November 17 – Middletown 366

1875

Russell Library is Dedicated

On this day, Russell Library was dedicated.  The building located at Opening Programthe corner of Broad and Court Streets was originally Christ Church and the first classes of Middletown High School, the first permanent high school in Connecticut, were held in its basement in 1840.  After the Episcopalian congregation built its new church, Church of the Holy Trinity, on Main Street, the building was purchased by Frances Russell and transformed into a library in memory of her husband Samuel Russell, the China trader and founder of Russell Manufacturing Company.

Although the building was dedicated and opened as a hall in November 1875, the library collection was not open to the public until the following April.

As the town grew, so did Russell Library, which now hosts almost 1000 patrons a day.  In addition to lending books, the library has kept up with the times, allowing patrons to borrow movies and DVD’s, use computers free of charge, attend workshops, classes, and lectures, and enjoy plays and musical performances.

Story contributed by Deborah Shapiro.


1882

18821117GAR flyer

Flyer for the G.A.R. (Grand Army of the Republic), Mansfield Guard Post, Fair in 1882. The G.A.R. was the organization for Union veterans of the Civil War, and was a political force until the early 1900s.

November 9 – Middletown 366

1896

Middletown, Conn., Anxiously Awaiting a Fall of Rain.

Middletown, Conn., Nov. 9. This city has only thirty days’ supply of water in the reservoir, and unless heavy rain soon comes, pond and river water will have to be used. The low water has already caused many cases of malarial and typhoid fever. There is said to be more cases of sickness here now than in any month this year, much of it being intermittent in character. The city has been asked to build a pumping station at Pameacha pond to aid the reservoir, but has postponed action. In the country the complaint is that springs and wells are dry.

From the Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), Monday, Nov. 9, 1896.

1939

Middletown RR Station – End of an Era

Union Station

The Middletown railroad station at the foot of Rapallo Avenue was closed by the New York, New Haven, & Hartford Railroad. Passenger service had been suspended several years earlier and the station was being used only to sell tickets and make reservations for service in other cities. In days gone by, Middletown had been a railroad transportation hub where the fastest trains between New York and Boston passed on the Airline Railroad which opened its first 50-mile stretch from New Haven to Middleton in August, 1870. The Connecticut Valley Railroad line and the Berlin line also brought passengers and freight to Middletown. Middletown was also a stopping place for the legendary Ghost Train, painted white with gold trimmings. The Airline Limited made the trip between Boston and New York in five hours before it was suspended May 18, 1902.

Story contributed by Deborah Shapiro.

 

1889: Vandals in a Graveyard

Middletown, Conn., Nov. 8.–The people of this city were greatly shocked this morning to learn that during the night over thirty graves in Mortimer Cemetery had been desecrated by vandals. Tombstones and monuments were torn down, many fences broken, railings rooted up, and thousands of dollars damage done. The mounds over many graves were literally ploughed up. It was afterward learned, however, that no bodies had been stolen. The town was in an uproar and hundreds of people flocked to the scene of ruin all day. The chief-of-police believes the perpetrators are Wesleyan College students.

From the Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester, New York), Saturday, November 9, 1889.

November 2 – Middletown 366

1765

Middletown Outrage Over Stamp Act

On this day in 1765, the spirit of Revolutionary protest was felt in Middletown over the passage of the Stamp Act by the British. The act required the American colonists to pay a tax on every piece of printed paper they used, and was seen as a direct attempt by the Crown to raise money in the colony without the approval of the colonial legislatures. An account of Nov. 2nd reads:

“Yesterday being the day prefixed to enslave America, by an unrighteous and oppressive ——, some of the principal gentlemen of this place, to shew the sense they had of their native liberty and freedom…. met together, and agreed that the bell should toll all day with the tongue muffled; that minute guns should be discharged, and a pendant hoisted half-staff high… Not less than eight hundred joined in this affair…It would be amiss to omit, that our young children, that can hardly speak, have already learnt this lesson well — Liberty, Property and no Stamps — which they sing along the streets.” War would break out in April ten years later, and over 124 men Middletown would hasten to Boston to join the effort.

Story contributed by Deborah Shapiro.


1932

Dedication of Commodore Thomas Macdonough Tablet

On this day in 1932, the Wadsworth Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution conducted a dedication ceremony for the tablet near Riverside Cemetery.

Dedication of Commodore Macdonough tablet.
Dedication of Commodore Macdonough tablet.

1789: Birth of Samuel Russell

Samuel Russell was the eldest son of Captain John Russell and Abigail Russell. He founded the Russell Manufacturing Company and became its first president. Russell traveled extensively throughout his lifetime.

On return from his trip in China in 1837, he made arrangements for construction of a mansion on the corner of Washington Street and High Street. The house, which would later be called Russell House, was erected under the supervisor of Hon. Samuel D. Hubbard. The Russell House represents a revival in Greek architecture in the United States and has become an essential part of Middletown aesthetics.

After his death in 1862, his wife Frances purchased a vacant church at the corner of Broad and Court Streets and had it converted into Middletown’s first free public library. It was named the Russell Library in memory of her husband Samuel.

Story contributed by Kimberly Singh.

1847: Pameacha Bridge

The south end of this “frail fabric” gave way Friday afternoon, under the influence of as gentle a rain as nature could send on mother earth. It sunk calmly and smoothly without noise, rout, or clatter, and lies now a silent memento of human littleness. It is most devoutly to be hoped that a monument will be speedily raised over its ruins worthy the notoriety at home and far diffused celebrity of Pameacha Bridge. It will have no long story to tell–of how short was its span of life, of how humble its aspirations–but that story will have a moral for the world and the Turnpike Company.

From The Constitution (Middletown, Connecticut), Wednesday, August 4, 1847.

1918: Herbert Eckersley Dies in France

Herbert Eckersley was born in Bolton, England on September 16, 1894. He came to this country as an infant with his parents, Thomas and Mary Eckersley. He initially enlisted in Company C of the 102nd U.S. Infantry as a bugler on March 15, 1912. At the time of his enlistment, he was variously reported as working at Russell Manufacturing Company or Middlesex Machine Works. Company C originated in Middletown as the Mansfield Guards in 1847. Eckersley saw duty on the Mexican border in 1916 defending a border dispute during Mexico’s civil war. He rose to become the orderly to Major George J. Rau of Hartford, whom he called the “best officer in the American line and a true gentleman” in his last letter home from France. Word was received by his parents that he died on July 24, 1918. Both Eckersley and Rau met their deaths at Chateau Thierry during the Aisne-Marne offensive, and the body of Herbert Eckersley was returned to Middletown in July 1921. Eckersley was buried in Pine Grove Cemetery with full military honors, after a service at his parents’ home across from the school that would later bear his name.

Story contributed by Deborah Shapiro.

Portion of A. B. McCutcheon mural at Eckersley Hall, now Middletown Senior Center
Portion of A. B. McCutcheon mural at Eckersley Hall, now Middletown Senior Center.

1848: The New Jail

Is finished and in operation. It is situated in front of the Alms House–built of Portland freestone–provided with two rows of cells, seven on the ground tier and five above, including two spacious and not unpleasant rooms designed for a “lock up.” The aspect of the building from without is somewhat gloomy and forbidding, as becomes its purpose. The prevailing feature is strength. Within the eye is pleased by the white hard walls of the outer space, and a feeling of security creeps over one, as he looks at the strong locks of the iron doors. The jail was built by Mr. B. D. Sage, of this city and it affords a most convincing proof of the solidity of his masonry.

The Commissioners, Linus Parmelee, Files Blague, and David Evarts, Esqs., to whom was committed the business of erection, have acquitted themselves to the satisfaction of all concerned.

Note: There is some defect in the joinery given by the Commissioners to I. W. Baldwin, which we hope to see radically remedied.
From The Constitution (Middletown, Connecticut), Wednesday, July 19, 1848.