MERIDEN — Two church steeples erected in the 1800s provided some visual stability through the years despite significant changes all around them at the intersection of Broad and East Main streets.
Back then, Broad Street was named Market Street and considered the city’s downtown hub, including selling goods and livestock.
The Central Tavern once stood on the site where O’Reilly Auto Parts will open by the end of this year – 510 Broad St.
In the early 1700s, before the tavern opened, the building was a farmhouse owned by William Jones. In 1739, the Rev. Theophilus Hall purchased the farm and then Insign Hough, a doctor, converted the farmhouse into an inn, known as Hough's Tavern. The inn later became known as the Central Tavern and, eventually, the Old Stage Coach Tavern.
In the 18th century, “Market Street” was a thoroughfare for travelers between New Haven and Hartford, as well as points farther north.
In its heyday, the tavern stood as "the center of social life in the area." In 1829, President Andrew Jackson is said to have paused at the tavern on a trip to Hartford. President Martin Van Buren stopped there, as did other politicians and famous actors.
The Center Congregational Church, established across from the tavern on Broad Street in 1830, also served as a place of public assembly. Town meetings, rallies and elections were held in the basement.
"On one occasion an anti-slavery meeting was broken up in a violent melee instigated by a couple of out-of-town provocateurs who fortified themselves with strong drink at the tavern across the street. They and the tavern owner were arrested and fined for their part in the riot," Record-Journal archives state.
The tavern was demolished in the 1890s.
In 1993, the Record-Journal featured 19-year-old Neil McLauchlan after he bought and refurbished a gas station at the site of the former tavern. McLauchlan later sold the lot to Rite Aid, which resold the parcel to O’Reilly Auto Parts last year.
City Planner Bob Seale said a "pocket park" will be required to preserve green space at the intersection. Similar design requirements were asked when a Stop & Shop opened at the intersection.
Some residents protested before the supermarket opened in 1999. Claudia Whitehead, a 1997 local neighborhood association official, told the Record-Journal in that year that a shopping plaza containing a large supermarket would negatively affect traffic, the safety of the children walking to Israel Putnam Elementary School, and the historic nature of the war monuments on Broad Street.
The future of historic war monuments at Veteran’s Memorial Boulevard were a point of concern to residents after an informal Stop & Shop plan suggested removing them to create more traffic lanes. Stop & Shop quickly abandoned the idea.
After the store opened, the Record-Journal found most residents realized their worst fears had failed to materialize.
"It hasn't been as bad as I thought it would be," one neighbor told a reporter at the time.