Rose Schwartzbuch had been in the United States seven years when she married Harry L. Shapiro in 1911, one of the first weddings to be held at Middletown's newly formed Congregation Adath Israel, then located on Union Street. The bridal couple, like those attending their nuptial celebration, was part of a wave of primarily Polish and Russian Jews who immigrated to Middletown between 1895 and 1920 seeking religious freedom and economic opportunity.
Before 1900, few Jews lived in Connecticut. During the Colonial era Congregationalism reigned, and the state's constitution did not explicitly grant Jews the right to organize into religious societies until 1843. By the mid-1800s, Jewish immigrants from Germany and Austria-Hungary began arriving in Middletown in small numbers, followed by a large influx from Eastern Europe at the end of the century.
Some of those first Eastern Europeans settled first in Portland, attracted to the work available at the town's Eastern Tinware Company, which actively recruited workers as they arrived at Ellis Island. The first shul, or synagogue, was housed in a commercial building in Portland. But Middletown's thriving economy soon lured most of the Portland Jews across the river. By 1905, a vibrant community of 80 families developed in the South End, where Jewish owned grocery shops, bakeries,
and dry goods stores dotted Sumner, Union, and South streets.
These immigrant Jewish families worshiped in private homes and rented rooms until Connecticut's General Assembly approved the incorporation of Congregation Adath Israel in 1905. Three years later, the congregation purchased its first permanent home, a former two-family house on Union Street. Close to homes and businesses, the location allowed members of the congregation to walk to services on the Sabbath, according to Orthodox Jewish law. The dedication in 1929 of this synagogue anchoring South Green's northwest corner firmly established Judaism as a partner in the city's diverse religious community.
With a traditional chupa over their heads, Jewish immigrants Rose Schwartzbuch and Harry Shapiro exchange wedding vows in 1911 surrounded by fellow members of the Congregation Adath Israel. According to Orthodox custom, during religious services women were seated in the balcony separate from the men on the main floor. Adath Israel joined the Conservative movement in 1942.
Photo Courtesy of Muriel Shapiro Schulman
Making its appearance in the 1890s, the electric-powered streetcar made it possible for Middletonians for the first time to move about easily and cheaply. People crowded different trolley lines to get around town and to enjoy themselves at the popular Lakeview Park, now Crystal Lake, where the trolley company operated an amusement hall. They also could make trolley connections to Hartford, Berlin and Meriden.
For this scenic view of the trolley making its way around south Green, an unknown artist added snow and other wintery elements to a photograph taken in summer. The retouched image was printed as a postcard in 1908.
South Green & The Sabbath
For centuries, Middletown residents of many faiths have chosen to build their houses of worship in this neighborhood around South Green.
In 1741, more than 4,000 people jammed the green to hear minister George Whitfield preach the ecstasies of salvation. Whitfield and Connecticut native Jonathan Edwards were two of the leaders of the Great Awakening, a passionate evangelical movement which challenged the authority of the Congregational Church establishment. Swayed by the Great Awakening, a group of Middletown dissenters in 1747 formed the Strict Congregational Society, later known as South Congregational Church. They built their second meetinghouse in 1830 at South Green's southwest corner, and in 1867 constructed the present brick church, with its graceful spire, on the same site.
In the mid-1700s, more English settlers came to Middletown, mostly seeking economic, not religious, opportunity. Those who followed the Church of England, or Episcopal Church, built their first house of worship on South Green in 1755. The present Episcopal Church, the Church of the Holy Trinity now stands on Main Street.
On South Green's north side stands the First United Methodist Church, a stately granite structure built in 1931. It is the congregation's fourth church on the site; Middletown's Methodist Society built it's first house of worship here in 1804.
The Episcopal Church as it looked when it was located on the South Green.