Middlefield CT: The Industrial Revolution


During this time Middlefield's agriculture also changed. Following the Revolutionary War many young men left Middlefield to become farmers where land was more abundant. In 1790 120 families in Middlefield created a population pressure of 60 people per square mile. By 1815 1/3 of the young men had left. In 1790, 90% of the young men were farmers, by 1840 less than half were.

Wheat was a key early crop. All farmers raised it. Rye and corn were also raised. In the Early 1800's the Hussein Fly blight destroyed the wheat crop ending the growing of wheat. The Great Embargo of 1807 and the War of 1812 closed part of Middletown Harbor removing a major outlet for farm products. This affected Middlefield's economy and caused land prices to drop.

More damage was done during the summer of 1816. This was the year of no summer and it impacted farming and the population of Middlefield. Heavy frosts and snow in July and August destroyed crops. Many families headed to Connecticut's Western Reserve in the Midwest.

In the 1820's Middlefield farmers turned to growing green crops on the bottomland and raising sheep on the top land. By 1826 Middlefield was the leading grower of sheep in the country. The sheep were imported from the Middle East. The advent of large western sheep farms burst the bubble in 1840.

During the time period Isaac Miller grew apples to produce cider and Curtis Coe developed the famous transparent cherry. Miller was known for the famous progress apple, which for a time was know as "Squire Miller's Best Sort". Many farms moved into growing tobacco. Middlefield had the same soil conditions as Samatra, which was the main tobacco grower of the time. It did not have the climate, so shade grown tobacco was developed. It had a smaller leaf and was used for the wrapper. Broadleaf tobacco was also grown in the shade to be used as filler for cigars. To solve the problem of drying the tobacco a drying facility was built in Rockfall by the powder mill.

Phineas Miller, the son of Isaac, was the first Middlefield resident to graduate from college. He attended Durham Academy, a prep school for Yale, with Eli Whitney and graduated from Wesleyan as a physician. After graduating college, at the urging of Whitney, he moved to Savanna, Georgia to work on General Nathaniel Greene's plantation as a tutor for Greene's children. When Greene died he took over the management of the plantation and married Greene's widow Catherine. Whitney came to visit the plantation and saw how difficult it was to remove seeds from cotton. He, with the help of Miller, invented the cotton gin. The gin was perfected in Miller's log cabin workshop at Upton Creek. They became partners with Miller providing financial backing. The invention had a major impact on cotton growth. Before the gin one person could clean 1 pound of cotton a day. After the invention one person could clean 100 pounds per day.

By 1860 Middlefield had grown and changed dramatically. It had changed from a total farming community to a community of farmers, laborers, and entrepreneurs with one of the best agricultural and industrial bases in New England.


Atkins, Thomas: History of Middlefield and Longhill
Atwell, Joan & Bob: Personal papers on the development of the Reservoir Company
Cunningham, Janice: History and Architecture of Middlefield
Frias, John: Flowing North in not Against the Main Stream
History of Middlesex County
Hubbard, Ray: Pictures from personal collection
Korn, Fran: Pictures of washing machine
Life of A.M. Bailey
Perkins, Prue, and Kosinski: Long Ago, Not Far Away
Prue, Bernard: Personal interviews
Warner & Fowler: "Industries" A History of Middlefield: Written for the Centennial Celebration 1866-1966