Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Arrivederci, Center Street: Mayor Stephen Bailey and the Early Years of Middletown Redevelopment

The Middlesex Historical Society announces a lecture by Erik Hesselberg, October 25, 7PM at Russell Libary. The picture is of the newly acquired cornerstone that now rests in The Historical Society herb garden.

Not long ago, the Middlesex County Historical Society received a memento from old Main Street – a huge hunk of brownstone weighing 750 pounds. This cornerstone, bearing the incised inscription, “1893” is all that remains of a much-loved city edifice, the massive Romanesque municipal building, which was torn down 50 years ago in August of 1961, during the stormy years of Middletown’s redevelopment program.
This much-argued about period – which resulted in the clearing of more than five city blocks – will be the subject of an illustrated talk on October 25 at 7:00 pm in the Hubbard Room of the Russell Library by journalist and historian, Erik Hesselberg.

The talk, entitled, “Arrivederci, Center Street; Mayor Stephen Bailey and the Early Years of Middletown Redevelopment,” will make use of a collection of rarely seen documentary photographs from the era, which bring to life these tumultuous years and the personalities involved.

Foremost among these are Stephen Kemp Bailey, a man who thought of big solutions. Bailey was a prominent Wesleyan University government professor who turned to politics in the post-war years, becoming Mayor of Middletown in 1952. A navy man and a war hero, Bailey had a reputation for getting things done. Topping his agenda as mayor was a new municipal building to house expanding city departments and the county court house.

However, plans for a new town hall on Main Street would be shifted to a site near the Connecticut River, embodied in a grand vision for a “city of the future.” An Italian neighborhood would be sacrificed to realize this vision -- one that never fully materialized.

Erik Hesselberg was an environmental reporter and city editor for the Middletown Press, and the former Executive Editor of Shoreline Newspapers. He now writes for the Hartford Courant.

The Middlesex County Historical Society is located in the General Joseph Mansfield House at 151 Main Street, Middletown. Its current exhibits are Hard & Stirring Times: Middletown and the Civil War and Within These Walls: One House, One Family, Two Centuries. For further information, call 860-346-0746. The Hubbard Room is handicapped accessible.

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