Middletown, Connecticut: Summer of 2000

Domenique S. Thornton: Mayor of Middletown, Connecticut

Good day to you all. My name is Domenique Thornton. As the mayor of Middletown I'd like to welcome you to our fair town. In this photo essay you'll meet some of the children of Middletown and see a few of the activities they engaged in during the summer of the year 2000.

Children were a great focus when I first began even considering running for mayor of this town. Education has always been one of my major concerns. I wanted to be sure that our town had a good education system and I wanted to improve the park and recreation system which had been neglected for many years. For eons there had been talk about creating a youth center and that "project" was high on my list of "to do" activities. I'm proud to say that it is now a reality. I was fortunate in having a great childhood, but I realize that not everyone is that fortunate. I feel that if a child can identfy with his or her town as being a good place to live in and be from then a sense of pride will result.

This can translate into folks from other places knowing that this is a good place to bring up their children if they heard: "that's a good place to play ball," or "they really care about their kids because their school system is the best," or "their soccer fields are well maintained . . ."

The children then would have a better sense of identity with our town and would have confidence in themselves which would let them do the best that they are capable of.  The children need to know that somebody cares. We want our town to become a role model so that others looking at us, no matter what their interests, education or art, the sciences, football, soccer, or whatever their interest is, will look at us as being the best.

So yes, children have been a big focus of my administration. I hope that I have helped to make the community responsive and responsible to and for our community's children.

In my vision for the future of Middletown I would really like to see a new high school. I'd like to see consolidated football and soccer fields. I'd like to see Palmer Field dedicated to baseball only, since that's what it was built for. I'd like to see additional fields built for youth soccer to handle our growing soccer population as more and more kids become interested in that sport. I can visualize a centralized recreational facility of some kind where we could have large expanses of football and soccer fields and other sports. This would make it much easier for parents who have children of varying ages who are engaged in sports. At the present time they have to run from one end of town to the other to deliver and pickup their children. With a central complex this problem would be eliminated and parents could spend more time with their children.

We use our schools constantly for "after school" activities. I've been trying to interest several individuals to apply for after school arts grants; we not only use our schools for the children but for adult activities; we use them for park and recreation activities and many other events.

In order to make our children competitive with the rest of the world I've worked very hard to get our schools computerized and to make sure that every elementary school is equipped with the best computer equipment that we can possible procure. We've spent additional money to put in hardwireing for computer lines using up-to-date equipment. I'm very proud that in our new school renovations, like Snow School, we've put in two computers for every classroom. And, in the preschool classroom there is a computer to familiarize four year olds with the technology.

An area which I'm quite concerned about is the modernization of science labs in the high schools. Since the high school was built in the 50's or so, the equipment and facilities are, in general, no longer up to modern standards. We need to upgrade these facilities, preferably with a new high school or at least with renovations to the old, to bring the children's technology base up to where its competitive with the rest of the world.

It has been said by others that, "the children are our future." We realize this, have spared no expense and energy in making sure that "our" children - the children of Middletown have a full and rewarding childhood and are prepared through our educational, and recreational facilities, to take on the challenge of competing in a world economy.

So, again, welcome. Please enjoy your tour of our town through these photos of Rob White as he visits the Amistad, then a program of writing and creativity with the fellows of the Buttonwood Tree at McDonough School and finally on to a three ring circus, the Circus of 2000, through the eyes of the staff and children of the Oddfellows Playhouse.

Clouds breaking over Middletown fields

The Textures of Middletown
As I rode out for my morning's explorations of the Middletown countryside I stopped across from the Longlane School and looked out at a clearning sky over Middletown fields.

I've lived and worked here in Middletown for almost 35 years and watched the changes, but what do I really know of this town or the people in it for that matter? It's a private world, like most New England towns that I've lived in or passed through. True, I know most of the streets, stores and recreations here but what of the soul of this place. What might the soul of a town be called in you had to put a name to it, texture perhaps?

But how do you get to know them, the people in a small town. Is there any way past the barriers that people often set up to protect themselves against the world? True, I do know some people here, have a few friends, and there are many faces and names I know but little else. I've coached a soccer team, and met players and other coaches. We meet on the streets now and then and stop for a moment's reminiscences of those days, those games and times. But then we move on down streets and faces of many strangers.

I wanted to find a way to see deeper into this town -- if only through the lens of a camera. I needed to understand what there was to see.

So I began my morning wanderings, on foot, or bike, and sometimes from the pickup. I'd get up early in the morning, before seven and wander the town with camera, trying to find new perspectives of the place. There was always a different camera angle to find and it was relatively quiet as many people were still in bed at that hour.

Once, I went looking for farms out toward the south end of town. I was not surprised that it was difficult to find them, other than the fields out by Crystal Lake. Yet the Daniel's Farm had changed too, from an agricultural base to a caretaker business for people's animals and pets. Still the place had the feel of a farm. Working farms themself, on the other hand were not so easy to find. There were a few fields of corn here and there but that seemed to be the extent of it; perhaps another direction would yield better results.

As I drove the pickup down what was once Little City Road I realized that the very nature of the landscape had changed considerably over the last 30 years. Mostly the fields had gone back to wilderness and simple farm houses were few or converted into modern dwellings. What had once been cornfields were now homes. The newer houses though were modern in appearance, town houses really, and their inhabitants were not farmers.

Yet, where the rivers wandered, it was still possible to find places of beauty, peace and solitude, at least at the present time.

One could still find artifacts of the agricultural community, but often those artifacts were rusting behind a barn with a slight lean to it; the barn, without some carpenter's help would certainly not make it through the century.

By chance, as I drove down the Old Saybrook road, I discovered a crew of men loading hay which they'd just cut from fields by the side of the road. I stopped and asked if I could take a picture. "Not many farms left," I said to the men. "That's right," replied one of the older men, "There aren't many left."

I nodded my head. Yes, it's the same everywhere, the world changes, the Atomichron "ticks on" and the past slides back into oblivion. Old folks get nostalgic about their times and complain about the present. Young folks want their needs filled as quickly as possible and so the future to them feels like it should be accelerated.

The texture of Middletown, I thought, texture, an interesting word. Does it mean the texture of the land, or the people, the buildings, artifacts, or all of those things? Yes, I reflected, It's hard to quantify a town and it's almost impossible to define any place without trying to sort everything into their appropriate little boxes or squares.

Those days when slaver ships came up the river with their cargo of slaves is long gone. Now, the lone ship Amistad, recreated for the part, makes the voyage as an historical reminder of those days, lest we forget.

The city is always changing, but nothing ever changes. Today's youth have many of the same needs as other generations; the clothing styles change, attitudes and hairstyles too, but much remains as it was.

By the Connecticut River is a statue of Christopher Columbus, a bit tarnished perhaps, by recent changes in the way history regards his achievements. He stands, looking out across the river, his eyes focused on the bridge upstream and beyond, as if wishing he could continue his voyage up that river to places he'd never see.

I walked through town and came to The Color Mart where I looked at the walls of the building.  I remember when these paintings were made by the brushes of James White and some of his helpers. They're gone now -- those pictures -- to places where dead paintings go, wherever that is, an imaginary landscape located somewhere in some fields beyond the river. I imagined a scene with its hills and fields covered with paintings in soft pastels.

Yet, in the place of James White's paintings, only a few feet away from them are new images, products of another generation, and new ideas, full of energy, life and the symbols of today's culture.

What I believe is that you can live in a town or city for your entire life and still not know it. Even if you explored a different part of that town each day still there would be places, worlds, and people that you'd never meet or experience, let alone get to know in depth.

I thought back to the photos I'd taken of the kids during the recent Amistad visit and of the Oddfellows Playhouse production of "Circus of the 21st Century." I reflected upon the Buttonwood Tree's "Kid's Art 2000" program and of the writing program I'd taken part in with the kids at McDonough School. That's the heart of any town, the kids; when a community works and helps its children beyond basic needs, that's the mark of a good community.

Ultimately I found an enormous variety in the textures of this town, the city streets, the country roads, the houses both new and old, the river, baseball fields, schools and churches; but the real texture came from the people who lived and worked in this town. I found great texture on Main Street, in the faces of the merchants and their customers and I found texture in those visiting Stop and Shop and the other shopping places. At Amato's Hobby and Toy Store I found laughter and delight in the children exploring that world.  Across the street from the Oddfellows Playhouse was Kid City, a wondrous treasurehouse of activity for kids.  So, at this time, I set my sights on photographing perhaps the most important texture, the texture of the children of the town.

I discovered those children in many places during the summer of 2000. They were on the soccer fields, and baseball fields, at the swimming pool at Veteran's Memorial Park and at Crystal Lake; but I was drawn to laughter from the North End, at McDonough School where the Buttonwood Tree was hosting several programs. Yet, on the way to the North End I couldn't help but notice the running and jumping and shouting at the Wesleyan fields, which it turned out were preparations for the Oddfellow's Playhouse and their "Circus of the 21st Century." Yet, as I looked out on the river, there were sails coming upstream with the arrival of the Amistad, and yet more chances to shoot pictures.

And so, with camera at the ready I began my photographic odyssey of the children of Middletown during the summer of 2000. But already I was thinking of the next stage. What about the other textures of Middletown, the families, the old folks, the working class, the ethnic neighborhoods, the merchants and stores, the organizations? How about the history of this town? How did this culture evolve into the civilization it presently is? And the landscape itself, the river, the brownstone quarries, the University, Longlane School, the State Mental Hospital on the hill, they were all tied in with an understanding of this "soul" of the town.

I sighed; so much to consider. But for now that sail on the river was coming close. I had to get over to the wharf; it was time to concentrate on the job at hand, the arrival of a ship from yesterday, the Amistad . . .

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