Part 4: Building, Selling, and Shopping the Lines

Competing for Upper-Class Families

In the nearby community of Avon, a related but different strategy arose for attracting upper-class families. During the first half of the twentieth century, this sparsely populated farming community did not resemble the elite suburban school district that it would later become. Avon continued to rely on some one-room wooden schoolhouses (with one teacher instructing eight grade levels of students) as late as 1949, long after most other suburban towns had discontinued their use. Furthermore, Avon had no high school building of its own until 1958. Prior to its opening, students desiring to continue their secondary school education rode a bus to a neighboring district, where they attended high school based on a tuition arrangement between the towns. By several accounts, Avon’s public school system acted more as a deterrent than a magnet for suburbanization in the immediate postwar era. Clifford Floyd, an insurance accountant who moved from Hartford with his spouse and three young children to this suburb in 1952, explained, “We didn’t come to Avon because of the schools. We just thought it would be better to have a lot more land for the kids to play around in.”[1]

Both Avon’s demographics and its public education politics were rapidly transitioning during the 1950s. The former farming community now counted more than two-thirds of its resident workforce who commuted daily to jobs outside its borders, working as lawyers, teachers, insurance workers, and engineers in Hartford and other municipalities. Clashes arose between established farm families and newcomers from the city, who disagreed on topics ranging from barn odors to local governmental services. Through the first half of the twentieth century, Avon’s fiscally conservative town leaders had an historical aversion to borrowing funds. Also, the town’s refusal to accept school construction aid during the New Deal had delayed efforts to open their own high school. But by the postwar era, newcomers eventually persuaded the town to construct new elementary schools, paid for by bond issues and state aid.[2] Modern educational facilities soon opened near newly constructed suburban housing developments.

In 1960, Avon sought to leap ahead of its suburban competitors by launching two widely-publicized curricular innovations designed to attract more privileged families: gifted education and foreign language instruction. With barely 1,100 students in the entire school district, Avon town leaders proudly announced their “imaginative” step to introduce gifted education to selected students in its elementary schools, one of the first districts to do so in the entire state of Connecticut. At the high school level, Avon created foreign language laboratories—featuring Latin, French, Russian, and later Chinese and Japanese—with federal funding from the National Defense Education Act. School leaders organized “study and travel abroad” programs for selected students to visit France, Japan, and the Soviet Union. Both gifted education and optional foreign language instruction allowed Avon to offer a different curriculum for upper-class students and those from farm families. By 1965, Avon proudly noted that public and private schools in neighboring towns were now sending their students to participate in its rich curricular programs, a stark reversal from the days when the lack of a high school required Avon to bus its students in the opposite direction.[3]

Avon school officials and real estate agencies actively cooperated to promote their supercharged school district, which now surpassed the type of curricular offerings found in more established suburbs like West Hartford. In 1968, Avon hired a new school superintendent, who partnered with local real estate firms to market Avon’s public schools as a valuable commodity, included within the sales price of a private home.[4] Their strategy was successful. By the 1980s, real estate agents publicly observed that Avon had “become very prestigious” for corporate executives moving into the region “because of its schools” as well as recreational facilities and proximity to Hartford. Even during a down market in the early 1990s, Avon maintained the highest average home sales price in the sixteen towns covered by the Greater Hartford Association of Realtors. “I think Avon has always been considered one of the key executive towns,” reflected Charles Hartigan, the assistant manager of local real estate firm, “. . . and certainly the school system plays a big role in that.”[5]

  1. Alice Holmes Thompson, "Pine Grove School, Seventh District, Avon, Connecticut." The Lure of Litchfield Hills 13 (December 1956): 17-21; Clifford Floyd, interview with Jacqueline Katz, City-Suburb Oral History, Cities, Suburbs, and Schools Project, Trinity College, June 9, 2003.
  2. Mary-Frances Mackie, "Avon Grows as Living Place for Urban Workers," Hartford Times, October 15, 1956; Mary-Frances L. MacKie, Avon, Connecticut: An Historical Story (Canaan, NH: Phoenix Publishing for Avon Historical Society, 1988), pp. 254, 258.
  3. Avon Town Report, Board of Education Report by Superintendent John Deady, 1960, pp. 30-31; Avon Town Report, Report of the Avon Board of Education by Superintendent Francis Driscoll, 1965, pp. 39-43. Avon Board of Education. Education in Avon Moves Ahead. Undated, circa 1962; and Avon Public Schools. Avon Education Newsletter. Winter 1965, v2, n2, both in Board of Education file, Avon Historical Society, Avon Public Library.
  4. Dee Segel, "Chairwoman, Superintendent Prepare to Leave School System," Hartford Courant, June 25, 1992; Rosemary Brady, "Events Challenged 'Quiet' Reputation in Year of Growth," Hartford Courant, January 2, 1980; Superintendent Herb Pandiscio Memo to Real Estate Managers, Avon Public Schools, August 1992.
  5. "Price of Avon Address Includes Prestige," Hartford Courant, September 30 1984; "Avon: Homes Market Activity Begins to Show Gains in Avon, Valley," Hartford Courant, February 17, 1991, advertising supplement section J.

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