PRIME TIME: School was named after principal, teacher

Published on Sunday, 15 September 2019 17:16
Written by Bob Montgomery

With an open house scheduled for Patterson Place, residential housing and the former Thomas H. Patterson School, planned for next month on Saturday, Oct. 12 between noon and 3 p.m., I thought that I’d provide a brief history of Patterson, written by David Greenleaf in 1976 for the “Builders of Bristol” series.

“Even before Bristol was incorporated under its present name in 1785, schools have operated here, and the very first was established on Federal Hill during the days of the French and Indian Wars. The Federal Hill School has played an important role in the development of Bristol and one man, above all others, has played a key role in supervising the growth of that school.

“It was in 1890 when the people of School District No. 1 sent out a call for a new principal. And they found a man of high reputation, Thomas H. Patterson.

“The 30-year-old Suffield native came to Bristol to a four-room school at the intersection of Maple and Queen Streets and quickly earned the respect of both his pupils and the school board. But after a year here, he decided to seek his fortune in the west and left the city.

“Fortunately for Bristol, Patterson’s business ventures did not prove to him to be rewarding as his 10 years of teaching had, and he returned to the Federal Hill School in 1892. His return marked the last search for a principal that the people of District No. 1 would ever have to undertake, because by the time he retired 50 years later, school consolidation had just been completed, and District 1, along with 13 districts, no longer existed.

“Thomas Patterson had earned many honors during his long tenure as principal, but the most notable came on June 29, 1982, when the people of District 1 voted to rename the Federal Hill School in his honor.

“When he came to Bristol in 1890, the Hill School, as it was commonly known, had 234 pupils and five teachers within a year after his arrival, and a new addition of two more rooms were added on to the building. By 1894 an entirely new building was built to the south side of the old wooden structure. The building, recently razed, had once been the most modern and best equipped school in the area.

“Even the most modern building, however, could not accommodate the increasing population of the hill area, and by 1914 it became necessary to tear down the old wooden structure and build an addition that brought the school up to its present day shape. Patterson served as a teacher, as well as principal. But his duties as principal soon moved him out of the classroom entirely.

“Patterson continued to serve as principal to the ripe old age of 81 when he retired in 1941. He often boasted of teaching the grandchildren to some of his earliest pupils.

“He was honored at his retirement by a reception in his honor, at which over 700 of his former pupils crowded into the Patterson School auditorium. One year later, on Sept. 6, 1942, he died at age 82. In his honor school superintendent Karl A. Reiche ordered schools closed at noon on opening day, Sept. 9, 1942.

“Most of Patterson’s life was devoted to his work with the school and the youth of Bristol. He was also an active member of the Congregational Church and superintendent of its Sunday School for many years. He served the Bristol Chapter of the American Red Cross as secretary from its founding in 1917 until his death. He was also an active member of the Bristol Teachers Association and at the time of his death was an honorary member of the Connecticut Association of Elementary School Principals.

Contact Bob Montgomery at or by calling 860-973-1808.

Posted in The Bristol Press, Bristol on Sunday, 15 September 2019 17:16. Updated: Sunday, 15 September 2019 17:18.