1740: Evangelist George Whitefield Preaches In Middletown

Rev. George WhitefieldIn the 1730s and 1740s, the religious revival known as “The Great Awakening” swept through the colonies, disrupting the life of congregations up and down the Atlantic seaboard. As a result, many towns found themselves with two congregational churches – one that continued to embrace the pre-Great Awakening traditions and anpther that embraced the importance of the “new birth” professed by Whitefield and others. The founding of South Church in Middletown was a direct result of the Great Awakening.

The anticipation of George Whitefield’s arrival in Middletown and the sermon he preached outdoors are described in the journal of Nathan Cole:

“ …about 8 or 9 o’clock there came a messenger and said Mr. Whitefield preached at Hartford and Weathersfield yesterday and is to preach at Middletown this morning [October 23, 1740] at ten of the Clock. I was in my field at Work. I dropt my tool that I had in my hand and ran home and run through my house and bade my wife get ready quick to go and hear Mr. Whitefield preach at Middletown, and run to my pasture for my horse with all my might fearing that I should be too late to hear him. I brought my horse home and soon mounted and took my wife up and went forward as fast as I thought the horse could bear, and when my horse began to be out of breath, I would get down and put my wife on the Saddle and bid her ride as fast as she could …

“When I saw Mr. Whitefield come upon the Scaffold he looked almost angelical, a young, slim slender youth before some thousands of people with a bold undaunted countenance, and my hearing how God was with him every where as he came along it solumnized my mind, and put me into a trembling fear before he began to preach; for he looked as if he was Cloathed with authority from the Great God, and a sweet solemn solemnity sat upon his brow. And my hearing him preach gave me a heart wound; by Gods blessing my old foundation was broken up, and I saw that my righteousness would not save me; then I was convinced of the doctrine of Election and went right to quarrelling with God about it, because all that I could do would not save me; and he had decreed from Eternity who should be saved and who not.”

Source: George Leon Walker, Some Aspects of the Religious Life of New England (New York: Silver, Burnett, and Company, 1897), 89–92.

Story contributed by John Hall.

April 30 – Middletown 366

1868

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.


 1937

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.

1970

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.