1883: The Late Mrs. Samuel Russell

Mrs. Samuel (Frances) Russell
Mrs. Samuel (Frances) Russell

“The late Mrs. Samuel Russell, of Middletown, Conn., willed the Russell Free Library $40,000; the Domestic Missionary Society, $2,000; the American Bible Society, $1,000; the American Tract Society, $1,000; the State Industrial School for Girls, $1,000; the Middletown Charitable Society, $500; St. Luke’s Home, $500; the Indian Hill Cemetery Association, $300; and the rest of the estate, about $700,000, to individuals.”–New Haven Register.

1897: Long Lost Man Returns

Disappeared Mysteriously Thirteen Years Ago and Turns Up Insane.

Middletown, Conn., January 30.–“After a disappearance extending over a period of thirteen years, Bartholomew O’Keefe, long given up for dead by his relatives, to-day turned up, a candidate for commission to the Connecticut hospital for the insane. This morning Officer Loughlin of the New Haven police force, reached here having in custody a man whom he supposed was James Carey. The man was released recently from the New Haven jail, and as he had exhibited signs of insanity and his home was in Middletown, the New Haven authorities sent him to Middletown. Loughlin delivered the man to the selectmen. A policeman was summoned and he recognized in the supposed Carey, Bartholomew O’Keefe, who mysteriously disappeared in 1883. He will be confined in the retreat.”– From The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, N. Y.), Jan. 31, 1897.

Connecticut Valley Hospital, 1886
Connecticut Valley Hospital circa 1890.

1786: David Starr’s Invention

MIDDLETOWN, (Connecticut) Jan. 29.

In your eighth number I observed an account of a discovery in hydrostaticks, made by a Mr. Allen, of Martha’s Vineyard, viz. separating fresh from salt water. The discovery is indeed useful and important, but not novel. –Captain David Starr, an inhabitant of this town, made an experiment of that kind 20 years ago, and succeeded so far as to supply 1300 men with fresh water ten days. Necessity, which is justly termed the mother of invention, induced him to the trial, and he doubtless would have improved on his original discovery, had not want of encouragement, which is too often the misfortune of genius, prevented him from prosecuting his philosophical researches.

From the Pennsylvania Gazette, Mar. 8, 1786.

1974: Bunce’s Department Store Closes

Bunce's Dept StoreOn this day in 1974, Bunce’s Department Store on Main St. in Middletown closed its doors after almost 113 years of business.

“In 1861, 32-year-old James Bunce established a 20-by-80-foot dry-goods store in Middletown. In five years, it came to occupy 65,000 square feet. At his death in 1908, Bunce’s department store had grown to one acre of shopping space, with separate elevators for freight and customers and a ladies’ resting and waiting room with toilets. It was the tallest building on Main Street, and residents considered it to be the closest thing to a New York City department store that could be found in central Connecticut. Today, the Main Street Market occupies the Bunce building.”

–From Legendary Locals of Middletown by Robert Hubbard Kathleen Hubbard, and the Middlesex County Historical Society.

bunces front
In 1947 Bunce’s sponsored the landing of a helicopter on Main Street.

1888: New Dairy Methods

Middletown, Conn., Jan. 27.–A notable change in the methods of Connecticut dairy farming is going on in the establishments throughout the state of a large number of creameries for the manufacture of butter. In nearly every community the farmers have co-operated in the formation of a creamery association, and an extensive business is conducted. Each day an agent visits the patrons of the association and collects the cream. The butter which is manufactured at the creameries is superior in many respects to that made in the old fashioned churn. The introduction of creameries has greatly increased the amount of dairy products.”– From the Evening Gazette (Pittston, Pennsylvania), Jan. 27, 1888.

1839: Devastating Rainstorm

On this day in 1839, Middletown was struck by a dreadful rainstorm that devastated much of the Northeast, particularly the city of Philadelphia. Flooding and wind speeds lay waste to town infrastructure and inundated the town. From the New Haven Daily Herald on Jan. 28:

“The storm on Saturday was more severe than we apprehended. In our vicinity considerable damage was done to bridges and roads, and we apprehend disastrous accounts from sea. The Burnsville Bridge was lifted from the abutments and carried away. The Causeway Bridge, on the Middletown Turnpike, leading to North Haven, is also carried away, its fragments now resting against the piers of Dragon Bridge. A gentleman has just called upon us to state that the flood in Farmington River rose 22 feet. The dam which supplies the Canal feeder is about half gone…”

The storm of the 26th may have been particularly affecting for its Irish-born residents, of whom there were nearly 700 by 1850. Just twenty days earlier, on January 6th, Ireland was struck by its most devastating storm in over 300 years, costing untold damage and several hundred lives. The storm has come to be known as the Night of the Big Wind, and figures prominently in the Irish folk tradition.

Story contributed by Deborah Shapiro.

1961: Middletown Tests Oral Polio Vaccine

Middletown, Jan. 25—(UPI) “Approximately 3,500 children ranging in age from three months to high school teenagers, took painless Sabin oral anti-polio vaccine yesterday in the state’s first program of its kind.

The remaining 6,500 school children and 3,000 to 4,000 pre-school children will be given the oral vaccine within the next few days.

The youngsters will get two more swallows of the vaccine later to complete the immunization program.

The program is being conducted in cooperation with the Yale School of Medicine.” – From The Bridgeport Post, Jan. 25, 1961.

1898: Old Ball Player Dead

Middletown, Conn., Jan. 24.–“Mark S. Burns is dead at the Connecticut Hospital For the Insane of heart disease, aged 46 years. Formerly Burns was one of the best known baseball players in the country and at one time was a star pitcher on the old Mutuals of New York.”– From the Middletown Daily Argus (Middletown, N. Y.), Jan. 24, 1898.

1908: Embezzler Warren Nabbed in Michigan

He Left Middletown Office in August With Shortage of $10,000.

Marshall, Mich., Jan. 23.–“Sheriff Graham was notified today of the arrest at Denver last night of Fred Warren, alias N. F. Warren, alias F. H. Howard, who is wanted by the police here on a charge of embezzling $1,500 involved in some life insurance premiums and policies.

The prisoner is said to have worked at the insurance business in Boston, Chicago, St. Louis and in Grand Rapids, Mich. It is said that the police of other cities besides Marshall are seeking an interview with him. There is some question about the man’s home, for conflicting reports represent his wife as residing in Michigan and also as living in Middletown, Conn.

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Frank A. Warren while living in Middletown was an agent of the New England Mutual Life Insurance Company and left the city and his office on August 8, 1907. He had been suffering from malaria for a time and nothing was thought of his absence for the first day when it was discovered that his wife did not know that he expected to leave town. A hurried examination of his books was made and this was followed by the swearing out of a warrant for his arrest on the charge of embezzlement.

Experts were put to work at his books and while the insurance company would give no figures on their loss the shortage was said to amount to $10,000. Warren had been in the employ of the New England Mutual Life Insurance Company for several years, but had been in Middletown for about fifteen months, coming, it was said, from Texas. He was remarkably successful as an agent and had sold nearly $200,000 in insurance while in Middletown. A few months before his disappearance he married a Middletown girl and the couple lived at South Farms.” –From the Hartford Courant, Jan. 24, 1908.

1957: Bomb in Mail Proves Dud in Middletown

Middletown – (UP) “What appeared to be a live homemade bomb, found in a sack of mail from Springfield, Mass., turned out today to be a dud.

The harmless contraption consisted of a dry cell battery, wired to a length of lead pipe which contained soot, and not powder as first feared.

Police Chief John J. Pomfret called it the work of a “crackpot.”

The device, enclosed in two cardboard boxes, was discovered yesterday in a bag of mail delivered by train to Meriden and consigned to the local post office.” –From The Bridgeport Post, Jan. 22, 1957.