Middletown in Middlesex County, Connecticut — The American Northeast (New England)
Middletown in the 1800s
The 1800s brought enormous change to Middletown, transforming its economy, its culture, and the very face of its people.
The changes began in 1807, when hostilities between the United States and Great Britain led Thomas Jefferson to ban international commerce. For Middletown, the result was disaster. The city's prosperity hinged on maritime trade which now decreased drastically. At the same time, many of Middletown's old farming families found there was not enough land left for their children to establish their own farms. With prospects dim, many Middletown inhabitants left for the more promising frontiers of Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York.
But new livelihoods soon replaced farming and maritime trade. Local entrepreneurs opened factories to manufacture everything from pistols to pumps, from swords to suspenders. Many factories employed young women, in addition to men. In the stone quarries across the river, demand skyrocketed for brownstone to build homes and public buildings throughout the United States. Immigration solved the resulting need for labor. Refugees from the Irish potato famine began arriving in Middletown
During the 1830s Middletown became a center of the controversial crusade to abolish slavery in the United States. Blacks and whites men and women, risked insult and even assault for speaking out against slavery. They also helped fugitive slaves reach freedom via the secret, illegal network known as the underground railroad.
When Wesleyan University opened here in 1831, Middletown achieved prominence in education, reinforced in 1840 with the establishment of Connecticut's first high school. Other important institutions followed: the Connecticut Hospital for the Insane (now Connecticut Valley Hospital) opened in 1868 and the Connecticut Industrial School for Girls, predecessor of the modern Connecticut Juvenile Training School was established in 1870. Russell Library opened its doors in 1875, and Middlesex Hospital was incorporated in 1895.
When the clash between North and South erupted into the Civil War, Middletown threw itself behind the Union cause. Out of a population of 9,000 Middletown sent 958 men into the military. More than 100 Middletown soldiers died in the conflict. On the homefront, local women rolled bandages, stitched shirts, and knitted socks for the troops. Women with husbands in the army found new independence and responsibility in running their households and raising their children alone.
In 1866 the incorporation of the city's southwestern section as the town of Middlefield completed the shrinking of Middletown. In other ways, however, the post-Civil War era was one of growth for the city. Existing factories expanded and new ones opened, making bicycles hammocks, rubber boots, and silver-plated tea sets. Immigrants from Germany, Sweden Poland, Italy, and Russia flocked to Middletown The establishment of churches for the Roman Catholic, Lutheran, and other faiths reflected the city's increasing multiculturalism.
Local artist Patrick Shugrue painted this view of Middletown as it would have appeared in 1899, looking east from Broad Street. It was a colorful city quickly expanding with immigrants from such
Lands as Sweden, Russia, China, Italy, Poland and Greece. Residential neighborhoods stood side-by-side with factories and businesses, and the Connecticut River was still an integral part of the community.
- Courtesy of Patrick Shugrue
Middletown’s many factories turned out swords, soap, fire engine pumps, suspenders, washing machines, and much more. Beginning in 1897, the Keating Wheel Company operated in a North End factory that later produced early automobiles and typewriters, and still stands today.
- Courtesy of the Connecticut State Library
Best friends Eddie Brewer and Amos Fairchild enlisted as Union privates in the Civil War. Both young men gave their lives for the cause, dying of disease far from their families.
- Courtesy of the Middlesex County Historical Society
This 1825 map reveals a city far different from the Middletown of today. Steamboat Wharf stood at the foot of Parsonage Street (now Dingwall Drive), servicing the boats that stopped on their way from Hartford to New York. The downtown neighborhoods of Centre, Elm, and Hanover Streets have disappeared long since, and Route 9 has replaced Water Street, which housed docks and warehouses.
Erected by the Middlesex County Historical Society.
Topics. This historical marker is listed in this topic list: Settlements & Settlers.
Location. 41° 33.61′ N, 72° 38.943′ W. Marker is in Middletown, Connecticut, in Middlesex County. Marker is at the intersection of Main Street and Court Street, on the right when traveling north on Main Street. Touch for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: 100 Main Street, Middletown CT 06457, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Middletown in the 1900s (here, next to this marker); Middletown in the 1700s (here, next to this marker); Middletown in the 1600s (here, next to this marker); Bigelow Tavern (a few steps from this marker); Middletown and the Connecticut River (about 600 feet away, measured in a direct line); Old City Hall Bell (about 700 feet away); Russell Library (approx. 0.2 miles away); deKoven House Community Center (approx. 0.2 miles away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Middletown.
More about this marker. Weather has affected the clarity of the text and pictures. The Middlesex County Historical Society generously aided in transcribing this marker.
Credits. This page was last revised on November 13, 2020. It was originally submitted on October 10, 2016, by Michael Herrick of Southbury, Connecticut. This page has been viewed 278 times since then and 37 times this year. Photos: 1, 2. submitted on October 10, 2016, by Michael Herrick of Southbury, Connecticut.