Approximately umpteen years ago (OK, it was 2006, to be precise), this newspaper produced a 52-page special supplement (52 pages!), called “Two Centuries of Meriden,” to mark Meriden’s 200th anniversary as an incorporated municipality separate from its parent town, Wallingford.
The idea was to document this city’s past and present, and to shed at least a bit of light on its likely future.
I very much enjoyed putting this section together, as it involved digging into our town’s history from before the first white settlers arrived; to the colonial era; to the early days of the new Republic; to the coming of the railroad, which pulled the center of Meriden from Uptown to Downtown; to the visits of various presidents to Meriden, including Abraham Lincoln’s speech at Town Hall in 1860; to the Civil War; to the wild expansion of local manufacturing during the 18th century; to the waves of immigrants coming here from Europe and, later, of American immigrants coming from Puerto Rico; to the two world wars of the 20th century; to the decline of local manufacturing after World War II; to the exodus of so many retail businesses from the Downtown; to the various revitalization plans.
And by “putting it together” I mean that I actually wrote almost none of it. Rather, I assembled it, assigned some “then-and-now” photos, wrote the headlines and laid out the pages, calling on various sources, including our reporting staff at the time; and files from what used to be called the newspaper’s morgue — that is, the cobwebbed crypt in the basement (think of Jack Benny’s vault, only without the alligators) where we keep musty old clippings; and a remarkable tome called “A Century of Meriden: An Historic Record and Pictorial Description of the Town of Meriden, Connecticut and Men who Have Made it,” compiled by Charles Bancroft Gillespie in 1906 and weighing in at 1,226 pages.
But the most moving thing that came to light during my work on that supplement was a document that Mr. Gillespie had the foresight to include in his book. It concerned a girl named Violet, age 3, but it wasn’t a report card or a baptismal record or anything like that.
It was a bill of sale. On April 20, 1750, farmer Joseph Shailer in Haddam — “avouching my self to be the proper and sole owner of the said negro girl and have a right to dispose of the said negro girl during the term of her natural life” — sold her to farmer Benjamin Roys in Meriden.
Later in the same book we find this entry: “Dec. 17, 1798: Abner Rice emancipated negro woman Violet.” If that's the same Violet, she would have been 51 by then — free, no doubt, only because she was past child-bearing age.
Which is a very long way of saying that maybe a local newspaper can bring local history into focus — Slavery! Right here in Silver City! — in ways that perhaps nothing else can.
Which is my way of suggesting that folks who are involved in their community may want to consider supporting the best source of local news (and sports, and commentary, including letters to the editor) that’s available.
Which, in my opinion, is this newspaper. Subscriptions cheerfully fulfilled! Donations to the COVID-19 Local News Fund graciously accepted!
Reach Glenn Richter at email@example.com.