After a long and tempest-tossed journey, the 24-foot whaleboat Middlesex has returned to safe harbor, giving the Darien Historical Society a unique opportunity to help make the town’s Revolutionary history come to life.
“After a nearly 40-year odyssey, I am happy to report that the Middlesex is back home and in ship shape,” said Robert J. Pascal, Jr., president of the Society’s Board of Directors.
The newly refurbished Whaleboat was returned Saturday to the Darien Historical Society, after several decades away and a nearly year-long restoration project. Three senior officers of the Darien Historical Society were there, as well as two representatives from The Darien Foundation, which funded the restoration. All gathered at a safe distance from each other for the unveiling of the boat.
Intended to educate the community about the Whaleboat Wars on Long Island Sound during the Revolution, the Society built the boat in the 1970s, and eventually donated it to the Maritime Center, where it had been displayed for years outdoors.
By the time members of the Society rediscovered her last year, the little boat’s fate seemed nearly sunk; however, a generous $14,000 grant from The Darien Foundation helped to turn the tides.
“We found the lore of the Middlesex inspiring not only as it calls back to local Revolutionary history, but also the boat played a central role in Darien’s celebrations during the nation’s bicentennial in 1976,” said Sarah Woodberry, executive director of The Darien Foundation. “We are thrilled that kids and neighbors will be able to climb aboard the Middlesex again.”
A new episode from the Darien Historical Society’s series “Our Favorite Things” focuses on the history of the Whaleboat Middlesex.
The whaleboat project was launched by the Society in the 1970s to celebrate the nation’s bicentennial, and building the boat became a community-wide effort. A group met every week at the Ziegler estate to build the boat, while students crafted the oars and rudder. After being launched to much fanfare in 1977, the boat was sailed in reenactments and used in rowing races throughout the northeast.
“As one of those involved in the original construction and use of the Middlesex, it gives me great pleasure to see the boat is back in circulation at the Darien Historical Society,” said David Sinclair, who was president of the Society’s Board of Directors in the 1970s, during the boat’s construction. “I am sure that everyone, both young and old, who worked on or rowed the boat, will be equally pleased.”
A few years after the boat’s launch, the Middlesex was donated to Norwalk’s Maritime Center, but after the Center switched its mission from a focus on maritime history to an aquarium, the boat was moved outside and sat for years near a stroller parking area to the rear of the building.
Over the years, in an attempt to protect the vessel from the elements, the Middlesex was painted white from stem to stern and holes were drilled in its hull for drainage.
Through a bit of serendipity, the Society was able to reclaim the boat, and The Darien Foundation’s grant allowed the Middlesex to be transformed into a “touchable” and transportable exhibit.
While the Middlesex will now be a landlubber, she’s ready to once again take on her original duty: to educate the community about this area’s forgotten local heroes: The Whaleboat Men.
“These mariners were our first line of defense against Tory raiders coming from Long Island,” said Society Historian Ken Reiss. “These men risked everything, sometimes engaging in hand-to-hand combat, to prevent the enemy from landing on our shores.”
Eventually, the boat will be featured at town events and transported to schools throughout the region to educate students about the unique role the Whaleboat Men played in protecting Connecticut’s shoreline communities during the Revolution.
“This is exciting history, and the Middlesex will help to make these stories remembered for a lifetime,” said Society Executive Director Maggie McIntire.
Come celebrate our town’s story with us! To learn more the work and mission of the Darien Historical Society, or to support the Middlesex Project and other exciting initiatives, call us at 203.655.9233 or visit our website: www.darienhistorical.org.