Sidebar HISTORY OF MIDDLETOWN

From its early settlement, Middletown’s history is recorded in its cultural landscape. Middletown was chosen for settlement by English colonists because of its favorable location on the alluvial plain of the Connecticut River valley. Later, this site would make Middletown a major port in the West Indies coasting trade. Early in the nineteenth century Middletown successfully made the transition from mercantilism to manufacturing; however, failure to procure a major trunkline on the railroads and a tradition of local investment, prevented the full exploitation of Middletown’s favorable location. With industrial expansion after the Civil War, Middletown became a prosperous, but relatively quiet and scenic city. Southern European immigration, the automobile and the aerospace industry significantly transformed twentieth-century Middletown life. These events, reflecting broad patterns of American history and specific local circumstances, define the nature of the Middletown community and the physical development of the city.

Middletown today is a small industrial city with a population of about forty thousand occupying a scenic site at the “big bend” in the lower Connecticut River. Approximately fifteen miles south of Hartford and thirty miles north of Long Island Sound, it is a regional center for the lower Connecticut River valley. The city encompasses an area of 42.9 square miles, and contains within its borders a rich diversity of geologic formation, urban and rural landscapes, and a great variety of building types and architectural styles.

Geography

Located at the southern terminus of a great Ice Age glacial lake, the northern part of Middletown includes part of the fertile alluvial valley of the Connecticut River. The downtown is located on a ridge of land which rises directly to the east of the river. To the west and south is a varied but gentle landscape, with good soil on top of a red sandstone. The western edge of the city lies at the eastern slope of a range of trap-rock outcropping. To the south, a range of hills run southwest to northeast and crosses the river at the Straits. The highly crystalline character of this formation gives southeastern Middletown (Maromas) a rugged and rocky character.

Native Americans

The earliest history of human occupation in the area is obscure. At the time of European settlement, the Native American population was relatively dense (approximately 6,000 to 7,000 in Connecticut). The Indian inhabitants of Middletown were Wampanoags or Wangunks, part of the Algonquin federation. Wampanoags controlled the central Connecticut area from Wethersfield to Middletown, as far east as East Hampton and west to Meriden. They were hunters and fishermen as well as horticulturists, with a principal crop of maize (corn). Each tribe tended to live within specific geographic areas, within which they moved about depending upon weather and food sources. When encamped, their houses were closely sited. It is believed that the dwellings were constructed of poles set in the ground, bent, fastened together at the top and covered with bark and reeds.

During the 1630’s European settlers encountered the chief of the Wampanoags, called Sowheag or Sequin by the English, in Wethersfield. Apparently, soon afterwards the tribe’s “seat of government” moved to Middletown. In 1639 Sowheag harbored a group of fugitive Pequots in Middletown who had participated in a raid against Wethersfield and was threatened with retribution by the General Court. However, this action apparently was never carried out.

Sowheag conveyed most of the land which was to become the Mattabessett township to Governor Haynes of Connecticut, before its settlement by the English. Little is known of the circumstances of this transaction. Full title was not completed until 1762 when the remaining tribal members relinquished their final claim, retaining right to a tract of land in Newfield (a strip which extended through Newfield to Sowheag’s former encampment on Indian Hill), where there was supposed to have been a tribal cemetery. The Wampanoags also maintained a reservation of three hundred acres in Chatham (Portland). By 1785, however, all of the tribe had departed the area, and their lands were disposed of soon thereafter.

I: EUROPEAN COLONIZATION: 1650 – 1750

Early European Settlement: 1650 – 1750

The broad plains of the Connecticut River were attractive to English settlers because of the clear and fertile land it provided for the grazing of livestock. Early colonists from Massachusetts had begun to settle in the upper Connecticut River valley in the 1630’s. William Holmes of the Plymouth Colony founded a trading post at Windsor in 1633, and in 1634 a settlement was established at Wethersfield. A fort was erected at Saybrook in 1635; in 1626 Thomas Hooker’s company arrived in Hartford; and in 1638 the New Haven Colony was established.

Perhaps due to the hostility of the Native American population, the General Court did not make plans for settlement in the lower river area until 1646. Nevertheless, probably as early as 1650, and certainly in 1651, there were a few English families established in residence in Mattabessett. The land grant of Mattabessett was a rectangle nine miles east to west and six miles north to south, which included the present towns of Middletown, Cromwell, Middlefield, Portland, East Hampton and a small part of Berlin. The two initial settlements at Mattabessett were at the present center of Middletown, and above the Little River at the Middletown “Upper Houses,” now the Upper Houses River Port Historic Area in Cromwell.

The settlement of Middletown followed a pattern typical in the Connecticut River valley: a street was laid out on the first rise of ground above the alluvial plain, and houses were grouped closely around it. The inhabitants, or proprietors of the town were granted “homelots” in the center of the town. Here also was the church and public buildings. As outlying fields were divided and surveyed, these were granted to the proprietors proportionate to their tax rate. This pattern of settlement had the initial effect of creating small, concentrated, villages at both Middletown and Upper Houses. In Middletown the chief street was Main Street, intersected by Washington Street, the highway leading west to Berlin. In the early years, the north end of the street predominated. The first meetinghouse was built in 1652 in the vicinity of St. John’s Square and houses were clustered around it. By 1670, a second meetinghouse was built further south on Main Street.

Early Middletown was an agricultural community, and the means of livelihood for the first settlers was subsistence farming. The earliest outlying lands divided among the inhabitants for farming were in the South Farms area. By 1700 settlement had begun at Middlefield, East Middletown (Portland) and Newfield, and by 1720 at Westfield. Eventually these outlying settlements were incorporated as separate parishes, and Middlefield and East Middletown broke away entirely.

Despite the importance of agriculture, there was some diversity of occupation in the community, as craft-and-trades people provided necessary services. In 1655, Thomas Miller contracted with the town to build a Mill “on the South part of the Pameacha River, three or four rods above where the Rivers meet in one” near the present site of Wilcox Crittendon Co. (234 South Main Street), and in 1663, George Durant was accepted as an inhabitant, providing that he agree to “do the town’s work of smithing” for at least four years. The brownstone quarries in East Middletown (Portland) were active by the 1650’s; production and sale of stone to outsiders was closely controlled by the town until 1783 when they were sold and operated commercially.

By 1654 the number of taxable persons in Middletown was thirty-one. By 1670, when a schedule was set for the division of remaining lands, fifty-two families were settled here. The “town” was a tightly knit and closely controlled community with authority vested in religious and political institutions, the Congregational Church and the town in which all proprietors were obliged to participate. The town functioned to some extent as a corporation, with the right to admit “partners” who shared responsibilities and privileges. For example, in 1653 the town voted that the inhabitants, being “few and having come together with the mutual approbation of one another, agree not to buy anyone’s full allotment without the consent of the town.” In 1684, the township was officially incorporated under the new state statutes, and its land holdings confirmed by the General Court.

The early years of settlement did not pass without some disturbances. In 1674, Philip, Sachem of the Wampanoags (based in southeastern Connecticut and Rhode Island), began a rebellion which erupted in an attack on Swansea, Massachusetts in 1675. The rebellion, which became known as King Phillip’s War, soon spread to other tribes in central Massachusetts and in the upper Connecticut Valley. Attacks in Deerfield and Northfield greatly alarmed the inhabitants of Hartford and the towns below, who sent men to the conflict and made preparations for local defense. Upon orders of the General Court for each town to “make such suitable places of defense as they are capable of”, a Middletown tradition says that three stone blockhouses were constructed near Long Hill, one of which probably survives in part as 30 Maple Shade Road. A joint Massachusetts-Connecticut campaign in 1676 to the Hadley and Narragansett areas fatally weakened the Indian forces, removing finally the threat of Native American resistance to European settlement.

II: VILLAGE TO SEAPORT: 1750 – 1820

Mercantilism

The transformation of the eighteenth-century New England economy from subsistence agriculture to commercial trade precipitated the change from “Puritan” to “Yankee” and in Middletown, from rural village to seaport. From the earliest days of settlement the Connecticut River had provided a local transportation route for goods and people; and there were at least two wharves on the river in Middletown in 1713-1714. In the eighteenth century, Connecticut became increasingly active in trade with the West Indies, especially St. Kitts, Martinique and St. Christopher, and with cities in other American colonies. Local produce, including grain, livestock and wood products, were traded for rum, molasses and sugar from the Indies, locally produced goods from other colonies and occasional English and French goods. This trade was served not by the large vessels used in the European trade, but by small sloops, ketches and schooners. Middletown, with its shallow harbor, was well suited to this type of vessel. These advantageous conditions and Middletown’s fertile hinterland made the city an important port. By 1756, the city had a population of 5664 including 218 Blacks, the largest in the colony. In 1795 Middletown was chosen as the official port of entry for the Connecticut River. Each ship carrying goods up the river was required to register at the Custom House and report its cargo listing (manifest), thus solidifying Middletown’s commercial prominence.

This new commercial base transformed the life of Middletown inhabitants, and gave to the town an increasingly prosperous urban character. Farmers produced a surplus of cash crops, rather than simply growing enough for their own families. Moreover, the economy became more diverse. In addition to the large landholders, merchants and ship-owners became leading citizens. Men who had amassed considerable wealth in trade, such as Elijah Hubbard and John Watkinson, built grand houses which were visible symbols of their status (70 Main Street, ca 1810). Other principal merchants were Richard Alsop, George and Thomson Phillips, Nehemiah Hubbard and General Comfort Sage. This mercantile elite was supported by a complex network of kinship and partnership. Many prominent eighteenth-century merchants came from the old, established, Congregationalist families; others, however, rose to positions of power from relative obscurity.

Artisans

Shipbuilding and shipping provided jobs for carpenters, seamen and producers of marine supplies. New wealth created demand for skilled craftsmen of all types and Middletown supported a thriving community of artisans, many of who became known throughout New England. Joiners and housewrights included Constant Kirkland (Charles Boardman House, 48 Main Street, 1735), Jonathan Yeomans (John Kent House, South Main Street, 1733, demolished), and Robert Robinson (General Mansfield House, 151 Main Street, 1807-1810). Notable silversmiths were Timothy Ward (1742-1767/68), Jonathan Otis (1723-1791), who moved to Middletown 1779, Joseph Kind (active 1770-1807), Samuel Buell (active late eighteenth century), and Connecticut’s only known woman silversmith, Minerva Dexter (b. 1785).

Middletown was also a colonial pewter center, largely through the influence of the Danforth family. Thomas Danforth II (1731-1782) trained with his father Thomas in Norwich and came to Middletown ca. 1754. Thomas Danforth II trained numerous Middletown pewterers, including his sons Joseph (1758-1788), William (1769-1820), Edward (1765-1830), and Thomas III (1777-1803). Thomas II also trained Samuel Hamlin (1746-1801), who later moved to Providence and became a noted pewterer there. The Danforths also were innovative in their business practices, and aggressively marketed their goods as “Yankee peddlers” throughout the colonies. A recent historian made the following comment about Joseph Danforth II:
“He trained more apprentices, including many members of his own family, than did any other pewterer, and they, in turn, went on to train still other generations. In my opinion, his total impact upon the trade, when fully assessed, makes him one of the most important figures in the overall history of American pewter.”

Other important Middletown pewterers were Jacob Eggleston (1773-1813) and Jacob Whitmore (1746-1825).

Also active were tinsmiths, goldsmiths, blacksmiths and a variety of skilled tradesmen. A number of artisans located their shops on the lower part of College Street, west of Main Street, in what has been termed an “artisan’s enclave”. Remaining today are the houses of Benjamin Henshaw (132 College Street, 1753), the house of Joseph Danforth (122-124 College Street, ca. 1787), and the shop of Thomas Danforth II (120 College Street, ca. 1759).

Social and Religious Organization

Blacks constituted a sizable proportion of the community, and the black population of 218 in 1756 was the third largest of any Connecticut town. Blacks had been residents in Middletown since 1661 when a few slaves from Barbados were sold at auction here. Ownership of slaves was not uncommon; however, rarely did one family own more than one or two slaves, and slave activity does not seem to have been prominent. By the late-eighteenth century, slavery was declining and by 1830 Connecticut’s emancipation laws had taken full effect in Middletown.

Economic changes in the mercantile era altered the previous social and religious uniformity of the town. Most important, the Puritan Congregational Church lost its overriding dominance. In the 1740s, an Episcopal Society of sixteen families was formed, and Christ Church, later Holy Trinity, was established in 1750. In 1741-42 the Strict Congregational Church (now the South Congregational Church) was organized in response to the revivalist spirit of the Great Awakening. The first services of this church were held at the residence of the Rev. Ebenezer Frothingham (74 Mill Street). A Methodist Church was organized in 1791, and the Baptist Church in 1795. The only church building surviving today from the eighteenth century in Middletown is the Fourth Meeting House of the First Ecclesiastical Society, built in 1799 (now 706-712 Main Street). Almost certainly a design of the important builder-architect Lavius Fillmore, this lovely Federal-style structure was moved to the north end of Main Street in 1873.

Middletown’s increasingly urban character was codified by the incorporation of the “mercantile part” of the town as the City of Middletown in 1795, a legal distinction between the town and City of Middletown which persisted until the 1960’s. The central section of the town had special legal standings, its own police and fire districts and other self-contained services. The Middletown Bank was founded in 1795, and the Middletown Library in 1797.

Growth of the City of Middletown

Middletown acquired a more urban appearance as Main Street and the waterfront were densely developed and populated. Early streets, including Center, Court Ferry and Green Streets, ran from Main Street east to the river. Here was a mix of small, closely sited houses and small shops; wharves and warehouses lined the river. An account of the city in 1819 reported that the dwelling houses, stores and shops were mostly two stories high and “are constructed in most cases of wood; a few and those more recently erected, are of brick.” Many of these streets now have been cleared by urban redevelopment projects. However, a few houses of this period survive on Washington, Ferry and Green Streets. High Street was laid out early, as were streets connecting it with Main Street: Parsonage (College Street), Court and William Streets. Houses on these streets west of Main Street were sited on larger parcels of land contributing to the more village-like character of this neighborhood in contrast to the area near the river.

For the first time, sufficient wealth enabled the building of gracious mansions in the center of town. Few survive today, the most well known being that of Captain Benjamin Williams (27 Washington Street, 1791-1797). Others, which have been destroyed, include the mansions of Jabez Hamlin on the southwest corner of Main and Washington Streets, whose gardens and orchards reached to the river, and Captain Michael Burnham’s Tavern on lower Washington Street, the first meeting place of St. John’s Lodge.

Middletown was acclaimed by visitors for the loveliness of its setting, the sophistication of its urban center, and its prosperous trade. It was aptly described by John Adams in his diary while on a trip through Connecticut for his health in 1771:
“Middletown is, I think, the most beautiful town of all. When I first came into the town, which was upon the top of a hill, there opened before me the most beautiful prospect of the river and the intervals and improvements on each side of it, and the mountains at about ten miles distant…. after riding in this enchanting meadow for sometime you come to another gate which lets you into the main body of the town, which is ornamented as in the meadow I just mentioned with fine rows of trees and appears to me as populous, as compact and polite as Hartford. I wish the Connecticut flowed through Braintree.”

George Washington, while on a tour of the New England states in 1789, visited in Middletown; and remarked in his diary that “While dinner was getting ready, I took a walk around the Town, from the heights of which the prospect is beautiful.”

As the city prospered, early roads leading to and from Middletown were expanded and improved. Saybrook Road, connecting to the center of town through the northern part of East Main Street, was incorporated in 1802 as part of the Middlesex Turnpike which ran from Saybrook to Wethersfield. Washington Street was part of the Middletown-Meriden Turnpike. South Main Street which ran along Warwick Street and approximately across Highland Avenue, bypassing the ravine of the Pameacha River, was the main road to Durham. The placement of these early turnpikes greatly influenced later development.

The outlying lands were developed as the center of town became more concentrated. As these areas were surveyed and distributed, the children of the original settlers moved to the “new fields” and began to develop separate communities. Upper Houses or North Middletown became a separate parish in 1703, East Middletown (Portland) in 1714, Middlefield in 1744, Middle Haddam in 1749 and Westfield in 1766. Of these, all but Westfield were to break completely away during the nineteenth century to form separate towns.

The center of Westfield, on Smith and Miner Streets, is an example of a relatively self-contained offshoot village. Other rural areas in Middletown reflect settlement by isolated farmsteads on large acreage. Most notable are the Long Hill District in southern Middletown, Newfield (especially Newfield Street), and the Farm Hill area. These areas experienced only gradual development until after World War II, when they became the prime focus of residential growth. Maromas, the “Great Tier of Lotts” in southeastern Middletown, still retained a largely rural character, with isolated farmhouses on barren, rocky soil.

American Revolution

The American Revolution provided the opportunity for Middletown citizens to exercise their grouping independence and sophistication. Middletown demonstrated its early support of resistance to Britain with its positive response to the “Association,” a non-import and non-export agreement established by the Continental Congress. A committee of seventeen men, organized to enforce the agreement, included many notable merchants, such as Matthew Talcott, Titus Homer, Philip Mortimer, Jehosephat Starr and George Phillips. Middletown participated in the first call to arms from Lexington, and the campaign against Canada. Prominent loyalists, who continued to support King George III, were quartered in Middletown, including the former Royal Governor William Franklin of New Jersey and the children of Benedict Arnold. The city contributed a number of leaders prominent in Connecticut affairs, most notably Titus Homer and Jabez Hamlin. Middletown also was important in the provisioning of the Continental armies. An old lead mine in Maromas, located in a ravine a short distance above the Narrows, was reopened, and under the management of Captain Samuel Russell, worked to full capacity.

Middletown shipowners and captains were active in privateering, the licensed capturing of British merchant ships for profit, as part of the American War effort. There were at least sixteen vessels engaged as privateers in Middletown. Nevertheless, because of the wartime disruption of maritime routes and the loss of traditional trading privileges with the ports of the British empire, mercantilism suffered during the Revolutionary period. The close of the Revolution brought some additional economic disruption in the 1780s as a consequence of restrictions and debts. Nevertheless, with the stability of a national government, commerce improved and Middletown remained a prosperous trading center until the Great Embargo and the War of 1812 which drastically curtailed the shipping industry.

III: BETWEEN THE WARS: EARLY MANUFACTURING: 1820-1850

In post-Revolutionary Middletown, the first tentative steps were taken toward the establishment of an industrial society. Although mills were not unknown in eighteenth-century Middletown, they were confined primarily to supplementing other processes largely done by a hand. Thus, fulling mills (to finish cloth), gristmills, and sawmills were common. During the nineteenth century, however, the harnessing of water and steam power for the manufacture of commercial goods was to transform the nature of work, the shape of the city, and the social order of the community.

From Mercantilism to Manufacturing

The first shifts toward an industrial society in Middletown were prompted by the decline of the West Indies trade. Increased cost, devaluation of currency, and fluctuation in agricultural prices began to make the shipping trade less profitable. The Great Embargo and the War of 1812 further disrupted commercial activity. Moreover, the use of larger sailing ships made Middletown less suitable as a seaport.

In response to these conditions, many Middletown merchants recognized the need to diversify their interests. They joined together in partnerships to share capital and risks for investment in small-scale manufacturing. A representative local example of the successful transition from mercantile activities to investment in manufacturing is found in the development of the Russell Manufacturing Company. Samuel Russell’s phenomenal success in the China trade at the turn of the century made him the wealthiest citizen in Middletown. He entered manufacturing in 1834, when he joined with Samuel D. Hubbard to form the Russell Manufacturing Company. They constructed a factory building for the production of textiles on the lower Pameacha River in South Farms. Russell’s transition of interest from shipping to industry was very near unsuccessful as the business almost failed in the Panic of 1837. In that year, however, Samuel Hubbard’s nephew, Henry G. Hubbard, took control of the company. H.G. Hubbard was familiar with manufacturing processes and industrial finance. He developed and instituted a method for producing elastic webbing on power looms (believed to have been the first industrial production of elastic webbing in the United States), which enabled the Russell Company to provide a specialized product to wide markets. Thus, the Russell Company enjoyed sustained growth throughout the nineteenth century, despite its faulty start. Its history exemplifies the successful conversion of shipping capital to industrial investment, and the adaptation and exploitation of new industrial processes.

During the early nineteenth century, a number of similar enterprises in commercial manufacturing were initiated in Middletown. For example, between 1810 and 1825 the following concerns were established:
1810 Middletown Manufacturing Company (cotton and wool)
1813 Starr’s Sword Factory (Staddle Hill)
1813 North’s Pistol Factory (Staddle Hill)
1815 Johnson’s Rifle Factory
1815 Phoenix Mill
1818 Mattabesec Company (cotton and wool)
1819 Pameacha Manufacturing Company (wool, cotton and machinery, South Farms)
1822 Sanseer Manufacturing Company (machinery, South Farms)

These early factories were largely powered by water and produced textiles, arms and machinery. These industries remained dominant in Middletown throughout the nineteenth century. Also characteristic of Middletown’s industrial development was investment and marketing on a local scale. The tradition of local investment characterized the Middletown economy throughout the nineteenth century. Thus, despite the important changes associated with industrialization, Middletown seemed to remain a relatively provincial and close-knit community with a regional base.

Urbanization

The rise of manufacturing and the lessening importance of agriculture had important demographic consequences. For example, census population date for the years between 1810 and 1830 show a relatively greater increase in the urban population than in the rural population, although the rural population continued to be larger than the urban. Moreover, the numbers of individuals involved in manufacturing rose by 25% between 1820 and 1840, while the number of individuals employed in commerce rose by 10% and the number in agriculture by only 11%.

Urbanization was accentuated by the depletion of land in the outlying farm areas. By the turn of the eighteenth century, farmland had been well distributed among the descendants of the original proprietors, and no longer offered opportunity for substantial development of employment. This stagnated agricultural development was evident to a contemporary observer, who, in 1815, commented that, “young, enterprising men, trained to husbandry, unable to get farms in their native towns, have removed from time to time to other parts of the country”. While some of the rural population migrated to newly opened lands in the North West Territory, others found occupation in urban-based occupations, especially manufacturing. Consequently, the Middletown economy supported an increasingly diverse population, including craftsmen, ship owners, factory hands and laborers.

The Military Academy

In the 1820s, another new element entered Middletown life as an active effort was made to ensure the establishment of a college here. After an unsuccessful attempt to attract Washington (later Trinity) College, a thirteen-acre site on the west side of High Street was granted to the American Literary, Scientific, and Military Academy. The Academy, under the direction of Captain Partridge, moved from Norwich, Vermont to Middletown in September of 1824. The groundbreaking of the Lyceum (now South College) and the opening of the college were attended with great ceremony, and Middletown enthusiastically welcomed the new institution. Its success, however, was not overwhelming. For example, the well-known and acrid diarist, Mrs. Ann Royall, declared Captain Partridge “one of the most common clowns that ever undertook to keep a school.” Partridge, whose career included a long series of disagreements and problems, returned his academy to Norwich in 1829. Thereupon, the trustees of the college agreed to donate the buildings to the Methodist Episcopal Church for the establishment of Wesleyan University. In 1830, under the presidency of Wilbur Fiske, the school was opened. The University has since had a large influence upon the character of the city through its political leadership, and its participation in the arts and social movements. Moreover, it has contributed to Middletown a large number of buildings of high-quality design.

The Anti-Slavery Movement

Other signals of change in the social order were reflected in the activities of the A.M.E. Zion Church and the abolitionist movement. The African Methodist Episcopal Church, formed in Middletown in 1823, was the second church of its denomination in Connecticut, and the third oldest in the country. The Reverend Jehiel Beaman, originally of Colchester, was the first minister. A church was constructed on Cross Street in 1830 (later rebuilt and moved to its present location at 140 Cross Street). Traditionally an activist church, the A.M.E. Zion was the center of the Black freedom movement. The “Colored Female Anti-Slavery Society, “which also was concerned with the mutual improvement and increased intellectual and moral happiness” of free Blacks, was organized in 1834 by Beaman’s wife, Clarissa, and was the second women’s abolitionist society in the country.

The A.M.E. Zion Church and anti-slavery whites worked together in the underground railroad and the Middletown Anti-Slavery Society. Middletown was a major “station” on the freedom route from New York; fugitive slaves were transported from here to Farmington, and on to Canada. The foremost Middletown abolitionist was Jesse G. Baldwin, a merchant and ship owner. Baldwin’s two schooners carried a number of escaped slaves to freedom, and his house (formerly at 15 Broad Street) was an important stop on the railroad. Also active were William and Benjamin Douglas, whose pump shop at William and Broad Streets was the center of the anti-slavery organization.

Despite the participation of Middletown citizens in the anti-slavery cause, abolitionist activities were a source of tension in the community. The first meeting of the Anti-Slavery Society at the Douglas shop in 1850 was attacked by pro-slavery sympathizers, an event which prefigured the conflicts of the approaching Civil War.

The War Between the States

At the declaration of the Civil War, Middletown responded with strong support. The first group of volunteers to offer service were the Mansfield Guards, who departed for the war amid great demonstrations of enthusiasm. Altogether Middletown sent over one thousand men to the conflict, serving fifteen regiments, among them the 29th Regiment “Colored Infantry”.

The Ladies Aid Society was extremely active in preparing supplies, and many citizens contributed funds. Middletown lost a number of men to the conflict including General Joseph Mansfield, Commander of the Union forces at Norfolk and Newport News. General Mansfield died a hero at the defense of Middletown, Maryland in 1861, and was buried with full military honors in his native City of Middletown, Connecticut.

Growth of the City

The economic and demographic trends associated with early industrialization had a significant impact on the configuration of the city. Development was concentrated primarily in the center of town, and also around mill sites. The trend toward differentiation of geographic areas for specific uses became more pronounced. In the downtown, for example, Main Street became more exclusively commercial. Brick buildings of three and four stories arose alongside the earlier Colonial houses. A representative commercial building of this era was the Mansion Block, constructed ca. 1828 by Samuel D. Hubbard (138-140 Main Street, demolished). The Middlesex Fruitery Building (191-195 Main Street, 1835-1850) and the Liberty Bank Building (319-323 Main Street, ca 1800, both enlarged later in the century) also are representative of the trend toward commercial development on Main Street. Public buildings on Main Street (now destroyed) include the Court House (1832) and the Custom House (1834). There was substantial construction of churches on Main Street, also. Remaining are the Baptist Church (93 Main Street, 1842), and the Universalist Church (203-207 Main Street, 1839).

On High Street, a high-style residential area was created. The beauty of this elevated site had long been recognized, and was an important factor in the placement of the college there. The first step toward the development of an exclusive residential area was initiated by the construction of the house of Samuel Russell (350 High Street, 1828). Built on a scale larger than any other residence in Middletown, the building was also in the forefront of stylistic development. Designed by the well-known architect Ithiel Town in the Greek Revival style, the house was one of the first in the country to employ the Greek Revival temple form for a domestic building. It had an important influence on American architecture and in Middletown, where its influence is shown in the large numbers of temple-form vernacular buildings of the Greek Revival built between 1835 and 1850. In the two decades after the construction of the Russell House, other elite Middletown families, such as the Alsops and the Starrs, built impressive residences on High Street which were also in the latest style of the time. It was on High Street that each successive nineteenth century style was to have its first introduction in Middletown.

The most intensive urban residential development of the period occurred in the area bounded by Main, Washington, High and Church Streets. This building boom reflected the need for housing for the emerging urban middle class: artisans, small merchants, and professionals. The extent of this development is evidenced by comparison of two maps; the Barnum Map of 1825 shows twenty houses in this area; while on the Clark Map of 1851 there are eighty-five.

There was active real-estate speculation, and the large lots which gave a village character to this area in the Colonial period were subdivided into small individual building parcels.

A typical builder-developer of the period was Israel Bailey, whose own house stands at 214 High Street. In 1825 Bailey acquired four acres located at the southeast corner of High and William Streets. Until 1835, he continued to build modest houses on this land (many of which survive on High and William Streets), selling them with small lots carved from the original piece of property. Ezra Clark, also a builder, created a similar development in the College Street area, and was responsible for the construction of his own home, 170 College Street, as well as houses on the south side of the street, probably including 161 and 168 College Street and 12 Pearl Street.

Other important residential developments arose around factory sites. Mills on the Pameacha River spurred residential building at Zoar, where Highland meets South Main Street; around the mills on Pameacha Pond; and on the lower Pameacha River at South Farms. In the outlying areas, mills were established at Rockfall and at Staddle Hills. Another important water-powered site on the Arawana River (around Factory Street) spurred development in that area and to the east on Washington Street.

The movement toward residential areas supporting a population engaged in manufacturing or urban-related occupations had begun.

IV: THE VICTORIAN PERIOD AND INDUSTRIAL EXPANSION: 1850-1890

The late nineteenth century saw the full flowering of the Industrial Revolution. The character of Middletown was transformed as the city became substantially dependent upon a manufacturing economy. Transportation shifted from water to rail, connecting Middletown with other urban centers. The process of urbanization continued rapidly, and was reflected in the growth of the downtown, and in the participation of Middletown citizens in broad social movements.

The Railroad

In the years before the Civil War (the 1840s and 1850s) developments in transportation and manufacturing laid the groundwork for industrial expansion. In 1835 a group of Middletown citizens, who saw the declining importance of water transportation, met to discuss ways of connecting Middletown to other urban centers by railroad. For many years to follow, Middletown and the surrounding towns struggled to obtain a main trunk line between New York and Boston, which would bridge at Middletown and give the city access to important markets. These efforts were embodied in the “Air-line Railroad”, first organized rather ambitiously, as the New York and Boston Railroad in 1846, and under a variety of other names through the nineteenth century. To this initial enterprise Middletown contributed $897,000, a considerable expense whose lack of return had a negative effect on the local economy.

The Air Line was beset by financial problems and with difficulties in obtaining a charter from the Legislature to construct a bridge across the Connecticut River. As a result, a through line from New Haven to Boston, bridging at Middletown, was not completed until 1873. By that time, main trunk lines had already been established through Meriden and Hartford and along the shoreline. Middletown’s failure to gain an early through connection prevented the tremendous industrial growth which cities like Hartford and Meriden experienced, and is in large measure responsible for the city’s more modest development.

Nevertheless, Middletown obtained sufficient railroad connections to service a substantial increase in industrial production in this period. The city was connected with Berlin in 1850 (the New Britain and Middletown Railroad); and in 1868 the Hartford-Saybrook line through Middletown was completed (the Connecticut Valley Line). The Air Line, reorganized as the New Haven, Middletown and Willimantic Railway in 1867 with David Lyman of Middlefield as President, completed a line from New Haven to Middletown in 1870. A wrought iron bridge across the Connecticut River was finally constructed in 1872 (replaced in 1970) and in 1873, the first train ran through to Willimantic.

The next few decades were relatively successful ones for the Air Line Railroad which was largely under the control of the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad after 1879. The well-known “New England Express” delivered passengers from Boston to New York in six hours. After 1891, the famous “White Train”, known locally as the Ghost Train, cut that time to five hours and forty minutes under the direction of the celebrated engineer Eugene Potter. Around 1900, however, the passenger express on the Air Line was discontinued, and all through-trains were eliminated after World War I.

Manufacturing

Through Middletown’s connections with three railroad lines, the Air Line, the Berlin Branch and the Connecticut Valley, the city was linked to local and national networks of rail transportation by the early 1870s. This encouraged the growth of both established industries which continued to serve regional needs and specialized industries supplying national markets.

Between 1850 and 1880, the number of manufacturing firms increased substantially. Most of these also grew in size, both in terms of capital invested and in the size of the physical plants. The conversion from water to steam power, increased capital investment, and the greater efficiency and scale of production of larger factories supported industrial expansion. In addition, the demand for supplies and arms created by the Civil War also spurred production. The most significant period of industrial growth in Middletown was in the 1860s and early 1870s. The U.S. Census of Manufacturers lists 131 firms in Middletown in 1870. Middletown industry does not seem to have been affected substantially by the national depression of 1873, and industrial growth remained relatively stable through the 1870s.

The most important Middletown industry was the production of machinery, engines, tools and hardware. The largest firm of this type was the W. & B. Douglas Pump Company, founded in 1839 (now demolished). The complex covered nearly four acres in the William-Church area by 1896. The Douglas Company produced domestic and fan pumps, and belt power pumps for factory use. Known for its innovative and quality products, the Douglas Company was a major producer of pumps in the United States and Europe.

Textile was also an important industry, and the largest Middletown company was the Russell Manufacturing Company. Most of the plant was located on the lower Pameacha River in South Farms (East Main Street). Established in 1834, the Russell Company produced a great variety of cotton and elastic woven goods. By 1900 it was the nation’s largest manufacturer of suspenders, employing nine hundred workers in the company’s seven groups of mills.

Other firms which were based in Middletown and served national and international markets were the Arawana Mills and Wilcox, Crittenden and Company. The Arawana Mills on the Arawana or Little River, near the present site of Palmer Field (now mostly demolished), grew to prominence under the direction of inventor and businessman, J.E. Palmer. The Company had three large plants, and concentrated on the production of woven netting and hammocks, patented by Palmer in 1883. The Wilcox, Crittenden & Company (234 South Main Street, c. 1814 and late nineteenth century) was an important and successful producer of marine supplies. It was established as the firm of Penfield & Wilcox in 1849 to manufacture Wilcox’s recently patented grommet (a small metal device used in the raising and lowering of sails). Later known as Wilcox & Hall, the firm was finally established as Wilcox, Crittenden & Company in 1869 and continued successfully in the ship’s chandlery business for over one hundred years.

When compared to other Connecticut industries, post Civil War industrial growth in Middletown continued in the earlier tradition of local investment and small-scale manufacturing for local markets. Thus, Middletown retained to some extent a relatively insular and undisturbed character. Nevertheless, the late nineteenth century marked a time of significant change in the daily life of Middletown inhabitants. Large numbers of people were employed in industry, and they moved to live closer to manufacturing plants. In the rural areas there were fewer independent farmsteads and much of the agricultural land was consolidated into larger farms, especially for dairy production.

Immigration

During this period Middletown also was affected by international movements of migration. The first ethnic group to significantly alter the predominantly Anglo-Saxon character of the city was the Irish. They began arriving in large numbers in the 1840s and continued to do so until the 1870s. By 1870 there were 1,386 Irish-born residents, comprising 19% of the city’s population and 70% of the foreign born population. The Irish found employment in the local quarries and factories and settled in many of the older downtown districts, especially the Green and Ferry Street area. In 1843, they constructed their own church on St. John’s Square, which was replaced in 1852 with a larger building (St. John’s Church, 9 St. John’s Square). The parish grew rapidly and by 1888 the complex at St. John’s Square included a school, convent and rectory.

Between 1875 and 1900, Germans and Swedes also immigrated to Middletown. They found employment in factories, and for the Swedish especially, in the Portland quarries. They also began to rework some of the older farms which had been in disuse. They settled in various parts of the city, especially in South Farms and Pameacha. The German Evangelical Church (76 High Street), a distinctive Gothic Revival structure of brick, was built in 1886.

Social Movements

The second half of the nineteenth century saw a flowering of civic-mindedness which resulted in educational improvements and in the establishment of a number of important institutions in Middletown’s religious and social life. These institutions were partly a response to the inability of earlier forms of social organizations to meet the needs of an expanded, industrially based community.

The public systems became more widespread and accessible. Downtown schools included South School, Central School on College Street, originally built as a High School in 1840 and remodeled in 1869, and the Johnson School, built in 1872 (now St. Sebastian School), 51 Green Street. Numerous district schools provided grammar school education throughout the city. Many of these small, wood-frame district schools survive in the city’s rural areas. Some are used as residences; one is now the Pilgrim Congregational Church (519 Butternut Street, 1868). A new high school at the corner of Court and Pearl Streets (251 Court Street) was dedicated in 1896, with all the latest improvements in heating and ventilation. This building has now been successfully converted to elderly housing.

A Middletown library had been founded in 1797; however, the first free public library was established in 1874 when Frances Ann Russell founded the Russell Library in memory of her husband, Samuel Wadsworth Russell. The Greek Revival style Episcopal Church at 119 Broad Street (built 1833) was remodeled completely in the popular Gothic style. This building continues to provide this vital service to the citizens of Middletown, and is an important example of the civic patronage provided by Middletown’s nineteenth century elite.

In this period, a strong sense of social responsibility, and a belief in the power of nature in the treatment of society’s “less fortunate”, is reflected in the establishment of a number of institutions in a rural setting.

A picturesque river site, southwest of the center of town, was granted by the City of Middletown to the State of Connecticut to establish the Connecticut Hospital for the Insane in 1868. By 1869, four groups of buildings had been constructed and the institution was one of the largest of its kind in the country. It now consists of eighty structures on 650 acres and is an important record of the changing treatment of the mentally ill for over a century. The Connecticut Industrial School for Girls (now Long Lane School on Long Lane), funded by local citizens, was incorporated in 1868 and formally opened in 1870. It was located in a rural area outside of Middletown and was designed as a “shelter for troubled girls” between the ages of eight and sixteen. Early programs included academic education and domestic training. Long Lane is now a co-educational correctional institution of the State of Connecticut. A similar example of the establishment of institutions in rural settings in response to social problems is found in the Town Farm. Middletown had built an Almshouse (54 Warwick Street) in 1814. When this became inadequate, it was decided to expand the facility to include a working farm. In 1853 the City purchased the residence of Thomas G. Mather, (c. 1835) on the eastern end of Silver Street in the outlying Maromas area. Additions were made to the structure and a working farm was established. The City continued to care for its needy and indigent at this agricultural facility until the early twentieth century.

Existing religious institutions expanded and new churches were established after the Civil War. This expansion was reflected in the construction of many ecclesiastical buildings in Middletown during the late 1860s and 1870s. These churches were invariably built of brownstone and/or brick, and were designed in the Gothic Revival style. Among them are the St. John’s Roman Catholic Church (9 St. John’s Square, 1852), the South Congregational Church (9 Pleasant Street, 1868) and the Church of the Holy Trinity (381 Main Street, 1871-1874). Similar buildings constructed at Wesleyan University are Memorial Chapel (1868-1871) and the library (92 Theatre, 1866-1868). The Berkeley Divinity School, associated with Holy Trinity Church, was established in the 1860s, and was located at the corner of Washington and Main Streets. In addition, established churches built chapels in the newly developed outlying residential districts. All Saints Chapel (369 Butternut Street, 1875), the Chapel of the First Church Episcopal (now Heritage Congregational Church, 311 East Main Street, 1869) and Pilgrim Congregational Church (519 Butternut Street, 1878), attest to the vitality of religious institutions in the Victorian period in Middletown.

City Development

Urbanization and industrialization had an important impact on the physical fabric of the city. It accelerated the early-nineteenth century trend toward concentration in the downtown, and encouraged residential development associated with industrial complexes. On Main Street commercial development continued. Most of the houses which remained on the street were sold, and their large lots were divided into small, individual building lots; soon the street was lined with almost unbroken rows of brick commercial buildings. The Italianate-style block at 562-576 Main Street and the Scranton Building (615-617 Main Street) are typical of the commercial buildings of the 1870s.

High Street continued to be an important high-style residential area. It attracted men of wealth and distinction, including mayors, governors and state legislators who built imposing homes. These were well sited and in the latest fashion. At the same time, a new elite residential area was developed in the Crescent and Pleasant Street area. Crescent Street was laid out in the 1869 by Julius Hotchkiss, who built the fine row houses there in the Second Empire style (77-83 Crescent Street, 1869). During the next ten years, the South Green was transformed completely, as large mansions in the Second Empire and Italianate styles were built around this eighteenth century common.

New streets were laid in the downtown to accommodate expanding residential neighborhoods of more modest scale. After mid-century High Street was extended to the north from Washington Street and cross-streets were laid from High Street east to Main Street. These were soon occupied by closely sited, detached, frame houses. Similar in scale and form, the buildings of these early developments set the tone and scale for future development of the North End, a pleasing urban residential district of human scale.

This type of residential growth provided the opportunity for substantial local investment similar to that of the early nineteenth century. A prominent example of the local real estate developer is Henry Fountain, a storeowner, fish seller and florist. Fountain laid out and developed Wetmore Place and Fountain Avenue and was active in real estate in other city streets, including Pine and Cross Streets.

The areas surrounding successful manufacturing plants also experienced urban development in the late-nineteenth century. The most striking example of manufacturing related development is the South Farms district. The Russell Manufacturing Company was located here, with the main mill on East Main Street (a portion of which survives at 395 East Main Street, probably before 1874). The Upper Mills were further upstream (now Carmelo Coats, 475 East Main Street, c. 1845, addition c. 1870), and the South Mill was operated at the site of the old Sanseer Manufacturing Company (now P&H Bliss Company, 215 East Main Street, c. 1847 and c. 1885). Spurred by the success of the Russell Company and other area mills, South Farms underwent active residential development. Silver Street was one of the first streets to reflect this new prosperity. In the years after 1860, many fine residences in the prevailing Italianate style were constructed there. Elsewhere in the district, entrepreneurs bought large tracts of farmland and laid out individual building lots on new streets such as Wall, Chestnut and Maple Streets. Although these streets developed more slowly than Silver Street, they were well established by the late nineteenth century and still retain this character.

South Farms also achieved a high degree of commercial and social self-sufficiency. The district supported many small businesses, stores and churches, such as the Smith Grocery, Heritage Congregational Church, and businesses, all located at the corner of East Main Street and Saybrook Road.

Other areas in Middletown experienced a similar kind of concentrated residential growth. Among these are the Durant area around the present South Main Street and the areas on all sides of Pameacha Pond (i.e. Highland Avenue). This development was associated with the expansion of industries already based on the Pameacha, such as Wilcox, Crittenden Company (234 South Main Street, c. 1814 and late nineteenth century) and William Wilcox Manufacturing Company (now 399 Highland Avenue, c. 1850).

V: THE MODERN ERA: 1890 – 1945

In the early twentieth century, Middletown entered the modern era. Two world wars and the Depression had an incalculable effect on Middletown citizens, bringing them into touch with broad international currents. Locally, the expansion of the scale and size of manufacturing plants, European immigration, and the development of early suburbs changed life in Middletown and altered the urban landscape.

Industry

In Middletown, the early years of the twentieth century, as in the country as a whole, were prosperous. In industry, machine parts, hardware and textiles maintained their importance. Industrial growth followed the national trend toward increasingly larger manufacturing complexes, as Russell Company, Wilcox, Crittenden & Company, and other established firms continued to expand. The EIS Corporation, makers of machine parts, developed an extensive complex of factory buildings in Middletown’s North End. Although many smaller firms continued to operate, in general, the number of small-scale, independent manufacturing concerns in Middletown declined.

Immigration

The turn of the century also brought an increase in population and, most important, a new surge of European immigration. Angelo Magnana is generally credited as the first immigrant to arrive in Middletown (probably in 1894) from the town of Melilli, in southeastern Sicily. Approximately forty additional immigrants left Melilli soon after; about a dozen of these arrived in Middletown in late 1897 or 1898. Thus began an immigration process, based on familial and village ties, which continued for over twenty years. Between 1898 and 1922, when U.S. immigration was severely restricted, approximately 2,500 Melillese arrived in Middletown. Although about 20% returned to Sicily, a large number remained in Middletown and made it their home. Melillese constituted the largest single immigrant group in Middletown; however, Italians from Northern Italy (from the Province of Abruzzi) and from Northeastern Sicily (the province of Millazzo) also settled in Middletown during these years.

Many of the Italians were laborers; others were skilled craftsmen and middle-class merchants. The first immigrants found employment in Middletown factories, especially Russell Manufacturing Company, New England Enamel Company, and the Arawana Mills, and the railroads and quarries. Many Italians were also employed at the Tuttle Brickyard. By 1910 a number of Italians owned small businesses on Main Street and had begun to acquire real estate, especially rental property.

Until World War II, the North End that lies east of Main Street (i.e. the area bounded by Rapallo Avenue, Main and Court Streets and the Connecticut River) was almost solidly Italian. Center Street was mixed Polish and Italian, with more Poles living to the south. Italian immigrants also lived in the developing North End, west of Main Street.

By 1902 there were enough families here to form a “St. Sebastian’s Band” and to celebrate the feast of St. Sebastian as it had been done traditionally in Melilli. St. Sebastian’s Church (147 Washington Street) was constructed in 1931. Through a massive fundraising effort, the donation of materials, and the labor of masons, plasterers and stone carvers, the Italian community realized the dream of its own church. St. Sebastian’s Church, a close copy of the Renaissance Church of St. Sebastian in Melilli, is a significant local cultural symbol.

Another important national group to settle in Middletown were the Poles. Immigration from Poland began around 1890, with twelve Poles in Middletown in 1891, and sixty-five in 1895. Like the Italians, the Poles found employment in the mills and quarries. The Poles tended to live toward the southern end of town, around William Street, Railroad Avenue and East Main Street in a deeply religious and closely-knit community. A Roman-Catholic church (St. Mary’s) was consecrated in 1905 and in 1912 a parochial school was established on Hubbard Street. A new school, still in use today, was built on South Main Street in 1938. At this time there were 3,706 Poles living in Middletown. They maintained a strong sense of their national heritage, strengthened by the ethnic base of their neighborhoods.

Urban Development

With industrial growth, population increase and general prosperity, downtown Middletown experienced its most dramatic era of commercial growth. During the early twentieth century, the face of central Main Street was transformed by a commercial and institutional building boom. In general, the commercial buildings of this era were larger and more monumental than earlier ones. The revival of classical forms was an important architectural influence, and was expressed in public buildings such as the Post Office (291 Main Street, 1916), institutional buildings such as the present Liberty Bank (315 Main Street, c. 1928) and Connecticut Bank & Trust Company building (267 Main Street, 1915), and commercial buildings like the Pythian Building (360 Main Street, c. 1874, remodeled 1938). The use of new materials such as marble and structural concrete gave a new look to Main Street. The scale and appearance of the buildings from this era continue to create the dominant tone for the central section of Main Street between Court and Washington Streets.

Although the automobile was introduced to Middletown in the late nineteenth century, the mode of transportation, which had the most impact on city development, was the horse-drawn railway and the trolley lines. The first horse-drawn car on tracks began running in 1886. The system was converted to electricity in 1894, and operated from the “trolley barn,” now on Kings Avenue (1894). The trolley company ran three lines: from Main Street to the South Main Street area, to South Farms, and to the Asylum.

The trolley line encouraged further growth of suburbs in the areas which it served: South Farms, the North End west of Main Street, and new residential neighborhoods in the area between High and Cross Streets, south of the Wesleyan University campus. These residential neighborhoods with tree-lined streets and houses more generously sited than their downtown counterparts, satisfied the need for pleasant neighborhoods which were exclusively residential, yet which had access to the city’s downtown.

Wesleyan University

The early twentieth century was a time of expansion of the programs and campus of Wesleyan University. Campus architect, Henry Bacon (best known as the architect of the Lincoln Memorial) developed a coherent design for the campus, using College Row as its focal point. The plan included both new construction and the restoration of older buildings. An ambitious building program was undertaken and structures of classical design, built of brownstone and brick, gave a monumental and integrated appearance to the campus. Among the major buildings constructed in this era are Fayerweather Gymnasium, (1894) and Fisk Hall (262 High Street, 1904), both designed by the firm of Cady, Berg & See; Scott Laboratory (Church Street, 1903), architect, Charles A. Rich; and Olin Library (200 Church Street, 1925-1927), architects, Henry Bacon and McKim, Mead & White.

Developers

During the early twentieth century, the developer-contractor became increasingly important in the creation of new residential neighborhoods in Middletown. Notable building firms were the Mylchreest Brothers, who were active especially in the High-Cross Street area, Horace Butler and Gustave Lowenthal, and Charles O. Stone. These companies also were engaged in the construction of numerous architect-designed buildings in Middletown, including the Old Town Hall (demolished), the YMCA, churches, and buildings at Wesleyan University and Connecticut Valley Hospital.

Building either in the Colonial Revival style, or continuing with the plain domestic frame construction popular in the nineteenth century, Middletown developers experimented with plans, details and materials. Buildings were of wood frame, brick or concrete block, and were decorated with applied woodwork or variegated brick. Neighborhoods developed in these years include parts of the North End and South Farms, and the area around High and Cross Streets. These neighborhoods, notable for their consistency of scale, diversity of decoration and pleasant, tree-lined streets are good examples of the quality and interest of design which can accompany residential developments of this type.

VI: THE POST-WAR ERA

World War II and the prosperity and industrial expansion of the years following brought unprecedented changes to the lives of Middletown citizens. The automobile and the expansion of the highway system, residential expansion in rural areas, and downtown redevelopment changed the face of the city on a scale hitherto unknown.

Middletown maintained a solid but modest economic base. As in other Connecticut communities, service industries survived, and the economy was strengthened by the United Aircraft CANEL plant (Connecticut Nuclear Engineering Laboratory, now United Technologies), a government-owned facility established in 1957. Operated by Pratt & Whitney Aircraft, it was responsible for major technological advances in the field of alkali liquid metals and high temperature materials. Middletown residents also found wider employment opportunities in other communities, such as Hartford and Meriden, due to improved transportation.

Increased population and prosperous times spurred the post-war housing boom. Unlike such previous developments, new construction was concentrated not in Middletown’s traditionally urban area, but rather on large tracts of farmland in Newfield and Long Hill. Characterized by single-family residences on generously sized lots, these developments radically altered the character of many of Middletown’s traditionally rural areas. The western section of Middletown was opened for residential and industrial expansion by the construction of Interstate 91. New modes of housing, such as garden apartments in Newfield and Westfield, served commuters to Hartford. Wesleyan Hills, in the Long Hill area, combined apartments, condominiums and detached homes to create a mix of housing types in Middletown’s first planned residential development.

For the first time, commercial development was not concentrated on Main Street, but rather on commercial strips along Routes 66 and 17, the old roads to Meriden and Durham. These outlying commercial developments contributed to the decline of the central business district as a retail and commercial center. Moreover, the construction of Route 9 along the riverfront in the late 1960’s destroyed large numbers of early buildings, and severed Middletown’s traditional connection with the waterfront. Finally, through urban redevelopment programs, heavily funded by the Federal Government in the 1960s and 1970s, large sections of commercial and residential areas in the city center were cleared and replaced with contemporary buildings often inconsistent in scale and materials with the area’s traditional character.

Nevertheless, as in other periods of great change in Middletown, growth and development in the post-war era was influenced by traditional patterns which provided a continuity with the past. Many residential neighborhoods of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries survived with strong, stable ethnic bases. Local businesses continued to give vitality to Middletown’s fine Main Street. The immigrant groups who arrived in the early twentieth century assumed positions of leadership within Middletown’s traditionally close-knit community and new immigrants from Puerto Rico contributed to Middletown’s ethnic diversity.

Today the Middletown community reflects the richness and diversity of the city’s complex historical development from farming village to modern city. Middletown is fortunate in the preservation of a mix of urban, suburban and rural landscapes which are uniquely representative of the city’s history. The Middletown community is the justly proud custodian of this precious physical heritage.

By: B.A. Cleary, 1979
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