Marker honoring 'birthplace of public higher education in Connecticut' dedicated

Published on Friday, 13 September 2019 20:41
Written by Adam Hushin


NEW BRITAIN - The first addition to the city’s historical walking trail was unveiled on Friday morning with a plaque on Main Street commemorating “the birthplace of public higher education in Connecticut.”

The plaque was placed between Central Connecticut State University’s downtown campus and the police station, at the site where the Connecticut State Normal School originally stood.

The Normal School was constructed in 1849 in the building that was originally meant to be New Britain’s town hall.

The school eventually evolved into the CCSU we know today, but it began as Connecticut’s first public institution of higher learning.

CCSU President Zulma Toro reflected on the new marker.

“This marker represents more than the site of a former building, it represents New Britain,” Toro said. “This represents New Britain’s continued commitment to higher education.”

Connecticut State Colleges and Universities System President Mark Ojakian turned his reflection into goals for the future.

“As we reflect on the past, it’s also important to think about the future,” Ojakian said. He went on to explain that the plaque is now a permanent reminder of the future that he hopes for.

“We have an opportunity to do better, and every time I drive by this marker, I will be reminded to do better,” Ojakian said.

While the new plaque marks where higher education began in the state, it also honors the “diversity and inclusion” in the college.

In particular, the plaque further immortalizes Ebenezer D. Bassett, who enrolled at the Normal School in 1852 and became the first African-American to attend and graduate from a Connecticut public college.

After teaching for several years, Bassett went on to become the first African-American United States ambassador.

“His legacy is becoming much more well known,” Ojakian said.

The growing legacy of Bassett is due in part to organizations like the Ebenezer D. Bassett Memorialization Committee.

William Fothergill, chairman of the committee, described the unveiling as evidence that the city is continuing to invest in the ideas behind the Normal School.

Fothergill went on to express his thanks to Mayor Erin Stewart for her support.

“Whether it’s her alumni ties, she’s always been supportive,” Fothergill said. “She was there from day one.”

In fact, when Stewart first heard about Ebenezer Basset from an old New Britain High School classmate, she made a donation to the committee that day, and since then has been supportive of doing more.

“It’s been years in the making to honor Ebenezer Bassett,” Stewart said.

The social sciences hall at CCSU was renamed after Bassett less than a year ago.

“We honored him at CCSU, but asked how can we honor him in New Britain,” Stewart said.

While Stewart was walking through downtown New Britain with a few members of the Bassett Memorialization Committee, the idea to add a marker came up.

About a year and a half later the marker is now in place, Stewart said.

Both Stewart and Fothergill emphasized the role that Janet Woodruff played in making this happen.

Woodruff works in the CCSU Center for African-American Studies and is vice chair of the Bassett Memorialization Committee.

Woodruff expressed excitement for the project and what it means to both CCSU and the New Britain community.

“One hundred and seventy years later the connection between New Britain and Central continues,” Woodruff said. “It’s pretty terrific. It does the city proud.”

The marker is the first addition to the historic walking trail; all other markers have been in place since the trail was implemented.

This marker is part of the Gold Loop, also called the Downtown Loop, which features City Hall, Monuments of War, Central Park, and other stops.

There is also a Red Loop which explores Little Poland, and a Green Loop that takes a trip around Walnut Hill Park.

As for the quest to memorialize Ebenezer Bassett, the work is far from over. According to Fothergill, the next goal is to have Bassett acknowledged at the State Capitol, but the ultimate goal is farther reaching than that.

“Our project is much bigger than the State of Connecticut, he deserves recognition at an international level,” Fothergill said.

The Bassett Memorialization Committee is holding the Ebenezer D. Bassett Humanitarian Awards on Oct. 16 at 6 p.m. in Founders Hall at CCSU.

The ceremony is free and open to the public, and will recognize leaders who exemplify Bassett’s legacy.

Adam Hushin can be reached at 860-801-5046 or at

Posted in New Britain Herald, New Britain on Friday, 13 September 2019 20:41. Updated: Friday, 13 September 2019 20:43.