One Middletown's greatest assets is the Russell Library. It has a remarkable staff, who pleasantly assist every visitor. The facility provides a wide range of services and programs for the people of Middletown. And it is well used and well loved by a wide spectrum of the city's population and the region.
How did we come to be blessed with such a great place?
It was originally the local Episcopal church built in 1834 by Barzallai D. Sage in the Greek Revival style. It was known as Christ Church, and it looked quite different than it does today. It had a portico across the entire facade that was supported by two fluted columns in the center and pairs of massive stone columns on either end. The top of the portico was embellished by a broad entablature and a parapet.
I'd love to show you a picture, but I do not have authorization to use the historic photograph on page 48 of The Pictorial History Of Middletown.
In 1874, Christ Church bought land on Main Street and built a new church. The church was renamed Church of the Holy Trinity, and the old building on Broad Street was sold to Frances Russell, the widow of the late Samuel Russell.
The Russells lived on High Street, at the corner of Washington Street, in the well-known house that is now the Honors College at Wesleyan University. Samuel, who made his vast fortune selling opium to the Chinese and then starting the Russell Manufacturing Co. in Middletown, died in 1862.
Frances Ann Russell remodeled the former church in the Roman Revival style, at the cost of $20,000, making it "modern" for its time. She then donated the building to the city of Middletown for use as a library. It was dedicated in memory of her late husband and opened in 1876.
[Look around at all the other towns in the area and you will find that, between 1870 and 1920, wealthy, local benefactors donated libraries to their hometowns that bear their names.]
The Hubbard wing at the rear was added in 1930 with funds from the city, and in 1930, and in 1972, the library purchased the adjacent 1965 First Federal Saving and Loan Association of Meriden and renovated it to house the Children's Library.
The hodge-podge of architectural styles and joining of two very different buildings was addressed in 1983. A facade addition was added to connect the two separate buildings, which provided additional space and gave the structure cohesiveness. To blend the styles, original stained glass windows were placed in the new peak on the facade and on the children's library to visually tie the spaces together. Handicapped access was provided at the entrance and with an elevator in the interior. Today these combined buildings and additions provide for a lovely interior courtyard that is used for concerts and other outdoor events.
And, of course, the Middletown Room was given a permanent place on the second floor. This space houses historic archives and important material on local history. You should visit!
As a child I remember entering the library through the original church entrance on the facade, now hidden by landscaping and only used by teens hiding from view. I recall at the age of 15 being led to the local history section between some stacks by a librarian. At the time, the collection was a few books and a file cabinet drawer. The library was only the main floor and some stacks available in the "loft."
My, things sure have changed. And they only got better and more functional. I am truly thankful for the Russell Library.