1862: The Battle of Fredericksburg

On this day, Elijah Gibbons was mortally wounded at the Battle of Fredericksburg in Virginia. He had been a foreman at the Douglas Pump Company and was a fervent abolitionist, having lost his job as sexton at the First Baptist Church when he decided to ring the steeple bell at the moment the abolitionist John Brown was hung. At the outbreak of the war, he raised a company of Middletown men to join the fight. He led his men, Company B of the 14th Regiment Connecticut Volunteer Infantry through the Battle of Antietam in September, 1862 only to lose his life at Fredericksburg. He is buried in Mortimer Cemetery and descendants still live in the area.

Story contributed by Deborah Shapiro.

Elijah Gibbons

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.

1909: President Taft Day in Middletown

November 12, 1909 saw the first visit by a president since Andrew Jackson came in 1832.  The purpose of Taft’s visit was to be the speaker at the inauguration of Wesleyan University President William Shanklin. Accompanying Taft in a car driven by F, L. Caulkins was Stephen H. Olin, representing Wesleyan alumni.  In the following car were Vice-President Sherman, Governor Frank B. Weeks of Middletown, and Middletown’s mayor, T. Macdonough Russell. They passed by 2500 school children and the parade was composed of bands and fraternal organizations, with the town’s Civil War veterans immediately surrounding the car as a military escort. The Penny Press headline declared that it was “One of the Greatest Parades Witnessed Here.”

Story contributed by Deborah Shapiro.

President Taft Visit

November 9 – Middletown 366


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.


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.


1995: First Woman Mayor of Middletown

Maria HolzbergOn this day, Maria Madsen Holzberg was elected the first woman mayor of Middletown against her opponent, Emanuel “Puddy” Pattavina. During her term, voters approved the funds to build a new police station on Main Street and the renovation of Snow School and the Wadsworth Mansion. After leaving office, she was appointed the first public defender for juveniles for the Middlesex Judicial District.

Story contributed by Deborah Shapiro.

November 2 – Middletown 366


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.


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: George Washington Visit

George Washington, by Gilbert Stuart.
George Washington, by Gilbert Stuart.

On this day, George Washington visited Middletown while traveling through New England.  The president noted in his diary: “At one we arrived in Middletown, on the Connecticut River, being met 2… or 3 miles from it by the respectable citizens of the place and escorted by them.  While dinner was getting ready I took a walk around the town from the heights of which the prospect if beautiful.  Belonging to this place, I was informed (by General Sage) that there were about 20 sea vessels….The country hereabouts is beautiful and lands good….”  Though his visit lasted just about two hours, it made a great impression on Middletown citizens.  Shortly thereafter, the city changed the name of “Boston Road” to “Washington Street” to honor the first president and mark his visit here.

Story contributed by Deborah Shapiro.

1961: Joey Jay Pitches Complete Game

On this day, Middletown native Joey Jay of the Cincinnati Reds pitched a complete game four hit 6 – 2 victory against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium in Game 2 of the World Series, the only game that the Reds won. Jay won 21 games that season. In a career that lasted 13 years with the Milwaukee Braves, the Cincinnati Reds, and the Atlanta Braves his record was 99 – 91 and he had 999 strike-outs and an ERA of 3.77. He was the first former Little Leaguer to make the majors and was one of the first “bonus babies”.

Contributed by Deborah Shapiro.

1862: General Mansfield Falls at Antietam

General Joseph MansfieldOn this day, Major General Joseph King Fenno Mansfield was mortally wounded leading his men at the Battle of Antietam near Sharpsburg, Maryland.

Having been raised in Middletown, and entering West Point just several months shy of his 14th birthday, Mansfield spent 14 years building Fort Pulaski in Savannah, was wounded at the Battle of Monterey in the Mexican War, and rose to become Inspector General of the entire US Army. At the outbreak of the war, President Lincoln placed him in charge of the defenses of Washington, DC and he later participated in the battle of the ironclads, the Monitor and the Merrimac from the shore batteries.

On September 15, 1862, he arrived in Sharpsburg to assume command of the 12th Corps of the Army of the Potomac, commanded by General George McClellan. After his death the day after the battle, his body was returned to Middletown accompanied by his son Samuel who had just graduated from West Point. He is buried in Indian Hill Cemetery.

Story contributed by Deborah Shapiro.

1814: Macdonough’s Victory at Lake Champlain

Gilbert Stuart, Commodore Thomas Macdonough, American, 1755 - 1828, c. 1815/1818, oil on wood, Andrew W. Mellon Collection
Commodore Thomas Macdonough, American, 1755 – 1828, c. 1815/1818, oil on wood, Artist Gilbert Stuart. Andrew W. Mellon Collection.

On this day, Middletown resident Commodore Thomas Macdonough was the victor over the British Fleet at the Battle of Lake Champlain, directly leading to the end of the War of 1812 with the signing of the Treaty of Ghent. Early in his naval career, he was stationed in Middletown building gunboats in local shipyards and fell in love with Lucy Ann Shailer. After their marriage, they built a home on Main Street just south of where Webster Bank is today. Lucy Ann died several weeks after their 10th child was born and he succumbed to tuberculosis several months later while returning home to his family from his command of the USS Constitution. Both are buried in Riverside Cemetery.

Story contributed by Deborah Shapiro.

Macdonough home on Main Street
Macdonough home on Main Street