Middletown is a city located
County, Connecticut, along the Connecticut
River, in the central part of the state, 16 miles (26 km)
south of Hartford.
In 1650, it was incorporated as a town
under its original Indian name, Mattabeseck
. It received its present name in
1653. In 1784, the central settlement was incorporated as a city
distinct from the town. In 1923, the City of Middletown was
consolidated with the Town, making the city limits of the city
quite extensive. Originally a busy sailing port and then an
industrial center, it is now largely a residential city and college
town, home to Wesleyan
University. From the creation of Middlesex
County in 1785, until the elimination of county government
in 1960, Middletown was the county seat.
In 1910, 11,851
people were residents of the city. In 1940, 26,495 people lived
here. As of the 2000
, the city had a total population of 43,167.
Home of Governor Frank Weeks,
decorated for "Wesleyan Taft Day", 1909
- See also: Middletown, Connecticut,
The land on the western bank of the Connecticut River where
Middletown now lies was home to the Mattabesett Native Americans
spelled Mattabesec, Mattabeseck,
); the area they inhabited—now Middletown and
the surrounding area—was named after them. At the time the first
European settlers arrived in the region, the Mattabesetts were a
part of the group of tribes in the Connecticut Valley, under a
single chief named Sowheag.
Plans for the colonial settlement of "Mattabesett" were drawn up by
the General Court in 1646; the first Europeans arrived from nearby
Connecticut colonies in 1650. Life was not easy among these early
; clearing the land and
building homes, and tending farms in the rocky soil of New England
was a labor-intensive ordeal. Law, too, was often harsh among the
Puritans; offenses legally punishable by death in the Connecticut
colonies included, "witchcraft, blasphemy, cursing or smiting of
parents, and incorrigible stubbornness of children."
that time traditional allies of the English colonists and enemies
of the Mattabesett and other local tribes, arrived in the
Middletown area in the latter half of the 17th century; conflict
between them and local Native American tribes ensued. The
Mattabesett and other tribes referred to the Mohegan as "destroyers
of men." Sowheag hoped that the colonists would intervene. They did
not. Smallpox, too, afflicted the Mattabesett, significantly
lessening their ability to resist and their cohesion as a tribe.
Records show that, over time, Sowheag was "forced" to sell off most
of the Mattabesett property to the local colonists; by 1676 the
Puritans owned all but of the former Mattabesett territory.
milieus of tragic interaction between Native Americans and
colonists were common in 17th century New England.
During the 1700s, Middletown became the largest and most prosperous
settlement in Connecticut. By the time of the American Revolution, Middletown was a
thriving port, comparable to Boston or New York in
importance, with one-third of its citizens involved in merchant and
maritime activities. Slavery was part of the early economy of
Middletown; African slaves were
brought to the town in 1661 from Barbados; by 1756
Middletown had the third largest African slave population in the
state of Connecticut—218 slaves to 5,446 Europeans.
Middletown merchant traders pushed for the clearance of the
Saybrook Bar at the mouth of the Connecticut River, and later
sought the creation of Middlesex County in 1785. The name
'Middlesex' was chosen because the intention was to make Middletown
the head of a long river port, much as London was at the head of
its long river port in Middlesex County, England. The same persons
also established the Middlesex Turnpike (now Route 154
) to link all the
settlements on the western side of the Connecticut, again with the
intent of creating one long port.
The port's decline began in the early 1800s with strained
American-British relations and resulting trade restrictions, which
led to the War of 1812
. The port never
recovered; however, the city distinguished itself in the war
effort, as Middletown's Commodore Thomas Macdonough
led American forces to
the victory on Lake Champlain in 1814 which ended British hopes for
an invasion of New York.
During this period, Middletown became a major hub of firearm
production. Numerous gun manufacturers in the area supplied the
majority of pistols
to the United States
government during the War of 1812. Afterwards, however, the center of this
business passed to Springfield, Massachusetts, Hartford, Connecticut, and New Haven, Connecticut.
(See also History of
the establishment of Wesleyan University, which became one of the United States' leading
liberal arts institutions.
The then Methodist Wesleyan
replaced an earlier institution on the same site; the American
Literary, Scientific and Military Academy, which had moved to
Norwich, Vermont, (and which later became Norwich University). The
two main buildings of the original campus were built by the people
of Middletown with the intent of attracting an academic institution
to the city.
The mid-nineteenth century also saw manufacturing replace trade as
Middletown's economic mainstay; however, industrial growth was
limited by railroad operators' decision to bypass Middletown when
tracks were laid between Hartford and New Haven. There had been an
ambitious plan to build a railroad suspension bridge in the White
Rock, Middletown to Bodkin Rock, Portland vicinity, which was seen
as an unpractical solution.
Main Street, looking north from City
Hall, about 1912
Regardless, Middletonians played a role in the Civil War. For
example, General Joseph K.
of Middletown was a
Union General at Antietam, where he died in action in 1862.
Ironically, another casualty at Antietam was Brig. Gen. George Taylor
, who had been
educated at a private military academy in Middletown. Also, the
popular Civil War marching song "Marching Through Georgia
written by Henry Clay Work
Middletown resident. The city was also active in the abolitionism
movement, and was a hub along the
In the latter half of the nineteenth century, manufacturing was the
mainstay of the city's economy, especially finely made metal parts,
such as marine hardware (Wilcox, Crittendon & Co.) and
typewriters (Royal Typewriters). There were also several machine
tool & die manufacturers in the city. Middletown was also the
site of a major unit of Goodyear
addition, there was the pioneer automobile
manufacturer Eisenhuth Horseless Vehicle
Middletown also briefly was the home of a major-league baseball
team, the Middletown
of the National
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, the once
predominantly Anglo-Saxon city underwent a demographic
transformation. First the Irish, and then large numbers of
Italian immigrants arrived to work in Middletown's factories and
farms, many coming from the town of Melilli, Sicily.
Polish and German arrivals followed,
and by 1910 the population had swelled to nearly 21,000. Meanwhile,
the number of African-Americans dwindled to a mere 53 persons, as
employers chose to hire white immigrants. Later in the century,
more African-Americans migrated to the area, followed by a more
recent influx of Hispanic residents. The efforts of two Wesleyan
professors also brought a small group of Cambodian refugees to
Middletown in the early 1980s, who became the basis of a thriving
Cambodian community, and a similar story is true for Middletown's
small Tibetan community. Middletown is also the home of the first
Hindu temple in Connecticut, and has attracted a Hindu population
This mix of people has also become evident in the range of
restaurants which Middletown now has, and which is quickly becoming
one of the most well-known aspects of the city.
Looking South on Broad Street from
Washington Street, 1910 postcard
Both natural events and a continuing influx of people and
businesses impacted the city in the first half of the twentieth
century. Middletown was hit by floods in 1927 and 1936, and by
The Great New England
in 1938. Despite these occurrences, the Arrigoni
Bridge was completed over the Connecticut River in 1938, which
connects Middletown to Portland and points east, replacing an earlier
During the 1950s, as the popularity of the automobile increased,
government officials approved the construction of a highway that
effectively separated Middletown from the Connecticut River, its
initial, natural raison d'être
. Highway construction
demolished historic neighborhoods, including many buildings from
the 1700s, and led people to commute to newer housing outside older
neighborhoods. The loss of industry and jobs contributed to a
decline in Middletown, like many other Northeastern cities at the
time, went into a decline that did not reverse until the
During this time, many handsome (albeit decrepit) buildings were
torn down in the name of 'urban
', and later turned into parking lots, or left empty.
Crime increased. During the 1960s, Pratt and Whitney Aircraft
opened a large
plant in the Maromas section of Middletown. Concurrently,
developers bought much of the city's remaining farms, including
most of Oak Grove Dairy, to create suburban developments for local
workers and commuters to surrounding cities.
During the 1970s, Oddfellows
was established. The theater attracts hundreds of
young people every year from around the state to perform in plays
and other performances. The playhouse is one of the few youth
theaters in the state of Connecticut.
During the 1990s, a partnership between the city, the Middlesex
Chamber of Commerce, and Wesleyan University invested heavily in
Middletown's Main Street. Their actions helped the revival of
downtown Middletown. Crime decreased, and new restaurants and shops
Wadsworth Russell House on High Street, built in 1827, was declared a
Landmark in 2001. The Alsop House, also located on High Street, and built in 1840,
was designated a National
Historic Landmark in 2009.
Both buildings are part of
the Wesleyan campus.
Middletown sits on the west bank of the Connecticut River, in the
south-central portion of the state. Running alongside the river, Route
9 bisects the city.
According to the United States Census Bureau
city has a total area of 42.3 square miles (109.6 km²),
of which, 40.9 square miles (105.9 km²) of it is land and
1.4 square miles (3.7 km²) of it is water. The total area
is 3.36% water.
side of Middletown is flanked by the Metacomet Ridge, a mountainous traprock ridgeline that stretches from Long Island
Sound to nearly the Vermont border. Notable mountains of the Metacomet Ridge in
Middletown include Higby
Mountain and the
north side of Lamentation Mountain.
The Mattabesett Trail
traverses the ridge.
The Nature Conservancy
manages the summit and ledges of Higby Mountain.
As of the census
of 2000, there were 43,167
people, 18,554 households, and 10,390 families residing in the
city. The population density
1,055.4 people per square mile (407.5/km²). There are 19,697
housing units at an average density of 481.6/sq mi
(185.9/km²). The racial makeup of the city is 80.01% White
, 12.26% Black
or African American
, 5.30% Hispanic
, and 2.68% Asian
There are 18,554 households, of which 25.7% have children under the
age of 18 living with them, 41.3% are married
living together, and 44.0% are non-families. The
average household size is 2.23 and the average family size is
21.7% of residents are under the age of 18, 8.3% from 18 to 24,
35.1% from 25 to 44, 21.5% from 45 to 64, and 13.4% are 65 years of
age or older. The median age is 36 years. For every 100 females
there are 93.3 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there
are 90.2 males.
The median income for a household in the city is $47,162, and the
median income for a family is $60,845. Males have a median income
of $45,790 versus $34,648 for females. The per capita income
for the city is $25,720.
7.5% of the population and 4.3% of families are below the poverty line
. Out of the total people living in
poverty, 7.5% are under the age of 18 and 6.6% are 65 or
|Voter Registration and Party Enrollment as of
October 25, 2005
Downtown Middletown showing the
Connecticut River and HarborPark.
In recent decades, Middletown has focused on balancing the needs
and comforts of its residents with the commercial development
required to help fund services. These efforts date at least from
1931, when the city was one the first in America to establish a
planning board. Progress continued under the leadership of
Democratic mayor, Domenique S. Thornton, who served a record eight
years (four terms) as mayor. The city attracted a 12-screen movie
theater and numerous restaurants and other businesses to the
downtown area, and the city provided free wi-fi
service along Main Street. On November 8, 2005,
Republican Sebastian Giuliano
the mayor's office, replacing Thornton, whom he criticized for
raising taxes and for the awarding of a contract for the
construction of a new high school to Tomasso Brothers, Inc., a firm
that had been the target of a federal corruption probe. The city is
also the site of the controversial Connecticut Juvenile Training
School. Middletown continues to support manufacturing and small
Middletown has remained an important government administrative
center. From the creation of Middlesex
County in 1798, until the elimination of county government
in 1965, Middletown was the county seat.
retains Middlesex Superior Court, and the Judicial District remains
that of the former county court. Other county functions were either
centralized to the state or transferred to the towns. The former
county building has been removed, but there are other state agency
buildings elsewhere in the city, such as the Dept. of Social
Services on Main Street Ext. Middletown's Probate Court district
includes the towns of Cromwell, Portland, Middlefield and
Culturally, Middletown is in the midst of an effort to revitalize
its historically disadvantaged North End, with the building of
Wharfside Commons, a new 96-unit mixed income housing unit on Ferry
Street. The Green Street Arts
, founded by Wesleyan and a coalition of community groups
in 2000, is a pioneering attempt to attract residents and
businesses to the neighborhood by promoting arts education and
outreach. For decades, the famous O'Rourke's
Diner has done much to bring some stability to the North
However, a fire on August 31, 2006 gutted much of the
historic structure. The Middletown community has held many
fundraising events to raise money for the diner's rebuilding.
Reconstruction began in September 2007, and
Diner re-opened in February 2008.
, the public library of Middletown, continues to be a
cultural, educational and entertainment center that offers a place
for the community to meet. Currently, the library makes available
to the general public books, newspapers, magazines, informational
databases of full-text newspaper and magazine articles (offering
news, business, medical, health, biographical, literary, etc.,
information), classes, computer training, workshops, concerts, and
meeting spaces, including the Hubbard Room, a large meeting room
that can accommodate 100 people.
addition to Wesleyan
University, the city is home to Middlesex Community College, and
two Roman Catholic high schools, all of which attract students from
Middletown is the only location of a well-known youth theater
group, Oddfellows Playhouse
which is located on Washington Street and pulls in children of all
ages from all over the state to learn theater skills. Oddfellows
also runs the Children's
Circus of Middletown
where children learn circus skills and put
on a free show for close to a thousand people.
Middletown is also host to the Kidcity Children's
located in a renovated and recently expanded former home
of Judge Elmer, which was moved down Washington Street to its
current location.Kidcity is a hands-on playspace where children
ages 1 through 8 come with parents and other significant adults to
learn through play.
The Downtown Business District continues to revitalize the downtown
area. Pratt and Whitney, Aetna, Middlesex
Hospital, Connecticut Valley Hospital, Liberty Bank, and Wesleyan
University are major employers.
Located on the western
border of the city, in an area known as Westlake, is an 84 house
community known as The Farms
. This architectural award winning
community was developed in 1969 by George Achenbach, and was one of
the first communities in Connecticut designed for cluster
, with open areas designated as common
There are also many parks and nature trails including the Middletown Nature Gardens
Wadsworth Falls State Park and Smith
, and 100 acres of open property at the Guida Farm
Conservation Area for families to enjoy. Harbor Park is a 2.6 acre
recreation area on the Connecticut River, featuring a boardwalk,
restaurant/nightclub, fishing, seasonal boat excursions, and the
Middletown High School and Wesleyan University crew boathouses.
July 4 festivities, as well as the Connecticut Head of the Regatta
event in October are conducted from Harbor Park.
Middlesex Hospital 
a major employer in Middletown and throughout
Middlesex County, is spending $31 million to build a new emergency
department. The new emergency room opened on March 24
. Along with the
new emergency room, a helipad will be added along with 70 new
parking spaces for customers.
- Dean Acheson, Wesleyan faculty, US
Secretary of State, 1949-1953.
- Raymond E. Baldwin, Wesleyan graduate, Connecticut
Governor, United States Senator, and Justice of the Connecticut
- Bill Belichick, Wesleyan
graduate, head coach, New England
- Anthony Braxton, Wesleyan
faculty, noted jazz composer.
Huntington Brewster (1910–1998), was an American philanthropist, writer, radio broadcaster and
relief worker during World War II in London. She
was married to Edward R. Murrow.
- Ambrose Burfoot, Wesleyan
graduate, former Boston Marathon winner.
- Daniel Burrows, United States
Representative from Connecticut.
- Jules Dassin, American film
- James DeKoven, Episcopal
- Wilbur Fisk, first president of
Wesleyan University (Fisk Hall named for him).
- Samuel Holden Parsons,
merchant & lawyer, Revolutionary War General, later led
settlement scheme in Ohio.
- Samuel Dickinson
Hubbard, U.S. congressman, United States Postmaster
- Joey Jay, major league baseball player
and the first Little Leaguer to reach the major leagues.
- Juliette Augusta
Magill Kinzie, American historian, writer
- Joey Logano, race car driver for
Joe Gibbs Racing.
- Thomas Macdonough, Commodore,
hero of the Battle of Lake Champlain in the War of 1812.
- Eric Mangini, Wesleyan graduate,
head coach, Cleveland Browns.
- William Manchester,
Historian, author, Wesleyan University
- Joseph K. Mansfield, General, died at the Battle
of Antietam in the Civil War.
- Return Jonathan Meigs, Sr.,
Revolutionary War hero and agent to the Cherokee
Jonathan Meigs, Jr., Ohio Governor and
- Tony Pastore, tenor saxophone and vocalist with Artie Shaw orchestra.
- Willie Pep, pound-for-pound one of
the greatest boxers of all-time.
- Bill Rodgers, Wesleyan
graduate, five-time Boston Marathon winner.
- Maurice Rose, General, born in
Middletown; killed in Germany during World War II.
- Noadiah Russell, Pastor and theologian, one of original
founders of Yale College.
- Samuel Wadsworth
Russell, founder of Russell & Company.
- Major Taylor, world-champion
cyclist and second African-American world champion in any
- Alton Tobey (5 November 1914 - 4
January 2005), artist, born in Middletown.
VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser,
formed MGMT while living in Middletown,
- Jordan Russolillo,
Professional Soccer Player, was born in Middletown.
- Bill Watrous, jazz musician and
band leader, was born in Middletown.
- Joss Whedon, Wesleyan graduate,
creator of Buffy the Vampire
Wilcox was a United
States Representative from New Hampshire.
- Woodrow Wilson, U.S. President;
was a Professor of Political Economy at Wesleyan University.
- Henry Clay Work, author of the
Civil War song, "Marching Through Georgia."
- Allie Wrubel, famous composer of
'Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah' and other hit songs.
- Warner, Elizabeth. A Pictoral History of Middletown.
Greater Middletown Preservation Trust. Donning Publishers. Norfolk,
- Middlesex County Historical Society and Wesleyan University
Library's Special Collections Archives. The History of
Middletown "Part I: 1650-1800." Prepared by Jeff Harmon. Cited
from the City of Middletown website Jan. 1, 2007.
- Cronin, William. Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and
the Ecology of New England. 2003, Hill and Wang, New York.
- Clymer, Floyd. Treasury of Early American Automobiles,
1877-1925 (New York: Bonanza Books, 1950), p.51.
- History of Middlesex County 1635-1885: With Biographical
Sketches of Its Prominent Men. Pratt & Read Co. New York:
J. B. Beers & Co., 1884.
- History of Middlesex County, Connecticut, Whittemore,
(New York, 1884)
- Middletown Upper Houses: A History of the North Society of
Middletown from 1650 to 1800, C. C. Adams, (New York,