History of Meriden

Over 300 years have passed since 1661 when Jonathan Gilbert was granted a land settlement for a farm near Cold Spring in what later became the City of Meriden.  For thousands of years prior, native Americans camped here and used the land for hunting and fishing.  Although they never had a permanent settlement within the boundaries of the town, evidence in the form of arrowheads and artifacts are at times still unearthed as reminders of the Quinnipiac and Mattabasset tribal presence in the area.

In the 1600s and 1700s Meriden was a rural or suburban sector of the town of Wallingford.  Situated halfway between the Connecticut Colony on the north (Hartford - Wethersfield) and the New Haven Colony on the south, it became a stopping place for colonists who traveled by horse or by foot.  Belcher Tavern was one of its well known resting places.  At that time, wolves still roamed the woods in the north of town.  The first wagon did not make its appearance here until 1789.  The oldest house in town still standing, built by Solomon Goffe in 1711, is now a museum located on North Colony Road.

By 1724 there were approximately 35 families living in this North Farms area of Wallingford.  Because it was so difficult for them to get to religious services from their scattered farms, they petitioned to have a separate meetinghouse closer to their homes.  In 1727 this structure was raised on Meeting House Hill (now the corner of Ann Street and Dryden Drive), with the first burying ground set to the east.  By 1728 the parish was known by the name Meriden.  In 1806 the parish was recognized as the town of Meriden. When the railroad arrived in 1839 it helped change the center of town from the hill to the Pilgrim Harbor sector (near what is now downtown).  In 1867 Meriden was incorporated as a city.

The 1800's saw the beginning trickle of what would become a flood of manufacturing in the city.  Belts, hoops, pewter, guns, cutlery, nails, buttons, lamps, ivory combs, tin ware, organs, coffee grinders, and silver, the product that would lend its luster as Meriden became the “Silver City,” were all manufactured here.  Stately mansions were built as manufacturers became prosperous.  Wilcox and White produced the first mechanical piano.  The Northern Literary Messenger, Meriden’s first newspaper, was published. Hotels, banks and businesses grew, electric lights arrived, schools were built, parks were added, more churches and a synagogue were built.  The city thrived -- with a population of over 24,000 by 1900, the year Castle Craig was dedicated in Hubbard Park.  The Curtis Memorial Library opened in 1903.  In 1897 the German author Gerhart Hauptmann was so impressed with the scenery around Merimere reservoir that it provided the background for his romantic drama "The Sunken Bell."

In the 1920s the airport was built and the downtown traffic tower erected.  The world wars and the depression brought hardships to the city as to the rest of the country.  Yet in March 1944, Meriden was proud to be honored as “The Nation’s Ideal War Community” for its industrial and patriotic contributions to the nation.  Monument Boulevard on Broad Street honors those Meridenites who lost their lives while serving in the armed forces during various wars.

During the mid 1900s, some of the older businesses, including International Silver moved or closed.  Urban redevelopment changed the look of some areas, but the “pleasant valley” (possibly the ancient meaning of the name Meriden) remained.  Newly arrived immigrants added their energy to the growing town.  A shopping mall was built, as were three high schools.  Civic groups grew in numbers and service and Meriden became home to the first steamed cheeseburger. Daffodils, long planted at Hubbard Park, became the city's official flower with the inaugural Daffodil Festival celebrated in April, 1978.

Starting with Charles Parker as the first mayor in 1867, Meriden’s city government was run by the mayor and city council until 1980 when the new city manager-city council form of government was implemented and Dana Miller was appointed the first city manager.

In the past few years, Meriden's downtown has undergone a facelift, a new hospital has been erected, and many corporate headquarters have located to the east side of town on Research Parkway.  City manufacturing firms produce electronics, nuclear instruments, automotive devices, plastics, gaskets, communications equipment, filters, vaccines, jewelry, food, candy, pewter, tools and machines.  A new interdistrict magnet school is under construction and a barbershop museum is in the works on West Main Street.  The City is proud of its past and yet looks eagerly towards its future.

Meriden landmarks included on the National Register of Historic Places are Hubbard Park, The Andrews Moses Homestead, The Curtis Memorial Building, The Charter Oak Firehouse (King Travelways), The West Main Historic District, The Solomon Goffe House, The Meriden Curtain Fixture Company Factory (Charles Street Apartments), The Red Bridge near Oregon Road, and the U.S. Post Office on Colony St.

Some things remain the same, some disappear and some improve, but the words Rev. J. T. Pettee wrote about Meriden in 1890 still ring true:

“Of all the towns that round me rise, of all the cities that I greet, there’s none seems fairer to my eyes than that which slumbers at my feet.”