November 17 – Middletown 366


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.


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.

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.

1911: Cannon Balls

Were Rolled Down Incline on Sidewalk By Wesleyan Freshies.

Special Dispatch to the Enquirer.

Middletown, Conn., May 28.–Eight Wesleyan freshmen returning from their annual class banquet were arrested to-day and kept in the city lockup with a number of “common drunks” for almost 10 hours, as the result of an escapade in which 60 of their class participated.

On arriving in town the students entered the grounds of the Russell Library, where a large stack of Revolutionary cannon balls are kept. Each student seized a cannon ball and climbing to the top of College street hill, rolled them down the incline on the sidewalk.

They will appear in the City Court, tomorrow to answer to the charge of a breach of the peace.

From the Cincinnati Enquirer (Cincinnati, Ohio), Monday, May 29, 1911.

April 5 – Middletown 366


Russell Library Opens

Russell Library opened on April 5, 1876 with a free public reading room, 3,300 books, and a hall that seated 400-500 people. It was open to everyone over the age of 14, and the hours were Monday through Saturday from 3-6pm and 7-9pm.

Russell Library reading room, 1888.
Russell Library reading room, 1888.


Death of a Prominent Prohibitionist

Middletown, Conn., April 5.–Jesse G. Baldwin, for twenty-nine years president of the Central National Bank, died this morning, aged eighty-there. He was a prominent Prohibitionist, a candidate for State office on the abolition ticket about forty years ago, and ran for Governor on the Prohibition ticket in 1878.

From the Ottawa Daily Republic (Ottawa, Kansas), April 6, 1887.

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.