The land on the western bank of the Connecticut River where Middletown now lies was home to the Mattabesett Native Americans (also spelled Mattabesec, Mattabeseck, and Mattabesek); the area they inhabited—now Middletown and the surrounding area—was named after them. At the time the first European settlers arrtived 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. The Name Middletown was chosen because the site was approximate halfway between Windsor and Saybrook on the Great River. Life was not easy among these early colonial Puritans; 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."
Pequot Mohegans, at 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 300 acres (1.2 km2) of the former Mattabesett territory. Similar milieus of tragic interaction between Native Americans and colonists were common in 17th century New England.
During the 18th century, Middletown became the largest and most prosperous settlement in Connecticut. By the time of the American Revolution, Middletown was a thriving port 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 whites.
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 19th century 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 center for firearms manufacturing. Numerous gun manufacturers in the area supplied the majority of pistols to the United States government during the War of 1812. After that war, however, the center of this business passed to Springfield, Massachusetts, Hartford, Connecticut, and New Haven, Connecticut. (See also History of Connecticut industry)
1831 saw the establishment of Wesleyan University which was to become one of the United States' leading liberal arts institutions. The institution replaced an earlier institution on the same site, Partridge's American Literary, Scientific and Military Academy, which had moved to Norwich, Vermont and 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. In 1841, Middletown established the state's first public high school, which at first enrolled all students from age nine through age sixteen who had previous attended district schools.
The mid-19th 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.
Regardless, Middletonians played a role in the Civil War. For example, General Joseph K. Mansfield 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" was written by Henry Clay Work, a Middletown resident. The city was also active in the abolitionism movement, and was a hub along the underground railway.
In the latter half of the 19th 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. In addition, there was the pioneer automobile manufacturer Eisenhuth Horseless Vehicle Company.
Middletown also briefly was the home of a major-league baseball team, the Middletown Mansfields of the National Association.
In the late 19th and early 20th 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 as well.
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.
Both natural events and a continuing influx of people and businesses impacted the city in the first half of the 20th century. Middletown was hit by floods in 1927 and 1936, and by The Great New England Hurricane 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 bridge.
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 18th century, 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 U.S. cities at the time, went into a decline that did not reverse until the 1990s.
During this time, many handsome (albeit decrepit) buildings were torn down in the name of 'urban renewal', 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 Playhouse 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. It is located on 128 Washington Street, right around the corner from Middletown's famous Main Street.
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 opened.
The Samuel Wadsworth Russell House on High Street, built in 1827, was declared a National Historic 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, the 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.
The west side of Middletown is flanked by the Metacomet Ridge—a mountainous trap rock 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 50-mile (80 km) 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 is 1,055.4 people per square mile (407.5/km²). There are 19,697 housing units at an average density of 481.6 per square mile (185.9/km²). The racial makeup of the city is 80.01% White, 12.26% Black or African American, 5.30% Hispanic or Latino, 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 couples living together, and 44.0% are non-families. The average household size is 2.23 and the average family size is 2.90.
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 older.
The headquarters of the Connecticut Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection, previously the Connecticut Department of Public Safety, is located in Middletown.
The United States Postal Service operates the Middletown Post Office.
Daniel T. Drew has been the mayor of Middletown since 2011.
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 of 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, the city provided free wi-fi service along Main Street and the historic Inn at Middletown a luxury four and half star boutique hotel transformed the former vacant National Guard Armory. On November 8, 2005, Republican Sebastian Giuliano won 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. During Giuliano's three terms in office, Middletown's Main Street became a hub for small businesses, and the city began investing heavily in the arts. Democrat Daniel T. Drew defeated Giuliano in 2011. Drew has pushed for increased development in the city's North End, an area that has been plagued by poverty and crime in recent decades. In November 2012, voters approved a $37 Million initiative to move Middletown's wastewater to the Mattabassett Sewer District treatment plant in nearby Cromwell. Previously, the city had operated its own sewage treatment plant on the banks of the Connecticut River. The city has made plans to tear down this older plant and develop the riverfront property on which it sits. Middletown continues to support manufacturing and small business.
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. Middletown today 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 Haddam. The city is also the site of the controversial State Juvenile Training Center.
Culturally and politically, Middletown is in the midst of an effort to revitalize its historically disadvantaged North End. Economic development projects recently completed in the North End include Wharfside Commons, a 96-unit mixed income apartment block, and the new Community Health Center (completed in 2012 at the corner of Main and Grand Streets). The Green Street Arts Center, 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 End. A fire on August 31, 2006 gutted much of the historic structure. The Middletown community held many fundraising events to raise money for the diner's rebuilding. Reconstruction began in September 2007, and O'Rourke's Diner re-opened in February 2008. Daniel Drew, Middletown's current Mayor, has supported citizen-oriented efforts to revitalize the North End, such as the local nonprofit NEAT (North End Action Team). In 2012, the City of Middletown and NEAT partnered to form the "I Heart the North End" initiative, which plans to raise public awareness of the economic and cultural opportunities available in the area.
Russell Library, 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.
In addition to Wesleyan University, the city is home to Middlesex Community College, and two Roman Catholic high schools, Xavier High School (Connecticut) and Mercy High School (Connecticut), all of which attract students from surrounding communities.
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 Museum located in a renovated and recently expanded former home of Judge Elmer, which was moved 400 feet (120 m) 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 living, with open areas designated as common land.
There are also many parks and nature trails including the Middletown Nature Gardens, Wadsworth Falls State Park and Smith Park, and 100 acres (0.40 km2) of open property at the Guida Farm Conservation Area for families to enjoy. Harbor Park is a 2.6-acre (11,000 m2) 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 Head of the Connecticut 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, 2008. Along with the new emergency room, a helipad will be added along with 70 new parking spaces for patients.
At 11:17AM on February 7, 2010, a large explosion occurred at a power plant under construction in Middletown.
Middletown has three regular news outlets. The Middletown Eye is an all-volunteer citizen newsblog covering municipal affairs, elections, the arts, and other events of interest in Middletown. It was founded on June 16, 2008 by Ed McKeon and Jen Alexander. The Middletown Press is a daily broadsheet which covers news in the Middletown area. The Hartford Courant is a daily broadsheet which includes a Middletown story in every issue. Three radio stations are licensed to Middletown: WMRD 1150 AM (variety), WESU 88.1 FM (Wesleyan University) and WIHS 104.9 FM (religious).
Middletown Area Transit provides public transportation services throughout Middletown; the New Britain Transportation Company provides connecting service to New Britain and the surrounding area; and Connecticut Transit provides local and express service to Hartford as well as express service to New Haven. The Estuary Transit District provides public transit service between Middletown and Old Saybrook, which, along with New Haven, provides connections to Amtrak intercity trains and Shore Line East commuter rail service.Artists For World Peace, Nonprofit International Peace Organization
(B) denotes the person was born in Middletown.Dean Acheson, Wesleyan faculty, U.S. Secretary of State, 1949–1953.
Raymond E. Baldwin, Wesleyan graduate, Connecticut Governor, United States Senator, and Justice of the Connecticut Supreme Court.
A. Doris Banks Henries, educator in Liberia.
Bill Belichick, Wesleyan graduate, head coach, New England Patriots.
Amos Beman, studied for a short time at Wesleyan University, Pastor of Temple Street Church New Haven, Connecticut, 1812-1872.
Anthony Braxton, Wesleyan faculty, noted jazz composer.
Tyondai Braxton, son of Anthony Braxton, composer and performer.
Janet 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, U.S. Representative from Connecticut.
Emilio Q. Daddario, U.S. Representative from Connecticut.
Jules Dassin, American film director.(B)
Mark DeJohn, born September 18, 1953, American League professional baseball player/coach in the St. Louis Cardinals' farm system.
James DeKoven, Episcopal clergyman.
Bill Denehy, William Francis Denehy (born March 31, 1946), Major league Pitcher (B)
Andre Drummond, former University of Connecticut and current NBA player for the Detroit Pistons.
Willbur Fisk, first president of Wesleyan University. Fisk Hall is named for him.
Earl Dorchester Hanson, discoverer of feeding groove in Paramecium, Founder of Wesleyan University Science in Society Program.
Lo'renzo Hill-White, fashion stylist.
Samuel Dickinson Hubbard, U.S. Member of Congress, United States Postmaster General (1852–1853).
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, NASCAR driver for Team Penske in Sprint Cup Series.
Alvin Lucier, composer.
Mark MacDonald, member of the Vermont House of Representatives and Vermont Senate.(B)
Thomas Macdonough, Commodore, hero of the Battle of Lake Champlain in the War of 1812.
William Manchester, historian, author, Wesleyan University.
Eric Mangini, Wesleyan graduate, former head coach, Cleveland Browns and New York Jets of the National Football League.
Joseph K. Mansfield, General, died at the Battle of Antietam in the Civil War.
Samuel Mattocks, officer in the American Revolution and Vermont State Treasurer.(B)
Return Jonathan Meigs, Sr., Revolutionary War hero and agent to the Cherokee.
Return Jonathan Meigs, Jr., Ohio Governor and U.S. Senator.
Samuel Holden Parsons, merchant, lawyer, Revolutionary War General, later led settlement scheme in Ohio.
Tony Pastor (October 26, 1907–October 31, 1969), born Antonio Pestritto, Band Leader, singer (B)
Willie Pep, boxer.
William Ranney, 19th century Western artist.(B)
Adelaïde Alsop Robineau, American potter (B)
Bill Rodgers, Wesleyan graduate, five-time Boston Marathon winner.
Maurice Rose, General, killed in Germany during World War II.(B)
Samuel Wadsworth Russell, founder of Russell & Company.
Jordan Russolillo, professional soccer player.(B)
Amari Spievey, professional football player for the Detroit Lions
Major Taylor, world-champion cyclist and second African-American world champion in any sport.
Alton Tobey, artist.(B)
John Hasbrouck Van Vleck, co-recipient of 1977 Nobel Prize in Physics.(B)
Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser, formed MGMT while living in Middletown, attending Wesleyan University.
Bill Watrous, jazz musician and band leader.(B)
Joss Whedon, Wesleyan graduate, creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Jeduthun Wilcox, U.S. Representative from New Hampshire.
Elizabeth Willis, poet
Woodrow Wilson, U.S. President, and 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".(B)
Cayey, Puerto Rico (U.S.)