If the effort to reshape the former site of the Meriden Hub has anything to do with the city’s industrial past, it may be in the sense that Meriden has never fully recovered from the decline of local manufacturing. The city was once home to many thriving industries, the most prominent of which was the International Silver Co., founded in 1898. It was once the city’s largest employer and the world’s largest manufacturer of sterling silver and silverplate.
After a number of restructurings, most operations in Meriden were shut down in the early 1980s, leaving a huge commercial and cultural vacuum, not to mention a legacy of environmental contamination. The nickname Silver City, once an accurate reference to Meriden’s stock-in-trade, today serves as a fitting homage to a bygone era. I have no problem with that.
But the city can do better than naming the park that will be built on the Hub property “Silver City Green” or any of the similar suggestions invoking Meriden’s old nickname. It’s true, the 14-acre site between Pratt and State streets was home to a large International Silver factory years ago, which I’m sure is part of the logic behind that idea for a name. But the goal of the redevelopment project is more forward looking than that, an attempt to redefine the city as something other than a former manufacturing center. That’s why I don’t think the name works.
The plans to uncover Harbor Brook through the center of a centrally located city park with some limited commercial development along the edges will help solve the tricky problem of flood control while providing a meaningful public space downtown. Combined with a new train station and the creation of commuter rail service between New Haven and Springfield with a stop in Meriden, the project really does have the potential to draw people to the area and breathe new life into the city. Those people will ultimately define the character of downtown Meriden better than whatever name is eventually applied to the property.
But in thinking about the question recently, I came upon my own favorite choice for a name, one that honors the memory of Nelson Mandela. Obviously, there are few greater symbols of hope and generosity of spirit, and Mandela’s death this month was cause to reflect on that remarkable legacy. I like the idea of a name that embodies the city’s increasingly multicultural makeup while also looking beyond its borders. The timing makes sense, just as it made sense to name a new school in Wallingford after the great humanitarian and U.N. Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold shortly after his death in a plane crash in 1961. There were plans to name a new school in Southington after the Polish hero of the Revolutionary War Casimir Pulaski in the early 1960s, but that changed following JFK’s the assassination, which is why the town has Kennedy Midddle School. So there’s a precedent for this kind of thing. To be honest, though, I’ve mentioned the idea of a Nelson Mandela Park to a few people, and it doesn’t seem to be catching on. Actually, the idea that seems to inspire the most enthusiasm in the people I’ve talked to is no change at all. Continuing to call it the Hub would certainly reflect the city’s plans to make the property a hub of activity and it may be what people call the site anyway.
I could live with that.
Reach Managing Editor/News Eric Cotton at (203) 317-2344 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @ecotton3.