The State Normal School in New Britain was founded in 1849. It was the first training school for teachers in Connecticut and the sixth in the nation. According to David Nelson Camp’s History of New Britain (1889):
Proposals had been received by the trustees to locate the school in the city of Middletown, and in Farmington, Southington, and some other towns; and it was after the first of February, 1850, before the persons in New Britain interested in the enterprise were informed that their proposition would be accepted; but on the 15th of May, or in about three months, a building was prepared, and the school was opened. To make the necessary provision, the Educational Fund Company bought the town hall then in process of erection, made alterations to adapt it to the needs of the school, secured additional land, and erected a larger building.
The school was located in this building for the next three decades, except for a period, from 1867 to 1839, when the school was school was temporarily closed. As Camp further relates:
The General Assembly in 1881 appropriated seventy-five thousand dollars for a new building on condition that the town of New Britain would appropriate twenty-five thousand for the same purpose. The appropriation was made and the building was erected on a commanding site overlooking the city and the country to the east of New Britain. The new building is 126 feet in entire length by 85 feet in width, the foundations and underpinning being of Portland brown stone and the walls above of brick. The building is heated throughout by steam. It provides study, recitation, and other rooms for the Normal School, and school rooms for a part of the Model and Training Schools. It was opened and occupied in the autumn of 1883.
The building, overlooking Walnut Hill Park, was designed by Warren R. Briggs of Bridgeport. In the building was founded one of the first American kindergartens. The building was soon outgrown. An annex was built in 1891, primarily to add a gymnasium. At a hearing before the State Assembly’s Committee on Education in 1919, the school’s Principal, Marcus White, explained that:
I have a building that was built forty years ago and has not from the day of its completion been fit for teaching purposes. It has no cellar and our winter’s coal supply has to be dumped outside. The lighting is so bad that you have to carry a candle to find your way to some of the recitation rooms without falling upstairs. A New Britain manufacturer told me recently, after inspecting the plant, that if he made his help work in a place like that he would be arrested and ought to be. When the girls come to New Britain they have no place to live and engage in any social life. Some of those girls are living two together in small rooms, some of them sleeping two in a bed. We have no land surrounding the building. If a girl drops a piece of paper out of a window it falls on somebody else’s land. There is no room for tennis courts or any of those things that would enable us to develop a school which Connecticut girls could honestly want to attend. [quoted in the "Predicts Shortage of 500 Teachers," Hartford Courant, March 14, 1919]
In 1922, the school moved to a new campus on Stanley street and later developed into Central Connecticut State University. From 1925 to 1988, the old State Normal School building (27 Hillside Place) served as the New Britain Board of Education and School Administration Offices. In 1989-1991, the building was converted into condominium units.
At the corner of Arch Street and Grand Street in New Britain stands the old New Britain Armory, built in 1886 and designed by Robert Wakeman Hill of Waterbury. He used the same design for the armory in Norwalk. By 1986, when a notice in the New London Day announced that this former state armory was for sale by public bid, the building had left in a state of disrepair for a number of years. Most noticeably, it had lost its original domed top above the central tower. In 1992, the Greater Hartford Architecture Conservancy took control of the building and renovated it to become Armory Court (10 Grand Street), which contains low income housing.
Built circa 1860, the house at 51 Prospect Street in New Britain is notable for its stucco exterior. It was originally the home of George Swain, who ran a saloon on Main Street. The house was later home to Henry W. Felt and William F. Felt of Felt & Norton, dealers in dry goods and sewing machines. In the 1890s, it was the home and studio of Henry C. Foss, a music teacher.
With its prominent location on Franklin Square, New Britain’s First Lutheran Church has been a notable landmark since it was built in 1906. The church began as the Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Church, Maria, as described in David Nelson Camp’s History of New Britain (1889):
The first regular mission of the Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Church was established in New Britain in the latter part of 1877. The meetings were held in the chapel of the Methodist Church, the preaching services being conducted by Rev. J. Medlander of Portland, Conn., Rev. T. O. Linell of Rhode Island, and Rev. A. P. Monten of Philadelphia. Students from the Lutheran Seminary of the latter place occasionally visited New Britain and assisted in the services. In March, 1881, the congregation or church was organized. There were different preachers for the first few months, but Rev. O. A. Landell was installed as pastor soon after the organization of the church. In 1883-85, a small but convenient church edifice was erected at the corner of Elm and Chestnut streets. The corner-stone of this edifice was laid in July, 1883, and the church was dedicated March 8, 1885. The building is of wood with a belfry and a basement, which is used for Sunday-school and for other meetings. The main audience room, including gallery, has seating capacity for about six hundred. Rev. O. A. Landell was dismissed in 1836, and Rev. O. W. Form was installed pastor September 27,1887.
Rev. Sven Gustaf Ohman, who served as pastor from 1895 to 1922, oversaw construction of the church’s current grand edifice at 77 Franklin Square. A Gothic building of light Vermont granite, it was designed by New Britain architect William Cadwell and was inspired by Uppsala Cathedral in Sweden. In 1924, the church became known as the First Lutheran Church of New Britain. In 1974, the church merged with Reformation Lutheran Church in New Britain, which had been established in 1906, to become the First Lutheran Church of the Reformation.
The church‘s two towers were originally topped by tall spires, but these were removed in 1938 because of structural weakness. By the twenty-first century, deferred maintenance over the years had led to the towers starting to become separated from the main body of the church. The prospect of an extensive restoration, requiring that the towers be dismantled and rebuilt, led the church to consider tearing down the building and starting over. An innovative and less expensive solution was found using the Cintec System, which uses stainless steel anchors instead of masonry for tower stabilization. The restored church continues to be an important part of New Britain’s architectural heritage.
David Nelson Camp (1820-1916) was an educator and author who served as mayor of New Britain for two years and wrote a History of New Britain, published in 1889. He lived at 9 Camp Street, on land that had formerly been part of the Camp Farm (no known relation). In 1869 Camp constructed a building across the street, at 10 Camp Street, to serve as the New Britain Seminary (pdf). As he describes it in his history of the city:
In 1869, in response to a written request signed by a number of leading citizens, including several members of the Board of School Visitors, steps were taken for the establishment of the New Britain Seminary. A building was erected at the north end of Camp Street, designed primarily as a school for young ladies. Before it was opened, however, the applications from the parents of boys were so numerous that arrangements were also made for a boys’ department. The school was opened in April, 1870, under the charge of David N. Camp, principal, and Ellen R. Camp and Anna I. Smith, assistants. A primary department was added in the autumn, and for many years the school, kept as a boarding and day school, was full, having pupils from surrounding towns and from other States and countries, as well as from New Britain. Mr. Camp retired from the school in the autumn of 1881, and was succeeded by Lincoln A. Rogers, A.M. The seminary was continued under the charge of Mr. Rogers until the close of the summer term in 1885. In the autumn the building was occupied by departments of the model and practice schools connected with the State Normal School, and these schools have been continued in it.
Camp also mentions the Seminary in his memoir, David Nelson Camp: Recollections of a Long and Active Life (1917):
A written request signed by a number of the leading citizens of New Britain and followed by oral communications induced me to found the New Britain Seminary. Here my daughter Ellen and I taught for several years, but my health failing, I was eventually obliged to relinquish teaching. The school was continued for some years by Mr. Lincoln A. Rogers and my daughter. The plan at first contemplated only a school for young ladies, but the urgent request of parents and citizens led to modification of the arrangement of the building, and a department was opened for boys. The school was continued with marked success for several years, but the development of the model classes connected with the Normal School made it less important that this school should be continued, and it was closed. The rooms were used by the State for classes of the Model School until the annex built for them was completed and ready for occupancy.
The old Post Office building at 114 West Main Street in New Britain was built in 1910 and was in use until the mid-1970s. The Neoclassical structure was designed by Frank S. Watmaugh of Worcester, Mass.
William H. Cadwell (1863-1941) was New Britain’s leading architect in the nineteenth century. In 1890-1891, he designed and built his own house, at 130 West Main Street in New Britain, as a gift for his new bridge, Frances Hadley (1871-1958). The ornate Cadwell House is a Chateauesque residence constructed of yellow brick, limestone and Portland brownstone with terra cotta ornamentation and slate roofs. The house is now home to the law firm of Camp, Williams, and Richardson.