In 1756, this simple structure was the birthplace of one of New England's leading craft dynasties, the Danforth family of pewterers. For nearly a century, three generations of Danforth men fashioned everything from plain plates to graceful teapots, tankards, and communion service sets. Today, museums around the country display the works of these expert craftsmen. Middlesex Memorial Hospital
Sometimes called the "poor man's silver," pewter was made primarily of tin, often mixed with small quantities of lead and antimony. For middle-class families in the 1700s and 1800s, pewter was affordable and reasonably durable. Family patriarch Thomas Danforth began hand crafting pewter in 1756 in this combination workshop and store, originally located in an artisans neighborhood along Henshaw Lane, today's College Street. He was succeeded by his sons then by a grandson, who finally gave up the trade in 1846.
The Danforths and other local pewterers built Middletown into a major pewter center rivaling Boston and Philadelphia. They marketed their wares virtually throughout the country. Several of Thomas Danforth's descendants and others trained in the Danforth shop set up the pewterer's trade in other Connecticut communities, as well as in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, extending the family's influence on the industry. The Danforth pewter shop was dismantled
in 1979, when its original College Street location was targeted for a parking lot. It was reconstructed on this site in 1984.
Today it is privately owned and is not open to the public.
Josiah Danforth (1803-1873), grandson of pewterer Thomas Danforth, crafted this teapot and coffeepot in his Middletown shop, probably between 1825 and 1840. By the time Josiah gave up the business in 1846, pewter was becoming unfashionable, replaced by Britannia ware, a shinier amalgam that more closely resembled silver.
Courtesy of the Middlesex County Historical Society
Making It In Middletown
During the 1700s, pewterers and other artisans — goldsmiths silversmiths, cabinetmakers, and stonecarvers flourished in Middletown. The town was one of Connecticut's wealthiest communities, thanks to its maritime trade, and its residents were eager to show off their prosperity. Local craftsmen supplied the well-to-do with elegant tea tables for their parlors, gold rings for their nngers, and flnally, elaborately carved stone monuments for their graves.
On the day Middlesex Hospital opened in 1904, doctors raced to conduct their first surgery there: an amputation on a laborer whose leg had been crushed by a train in the Portland brownstone quarries. The patient lved, and the hospital's
reputation quickly grew.
Though local people had incorporated Middlesex Hospital in 1895, for nearly a decade there were no funds to construct a building. In 1903, members of the Camp family donated their large home on Crescent Street just around the corner from here, and a bequest from Mrs. Henry G. Hubbard funded medical equipment. Middlesex Hospital opened in 1904.
To most Middletown people in the early 1900s, a hospital was a strange and threatening place. Medical care (even surgery) usually took place at home. But the need for such a facility was clear: the first year, lt treated 108 patients for everything from malaria to a broken nose, from gunshot wounds to indigestion. Almost immediately, the hospital expanded, adding training facilities, a surgical wing, nurses' training facilities, a pediatric ward and more. In 1953 Middlesex Memorial Hospital built its South Wing, and in 1968 removed the 19th century Camp house to build the North Wing, which opened three years later.
Middletown cabinetmaker William Sage (c. 1738-1823) built this well-proportioned desk-and-bookcase of cherry wood about 1780. Sage's clientele probably included many of the city's wealthy merchants and ship captains, who furnished their mansions with elegant furniture that proclaimed their affluence.
Courtesy of the Middlesex County Historical Society; Photograph by John Giammatteo
In its early days, Middlesex Hospital charged patients $25 a week for a private room, and $7 a week for a bed in the public wards. The average patient remained in the hospital for a month! At the time of this view, about 1910, the hospital's only ambulance was horse-drawn.
Postcard, c. 1910, courtesy the Middlesex County Historical Society