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A Legacy Carved Across The Landscape

Over the years, the MacDonough name has been a landmark -- locally and around the country

Middletown made the most of its connection to Thomas MacDonough, a national hero!

In addition to MacDonough School, there are (and were) signs of his legacy throughout Middletown. For many years, the MacDonough House, at the northwest corner of Main and Court streets, was the leading entertainment venue for the city. It included an opera house and hotel. It was razed in 1828 to make way for Middletown Savings Bank, now Liberty Bank. One MacDonough Place is a senior facility on a street bearing his name. A River Road restaurant was popular for about 25 years that was called the Commodore MacDonough Inn.

Just outside Riverview Cemetery is a stone plaque, shown here, inscribed with a reminder of his legacy. Mayor Frederick Bielefield and his administration installed it about 1930. 

MacDonough was a national hero and many states claim a piece of him.

He is a native son of Delaware, where he was born. There is a McDonough, Georgia, a McDonough, New York, and a McDonough County, Illinois. (Did no one tell these people about the "a" he added to his name?) There was a stamp issued in 1937 with his likeness and a naval ship with his name.

Thomas MacDonough and his wife are buried in Riverview Cemetery.

Jen Alexander December 30, 2010 at 03:32 AM
Liz, Liz, Liz. How could you do this to poor old Commodore Macdonough? I've seen his signature, in his own handwriting (forgotten the source now...some historical society in Delaware) and the man definitely used a small "d". That's why Macdonough School has the small "d". It just kills me how so many people in our own school system get this wrong -- though I'm happy to say that most within the building now have a firm grip on the proper spelling. There's just no accounting for the deviant spelling on the street and the assisted living facility in town. On the other hand, it seems that he occasionally used McDonough -- and that's how it's spelled on his namesake Navy ship. Here's one internet source on this topic...you know how reliable they are! quote from http://www.history.navy.mil/danfs/c12/commodore_mcdonough.htm: McDonough is a variant spelling occasionally used by Thomas Macdonough. He was born in New Castle County, Del., 31 December 1783, and entered the Navy as a midshipman 5 February 1800. Macdonough served with distinction in the Quasi-War with France, and the Barbary Wars, and commanded the American squadron on Lake Champlain in the War of 1812. There he gained a brilliant victory over the British on 11 September 1814, for which he received many honors, including promotion to captain. After commanding Constitution in the Mediterranean in 1824, he died at sea while returning home on 10 November 1825.
Elizabeth Warner December 30, 2010 at 04:51 PM
He was born Mcdonough and he added the "a" when he reached adulthood. So most of the commemorative sites in his hometown region were without the "a." And you are absolutely right about the capital "d." Thanks for correcting my error, Jen. Sorry it caused such disappointment and annoyance.
Erik Hesselberg December 30, 2010 at 06:52 PM
That Macdonough came to Middletown first in 1805 to oversee the construction of several gunboats speaks to the city’s importance as an international seaport, ranking with Salem and Newburyport. Macdonough, then a lieutenant, was right out of a Jane Austen novel, a dashing figure in his high-collared Navy topcoat, and the ladies all fell in love with him! In the city, he became friends with Capt. William Vandeursen, another seafaring man drawn to Middletown in those years. Vandeursen commanded the privateer "Middletown" during the Revolution and after, made a fortune running slaves between the islands. He eventually was appointed to the coveted position of Surveyor of the Port. All that's left of this era is Capt. Ben Williams brick mansion near the water overlooking four lanes of rushing traffic.
Elizabeth Warner December 30, 2010 at 06:58 PM
Erik, I love that image of him being the captain in "Pride and Prejudice." He was clearly well loved locally... for his name to still be attached to things built 50 years after his death! The sources said he worked with an Isaac Hull to build the gunboats. He isn't someone I'd heard of before. The deKoven House is certainly a throw back and it is a shame that we lost all others. There is a captain's house at the foot of Ferry Street that remains, currently used by the Community Health Center.
Erik Hesselberg December 30, 2010 at 07:10 PM
That's interesting about the sea captain's house on Ferry Street, which does have a whiff of the old seaport! Do you know captain's name?
Elizabeth Warner December 30, 2010 at 07:21 PM
I did once. I'll see if I can again...
Skip Turner December 31, 2010 at 12:40 AM
@Jen Alexander, wow...can you leave the snark out of your comments? What, is the Middletown Patch treading on Middletown Eye territory?
Jen Alexander December 31, 2010 at 03:40 AM
Oh my goodness, Skip. I certainly didn't intend snark. Liz is an old & dear friend and (hopefully) she knows how much I respect her expertise on all things historic in Middletown. Of course I should have considered how it would sound to others. Believe me, I know that the spelling of my kid's school name is not of major consequence. I was just indulging in a little teasing from one Middletown fanatic to another!
Elizabeth Warner December 31, 2010 at 01:16 PM
We are good, Jen.
Michael M. Stein January 08, 2011 at 05:14 PM
Was the building which became the Commodore Macdonough Inn once the commodore's home? When did the restaurant close? (I went there once, in 1953 or 1954). Is the building still there? Where is it on River Road? I would like to revisit it, if possible. Thanks for any information you can provide. -- Michael M. Stein, e-mail address: jasmineandmike@aol.com e
Elizabeth Warner January 08, 2011 at 05:27 PM
Hi Mike - Good idea for a column next week. Look for it next Thursday.
David Bauer January 09, 2011 at 07:27 AM
I think that the current Rushford Clinic was originally built as the second poorhouse in Middletown, the first being on Warwick Street.
Elizabeth Warner January 09, 2011 at 01:08 PM
It was originally the home of a well-to-do family and later became the Town Farm... but more on Thursday

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