Thursday, March 1, 2012

Those Places Thursday: Middletown's Russell Library

Middletown can't boast the oldest library in the state - that honor falls to Durham - but it does boast one of the earlier libraries in the sense we mean it now. Built in 1834 as the local episcopal church, the brownstone was bought in 1874 by Frances Russell. After a significant restoration and "updating," the Russell Library opened in 1876. It was part of a wave of library building that continued into the early 1900s.

   The name Russell comes not from Frances but from her husband Samuel. Head of a prominent family, Samuel prospered in the East India Trade. His money funded a large home now occupied by Wesleyan University, as well as numerous other ventures in town. Frances wanted to ensure that he was remembered by his community.
    The library Frances endowed soon took off. New wings were built in 1930, 1972 and 1983. Each significantly expanded the library, often giving it an uneven look. In 1983, architects were determined to undo some of the damage by unifying the facade and reinstalling some of the original stained glass. The effort worked.
    Today the library maintains touches of its past and serves a very modern population. Genealogists will be fascinated by Russell's local history collection, housed in the Middletown Room. That collection includes oral histories, mayoral scrapbooks and more. Visit for more information. 

"Russell Library, Middletown (1834)," Historic Buildings of Connecticut ( accessed 29 February 2012).

"A History of the Russell House," Wesleyan University ( accessed 29 February 2012).

Elizabeth Warner,"Ode to Russell Library," MiddletownPatch ( accessed 29 February 2012).

"Library History," Russell Library ( accessed 29 February 2012). 

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