What is today the city of Meriden was in 1661 the beginnings of Jonathan Gilbert’s farm when he was granted 350 acres. Gilbert, a resident of Hartford, had been born on Meriden Farm in the English County of Surrey. It would not be until 1806 that the town would be incorporated, by which time the callow sprouts of industry had appeared in the form of pewter goods, especially buttons.
One of those pewter shops was established in 1808 by 24-year old Ashbil Griswold. Under Griswold’s leadership, Meriden soon became a leading center in the production of Britanniaware, pewter, and silverware. Because of its more durable qualities, Britannia had replaced pewter in most American homes by the 1850s and in 1852 many of the small shops banded together to organize the Meriden Britannia Company.
By the 1890s, Meriden Britannia had established branches in Canada and London and sales offices in Chicago, New York, and San Francisco. Assuming a leadership role, Meriden Britannia convinced other small independent silver shops in the Connecticut area that cooperation was more efficient. The International Silver Company was the result and Meriden was the “Silver City” - the center of silverware production in the United States.
International Silver left town in the mid-1900s and so too did many of Meriden’s traditional businesses. Our walking tour of downtown will pass many holes, including the International Silver plant on State Street, as we investigate what remains of the city’s makeover. We’ll start at a triangular intersection that displays some of Meriden’s most striking civic, educational, ecclesiastical, fraternal and cultural architecture...
Meriden Soldiers’ Monument
City Hall; 142 East Main Street
More than 20,000 people attended the dedication of the 38-foot granite monument on June 18, 1873. The names of Meriden’s soldiers who fell in some of the Civil War’s greatest battles are inscribed. A Union soldier at rest surmounts the shaft.
142 Main Street
The original Victorian Town Hall, where Abraham Lincoln delivered a campaign speech on March 7, 1860, was destroyed in a fire in 1904. This replacement was constructed from 1905 to 1907 in the Colonial Revival style that has remained popular for government office buildings built in the century since.
Meriden High School
22 Liberty Street
This bold brick and stone Romanesque-style building was constructed in 1885 and was used as the Meriden High School. Thousands of Meriden students passed through its powerful rough-cut, heavy brownstone arch before a new high school was built on Pleasant Street. It is now home to the Meriden Board of Education.
St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church
20 Catlin Street at Liberty and East Main streets
St Andrew’s Parish was established in 1789 although the history of the Episcopal Church in Meriden goes back to 1775 when a group loyal to the Church of England met secretly to worship at the Moses Andrews Homestead on West Main Street. This brownstone church in the third used by the congregation, beginning in 1867. The Gothic Revival design was executed by English-born Henry Dudley, an architect renowned for his ecclesiastical work.
First United Methodist Church
159 East Main Street
The first Methodist meetinghouse was built in 1830 on East Main Street on the land of Captain Lyman Collins, just west of the entrance to the East Cemetery. This was a crude building, unpainted and unfinished, with rough-hewn seats fashioned from sawmill slabs and without any means of heating or lighting. It was called, in the language of the time, one of “God’s Barns.” The entire cost of the building was $428.40. Eventually, this building was sold and moved to Curtis Street where it became a carpenter’s shop. The tab for the current hilltop church came to $85,000 when it was constructed in 1866. Some $50,000 of that bill was paid for by Charles Parker, the largest employer in the city and one of the largest in the state. Parker was elected the first mayor of Meriden in 1867.
WITH YOUR BACK TO CITY HALL, WALK WEST ON MAIN STREET, DOWN THE HILL.
Meriden Lodge No. 35
120 East Main Street
The Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks of the United States of America, one of the oldest and largest fraternal organizations in the country, began in 1868. The Meriden chapter was chartered in 1886; its Colonial Revival lodge complements the nearby City Hall.
112 East Main Street
The cornerstone for this Neoclassical temple was laid on September 17, 1927, and was completed on November 10, 1928. The roots of Masonry in Meriden extend back to its charter in 1851 and the imposing stone Masonic Temple, with two orders of Greek columns, is the result of the efforts of the two Meriden lodges, No. 77 and No, 97.
TURN RIGHT ON COLONY STREET.
First Congregational Church
62 Colony Street
In 1725 the legislature was petitioned for permission to form an Ecclesiastical Society and it was so granted. In 1727 the Ecclesiastical Society built the first of what would become five meetinghouses. The current gray granite structure was dedicated on April 2, 1879. The lack of a steeple is not an omission; it was planned but never built.
United States Post Office
87 Colony Street at Brooks Street
In 1902 Congress appropriated $100,000 for a Federal building designed to hold a new post office. That would work out to be an investment of about $1000 a year as the Beaux Arts post office served the community until moving to a 30,000 square foot facility on Center Street in 2008.
TURN RIGHT ON BROOKS STREET AND WALK TO THE OPEN FIELD ONE BLOCK AWAY.
East Main Street, State Street and Pratt Street
The HUB site once served as a center of industrial and commercial activity in Meriden’s downtown. The site housed the Meriden Mall, one of the region’s first indoor retail shopping malls. The property, however, sits atop Harbor Brook and two tributaries, Clark and Jordan Brooks, which lie in culverts underneath, causing flooding in significant rain events. Flooding in the 1990s caused an estimated $14 million in property damage. The HUB site now awaits adaptive redevelopment.
CROSS THE HUB AND PICK UP MILLER STREET DIRECTLY ACROSS FROM BROOKS STREET. PASS THE MERIDEN PUBLIC LIBRARY ON THE RIGHT. TURN RIGHT ON TWISS STREET. TURN LEFT ON LIBERTY STREET. TURN RIGHT ON CENTER STREET.
St. Rose of Lima Church
35 Center Street
The first Meriden Mass in the early 1840s using the Broad Street home of Robert Clarke. During the ensuing years, New Haven priests continued to offer Mass in the homes of Meriden’s approximately 20 Irish families. On March 31, 1851, St. Rose of Lima was created and the parish church on Center Street was dedicated on July 31, 1859.
TURN RIGHT ON EAST MAIN STREET.
241 East Main Street
This brick fortress was constructed as a state armory in 1908. It was the home of the Meriden National Guard unit, Company C, 143d Forward Support Battalion, a medical treatment company until it was closed in 1998.
Augusta Curtis Cultural Center
175 East Main Street
As the 20th century approached, civic leaders began to seek ways to make sure Meriden didn’t enter the new century without a public library. Augusta Curtis, 67-year old widow of an officer of the Meriden Britannia Company, pledged to provide a library if the town would provide $3,000 annually to run it. Meriden accepted, and the sparkling white marble Greek Revival library was dedicated in 1902. Since the library moved to a more commodious facility in the 1970s the building has twice been restored to continue serving the Meriden arts community.
YOU HAVE NOW RETURNED TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT.