Business and Labor

Flashback Photo: Samuel Russell Comes Home to Middletown

Samuel Russell founded the largest trading company in the old China trade, ran it for 12 years and then came home.

And what a home it was.

Samuel Wadsworth Russell House

Samuel Wadsworth Russell House

The Samuel Wadsworth Russell House (named after his son) set a new standard for luxury and grandeur in Middletown, Conn. It also helped launch the Greek Revival style of architecture in the United States.

Ithiel Town, one of America’s first architects, designed the mansion. It was built while Russell was away in China. The massive Corinthian columns were salvaged from the New Haven Eagle Bank after it failed, and hauled by oxcart to the building site.

Russell & Co.

Samuel Russell

Samuel Russell was born in Middletown on Aug. 25, 1789 to Capt. John Russell and Abigail Warner. Orphaned at age 12, he apprenticed as a clerk for a maritime trade merchant, Whittlesley & Alsop, in Middletown.

Eventually he went to sea as a supercargo, buying and selling a ship’s cargo. He earned enough from his commissions to start Russell & Co. He made a fortune trading opium, silk and teas. He did business with the most important Hong merchant, Howqua, and the British bank Barings Brothers & Co.

Samuel Russell withdrew from the company after 12 years.

He filled the lavishly decorated mansion with gifts from Howqua and Chinese antiquities, the garden with plants from England and China. He added another 20 rooms to the original 22 in 1860, shortly before he died.

Samuel Russell died in 1862. The Russell family lived in the house until 1936.

The Samuel Wadsworth Russell House is now on the National Register of Historic Places and a National Historic Landmark. It is now owned by Wesleyan University.

Photo courtesy Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division. From the Historic American Building Survey.

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