St. Peter’s School

180 Main Street • Hartford, CT • Hartford County

Historical Significance

As soon as refurbishing of the new church was completed, construction of a school was started. It was built on the largest area of land available at that time, to the rear of the church. The school was opened in the fall of 1860 with 200 students. The principal and the three laywomen who taught in the school had their salaries paid by the city of Hartford.

Photo: View southeast showing façade. (Tod Bryant)

Father Kelly was the first Catholic pastor in Connecticut to ask for and obtain recognition of a parochial school as part of a city school system, with public money paying the teachers' wages and the parish supplying the building free of charge. The students paid for their own books.

The South School Committee was glad to enter into such an agreement, realizing that it spared them expense in educating the children involved and that it relieved congestion in the public school on Wadsworth Street. St. Peter's parish school was incorporated into Hartford's city school system as the "Main Street" branch.

This arrangement continued until 1865 when bitter friction developed from the school's dual nature as a Catholic school in a city school system. The underlying cause of the crisis was a question of teacher personnel. All the original teachers at the "Main Street" school set up by Father Kelly had been Catholic. The district school committee of the city later began to fill vacancies in the staff with non-Catholics. By 1865, half of the teachers were such and the difficulty began when one of the teachers started each day with a prayer and reading from the King James Bible.

The school committee (now composed of mostly St. Peter parishioners) transferred her to another school; when she refused to go she was dismissed. A meeting of the voters of the district was called to vote and it was ordered by an immense majority that the committee should reinstate the teacher to St. Peter's school. The committee did not do so until compelled by a mandamus from the Superior on advice of the Supreme Court. The teacher completed her term, drew her salary, and read her King James Version of the Bible to an empty school room. The parents sent their children to other schools until teachers could be secured from the convent on Church Street.

Ground was broken for the new school at St. Peter's in October of 1913. Such a building had long been needed. The old school was regularly instructing more than 800 students a year, but was nevertheless a relic of the past. It was completely of wood inside, dangerous in case of fire. It had become a hodgepodge of additions and extensions yet it was still too small. Classes were still being held in the rear of the convent as they had been for years. And a class or two was even being held in the shed behind the old rectory. With demolition of the old rectory at 160 Main Street (1912) this shed was also razed.

The site of the shed would be the actual site of the new school. But even then the classes held in it moved to another shed attached to one of the stables in back of the new rectory, to await completion of the new school.

Whiton and McMahon were the architects of the new school, and T. R. Fox and Son were the builders. The cornerstone was laid May 3, 1914. This ceremony aroused great interest. Hartford has rarely witnessed a larger Catholic outpouring. A great parade preceded the actual cornerstone laying. Eighteen of Hartford's police led it off, resplendent in dress coats and white gloves.

Two thousand people followed in the parade, members of St. Peter's and other local parish societies and several fife and drum corps, some from outside the city. The line of march was from the corner of Ann and Chapel Streets, down Main Street to the new school.
Thousands of people lined the way to applaud.

The total cost of the school was $150,000. It was dedicated on December 2, 1914, and opened in February of 1915. The most noteworthy aspect of the new school was its fireproof nature. It was so advanced for its day that progress in fire safety has, up to today, demanded only one major alteration, the blocking in of a central stairwell. Unlike the old school, the only wood in the interior is in the door trimmings. It is of reinforced concrete from foundation to roof. A new composition type of flooring was used that serves as a non-conductor of both heat and cold.

This marbloid had been used in other structures in the city, but this was the first time that it had been put to use as the flooring of schoolrooms. The exterior is of brick, trimmed with Indiana limestone. All told, it had 20 classrooms on three floors and, on the top floor, a large auditorium. With completion of the new school, the old one was torn down. Only one section that attached to the rear of the church was left standing.

In subsequent years this part of the old school would serve many purposes, from janitor's quarters to offices for the parish Vincent De Paul Society. The school closed in June 2001.


"Parish History of St. Peter's Church, Hartford, CT." St. Peter's Church.
[ view source ]

"St. Peter's Parish."Archdiocese of Hartford.
[ view source ]

Notable Features of Building or Site

The school faces west onto Main Street. It has a center block with a peaked parapet surmounted by a cross. The main block is flanked by wings with flat parapets. The facade features rows of tall windows in limestone Gibbs surrounds, There is a central entrance in a Gothic arch flanked by stylized buttresses supporting a plain entablature surmounted by a cross.

Interrelationship of Building and Surroundings

The school sits to the southeast of St. Peter's Church on a paved urban lot at the convergence of Main Street and Wethersfield Avenue in the Frog Hollow neighborhood of Hartford. It is surrounded by multi-family housing and commercial buildings.

Additional Information

Date(s):  Built 1915
Style(s):  Colonial Revival
Historic Use:  School
Present Use:  Vacant
Architect:  Whiton and McMahon
Builder:  T. R. Fox and Son

Exterior visible from public road.
Interior accessible (during school hours).

Top ] [ Back ]