Seeking Asylum


Detail of City of Hartford, color lithograph by John Bachmann, 1864. The Connecticut Historical Society, 1960.93.20. Asylum Avenue and Farmington Avenue are in the foreground, with the Asylum for the Deaf and Dumb and the City Reservoir at the left. The railroad station is in the right background.

What nationally famous Connecticut institution was once located near the junction of Farmington Avenue and Asylum Avenue? How many people notice the statue that stands in the little wedge-shaped green park at this busy intersection, and how many people know what it commemorates? In 1817, one of the first schools for the deaf was erected near this site. Known as the Connecticut Asylum for the Deaf and Dumb, it pioneered the use of American sign language. Asylum Avenue was then a very new road—the CHS has an 1802 manuscript map showing it as “the road now laid”—and it took its name from this institution. The word “asylum” in those days had none of the negative connotations that it acquired later. It suggested a place of refuge rather than a place of imprisonment. The monument was commissioned from local sculptor Frances Wadsworth in 1950 by the New England Gallaudet Association in commemoration of the asylum’s founder, Thomas Gallaudet. The monument depicts Alice Cogswell, the young girl who was Gallaudet’s first pupil. She is shown clutching a book and being supported by two enormous hands in the shape of the deaf-mute sign for “light.” Today the American School for the Deaf, as it is now known, continues to educate the deaf and hard-of-hearing at its spacious campus in West Hartford.

This week’s curiosities

Every week there are one or two items that, while I find them incredibly interesting, hardly warrant their own blog post. So this afternoon, with a few minutes to spare, I thought I’d share some of my recent finds.

Ms 76796: Marriage certificates were as necessary in the early 1800s as they are today.

What struck me, though, about Rev. Aaron Hunt and Hannah Sanford‘s marriage certificate was how small it is. At a mere two and a half inches long, this could easily have been lost over the past 200 years. Yet this unassuming vital record has survived.

Ms 77209: How great would it be if your rent did not increase at all over the course of 14 years? Mrs. Margaret (Williams) Green moved to Hartford in 1906 with her daughter, Lucy Green. Mrs. Green had been widowed for over 20 years. In Hartford she was near her brother, Job Williams, longtime principal of the American School for the Deaf.

In researching the Greens I learned that Lucy died in 1909. The next year, her sister Julia returned from Ceylon to live with her mother. Julia had actually been born in that country; her father, Dr. Samuel Fiske Green, served there for a number of years. Julia and Margaret moved to 264 Whitney Street in 1925. Margaret died in 1927 and Julia continued to live on Whitney Street until her own death in 1951. Bills from items the Greens purchased during their first year in the city may be found in another of our manuscript collections (Ms 99928).

Ms 77548: Want to try your hand at some magic? Take a look at the Catalogue of Fred D. Jewett‘s Magic Tricks as Performed by him in his Regined Sleight of Hand Entertainments. According to The Connecticut Catholic in 1891, Jewett, “has won a well deserved reputation in Hartford and vicinity for his achievements in the world of magic, has a remarkably fine collection of magical apparatus at his residence on High street.” The article continues to describe a visit to Jewett’s “den of mystery.”

Fred D. Jewett catalogs of magic tricks, 1890-1892, Ms 77548. Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT

The catalog lists 175 magic tricks, most with illustrations. Prices for the items range from the 50 cent Spinning of a Handkerchief on a Walking Stick to the $150 Thought Transfer and Wonderful Feats in Second Sight.

All of these collections, and many more, are available for research. Not sure what we have? Take a look at our online resources. Come visit!