The Last Wolf in Connecticut

I drove into work this morning behind a car with a bumper sticker for the West Hartford Wolves, a youth hockey team. Today we think of wolves and tough and brave, as noble symbols of wildness and of the wilderness. We now view wilderness itself as something rather rare and precious, good for the human the spirit. Three hundred years ago, people in Connecticut had a lot more direct experience with wolves and the wilderness such creatures inhabited. They considered both a threat to the fragile civilization that they were attempting to establish in the New World. By 1835, when John Warner Barber made this drawing, those days were past, and most of the state’s forests had been converted into farmland. It was less than sixty years since the American Revolution, however, and many old men and women still remembered those times. Some of the men would have fought with General Israel Putnam, one of Connecticut’s most distinguished war heroes. They would have known the story of how, as a young farmer, Putnam had killed the last wolf in Connecticut. Barber’s drawing shows and old man telling the story to two young boys, passing on the legend.

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.