July 28, 2014 02:25PM
By Dan Brechlin
MERIDEN — Buildings in downtown Meriden have come and gone. On some sites, it has been more than once. But as downtown is in the early stages of what could be its most significant transformation in 40 years, the downtown of the past is often still discussed.
There was the “old” train station, the two-way traffic pattern and the Meriden Hub. Before the Hub and the mall, the 14-acre parcel bordered by Pratt, State, East Main and Mill streets was sprawling with buildings and businesses. The future will be far different and downtown will likely never be what it once was — but the images of the past remain.
Downtown Meriden began to flourish because of the rail line and the trains that came with it. That moved the city’s business district from the Broad Street area to the lowest geographical point in the city. The Hub and the surrounding area was formerly Pilgrim’s Harbor Swamp, with Pilgrim’s Harbor Brook flowing through it. The area, however, was filled in and businesses began finding their way into the downtown.
It has been 150 years since the Meriden Britannia Company made its way onto the Hub site, becoming the first major manufacturing company on the parcel. Factories and businesses flocked to the site in the years to come.
The Hub is of being turned back into what it once was — an area that retains flood water. The Hub will become a park, with a pedestrian bridge, amphitheater and other amenities, though at its core, the project is for flood control purposes. It will also open three acres for future development. City officials have been optimistic housing, office and retail space could be built at the Hub.
The business-filled Hub
Buildings erected on the Hub site were done so before regulations prevented construction in flood zones. At least 84 buildings were on the property in 1958, when a redevelopment of the Hub was approved. The buildings were either demolished, renovated or rebuilt. The buildings included the former International Silver Co. factory, a former glass cutting business, a machine manufacturing company, a photo shop, a dry cleaners, welding and pipe shops, gas stations, auto sales businesses, and others that all may have contributed to the soil contamination at the site.
The International Silver Co. moved its headquarters to the Meriden-Wallingford line, which left a hole in the Hub. The area was faced with economic challenges and it was decided the full parcel needed to see redevelopment.
The empty Hub
For years, the site was left empty. There was no use for Miller or Stone streets — cross streets that formerly connected Pratt and State streets. Some of the underground piping, that has since been abandoned, was recovered during the ongoing Hub redevelopment project.
Harbor Brook was exposed, as the rubble of some of the buildings remained. The property spent several years known as Parcel 8.
The brook will be re-exposed as part of the Hub redevelopment.
Both 1992 and 1996 brought devastating floods to downtown Meriden, causing more than $25 million in private property damage. In addition to drowning vehicles, it caused businesses to close. The former mall building, then used by Canberra, was flooded and the company eventually moved to the outskirts of the city. The building was not knocked down until more than a decade later.
The new park will not solve all of the city’s flooding issues, but city officials are optimistic. Rather than a long period of time with three or more feet of water in some area, they expect no more than a couple of inches for a brief period.
The Meriden Mall
Although popular in its infancy, the Meriden Mall faced troubles of its own. It was renovated just six years after being opened in order to create a mixed-use building with factory space in one section of the building and store fronts in another.
Also on the site were two bank buildings. One was demolished near the time the mall building was knocked down.
The train station
Just across State Street from the Hub, the train station will undergo a change of its own. A two-story building will be constructed to the south of the current station. The station will connect to a property on Colony Street via an “up and over” bridge. The new station will also have an extended platform for boarding, which will allow passengers to board on either side of the tracks.
Since the station pictured in the 1930s, there have been two other stations built and the new one will be the third. The pictured station was built in 1913, according to the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center at the University of Connecticut. Similar to the new station, the old one was closer to the intersection of State and East Main streets.
The traffic pattern
There has been much discussion about restoring two-way traffic in downtown from the current one-way pattern on Hanover, East Main, West Main, and Perkins streets, in addition to Cook Avenue and some side streets. The traffic pattern was changed in the 1970s during the construction of Interstate 691 with a promise to restore it to two-way.
Many have voiced opinions at public meetings that they preferred the two-way style, but have balked at the cost of restoring it. The city estimates it could cost upward of $15 million to restore two-way traffic.