1919: Nine Missing in Fire

Middletown, Conn., Dec. 24.–Nine men who were among the 53 mildly insane patients accommodated in an outlying building of the Connecticut Hospital for the Insane, were missing today, as the result of last night’s fire. Dr. Havilland, superintendent, inclines to the opinion that the fire started from a heap of kindling wood near the heater. The property loss is about $25,000.

From the Pittsburgh Daily Post (Pittsburg, Pa.), Dec. 25, 1919.

1868: General Assembly Creates Connecticut Hospital For the Insane

The General Assembly of the State of Connecticut adopted on this day, “Act to create a Hospital for the Insane in the State of Connecticut.” Previously in the year, a commission which had been appointed by the legislature reported that there were 706 insane persons in the state most of whom could not afford care.  Thus was born the Connecticut Hospital for the Insane, now known as Connecticut Valley Hospital.  Land bordering on the Connecticut River in Middletown was chosen as the site for the new hospital.  It was easily accessible by water and land and included full control of Butler’s Creek, which was used as a source of water.  In October, 1866 Dr. Abram Shew was appointed the first superintendent.  The first patients, 12 men, were received on April 30, 1868.

Story contributed by Deborah Shapiro.

April 30 – Middletown 366


Connecticut Hospital For the Insane Opens

On April 30, 1868, after a 13-month construction period, the hospital opened its doors for care of the mentally ill. In its first year of operation, the hospital admitted 268 patients.

The Connecticut legislature voted to make “ample and suitable provision for its insane” (400-500 patients estimated at the time) and established a Board of Directors to research other hospitals and to guide the project. Dorothea Dix, the legendary social reformer and advocate for the indigent mentally ill, was among those consulted, and she attended several of the early board meetings. After 150 acres were “offered gratuitously to the state for the purposes of the hospital,” another 80 acres of flatter land were purchased, deemed to be more suitable for building. A waterway known then as Butler’s Creek (probably present-day Reservoir Brook?) served as a source of fresh water.

Shew Hall
Shew Hall

A groundbreaking ceremony for the first building, still standing and known today as Shew Hall, took place on April 1, 1867.

“The slackness of the demand for labor and stone, incident to winter, and the fact of a ‘natural bridge’ of ice on the river were availed of for cheaply hauling to the site several hundreds of tons of sand and stone to be ready to use in the spring … also for the construction of a wharf very near the site.” (Middletown paid for the wharf.)

The cornerstone was laid on June 20.

Source: Connecticut Valley Hospital Archives, researched by Patricia Guerard.

Story submitted by John Hall.


Old Whaler Dead

Middletown, Conn., April 30.–George Comer, one of the last of the old New England whaling ship masters who accompanied Donald B. MacMillan on many expeditions to the Arctic, died last night. He was 79.

From the Ottawa Journal (Ottawa, Ontario, Canada), Friday, April 30, 1937.


3 Wesleyan Buildings Damaged By Separate Blazes in 3 Hours

Middletown, Conn. (AP)–Separate fires, which police say were caused by fire bombs, did damage to three Wesleyan University buildings within three hours this morning.

The first blaze was reported at 3:15 a.m. in a Downey House on the corner of High and Court streets. The building houses a college store and dining hall.

The second was in a vacant house owned by Wesleyan on William Street.

The third was in a building on Willis [sic] Avenue used for offices, opposite the field house.

Firemen returned from the third fire shortly after 6 a.m., but no damage estimate was immediately available. No one was injured.

Although no connection with the fires was known, officials thought the blazes might be tied to a student strike at Wesleyan. The strike, by students sympathizing with the Black Panthers on trial in New Haven for the slaying of a fellow Panther, began Wednesday and was expected to continue today.

The number of students taking part in the strike was hard to estimate, since few classes meet on Wednesday.

The strikers held a rally Wednesday night and plan another for tonight, with either David Dellinger or Jerry Rubin of the Chicago Seven and Doug Miranda, captain of the New Haven Black Panthers, speaking.

From the Bridgeport Post (Bridgeport, Conn.), Thursday, April 30, 1970.

April 23 – Middletown 366


The “Moodus Noises” Again Start Up

People Living Near by Jumped From Their Beds–Seemed Like Earthquake

Middletown, Conn., April 23.–The “Moodus noises” which occasionally have alarmed the inhabitants of the Connecticut River Valley in this neighborhood for 250 years, started again yesterday. The residents of Haddam jumped out of bed at 4 o’clock, when the rumbling noises began. The sound was similar to that of heavy thunder, but citizens who looked through their windows expecting to see an approaching storm were surprised to find the sky entirely clear.

Inquiry has failed to show any explosion occurred which would account for the disturbance. The only explanation is that it was the “Moodus noises,” about which there has been much discussion, and which are supposed to be connected with Mount Tom in East Haddam. The noise was also heard in Chester, several miles south, while on the opposite side of the Connecticut River, in Moodus, East Haddam, the phenomenon was even more distinct than on the Haddam side.

From the Harrisburg Telegraph (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania), Thursday, April 23, 1903.


Amy Archer-Gilligan passes away

“Sister” Amy Duggan Archer-Gilligan was born in Milton, Connecticut in October 1873. She was the eighth of ten children born to James Duggan and Mary Kennedy. Amy married her first husband James Archer in 1897 and in 1907 the couple to purchase their own residence in Windsor, Connecticut to open “Archer Home for the Elderly and Infirm.” James Archer died in 1910, seemingly of natural causes. Amy had taken out an insurance policy under his name a few weeks before his death. She was able to keep the home running after his death.

Amy married her second husband Michael W. Gilligan in 1913. He died the next year under the official cause of “severe indigestion.” Amy forged Michael’s will before his death and his entire estate was left to her.

There were 60 deaths in the Archer Home for the Elderly and Infirm between the years of 1907 and 1917. When one apparently healthy man, Franklin R. Andrews, dropped dead on May 29, 1914, his sister became suspicious. She found that Amy had been asking her brother for money. She discovered that Amy Archer-Gilligan’s clients seemed to have a habit of dying after giving her large sums of money.

The bodies of her second husband, Franklin Andrews, and three other clients were exhumed. All five were found to have actually died by poisoning. Local merchants also testified that Amy bought large quantities of arsenic under the guise of “killing rats.”

She was convicted of murder on July 18, 1917 and later transferred to the Connecticut Hospital for the Insane in Middletown in 1924. She remained there until her death in 1962.

Story contributed by Kimberly Singh.


March 28 – Middletown 366


Buyer of House Must Return $30,000 Painting He Found

Middletown, Conn., March 28.–Albert J. Conlin of Plainville found a valuable fifteenth century painting in a house which he bought from Mrs. Ethel L. Simington, but Judge Frank P. McEvoy has ordered him to give it up.

The painting, said by experts to be “Abraham’s Sacrifice,” by Piero Della Francesco and valued at $30,000, did not go with the house, the court decided.

Found in the attic, the canvas was damaged in two places. Raphael D. Cubeddu, of New Britain, testifying as an expert, said he believed the painting had been done in Italy about 1472.

From the Tipton Daily Tribune (Tipton, Indiana), Monday, March 28, 1932.


Cemetery Plan Hit By Hospital Board

Middletown, Conn. (AP)– Trustees of the Connecticut Valley Hospital don’t want a veterans’ cemetery on land adjoining children’s cottages at the hospital.

At a weekend meeting, trustees arrived at the consensus that “locating a cemetery next to cottages which house mentally disturbed children is undesirable,” according to board chairman Abraham Lippman.

Lippman said Monday that Rep. William A. O’Neill, D-East Hampton, introduced a bill during the last General Assembly session that specified the site without checking with the hospital trustees. Lippman said the move showed “a lack of concern for patient care facilities and plans for the future development of new mental health programs on acreage intended for this use.”

Legislation passed during the 1971 legislative session requires the hospital trustees to transfer the land. But the trustees want the attorney general to tell them it doesn’t have to be the site near the children’s cottages.

From the Bridgeport Daily Post (Bridgeport, Conn.), Tuesday, March 28, 1972.

March 9 – Middletown 366


A Crazed Young Woman’s Suicide

Middletown, Conn., March 9.–Miss Julia Hall, of New Canaan, daughter of Russell Hall, the banker of that town, committed suicide by throwing herself in front of a locomotive on the Connecticut Valley division of the New York, New Haven and Hartford road. She was instantly killed and her body was frightfully mangled. Miss Hall was recently sent to the insane asylum here from New Canaan, and committed the act while out walking with an attendant, whom she eluded.

From the Harrisburg Star-Independent (Harrisburg, Pa.), March 9, 1893.


Boy Soprano Extinct

Middletown Conn.–(U.P.)–The boy soprano is extinct in this city of 22,000 persons. The church of the Holy Trinity has abandoned its boy choir after more than thirty-five years because of lack of talent.

From the Lincoln Evening Journal (Lincoln, Nebraska), March 9, 1929.



1884: A Lunatic Shoots His Parents

Sudden Outbreak of a Released Asylum Patient.

[By Telegraph to The Tribune.]

Middletown, Conn., Feb. 19.–“William Williams, aged thirty-six, was three weeks ago released from the insane asylum in this city, at the request of his father, an elderly farmer resident in the adjacent township of Middlefield. Since that time William has been living quietly at the home of his parents. This morning, while Mrs. Williams was at work in the kitchen her crazy son rushed into the room carrying a double-barreled shotgun. “I’ve come to kill you, mother,” he shouted. The terror-stricken woman screamed and begged him to put the gun down. He answered by pointing the weapon at her head, and discharging one of the barrels. The larger part of the charge of shot took effect in the back of her neck and the base of her head. Amos Williams had heard the screams and the report of the gun and hurried into the house. He attempted to take the gun away from his son, but the latter overpowered him, chased him into the yard, and fired the second barrel. The shot struck the fleeing father in the wrist and arm. Neighbors who had heard the report overcame the lunatic before he could reload the gun. It is thought that the mother will die.”– From the New-York Tribune, Feb. 20, 1884.


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.

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.

January 19 – Middletown 366


“Hartford, Jan. 18:–Crowded far past its capacity is the Connecticut State Hospital for the Insane at Middletown, and this condition is viewed with considerable alarm by Dr. Roy L. Leek, superintendent in his biennial report to the governor.

So crowded is the hospital, Dr. Leek pointed out, that it is necessary to mix the criminal insane with the civil insane, a condition which is fraught with grave consequences.” –From the Bridgeport Telegram, Jan. 19, 1923.


On this day in 1974, the Sawmill Brook Racetrack proposal went to the Planning and Zoning Commission of Middletown, what would become one of the most controversial local issues in Middletown history. Ronald H. Mooney of New York sought to build a $50 million horse race track on 480 acres of prime industrial land in the Westfield section of Middletown. The public hearing that began on March 13 brought heated emotions for and against the track, and would last over 17 hours in total. Eventually approved in April, Sawmill Brook would suffer from financial trouble from the start, and after years of fabrication and disappointment, Mooney eventually lost his option on the land, as well as his gaming license. The track died for good. A brief from the Middletown Press in 1978 reads: “Arab money, Los Angeles money. It is time for Ron Mooney to put up and show the State Gaming Commission he can build his $55 mil. race track and he can’t.”

Story contributed by Deborah Shapiro.