Friday, October 22, 2010

The Midd You May Miss (Homecoming Edition)

This is an reprise article from a post we print every year around graduation time.  It's homecoming and family weekend at Wesleyan.  Here are a few suggestions for students looking to ditch their families before or after the football game.  If you're a Middletown resident, be sure to point wandering families toward your favorite sites.

Say you're a returning Wesleyan grad feeling you've seen everything you can see in Middletown. Or you're a student who wants to ditch the parents and send them off for a few hours over the weekend so you can hook-up with a friend for that party at the Butts. Or you're a parent wondering just how many orange trees you can look at before going crazy.

Here are a few things to consider.

Where the Coginchaug Meets the Mattabassett
Just North of downtown on the Connecticut River two rivers, the Coginchaug and the Mattabassett meet, then flow intertwined into the Connecticut. The rivers drain through parkades and suburbs then snake around the old landfill. The huge wetlands and watershed supports a huge diversity of avian and aquatic life, floating meadows, wild rice fields and miles of navigable (by canoe and kayak) waterways. The easiest and only way to tour the fascinating backwaters is to launch a canoe at the Middletown or Cromwell boat launch and navigate the Connecticut River until you reach the mouth of the Mattabassett. An interesting note, the Mattabassett were a tribe of native Americans who called an area from the Connecticut River and west to what is now Berlin, home. Mattabassett is the original, and native American name for Middletown. Wesleyan biologist Barry Chernoff, along with John Hall of the Jonah Center often organized informative paddle tours of the watery wonderland. It's a shame there isn't one being offered this weekend.

Middletown, just this week, committed land and funding for an official kayak launch site near the landfill.   The floating meadows are particularly interesting in the fall when flocks of redwing blackbirds descend to feed on wild rice.

Wesleyan Potters
This prestigious and well-loved craft guild was founded in 1948 as a guild to foster the crafts. It continues to offer classes and its gallery displays juried pottery, glass and ceramics from the craftspeople associated with Wesleyan Potters and from artisans around the country. It's a great place to find a one-of-a-kind gift. But it's your bad luck that Bowlapalooza was in May. It's a wonderful fundraiser with food, music and pottery in which your $10 admission entitles you to pick a pottery piece from the Bowlapalooza table. Wesleyan Potters is located at 350 South Main St.

Hindu Temple
The Sri Satyanarayana temple at 11 Training Hill Road is also known as The Connecticut Valley Hindu Temple Society. It comprises the state's largest and most active Hindu spiritual community. Numerous daily temple services and weekly poojas revolve on an accessible schedule, and visitors are welcome to tour the beautiful grounds. The temple features a splendid setting and thoughtfully appointed deity statuary, as well as a warm and friendly atmosphere. Graceful, pristine white marble and delicate tapestries complement the open space and airiness of the building.

The Other College
Middlesex Community College, is also on Training Hill Road, in the hills on the South side of town, and sometimes referred to as MxCC, it's part of the state's community college system. A two-year college, it offers a variety of degrees, is a feeder school for four-year universities, and it also offers certificate programs in accounting, television broadcasting, early childhood development, web development, hazardous waste handling and several other disciplines. It also offers weekend and evening courses for adult learners. The grounds, on one of the highest hills in town, looks out over the Connecticut River valley, and is the site of ArtFarm's summer drama festival, Shakespeare in the Grove, which presents The Taming of the Shrew this year.

Meadow Meat
After a year or two on campus you've likely found Stop and Shop, Waldbaum's and now Pricechopper. But you're not likely to have stumbled on this hidden ruby. Sure to offend any vegetarian or vegan, Meadow Meat is an old-fashioned wholesale and retail butcher shop, where the day's cuts and catches are posted on a blackboard, and you make your purchases by stepping directly into the meat locker where you'll find a counter surrounded by cuts of chicken, beef and pork. The prices are very reasonable, especially if you're buying in quantity, and the advice is expert. Want to know how to cook a spoon roast? Just ask. On the days leading up to summer holidays like this one, the lines can be very long, winding down the concrete loading-dock stairs. And don't wear a sleeveless shirts and shorts. When it's time for you to squeeze past the plastic curtained doorway, you'll find a shorter queue inside, but you're likely to experience hypothermia if you're exposing too much flesh. You can find Meadow Meat by traveling East on River Road, making a right when you have to on Eastern Drive, going under the railway trestle, and it's the non-descript industrial building on the right painted, appropriately enough, blood red.

Miller's Pond
While not technically in Middletown (we're only talking a matter of yards), Miller's Pond State Park is a beautiful freshwater site that's perfect for picnics, gentle hikes and swimming. It's not an official state swim site, so there're no lifeguards, and lots of sub-surface boulders, so divers need beware. It's also not a site that all of you have missed. Miller's is known at Wes as a place for an impromptu picnic - bread and cheese and the appropriate mind-altering substance - and then a swim, often sans suits. So you had your skinny dipping fun, why not recommend it to your parents, and your roomates parents as a way to view the foliage up close. Tell them to head out Millbrook Road, continue onto Foothills Road, and settle in for a late afternoon "picnic."

The Airline Billy Joel Took
The beautiful old swing railroad bridge over the Connecticut River was once a part of the Airline Railroad. While "airline" and "railroad" seem not to go together, the Airline Railroad was a line which ran from Middletown to Providence for the Providence and Worcester Railroad along a rail built through the hills on a series of trestles. The rail bed still exists and is called the Airline Trail and is used for hiking and biking, and is accessible in East Hampton. Billy Joel used the railway bridge across the Connecticut for his music video of the song River of Dreams.  Walking on the bridge is prohibited, but you can get a close look at it just off deKoven Drive.

Mount Higby
Mt. Higby is a beautiful example of the traprock ridges that run north-south the length of our state. Higby Mountain, at 892' is the highest point in Middletown, and offers spectacular views all along the ridgeline.

To the north is Lamentation Mountain (also partly in Middletown), due west is Chauncey Peak (in Meriden), and to the southwest is the valley containing Meriden, Wallingford, and other towns along I91.

There are three different access points to the Higby Mountain Trail (with a car or bicycle shuttle, you can do a nice one-way trip). The nicest place to start is at Tynan Park, on Higby Road at the intersection of Sisk Street. A well-worn trail leads from the dirt parking area into the forest, across some hayfields, and onto the slopes of Higby Mountain.

Another access point is at Guida'srestaurant on Route 66 (itself a fantastic destination for the very best milkshakes in the area). They have a big parking lot at the rear. The trail starts very close to the highway, on the west side of Guida's. Finally, Mt. Higby can be accessed from a turnout on Country Club Road, about 200 yards from the I91 on-ramp. Look for a dirt road on the south side of Country Club (there is a for sale sign there). Follow the dirt road, which is called Massatom Road (no signs though), up the mountain, and then follow the blue-blazed trail markers along the ridge.
Speaking of Guida's, on the other side of town, the Guida Family Preserve at the end of Coleman Road, offers a short an lovely loop hike through former farm pastures, meadows and woodlands.

Henry Clay Work House.You'll find a bust of this relatively unknown songwriter of the Civil War era, appropriately enough, in Union Park on the South end of Main St. The composer of such classics as Grandfather's Clock, and Marching Through Georgia was born in Middletown but lived much of his life elsewhere. A printer by occupation, Work came to songwriting by avocation. Biggest little known fact: the tune of his song, The Ship That Never Returned was used for the classic country music song (in fact the first million selling record, ever), The Wreck of the Old 97, recorded by artists as diverse as Vernon Dalhart and Johnny Cash. The same tune was used for a hit song of the sixties, M.T.A. by the Kingston Trio. The Henry Clay Work house still stands on Mill Street.

And let's not forget another illustrious Middletown songwriter, Allie Wrubel, who was educated at Wesleyan and went on to write the much loved, but much maligned, Disney classic Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah.

A hotly debated section of town for many years. Recently, it's been in the news because a new gas-fired energy plant is being built there, and because the Army proposed building an Army Reserve Training Center there (which will now be in Cucia Park, on the Eastern border of town). This Southeastern corner of Middletown (a section as large as neighboring Cromwell), is mostly wild, rugged and beautiful as it hugs a broad turn in the Connecticut River. But it's also home to a power plant, a jet engine manufacturing plant, and an old feldspar quarry.

You likely read about Maromas when tragedy struck the Kleen Energy power plant there this February. An explosion at the plant, resulting from a purging of pipelines with natural gas, destroyed the plant and killed six workers and injured many others. The investigation into what the causes of the explosion were is still underway.

It's eminently hikable, and if you're lucky you stumble on the rock shelter that was used by native Americans, and in the 19th century by the famous hobo, the Old Leatherman, who was made famous most recently in a Pearl Jam song, and received new acclaim in a volume published by the Wesleyan Press and written by Dan Deluca. You may also read an ongoing serialized novel about the Leatherman here (full disclosure, I'm the author).

The "Insane Asylum"
The other institution on a hill in town is located to the East of Wesleyan, and visible from there. Legend has it that occasionally parents have mistaken Connecticut Valley Hospital for Wesleyan and have dropped their young student there. It's the hospital currently known to locals as CVH. Connecticut Valley constitutes the only state hospital dealing exclusively with mental health issues in the state. It's a huge campus, and the older, unoccupied buildings are a frightening example of "insane asylum" red brick Victorian architecture. But don't take any pictures, because you might get arrested.

The beautiful Victorian building pictured here, Weeks Hall, which had suffered severe neglect by the state, burnt to the ground a month ago.

An Authentic Italian Meal
While in town you may have visited the famous Main Street Italian Restaurants, but Middletown's best Italian food requires entering a hidden gem on Court Street. In the basement of the Italian Society club is the Cantina. The Cantina may not have the atmosphere of a Main Street outdoor patio, but the restaurant serves what many feel are the best Italian dishes in town. If you go, be prepared to linger for several hours enjoying your food. You will get several courses of genuine slow-cooked, delicious food.

The Noiseless Typewriter Factory
Middletown was once heavily industrialized, shipping everything from rubber banding to fertilizer from its deep water port (and importing opium in the "China trade.") One of the things manufactured here was the Noiseless Typewriter. The Noiseless company was bought by Remington, which became Remington Rand. The company was the site of a bitter labor dispute in the thirties, and the company later was involved in early electronic development, including creating a television camera designed to aid in the launch of guided missles. Today, the city of Middletown owns the site, after another attempted sale fell through this year due to its status as a brownfield, and it is the home of a number of small companies. Go to the North end of High Street, then turn right onto North Main and you'll find the gate to the old factory.

An addendum from Beth Emery

The Noiseless Typewriter company was originally the Keating Wheel Company established in 1897. They manufactured bicycles and then motorcycles. I knew this to be part of the history the building and went online to see if I could find dates. From The Salafia Property report commissioned by the Jonah Center for Earth and Art in 2006, I found out the following information. ( The company did not last long, as the bicycle craze of 1890's was coming to an end just as this facility was being established. In 1903 the facility was operated by the Eisenhuth Horseless Vehicle Company which manufactured automobiles, before becoming the Noiseless Typewriter Company.

Lyman Orchards

Your undergrad has likely suggested a trip to this orchard in Middlefield, just Southwest of downtown Middletown.  There's nothing like sinking your teeth into an apple, sweet, cool and crisp, right from the branch where you picked it.  Avoid the Delicious variety.  You can buy them in any supermarket, and the flavor is not much different then the ones found there.  You've got to be suspicious of an apple they had to name "delicious," to convince you it is. The Romes, Crispins, Cortlands, Spencers and Ida Reds truly are delicious.  If you've got the time, you might want to wander the corn maze, this year hilariously in the shape of UCONN Women's baskeball coach Geno Auriemma's head.  But don't skip the apple donuts.  Not exactly fritters (for those, head across the bridge and down Rte. 17 into Glastonbury to the old Cider Mill), but delicious.


Anonymous said...

Promoting a religion now? I understand everything else you put down, even those things not in Middletown. But for the life of me I can't understand the Hindu Temple.

Anonymous said...

It is notable and interesting to have a place of prayer and reflection from one of the world's largest religions right here. It is interesting that such a temple would be located where it is-It is being curious about such questions and exploring the answers that may provide a foundation for increased tolerance. I think the words "promoting a religion" is an overstatement.

Jen Alexander said...

Warning: The Middletown Eye may sometimes mention houses of worship in this blog. Events involving strawberry shortcake at Third Congregational Church and fried dough at the Feast of St. Sebastian have previously appeared on the Eye. On one occasion, several stories were posted about a local congregation's plan to drop Easter eggs from a helicopter. Individuals who are sensitive to the mention of religion should use this blog with caution.

Attersee said...


Attersee said...

What I mean is, that was funny, Jen. Thanks for the "LOL".

Anonymous said...

I know people who come from far and wide to attend the Hindu Temple here in Middletown. It is one of the few in the state and it is something notable and unique about Middletown.

Anonymous said...

I went to a statue dedication ceremony at the Hindu Temple many years ago. I am a non-Hindu and was invited to this by a friend. I felt welcome there and the ceremony was fascinating to me and certainly different from anything I had seen at any other place of worship. Its obviously not a museum or gallery and its not a place you might just go any time, but it is certainly worth publicizing the fact that it is here in our town and serves a large chunk of the population and you might be able to learn something by checking it out.

Anonymous said...

I think "The Midd You May Miss" fantastically portrayed many aspects of Middletown to be proud of. I thoroughly enjoyed the diversity. Many things I did not know. Encore!

Greg Fudacz said...

If anyone has any kind of information, photos or stories regarding the Noiseless Typewriter Factory please contact me. I'm a local collector and typewriter historian from Wethersfield. I would also be open to acquiring very early or interesting typewriters. I look forward to hearing from you. Thank you.

Greg Fudacz