Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Middletown you missed

With so many parents, family and friends of grads in Middletown this weekend, not to mention the several thousand more expected to be around Sunday morning, you might be looking for something to do that's off-the-beaten track. Middletown, after all, is 42 square miles, and likely you've only seen a couple of those miles in your time here. It's not too late.

Henry Clay Work House.
You'll find a bust of this relatively unknown songwriter of the Civil War era, appropriately enough, in Union Park on the South end of Main St. The composer of such classics as Grandfather's Clock, and Marching Through Georgia was born in Middletown but lived much of his life elsewhere. A printer by occupation, Work came to songwriting by avocation. Biggest little known fact: the tune of his song, The Ship That Never Returned was used for the classic country music song (in fact the first million selling record, ever), The Wreck of the Old 97, recorded by artists as diverse as Vernon Dalhart and Johnny Cash. The same tune was used for a hit song of the sixties, M.T.A. by the Kingston Trio. The Henry Clay Work house still stands on Mill Street.

A hotly debated section of town for many years. Recently, it's been in the news because a new gas-fired energy plant is being built there, and because the Army has proposed building an Army Reserve Training Center there. This Southeastern corner of Middletown (a section as large as neighboring Cromwell), is mostly wild, rugged and beautiful as it hugs a broad turn in the Connecticut River. It's eminently hikable, and if you're lucky you stumble on the rock shelter that was used by native Americans, and in the 19th century by the famous hobo, the Old Leatherman, who was made famous most recently in a Pearl Jam song, and will soon get new acclaim in a to-be-released volume published by the Wesleyan Press.

The Insane Asylum

The other institution on a hill in town is located to the East of Wesleyan, and visible from there. It's the hospital currently known to locals as CVH. Connecticut Valley constitutes the only state hospital dealing exclusively with mental health issues in the state. It's a huge campus, and the older, unoccupied buildings are a frightening example of "insane asylum" red brick Victorian architecture. But don't take any pictures, because you might get arrested.

The Blog Prototype

Middletown artist David Schulz live on Ridge Road, and since George Bush occupied the White House, he's been creating editorials, Burma-Shave style, on his front lawn. This makeshift editorials are short, punchy and briliant, as might be expected from one of Middletown's finest art talents. When I stopped to take the photos today, Dave told me that he's had relatively few protests. "Last week," he said. "A guy in a pickup slowed down when I was in the front yard and yelled, 'Those signs suck.' So I guess they're doing their job.

An Authentic Italian Meal and Dessert
As you leave Middletown, you'll know you're beyond city limits when you stop passing an Italian restaurant or a pizza joint every 300 yards. While in town you may have visited the famous Main Street joints, but a hidden gem is right around the corner on Court Street. In the basement of the Italian Society club is the Cantina. Short on atmosphere, the restaurant serves what many feel are the best Italian dishes in town. Combine this with the chance to rub elbows with local politicos, or even a made man or two. For dessert, head down to deKoven Drive for the kind of Italian ice that's been pulling passing customers on Route 9 for decades into the tiny driveway at Vecchitto's.

No comments: