Horace Wells in Hartford

Horace Wells In Hartford

by Theresa MacNaughton, Community Engagement Associate

Interested in learning more about Horace Wells?  His legacy is evident throughout downtown Hartford (and just outside the downtown area).  If you are intrigued by the story of the man who inspired Ether Dome – who believed that anesthesia should “be free as the air we breathe” – here are a few places you can visit on a self-guided tour:

Bronze Commemorative Plaque Of Horace Wells

805 Main Street (Burger King), Hartford | MAP »

burgerking statueLooking for a fast-food lunch break before you begin your Horace Wells quest?  Then you may want to stop by Burger King on Main Street.  This bronze plaque created by Enoch S. Woods in honor of Horace Wells was erected in 1894 and placed at the site of his primary office location at 805 Main Street (formerly 180 ½ Main Street) to commemorate the discovery of anesthesia.  The plaque is divided into two sections: the upper portion features a profile of Wells. Upon his shoulder lies a wreath of laurel – a conventional symbol of renewal, honor and eternity.  A ribbon is tied at the center of the wreath.  The upper left corner is inscribed with Wells’ birth year – 1815; the year that Wells died – 1848 – appears in the upper right corner.  The wreath’s ribbon drapes over the bottom half of the tablet and is inscribed in script with the following:  “This tablet commemorating the 50th anniversary is placed by 250 dentists.”  The official dedication, surrounded by the ribbon, reads:  “To the memory of the dentist who on this spot, December 11, 1844, submitted to a surgical operation, discovered, demonstrated and proclaimed the blessings of anesthesia.”

Bronze Statue Of Horace Wells In Bushnell Park

Bushnell Park (East Section – Lily Pond), Hartford | MAP »

ED 27Take a walk over to beautiful Bushnell Park, and you’ll find a magnificent bronze statue memorializing Horace Wells near the Lily Pond.  The 8′ by 48″ by 41″ statue stands on a 98″ by 48″ by 48″ granite pedestal.  The statue was funded by the State of Connecticut and the City of Hartford for a cost of $10,000. The statue is three-dimensional and features Wells dressed in a cloak and holding a walking stick. Near his right foot lies a book on which “Anesthesia” is inscribed, a small box, and a scroll inscribed with the quote, “I was desirous that it should be as free as the air we breathe.”  Sculpted by Truman Howe Bartlett and cast in Paris by the Gruet Foundry in 1874, the statue was unveiled and dedicated on July 22, 1875.  The base is inscribed:


For information on attractions and activities at Bushnell Park, visit them online.

Life-Sized Posthumous Portrait Of Horace Wells

Wadsworth Atheneum, 600 Main Street, Hartford | MAP »

HORACEWELLSPAINTING1While this oil painted portrait (1899) is not currently on public display at the museum, it is interesting to note that it was created about 50 years after Horace Wells’ death.  Renowned Hartford artist Charles Nöel Flagg reportedly modeled the life-sized portrait (which measures 57” x 43”) after a daguerreotype and full-length silhouette of Wells, both of which were reputed to have been created by Wells himself. In his lifetime, Flagg painted 150 portraits of notable Connecticut individuals, including Mark Twain, James Wales Ball, Gideon Wells, Brigadier General Joseph Warren Revere (a descendent of Paul Revere), and Charles Dudley Warner.  

The painting of Wells was gifted to the Wadsworth Atheneum by the artist.  Photo courtesy of Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art

Carved Pew End At Trinity College Chapel

Trinity College, 300 Summit Street, Hartford | MAP »

pew_collageAs soon as you enter the Trinity College Chapel, you are greeted with row upon row of elaborately carved oak pew ends.  There are pews dedicated to Hartford notables, including Israel Putnam, former Trinity College President Remsen Ogilby, private family memorials, and other persons and events of historical importance.  The Horace Wells pew end was presented to the college by Dr. Frederick T. Murlless, Jr., President of the Horace Wells Club and a founder of the Newington Home for Crippled Children (which later became Newington Children’s Hospital) and unveiled at Trinity College Chapel in 1937.  Connecticut woodcarver J.G. Wiggins crafted the pew in a Gothic architectural style, which depicts an encircled profile of Wells, with his birth and death dates appearing on top of the border.  The three-dimensional carved finial gracing the top of the panel depicts the Roman God of medicine and healing, Aesculapius, who bears a staff in his right hand and a cloak draped over his right arm.  The figure on the arm rest is the patron saint of dentistry – St. Apollonia (who was boiled in oil and suffered the removal of all her teeth).  She holds the palm of martyrdom in one hand and a pair of forceps in the other. 

The chapel is open most days to visitors from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.  Contact Trinity Church Chapel for more information.

Tiffany Stained Glass Window At Center Church (First Church Of Christ)

675 Main Street (corner of Main and Gold), Hartford | MAP »

tiffany-window_fullThe Horace Wells Memorial Window at First Church of Christ (Center Church), also known as “Righteousness and Peace,” was created by Tiffany Studios in 1903.  The window was commissioned by Charles T. Wells, the only son of Horace and Elizabeth Wells, who were parishioners of the church.  The phrase “Mercy and truth are met together righteousness and peace have kissed each other” appear across the entire top portion of the stained glass window.  The inscription at the bottom of the window image reads “Neither shall there be any more pain for the former things are passed away.”  The base of the window bears the official dedication: “In memoriam Horace Wells the Discoverer of Anesthesia and his wife Elizabeth Wales Wells.”  The Tiffany window – comprised of several layers of glass, which provides a textural three-dimensional feel – was restored by the Church in 2002. The image depicts a medieval-style crowned figure seated on a throne, with a kneeling figure to the side holding a dove.   Dr. Wells is represented as the seated figure with symbolic emblems of righteousness, salvation, and mercy.  Wells’ wife, Elizabeth, is represented as the kneeling figure with symbolic emblems of truth, dedication and love. 

The Church will be open from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. September 17 and 24 and October 1.  An informal presentation on Horace Wells will be held from 12:15 p.m. to 12:45 p.m. and guides will be available to answer questions.  The Church will be open on Saturday, September 20 for Envisionfest (http://envisionfesthartford.com) from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m., where guides will be available to answer questions.  An informal presentation on Horace Wells will also be held at the church on Sunday, September 21 from 12 p.m. to 1 pm.  All events are free.  For groups of five or more, please call 860-249-5631 to make an appointment.  Metered parking is available on Gold Street.

Horace And Elizabeth Wells Stone Monument At Cedar Hill Cemetery

453 Fairfield Avenue, Hartford | MAP »

tombstone_collageHartford’s old North Burying Ground was the original site of Horace Wells’ grave.  Wells’ son chose to move the family burial plot to Cedar Hill Cemetery in 1908. Horace Wells now resides alongside other Hartford notables including actress Katharine Hepburn, Poet Wallace Stevens, Samuel Colt, and John Pierpont Morgan.  Sculptor Louis Porter was commissioned by Wells’ son to design the bronze relief tablets on the monument.  The relief on the face of the monument shows an angel suspended in mid-air, arms extended, and hands moving toward a reclining man.  Beneath this image reads the phrase “There shall be no pain.”  Carved into the back of the stone memorial is the dedication “Horace Wells, 1815-1848, Discoverer of Anesthesia.”  On either end of the monument are intricately designed pictorial reliefs which symbolically describe the effects of anesthesia.  The right relief, featuring a woman surrounded by stars and poppies as symbols of sleep, is inscribed with the phrase, “I sleep to awaken.”  The left relief, featuring a woman surrounded by sun radiating rays onto a vine of morning glories as symbols of alertness, is inscribed with the phrase, “I awaken to glory.”  In front of the monument lie three grave markers for Horace, Elizabeth and Charles Wells.

Cedar Hill Cemetery will be celebrating its 150th anniversary this fall.  “Beyond the Gates:  Cedar Hill Cemetery Celebrates 150 Years,” a Victorian-themed event featuring costumed dramatizations and musical performances, will be held on Saturday, September 13, 2014 from 10:00 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, visit Cedar Hill Cemetery  or call 860-956-3311.