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Henry Barnard House

Hartford City, Hartford County, CT

The Henry Barnard House, a National Historic Landmark located at 118 Main Street, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1966. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [‡]


The Henry Barnard House is located in what was Hartford's most fashionable neighborhood during the nineteenth century. This house at 118 Main Street was built in 1807, four years before Henry Barnard was born there. It is a tall, three-story brick building with a gable roof. It has a five-bay front and a three-bay side, with a small arched window beneath the peak of the gable on each side. An Ionic-columned portico frames the front door and the only other decoration on this very plain structure is the simple cornice which emphasizes the roofline.

An addition, larger than the original house, was constructed to the rear of the house in the first decade of the twentieth century, when a religious order bought the property and opened a guest house there. Later another similarly designed large addition was built to the rear of the earlier wing. These two modern brick structures, used as dormitory facilities for the guest house dwarf the original house in size. They are very plain brick buildings, and in this congested neighborhood they almost appear, from Main Street, to be freestanding buildings behind the Barnard House. However, they are connected to the older house and passageways lead into the added wing from the first and second stories of the Barnard House.

The interior of the original Barnard House basically retains its simple central hall plan but has undergone some changes — partitioning and removal of dividing walls. On the first floor there is a central hall with parlors on each side, while the second and third stories contain a total of nine bedrooms. The passageways to the addition lead from the kitchen on the first floor and the stairway landing between the upper stories.


To the untiring efforts of Henry Barnard must be given much of the credit for the development of the American public school system. Almost single-handedly he formulated the public school systems of Connecticut and Rhode Island, which to a great extent served as models for the school systems of the entire country. America's public school system probably owes more to the labors of Horace Mann and Henry Barnard than to the efforts of any other individuals. Mann is the better known, but Barnard contributed almost as much. Through his practical work and his scholarly publications, Barnard stimulated the growth of the public school as an essential element of American democracy.

In 1811 Barnard was born in this three-story brick house at 118 Main Street in Hartford. He continued to live and work here for periods during much of his life and in 1900 he died in this house. Since then, the house has been owned by a religious order which constructed large dormitories to the rear of the original house and maintains it as a guest house [now St. Elizabeth House, a transitional living house plus day shelter and meals program held here].


Born on January 24, 1811, Barnard developed an early interest in education. He attended both public and private schools, and as a youth realized the advantages of each. In 1826 he entered Yale, where he won no scholastic honors but became adept at oratory. Barnard visited schools during his vacation in 1828 and 1829, and later published observations about them in the New England Review. Yale granted him his degree in 1830.

Following his graduation, Barnard chose a career that inadvertently thrust him into public education. Desiring to devote himself to public service after admission to the bar in 1835, he entered politics. In the latter part of 1835 and in 1836, he travelled to Europe, learning much about European educational practices. Returning to the United States, he won a seat in the Connecticut General Assembly in 1837, and was re-elected in 1838 and 1839. He strongly supported humanitarian legislation, including efforts to improve public education.

Barnard's sponsorship of a bill in 1838 to improve the supervision of schools resulted in his becoming a public educator. The bill provided for a state board of commissioners and a secretary. Upon the act's becoming law, Barnard reluctantly accepted the secretaryship after Dr. Thomas A. Gallaudet had turned it down. Upon assuming his $3-dollar-a-day job in 1838, Barnard exerted himself to stimulate the State to improve the public school system. He visited schools, spoke to groups, began and edited the Connecticut Common School Journal, and organized the first teacher's institute that met for more than just a few days. A Whig, the Democrats forced him out of office in 1842. They proclaimed that Barnard's accomplishments did not justify the money spent on the schools. While attempting to avoid politics and the bitterness of controversy, Barnard ceaselessly promoted his crusade. He claimed that by the end of his career to have spoken 1,500 times on education. Moreover, he wrote volumes of letters in behalf of his cause.

Barnard conceived of education as a vital factor in the development of the individual and as a necessity in a democracy. An individual's education was a life-long affair that enabled him to enjoy an even fuller life because of his constantly expanding knowledge and increasingly discerning insight. Democracy needed such individuals, resting as it did on the people. And if ignorance hobbled the public, what future faced the American republic?

If the Connecticut Democrats rejected Barnard's work, that was Rhode Island's gain, and that State immediately employed him. Between 1843 and 1849, Barnard startled the State into action. In 1845, for example, Rhode Island enacted a school law and established the Rhode Island Institute of Instruction, one of the first teachers' schools in the country. By the time of his resignation in 1849, Barnard had created a sound basis for the State's public school system.

Shortly after leaving Rhode Island, Connecticut, with the return of the Whigs to power, again enlisted Barnard's services. In August 1849, Connecticut selected him as its superintendent of public schools and named him head of the new normal school. He saw to the establishment of the normal school, which opened in May 1852, but then spent most of his time in behalf of the public schools. As in the past, he wrote and spoke to promote public education, and successfully spurred new beneficial legislation. He published two landmark works concerning public education, History of the Legislature of Connecticut Respecting Common School Down to 1838, and School Architecture, or Contributions to the Improvements of Schoolhouses in the United States. Both volumes were the first of their kinds, and each exerted widespread influence. When poor health forced his retirement in 1855, Barnard had accomplished a revolution in public education in Connecticut and Rhode Island.

Barnard, subsequent to his retirement in Connecticut in 1855, served in several positions elsewhere in the Nation. Renowned for his work in Connecticut and Rhode Island, he had already declined numerous other offers before accepting the Chancellorship of the University of Wisconsin in 1856. The position proved to be a little more than a nominal one, however, and he gave it up in 1860. In 1866-67, he served briefly as the president of St. John's College in Annapolis, Maryland, resigning from there in 1867 to become the first United States Commissioner for Education. Barnard's years in Washington were fairly unhappy, for the scholar could not cope with the politicians. He retired from his office on March 15, 1870.

Throughout his career, Barnard made a notable contribution to public education through his writings. His outstanding publication was the American Journal of Education, which he founded in 1855 and continued for a total of thirty-one volumes. Volumes appeared at irregular intervals, each containing over 800 pages, the last being published in 1882. Through the Journal, Barnard achieved his purpose of making available to the isolated teachers in America material concerning the history of education and educational practices and techniques. At his own expense, Barnard vastly expanded the horizon of the American teacher by means of his still valuable Journal. More an educational encyclopedia than a journal, the Journal was the source of the material that appeared in Barnard's Library of Education, a fifty-two volume work.

When Barnard died on July 5, 1900, America lost a man who had made a basic contribution to the welfare of each American and to the nation.


Anna L. Blair, Henry Barnard, School Administrator, (Minneapolis, 1938).

Ellwood P. Cubberley, Public Education in the United States, (Cambridge, Mass., 1947).

Dictionary of American Biography.

A. G. Good, A History of American Education, (2nd edition, New York, 1962).

Ralph C. Jenkins, Henry Barnard, (Hartford, Conn., 1937).

Rush Welter, Popular Education and Democratic Thought in America, (New York, 1962), 101-02.

‡ S. Sydney Bradford (1965) and Blanch Higgins Schroer, Landmark Review Project (1975), Henry Barnard House, Hartford, CT, nomination document, 1965 & 1975, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

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