Retired City Teacher Honored As Historian For Hartford Public High School
R.J. Luke Williams Receives City Citation For His Work
By VANESSA DE LA TORRE
April 16, 2013
HARTFORD — — The guardian of Hartford Public High School's 375-year history is not the famed brownstone owl that sits on a perch in the Forest Street building, perpetually gazing at staff and students.
It's R.J. Luke Williams, 70, the retired history teacher credited with preserving that Albert Entress owl sculpture and other school artifacts.
Williams was instrumental in opening Hartford Public High's museum and archive in 2007, saving dusty relics in the school basement and finding experts to restore fine art. As a volunteer, he remains the school's historian and archivist, opening the museum to visitors with an appointment.
On Tuesday, Williams received recognition from the city during a brief ceremony in the school's Lewis Fox Memorial Library Media Center, where an 1800s portrait of George Washington — another successful restoration project — seemed to preside over guests.
Board of education member Richard Wareing read the official citation signed by Mayor Pedro Segarra, noting Williams' preservation of school history and the city's "sincerest appreciation for all your hard work."
Williams, a West Hartford resident, taught at Hartford Public High for 35 years and said he made a point of teaching Hartford history in his classes. Some students, even 20 years later, have thanked him for it, he said.
Learning the history of one's city and school begets pride and respect for the community, said Williams, who retired in 2004. "Otherwise, it's just an assemblage of cold houses and street gangs and everything else."
Space for the museum was created during the school's 2005 to 2007 renovation. One of the prominent pieces is a human skeleton, circa 1900, from Hartford Public High's biology room in the former Hopkins Street building, which was demolished in the 1960s for the construction of I-84. The school moved to Forest Street in 1963, and by then, many pieces of history were lost, Wareing said.
But the trove that exists includes a brass Henry Crouch microscope; class photos from the 19th century; elegant academic and sports trophies; a silver tilting pitcher set from the class of 1893; and signed portraits from U.S. presidents, including Rutherford B. Hayes, who began his term in 1877.
Along with answering inquiries from descendents of long-ago Hartford graduates, searching for student records from their family's past, Williams also writes a newsletter for the Friends of the Hartford Public High School Museum & Archive group.
Recently, Williams has been assisting a new effort to save treasures at Weaver High School in the city's North End.
Ron Kehoe, a member of Hartford Public High's Class of 1957, said about seven alumni visit the museum about once a month to clean and catalog items. It was Kehoe who sought a city citation honoring Williams for his work.
The Rocky Hill resident was a student in those final years when the high school, with its steepled towers, loomed large on Hopkins and Broad streets.
"Luke brought all those memories here," Kehoe said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at