Near this spot in 1760 stood Timothy Bigelow's tavern, where travellers and local people gathered to drink rum, trade stories, and oonduct business. In 1776, Bigelow died suddenly, leaving his wife Elizabeth with four children to support. Widow Bigelow decided to operate the tavern herself.
It was not long before Mrs. Bigelow's political activities nearly put her out of business. The Revolutionary War had begun, and people in Middletown noticed that the Bigelow tavern seemed to be a meeting place for Tories (those who were loyal to Great Britain). Local citizens signed a petition claiming that Widow Bigelow had "entertain’d at unseasonable hours of the night known enemies” to the American cause, and demanded that she “bee restrained immediately from keeping Tavern.” Mrs. Bigelow must have mended her ways, for she continued to run her tavern for nearly four more decades.
Tavernkeeping was one of the few occupations open to women in the 1700s, when most females were limited to a career in housewifery (managing a home and raising children). In 1761, women operated three of Middletown’s eleven taverns.
Career Women In Early Middletown
Although it was unusual, local women occasionally had other careers in the 18th century. In 1788, 25-year-old Elizabeth deKoven divorced her husband for desertion, and opened a store on Main Street selling luxury goods imported from Europe. The daughter of a wealthy merchant, deKoven had resources that most women of her time did not.
In the late 1700s and early 1800s, a handful of Middletown women were teachers, occasionally in the town's public schools (attended by both boys and girls) but more often in small private schools for "young ladies." Middletown's well-to-do families sent their daughters to such schools to learn needlework and painting in addition to academic subjects.
A Lost Neighborhood
This open plaza was once a busy road called Center Street, which ran from Main Street east towards the river. In the early 1900s, Center Street became a thriving immigrant neighborhood, home to countless Italian families who came from the town of Melilli, Sicily. Several tenement houses lined the street, providing housing for the recent immigrants. The neighborhood was demolished in 1961 as part of the city's redevelopment plan.
Center Street Tenements, etching by John Sweeney, 1948
Courtesy the Middlesex County Historical Society
Building on the Past
Beside you stands Middletown's Police Headquarters, its architecture consciously echoing that of the former Municipal Building, which opened in 1893. For decades, Middletown citizens heard the bell in the Municipal Building's clocktower chime eighteen times at six o'clock each morning and evening, announcing the working day's beginning and end. The stately brownstone landmark stood on the west side of Main Street just opposite here until its demolition in 1961. The police station opened in 1999, Middletown's Municipal Building, 1893