The first time Meriden came up with a flood control plan, Ulysses S. Grant was president, Jesse James was still robbing banks, the Franco-Prussian War was raging, baseball was just getting organized and Stanley was searching for Dr. Livingstone in Africa. It was 1871 — the year of the Great Chicago Fire, the year Orville Wright was born.
But downtown flooding continued to be a problem, so more plans were formulated in 1939, 1962, 1965, 1971, 1977 and 1982 — formulated, but never funded and never implemented. The deluge of 1992, however, did so much damage that something was finally done about it. That something was the city’s 1995 flood control plan.
And now, only 142 years after the first plan, real progress can finally be seen. Because, this time, something is actually being done about Harbor Brook. Work has been underway since 2000, and various choke points that were a big part of the problem, causing the brook to overflow, have been opened up. This work may be less visible than the razing of buildings, but it is even more important if the brook is to stay within its banks.
Knocking down the building that once housed the Hub shopping center and Canberra Industries was a big step, and it was essential to “daylighting” the brook as the centerpiece of a future park. Next on the hit list are the Church & Morse and Liseo buildings on South Colony Street, but the most recent building to fall to the wrecker’s ball was the former TD Bank building on East Main, at the south end of the Hub site.
The coming park will also serve as a detention area for those times when high water might otherwise surge into surrounding streets, and will be adjacent to commercial space and a transit center in the area of the present railroad station. Once the state’s New Haven-to-Springfield high-speed rail project comes together, around 2016, officials hope to see a resurgence of business downtown.
Yes, it’s been a long time coming, in part because state funding has only arrived in dribs and drabs. But Meriden’s patient residents can finally see some progress and can have confidence that a new downtown really is just over the horizon.
And who knows? Maybe the city will even get rid of the one-way traffic.