1941: Fire on Main St.!


The worst fire in the history of Middletown swept through Main Street on August 29, 1941. Nineteen business firms suffered large losses due to the blaze. State police, as well as the State Guard, were called to help put out the fire. Five men were hurt; none were seriously injured.

Story contributed by Kimberly Singh.

1911: Wreckers Ditched Train

One Victim of Maromas, Conn., Smash Dies in Hospital.

Middletown, Conn., Aug. 28.–Abram P. Brown, of Hartford, who suffered an injury of the spine last night in the wreck of the evening train over the Valley line of the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad, died here today.

The sixty or more other passengers who were injured are all doing well.

Supt. Woodward, of the Shore Line division, who went to the scene of the disaster at Maromas, notified the police here that he found upon close inspection that the train had been purposely wrecked. He says:

“All the spikes of one rail were pulled out and were lying around the track. They were not damaged a bit by the wreck, which would have been the natural result if they had been in their proper place at the time of the accident. Not one was twisted or bent.”

A reward of $2,500 for information leading to the conviction of the person or persons who caused the wreck is offered by the railway.

From The Washington Post (Washington, D. C.), Tuesday, August 29, 1911.

August 27 – Middletown 366


Sixty Persons Hurt

Middletown, Conn., Aug. 27.–Sixty persons were injured tonight, eight of them seriously, when an express train on the Valley division of the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad was wrecked by spreading of the rails. The train runs Sundays to various resorts and returns at night. The train consisted of the engine, two baggage and eight passenger coaches. The engine was thrown on its side into a sand bank; the two baggage cars went down a 35-foot embankment and the first passenger coach ran into the tender of the engine and was badly splintered.

It was in this car that most of the injured were found. The engineer was caught in the cab of his engine and had to  be chopped out but escaped with a dislocated hip and bruises.

From the Chatham Record (Pittsboro, North Carolina), Wednesday, August 30, 1911.


Cheering on the Boys


On August 27, 1918, Middletown cheers their local soldiers who have returned from the war.

1802: Couple Drowned

Middletown, Aug. 23.

One Wednesday last about 8 o’clock in the evening, Capt. Moses Dickinson and Wife, of Wethersfield, Parish of Rocky Hill, were drowned in attempting to come ashore from a vessel lying in the river opposite this City. They were part of a company going to Long Island. The circumstances of the disaster are said to be these. Capt. Dickinson stepped into a small boat and was receiving his Wife into his arms from the vessel, when the motion of the boat or the weight of Mrs. Dickinson, made him totter and fall into the river with her, and they both immediately sunk. Only one person was on deck and spectator of the scene, the rest of the company being below at supper. Information was immediately given to the company and to the people on shore, and every exertion made to afford relief, but the body of Capt. Dickinson was not found until he had been in the water two hours; and all efforts to find Mrs. Dickinson proved ineffectual until Saturday morning, when she was found floating down the river, about two miles below the city, by some people who were coming up in a boat. We are informed that they were about 30 years of age, and have left two children to lament their untimely fate.

From the Norwich Courier (Norwich, Connecticut), Wednesday, September 1, 1802.

August 22 – Middletown 366


Simeon North Dies

North Pistol Factory
North Pistol Factory

Arms manufacturer Simeon North passed away on this day at the age of 87. North’s factory was on the West River and there he pioneered the use of interchangeable parts and developed what was possibly the first milling machine. For 53 years, he provided pistols, rifles, and other armaments to the War Department, making as many as 10,000 pistols a year for use by soldiers in the War of 1812.

Story contributed by Deborah Shapiro.


Pilot Pinned in Wreckage, Rescued After 6 Long Days

Middletown, Conn. (AP)– For six days, injured John T. Emmanuel, sat pinned in his seat in a wrecked plane.

Trucks sped by on Interstate 91, only a short distance away. Search planes buzzed overhead, their pilots unable to see the wreckage under the trees.

Beside Emmanuel, 39, lay the body of his friend, Richard C. Grimaldi, 32, who had been piloting the single-engine plane back to Hartford after a weekend holiday at Block Island, R. I.

A week ago this morning, the Cessna went down, bounced off the rocky face of Mt. Higby and fell into the woods at the bottom of the cliff.

As the days passed, Emmanuel sat trapped in the crumpled cockpit.

An air-sea search for the plane was pressed by the Federal Aviation Agency and the Coast Guard. They abandoned the search Thursday, but a number of private pilots and Connecticut authorities continued the hunt.

There was no clue to the whereabouts of the four-seater plane, state police said, until authorities received a report from truck driver John Faulkner. He told them he had seen a flash of something at the foot of the mountain in the rear view mirror of his truck while he was driving south on Interstate 91 last Monday morning.

After hearing days later about the lost plane, Faulkner gave searchers information which enabled them to pinpoint the spot where the plane might have gone down.

On Sunday, a State Aeronautics Department helicopter flew low and spotted the wreck beneath the heavy foliage at the foot of the cliff.

Searchers hiked through the wooded Mt. Higby area to the plane, where they found Emmanuel alive.

“We did not give up hope,” said Emmanuel’s mother, Mrs. Thomas H. Emmanuel of Hartford. “We knew we’d find him alive.”

The survivor was suffering from malnutrition, exposure, and shock. He was in serious condition, but conscious and able to speak.

Emmanuel was brought out with some difficulty. The small helicopter that found him couldn’t manage it. A bigger helicopter from Suffolk (N.Y.) Air Force Base finally managed the job after making three passes at the site.

The body of the pilot, a Newington resident, was to be removed today.

From The Hope Star (Hope, Arkansas), Monday, August 22, 1966.



1955: Devastating Flood

The combination of Hurricane Connie and Hurricane Diane in a five-day period left the Connecticut area devastated. The rainfall from both storms caused the river levels higher than they had been in hundreds of years. Connie and Diane called eight days of rainfall in total. Entire neighborhoods, as well as businesses and family homes, were washed away and destroyed in the floods following the storms.

Story contributed by Kimberly Singh.

1897: Dam Burst

Workmen Forced to Flee For Their Lives.

Middletown, Conn., July 30.–At 8 o’clock this morning a dam 40 feet wide and containing water from which the three factories get power, burst, letting down a tremendous volume of water. The huge stones of which the dam was built, crashed into the factory of William Wilcox’s lockshop and the power floors of the factory were flooded. Forty workmen were compelled to flee for their lives. Much damage was done.

From The Wichita Beacon (Wichita, Kansas), Friday, July 30, 1897.

1891: Risked His Life For a Child

Middletown, Conn., May 25.–Brakeman C. D. Armstrong heroically rescued a little child in the freight yard last night. He was on a car which was “kicked” into a siding at a lively rate, and was almost on to a little girl who was playing on a track before he saw her. He shouted to her, but the little one did not seem to hear him, or else was unable to move through fear. Armstrong set the brake of his car hard and jumped. He succeeded in snatching the little one and threw her to one side, saving her life. Before he could recover from the exertion sufficiently to save himself the car was on him and he was struck a severe blow in the shoulder. It knocked him a distance of ten feet, but he escaped serious injury.

From the Topeka Daily Capital (Topeka, Kansas), Tuesday, May 26, 1891.

1961: Dam Collapses, Homes Flooded

3 Hurt, No One Killed; Property Damage Heavy

Middletown, Conn. (AP)–A dam gave way at Crystal Lake before dawn today, sending a four-foot wall of water rushing intro an area of a dozen homes. No one was killed.

The water poured down a hill, swirled across a chicken farm and Millbrook Road and–a half mile from where it started–gushed into an area of small houses.

Some residents dashed through the darkness to higher ground. Others moved to second floors. Nobody was hurt seriously although three were treated for minor injuries.

Damage Heavy

Damage estimates ranged up to several hundred thousand dollars. Police Chief John Pomfret said 10 homes were damaged.

The water broke trees down, tossed boulders around like pebbles, damaged four roads, moved one car 400 yards, cracked porches and homes and moved houses from their foundations.

In its 15-minute rampage, it also gurgled into the boiler room of the Russell Manufacturing Co., forcing the plant to close.

Behind it, the water left two to three inches of debris in homes, furniture upset, flopping, dying fish–and frightened residents.

Lou Angi said his wife awakened I’m at 3:15 a.m.

“What are we going to do,” she said, watching the water swell toward their home.

“Get out of here,” he replied.

They grabbed their two daughters–aged 8 and 4–and started next door to the home of Angi’s brother-in-law, George Clegg, who lives on higher ground.

The water knocked down Mrs. Angi, who was carrying one of the girls. Angi picked them up and half-carried, half-dragged them to the other home, where they moved upstairs.

He said the water reached its crest in about 15 minutes and then began to recede.

Authorities said the base of the dam had been damaged some days ago and the Russell Co., which owns the water rights, had had divers working there for two days.

The dam is about 60 to 75 feet long and is located in Falcon Park on top of a hill in the South Farms area of town.

Miss Virginia Gilbert, who lives in the area, said she awakened suddenly during the night.

Strange Noise

“I heard a strange noise outside and it got louder and louder. I got up and looked out the window. I could see the flood water rushing down the street. It was three feet high, maybe more.

“The water flooded our first floor about two feet deep. It pushed a tree through a window and smashed the front veranda. Then another tree smashed another window.

“People in houses across the street climbed up on their roofs. I just prayed the houses wouldn’t be washed away. We were lucky, we had a second floor, but they had only one floor.”

From the Corpus Christi Times (Corpus Christi, Texas), Thursday, April 27, 1961.