The Thomas S. O’Connell School was originally built in 1959. A new wing housing the specials area classes was completed in 1968. Located in the southeastern section of town, O’Connell Elementary School is named after Dr. Thomas O’Connell; a former teacher, physician, and community servant.
According to the book, Commemorative Biographical Record of Hartford County, CT written in 1901 and published by J.H. Beers & Co., Dr. O’Connell was born in Colchester in 1866 to Michael and Annie O’Connell. Michael had emigrated from Ireland in 1848 to Colchester, Connecticut. In 1854, he married Annie Smith after moving to Canada. He and his family returned to Connecticut in about 1865. Thomas, their fifth child and second son, was born in Colchester on December 15, 1866.
Thomas’s early education came courtesy of the Colchester Public Schools. Thomas then moved on to Bacon Academy, reputed to be one of Connecticut’s best high schools at that time. He graduated in 1885 and began teaching in the Colchester Public Schools. In 1889, however, Thomas gave up teaching to attend Baltimore College of Physicians fulfilling a dream to have a career in medicine. He graduated from medical school in 1892 near the top of his class.
In August 1892, Dr. O’Connell moved to East Hartford, Connecticut, to take over the care of some distant patients of Dr. McKnight. Dr. O’Connell was immediately successful and built his own large practice specializing in obstetrics. It has been said that Dr. O’Connell never billed his patients. Instead, he let them decide how much they could afford. This way he could ensure that his services were affordable to his patients. It shows a genuine caring for people which is part of the reason he was honored with a school bearing his name.
The energetic Dr. O’Connell did not limit himself or his service to the community to his role as doctor, however. By 1893, only a year after moving to East Hartford, Dr. O’Connell was voted a member of the Board of School Visitors. He would later lead this board as its chairman. Dr. O’Connell also served East Hartford as fire commissioner and worked for the Democratic Party.