Middletown has a rich history of religion and is graced with an abundance of beautiful church buildings. Over the next few issues of our Newsletter, the Middletown Historical Society will feature some of the churches in our community and provide a glimpse into their fascinating history. We begin this series by introducing a few of the very earliest churches to find a home in Middletown.In the 1600’s and 1700s, most religious services in Middletown were held in private homes or school houses. The first church in Middletown was the Sabbatarians, also known as the Seventh Day Baptists, who met in a building near Easton’s pond, at Green End, sometime around the mid to late 1600’s. In 1828, Elisha Peckham, Stephen Barker, John Ward and fourteen others left the First Baptist church in Newport and re-organized in Middletown. In 1829, the “Swamp” meeting house was erected in Middletown to accommodate the local religious services. The first pastor of this church was Reverend Henry Sullings from NewBedford, Mass.In 1842, Sarah Gibbs and John A. Gilliatt helped to expand the Protestant Episcopal Church from Portsmouth into Middletown. The first meetings were held in homes and school houses before moving to the Oliphant school on West Main Road in 1844. As interest in the church grew, a new church was begun in 1845. The Church of the Holy Cross, built across from Oliphant School, was designed by famed architect Richard Upjohn and completed in 1846. The Reverend Hobart Williams, rector of St.Mary’s church in Portsmouth, also served as the first pastor of Holy Cross. The Methodists had also been holding meetings in the Swamp Meeting house. The First Methodist Episcopal church of Middletown was organized in 1856 and the church building built in 1857. (This church was rebuilt across the road in 1963 and again in 1973 after a fire. It is now the Calvary United Methodist Church.) The first pastors to preach here were the Reverend John F. Fogg and Reverend Charles Merrill. In 1871, The Methodists Episcopal Church in Middletown erected a parsonage on a lot rented on a 50-year lease from Charity Farm. Watch for our next issue in which we will dive deeper into the history of one of Middletown’s historic churches. - Thank you to Nancy Damas and Anna Hallett for all their hard work researching this topic and writing this article!
At our November board meeting, Jack Hallett, an Eagle Scout with Boy Scout Troop 3, presented us with a donation of the results of his troop’s project to restore the Stoddard Historical Cemetery Lot on Berkeley Avenue in Middletown. The donation consists of a thumb drive with pictures and a video showing the work that was done by the troop, as well as an update of the book “Death Comes Once, But a Cemetery Is Forever:The Search For Middletown’s Lost Graveyards”. Jack also gave a presentation at the time of his donation.The mission of this project was to clean up the neglected cemetery, restore the stonewalls surrounding the cemetery, and document the conditions of the 17 gravestones. The troop also recorded all legible inscriptions on the gravestones.You can see what a success the project was in the before and after photos shown below!The Stoddard Lot is located on land owned by Hoogendorn Nursery at a corner of the property common with the Public Works and Fire departments.We greatly appreciate Jack’s generous gift!
The Middletown Public Library in partnership with the Middletown Historical Society is hosting an exhibit, “Extraordinary Women of the East Bay”. It will open at the Library on January 5th at 2:00 p.m. with a lecture given by Julia Bradley.The exhibit consists of 20 small, move able displays which will be spread throughout the Library. They recognize and celebrate 60 women who have made a difference in their East Bay communities. Three of the women are from Middletown. They are Mabel Norman Cerio, naturalist, Mary Clark Sturtevant, suffragette, and Cynthia Taggert, poet. The exhibit was prepared by Heidi Benedict, archivist at Roger Williams University, with contributions from 16 different historical societies, museums and libraries. It will run through the month of January.
In 2000, the Library of Congress began the Veterans History Project (www.loc.gov/vets). The mission of the project is to collect, preserve and share first-hand accounts of veteran’s experiences and photographs, letters and diariesfrom World War I throughpresent wars.The Middletown Public Library and the Middletown Historical Society are both working on this project to collect remembrances and memorabilia from our country’s veterans. If you have anything you would like to contribute, or if you or anyone you know would like to be interviewed, please contact MHS at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 849-1870. You can also contact Theresa Coish at the Middletown Public Library.
For years, anyone who ventured to the end of Vernon Avenue in Middletown and stumbled across the remnants of an earthen fortification, believed they were standing in a British fort. Today, thanks to the efforts of Kenneth Walsh, Ph.D., those who visit the site can read of the true origins of Green End Fort –that it was built by the French under Rochambeau in 1780 and named for the Saintonge Regiment. It was never built or occupied by British forces, as was previously believed. Proving the origins of the Redoute de Saintonge was a passion for Dr. Walsh, who passed away November 17 at the age of 80. He was a curious person, an engineerby trade, with a love of American History. In the 1970s, he first encountered inconsistencies between a British made map and the physical location of the fort. This initial find sent him on 40 year quest to uncover the truth and prove his theory.In the process, he helped found the Middletown Historical Society, served as the first President of ourBoard of Directors, and spearheaded a project which resulted in a 364 page report to the National Park Service on the Siege of Newport. Many of you have likely encountered Dr. Walsh at our Founders Day event, or at the MHS table at Harvest Fair. Ever enthusiastic on local history, he was always ready to volunteer, set up his historic maps and talk to the public about his latest work. His passion and drive for uncovering our history was an invaluable asset to the society. He will be greatly missed.
We will be hosting an open house from 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. at the Paradise School. Light refreshments will be served.
All lectures will be from 2:00 p.m.to 4:00 p.m. at Paradise School, corner of Paradise and Prospect Avenues, and are subject to change. Check our website for verification.
Visit our website at www.middletownhistoricalsociety.org You can print the membership form on our Contact & Membership Info page and mail that in with your payment. You can also stop by one of our properties on any Sunday between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. during the summer months, or Paradise School on any Wednesday year round between 9:30 a.m. and 11:00 a.m.
The Middletown Historical Society was founded on June 1, 1976. In order to ensure a record of the town’s past, its heritage—-where we came from, what we have done, what has been important to us—-the Middletown Historical Society was formed to protect and preserve that priceless legacy which we have inherited. PRESERVATION-RESTORATION-EDUCATION