession in New England.
Eric G. Norfeldt
Norfeldt served for many years as a physical education teacher and coach at Hall High School, and in 1947 became the director of physical education for the school system. He died in 1957, and a school newsletter at the time remembered him as "the man who taught and inspired the true meaning of competitive athletics ... who advocated that playing the game fairly and squarely was more important than victory."
Henry A. Wolcott
In September 1957 the Wolcott School opened, named for the man whose estate was purchased as the site of the school. Wolcott was a resident of West Hartford from 1898 to 1941, and was a member of the board of education in addition to serving on many other boards and commissions.
Sedgwick Middle School
William Thompson Sedgwick
Sedgwick was born in West Hartford in 1855, and worked as a professor of biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology from 1883 until his death in 1921. A plaque at the school remembers Sedgwick as a "pioneer and influential leader in modern public health science," and as "a teacher, nationally known and beloved."
Conard High School
Frederick U. Conard
Known for his involvement in the community, Conard served for many years on the local board of education beginning in 1945 through the mid 1950s, and was chairman when the board approved plans to build the high school, a contentious issue at the time. A graduate of Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, N.J., he served as captain of the Army Engineers during World War I and held various executive posts in local industry, including as president of Pratt & Whitney Co. in West Hartford.
Publication year: 1998
Publication date: Jul 20, 1998
Dateline: WEST HARTFORD --
Section: TOWN NEWS
Publisher: Tribune Publishing Company LLC
Place of publication: Hartford, Conn.
Country of publication: United States
Publication subject: General Interest Periodicals--United States
Source type: Newspapers
Language of publication: English
Document type: BOX
ProQuest document ID: 256059081
Document URL: https://search.proquest.com/docview/256059081?accountid=46995
Copyright: (Copyright @ The Hartford Courant 1998)
Last updated: 2011-09-19
Database: Hartford Courant