1825: Fire!

Middletown, Dec. 21, 1825.

Fire.--Early on Monday evening last, our citizens were aroused by the appalling cry of Fire!–which proved to be in the Soap and Candle Manufactory of Mr. Calvin Riley, a worthy and industrious young man, near Sumner’s Creek, which, together with the barn and sheds attached, were wholly destroyed. So rapid were the flames, and so far had the fire extended, before discovered, that but few things were removed from the buildings; fortunately, however, the wind blew towards the creek, otherwise it would have been difficult to have saved his dwelling-house, and a barn on the opposite side of the street. We understand that Mr. Riley had taken the largest part of his account books to his house a few days previous, and they had not been carried back to the shop.

It is not known how the fire originated. The buildings, stock, and tools, were insured at the Ætna Insurance Office, Hartford, to the amount of $1,600, which although it will not fully cover his loss, yet by being thus secured, it will be trifling to what it would have been without insurance.–Sentinel.

From the American Mercury (Hartford, Massachusetts), Tuesday, December 27, 1825.

1947: There’s a Difference

Middletown, Conn., Dec. 14 (AP)–A group of sign painters were working on a billboard here this cold December day because Edward J. Hill, a police traffic sergeant, has an alert eye for incongruities.

The billboard stands at the west end of the Connecticut River bridge, looming above a Highway Department sign cautioning “slow–dangerous curve.”

The billboard legend, extolling a brand of gasoline, said “Get going–fast.”

It doesn’t say that now, however. The gasoline company, at Hill’s suggestion, agreed to change the “get going” to “Start.”

From the Springfield Union (Springfield, Massachusetts), Monday, December 15, 1947.

1874: Fire Alarm

There was an alarm of fire last Thursday, which called out the fire department. The fire proved to be in the engine room of Ward’s Lock factory on Spring street, but was extinguished before the firemen arrived, and caused but slight damage. Had it not been discovered in time, a disastrous fire would have been the result. In the dwelling-house close to the burning building, was a family of five children, who were unceremoniously carried into the street, some of them fast asleep.

Returning home the members of the Hook & Ladder company had a race with one of the hose companies, and came off victors which caused them to bring out several bantam roosters. And they had reason to crow, for after all that has been said about the unfitness of their truck, they showed that they can turn corners with it and outrun any of our more modern machines, even if they do have smaller wheels. Good for the Hook and Ladder boys!

From The Constitution (Middletown, Connecticut), Wednesday, October 21, 1874.

1924: City Official Outing at Laurel Brook

City official outing 1924
Click for larger image.

From the back of the photograph:

Front row: Oscar Welker, Daton Baldwin, Phil Stueck, Kent Thompson, Phil Anderson, Bill Clew, Eugene Mead, Perry Closon, Joseph Roano, Burt Lane, Sam Mattes, Dr. George E. Bitgood.

Second row: George Tierney, Allen Holmes, Bart Stone, ———, ———, Art McDowell, Charlie Fisk, ———, Elton Clark, ———, John Rogers, ———, Phil Bergren, John Connery, ———.

Back row: Fred Phelps, John Tobin, Phil Brown, Frank Neville, Fred B. Fountain, J. Warren Mylchreest, Bob Spear, ———,  Gordon Baldwin, Al Hughes (?), Joe Kinsella, Al Herd, Assel Packard, ———, Carroll Campbell, ———, Chief of Fire Dept George Pitt, Chief of Police Charles A. Anderson, Sheriff Burt Thompson, Captain of Police Joseph Dunn, Charles Chafee.

1814: First Congregational Church

The fire which consumed this splendid edifice was communicated by an incendiary, through an aperture in one of the exterior pillars, which had a direct communication with the roof. This latter circumstance rendered the exertions of the citizens unavailing. Nearly all the portable articles attached to the building were preserved. We learn that an insurance had been effected to the amount of ten thousand dollars.

This church was erected in 1795, and cost, including an elegant organ and bell, nearly thirty thousand dollars.–It is computed that one, of equal size and beauty, could not at this time be built under forty thousand dollars.–We understand that subscriptions will be speedily opened, to assist the society in rearing with promptitude, another temple for the worship of ALMIGHTY GOD.

From the Connecticut Spectator (Middletown, Conn.), June 17, 1814.

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.