Middletown Heritage Trail Site 10
350 High Street
Continuing the tradition of completely useless information other than locations, the Heritage Trail brochure states, “Samuel Russell & the China trade; an elite neighborhood; presidents in Middletown.” I don’t understand that, so lets dig a bit deeper to learn more about this beautiful National Historic Landmark.
Fortuntately for us all, this building has a lot of history and online presence. Wesleyan currently owns the building and has a nice write up of its history: “The Samuel Russell House is one of the premier examples of Greek Revival architecture in the Northeast. Designed by Ithiel Town (a name that pops up here on CTMQ all the time), one of the period’s foremost architects, it was built between 1828 and 1830.
The construction of the Russell House in 1828 established a standard of luxury and elegance for the residential architecture on High Street during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Although many other imposing homes were built in this area of Middletown, the Russell House was never surpassed in sophistication and grandeur. It stands a monument to the personal qualities of Samuel Russell and to the exciting era of the China trade when Russell carried Middletown’s mercantile tradition to its greatest heights.
In addition to its architectural importance, the house is nationally significant as the home of Samuel Russell, a central figure in the China trade and founder of Russell & Company. With the success of his business, Russell commissioned a fine house for his wife, Frances, and their family. Ithiel Town’s design is based on the Greek temple model. The house consists of a tall, almost square, gabled main block, with a lower gabled wing of the same style added about 1855. Six magnificent Corinthian columns support the front pediment. Many of the interior spaces retain their early, elaborate architectural details. Walls are painted using a trompe l’oeil effect, en grisaille, creating the illusion of paneling. Several of the original crystal chandeliers remain, as do the four black marble fireplaces in the downstairs parlors.”
Whoa, that’s way too much architecture talk. For that stuff, I always go to Historic Buildings of Connecticut. After remaining in the Russell family for five generations, the house was deeded to Wesleyan in 1937 by Thomas Macdonough Russell, Jr. It was known as Honors College until 1996. The building is currently being used as an events facility and home to the University’s Philosophy department.