UPDATED WEEKLY: Historical Nuggets

UPDATED WEEKLY: Historical Nuggets


Our great friend, historian Jack Sanders, has been creating the Ridgefield Encyclopedia for several years, based on his extensive research as well as his knowledge of the town from his nearly-50-year career with The Ridgefield Press. We are partnering with him to share bits of knowledge from the more than 3,000 entries. There will be no test on these facts! But we hope to enlighten our friends and members about the town that means so much to us.

NUGGET #28 – September 16, 2020

American Mercury, The: A popular magazine, founded by H.L. Mencken, that published major authors and thinkers of the 1920s and 30s moved its offices to 360 Main Street in 1936, [P9/1936]; was still publishing there in 1938. Paul Palmer of Wilton Road East was editor and publisher in 1937 and Gordon Carroll, also of Ridgefield, was managing editor. (Mr. Carroll was later a founder of Famous Writers School in Westport.)

NUGGET #27 – September 9, 2020

Airplane spotting posts were maintained from December 1941 into 1945 and again during the Korean conflict. They were designed to spot and report enemy aircraft in the days before radar became extensive and effective. The first, briefly used post was at Wadsworth Lewis’s estate, Taghkanick, but was soon permanently established on East Ridge east of the high school where, eventually a tower was built next to a small octagonal office that had once been a boathouse on the F.E. Lewis estate. Between December 7, 1941 and May 29, 1944 during World War II, some 200 men, women and children staffed the airplane spotting posts in town, which reported more than 7,000 aircraft to military officials.

From Ridgefield Press 8/23/1945. 

NUGGET #26 – September 2, 2020

Ziegler, Electa Matilda Curtis (1841-1932), a native of Schuylerville, N.Y., was an heiress who owned Hawley Cottage/Ashton Croft (now Wesley Hall, part of Jesse Lee Memorial United Methodist Church) on Main Street from 1912-1924; she was a benefactor of the blind, publishing a magazine and books for the visually impaired, and founding the E. Matilda Ziegler Foundation for the Blind which, to this day, provides millions in grants for research into blindness. Her husband, William Ziegler (1843-1905), was a millionaire leader in the baking powder industry whose mansion on Great Island, Darien, became one of the most expensive estates in the nation.

From Jack Sanders, Who Was Who in Ridgefield.

NUGGET #25 – August 26, 2020

Wyden, Peter (1923-1998), a journalist and author, wrote 15 books that examined such major 20th Century events and issues as the Holocaust, the atomic bomb, the Berlin Wall, mental illness, suburban kids, and the Spanish Civil War; among the personalities he interviewed was Fidel Castro. His son is Ron Wyden, U.S. senator from Oregon for many years.

From Jack Sanders, Who Was Who in Ridgefield.

NUGGET #24 – August 19, 2020

Walker’s Happy Shop: Opened around 1915 at ONS [Old Numbering System, pre-1969] 123 Main Street by Charles Wade Walker, selling typical “news store” products, plus toys, with motto, “Toys to make the kiddies happy, sweets to make the ladies happy, and smokes to make the men happy.” Walker also installed a soda fountain.

Research done by Jack Sanders.

NUGGET #23 – August 12, 2020

Velte, Paul Christian Jr., (1914-1976), was CEO of Air America, a large airline owned by the Central Intelligence Agency flying primarily in Southeast Asia from the 1950s until 1975; used Air America Huey helicopters to help with evacuation of Saigon in April 1975, rescuing more than 1,000 Americans and Vietnamese; Ridgefield resident 1955 until death, was active in Ridgebury Congregational Church and Boy Scouts.

From Jack Sanders, Who Was Who in Ridgefield.

NUGGET #22 – August 5, 2020

Ullman, Paul (1906-1944), a native of France, was a noted French impressionist artist who became an underground fighter in World War II; OSS agent recruited by U.S. government; killed by Gestapo after parachuting into France on a mission; lived at 114 Main Street from 1942 with uncle, George Ullman, head of a NYC printing ink company; earned posthumous Bronze Star from the U.S. Army, and the Croix de guerre and Legion of Honor from the French government; included in the Book of Honor at the OSS Memorial Wall at Central Intelligence Agency headquarters in McLean, Va.; his wife, Babette, was active in the war effort on the homefront, working for many French relief efforts based in Ridgefield and elsewhere; she remarried and moved to California where she died in 2009; biography, Babette, written by Constance Crawford, 2005.

From Jack Sanders, Who Was Who in Ridgefield.

NUGGET #21 – July 29, 2020

Turner, Aaron (1790-1854), born in Ridgebury, was an American circus pioneer; by 1820, his son, Napoleon, age 7, was a trick rider in NYC circus; by 1828, Turner had his own circus, in 1836, hired P.T. Barnum as his ticket seller, secretary, treasurer, and eventually, partner; retired from the circus world and operated Danbury hotel, called Turner House.

From Jack Sanders, Who Was Who in Ridgefield.

NUGGET #20 – July 22, 2020

Titicus: A district and a neighborhood of Ridgefield just northwest of the village; name comes from the Titicus River that flows through it; word in turn is shortened form of Mutighticoss (or something similar), which probably meant “place without trees” in Mahican tongue, says Huden; first mention, as Metiticus, occurs in 1709 Proprietors order for a survey; because of the swift river here, was an early small-scale industrial area, with mills and a tannery; by the late 1800s, Titicus had a store, post office, cider mill, saw mill, flour mill, tannery, sash and blind factory, a blacksmith, and town’s biggest cemetery; almost had a railroad station.

From Jack Sanders, Ridgefield Names.

NUGGET #19 – July 15, 2020

Saw mills: Possibly the first “industry” and first “factory” in Ridgefield was a sawmill. Certainly lumber was needed before almost anything else in the settlement of the new town. Land records between 1708 and 1880 indicate that at least 20 sawmills were operated here for varying lengths of time during those 170 years. Virtually every neighborhood had a mill at one time or another. The earliest water powered mill may have been located at the outlet of a pond that used to exist at the corner of Whipstick Road and Wilton Road East.

NUGGET #18 – July 8, 2020

Ram Pasture was situated along West Lane (then called Bedford Road) in and about the triangle created by Parley Lane, High Ridge and West Lane. In the early 18th Century, the town owned a sizable flock of sheep, pastured on common land and probably tended by a town-hired shepherd or by volunteers. These sheep were hired out to fertilize farmers’ fields and consequently support education. Periodically, a “sheep meeting” would take place. One on Dec. 24, 1742, voted that “the money coming for the hire of the sheep last year shall be given as bounty to help maintain the Town School forever, and when the money is gathered it shall be delivered to the committee that is appointed to take care of the bounty money given by the Government to support ye School…” Apparently the rams for the flock were kept at the Ram Pasture while the sheep were probably held nearby, perhaps in the vicinity of Olmstead Lane.

From Glenna Welsh, Proprietors of Ridgefield and George L. Rockwell, History of Ridgefield

NUGGET #17 – July 1, 2020

Quincy Close, a lane at Casagmo, was named by developer David L. Paul for the ancestors of George M. Olcott, who built the Casagmo mansion in the 1890s. Often confused with Quince Court, one of Paul’s byways at Fox Hill condominiums.

NUGGET #16 – June 24, 2020

Paul, David L. (1940-) was the developer of Casagmo (q.v.) and Fox Hill condominium projects; from New York City; was 27 years old when he began Casagmo, 1967-8, originally built as apartments; Fox Hill contained town’s first condominiums, then an experiment; in 1980, he proposed 224 on 59 acres across Danbury Road from Fox Hill; Planning and Zoning Commission rejected the plan and the site is now part of Ridgefield Recreation Center (q.v.); in 1983, bought nearly bankrupt Dade Savings and Loan Association, renaming it CenTrust Bank; hired I.M. Pei to design $90-million CenTrust Tower; by 1988, CenTrust was the largest thrift institution in the southeastern US with $8.2 billion in assets, but in 1989, it lost $119 million and in 1990, $1.7 billion; seized by the federal government which charged “excessive and inappropriate expenses and investments”; Paul convicted in 1993 of 68 counts of fraud, misappropriation of funds, and filing false tax returns; sentenced to 11 years prison and ordered to pay $65 million; released 2004.

From Jack Sanders, Ridgefield Names.

NUGGET #15 – June 17, 2020

Oil: Peter P. Cornen led movement in 1880s to drill for oil in Ridgefield, especially Farmingville; Press reported in 1886 [P11/11/1886]: “The workmen digging the well on Dr. Bennett’s place found a vein of soft material, greasy to the feel, and resembling tallow in consistency. It was similar to that found in digging a well on Aaron Lee’s place that gave rise to the story of the finding of oil.” Cornen, who made a fortune discovering oil in Pennsylvania, said Ridgefield is situated over an oil field of “considerable magnitude.” On Nov. 19, 1887, a public meeting took place to discuss forming the Ridgefield Oil and Gas Heating and Gas Lighting Company to begin drilling. [P11/25/1887]. However, drilling never occurs, probably because many townspeople object to the effect it would have on town.

NUGGET #14 – June 10, 2020

Nelhybel, Vaclav, (1919-1996), a native of Czechoslovakia, was a prolific composer — more than 400 of his 600-plus works have been published; many have been performed by leading orchestras such as the Vienna Symphony and the Orchestra de la Suisse Romande; lived on Lake Road, 1968-1973, moving to Newtown; in 1980, the Ridgefield Symphony Orchestra premiered his Six Fables for All Time; lectured and performed at Ridgefield High School; over 1,000 people attended the April 1973 Vaclav Nelhybel Festival, with the composer leading junior and senior high bands.

From Jack Sanders, Who Was Who in Ridgefield.

NUGGET #13 – June 3, 2020

Mamanasco: Name first appears in description of the first purchase of land from local natives in 1708 for a boundary that “extends to a place called Mamanasquag, where an oak tree is marked on ye north side of the outlet of water that comes out from a sort of grassy pond, which is known and called by said name…” Some have thus interpreted the word as meaning “grassy pond.” Huden translates the word as “united outlets,” or “two sharing the same outlet,” suggesting Mamanasco may have been two ponds. Mamanasco has at least 12 versions of spellings in land records including: Mamanasquag (1709), Mamanasquogg (1716), Mamanusco (1741), Mamanausco (1745), Mamanusqua (1745), Mamansquog (pre-1750), Mammenusquah (pre-1750), Mamenasco (1746), Mamenasqua (1750), Mammenasco (1790), and Mammenusquag (1797).

From Jack Sanders, Ridgefield Names.

NUGGET #12 – May 27, 2020

Last Man’s Club: On March 15, 1938, 31 veterans of World War I had a dinner at Kane Inn (q.v.) on West Lane for the first meeting of the Last Man’s Club; each March 15—the anniversary of the founding of the American Legion—members met at a table set for 31 people — when a member died, his plate was turned upside down and a toast was drunk in his memory: “To our dear departed comrade, may God and this club preserve his memory”; at 1989 meeting, Thomas Shaughnessy (q.v.) was The Last Man.

NUGGET #11 – May 20, 2020

Joe’s Hideaway: Restaurant at north corner of Grove Street and Sunset Lane in 1950s, 60s; named for Joe Pierpaoli, son of restaurant’s founder, John Pierpaoli, who took over when father retired and renamed the business [later names: Perp’s, Corner Pub, The Hideaway].

NUGGET #10 – May 13, 2020

Kendall, Marie Hartig (1854-1943) was an early woman professional photographer in Connecticut; was taking photographs of Ridgefield from at least 1886 onward; married Dr. John Calvin Kendall; probably lived here for several years at house of her husband’s parents, Dr. and Mrs. Calvin Kendall, at 85 Main Street; moved to and lived rest of life in Norfolk, Conn., where she had a photography business; in 1904, showed her work at St. Louis World’s Fair; published in 1900 a photo book, “Glimpses of Ridgefield,” with more than 100 pictures of Ridgefield in late 1880s and 1890s.

From Jack Sanders, Who Was Who in Ridgefield.

NUGGET #9 – May 6, 2020

Iron foundry: Operated by Thomas Couch and Ebenezer Burr Sanford (q.v.) in the first half of the 19th Century on Norwalk River at what is now the Moongate (q.v.) property at Route 7 and Florida Hill Road. Said to have been the only foundry between the Hudson River and New Haven. Turned pig iron into tools, including plows, and even manufactured a cannon.

From Silvio Bedini, Ridgefield in Review.

NUGGET #8 – April 29, 2020

Hauley, Rev. Thomas (1689-1738), the town’s first minister, lived in the “town’s oldest house,” a gambrel-roofed residence at Main Street and Branchville Road. A native of Northampton, Mass., he graduated from Harvard in 1709 and was ordained in 1712. He and his wife, Abigail Gould of Fairfield, came here in 1713 as newlyweds as he became minister of First Congregational Church. Then the operations of the church and the town were virtually the same – “government” meetings were held in the church, church records and town records were kept together, and the minister was the only schoolteacher — he was probably the most educated settler. He was also the first town clerk, then called “register.” Hauley was spelled in that fashion until Benjamin Smith became town clerk and register of records in 1785 and began spelling it Hawley, the “modern” version. His predecessor Stephen Smith, town clerk from 1747 to 1785, had always written it Hauley, as had Minister Hauley himself. His slate gravestone is the oldest readable headstone in Titicus Cemetery (q.v.).

From Jack Sanders, Ridgefield Names.

NUGGET #7 – April 22, 2020

Good Government Party: A Ridgefield-only third party, founded in 1963, with members saying they were “dissatisfied with the leadership and control of the two existing parties,” especially with respect to the schools; ran candidates in 1963 and 1965. None won, but some came close — one collected 1,295 votes; party membership peaked at 75, and in 1971, though inactive, still had 65 members; GGP discontinued in 1981 due to inactivity. [Ridgefield Press Centenary edition]

NUGGET #6 – April 15, 2020

Farmingville schoolhouse: Stood opposite present Farmingville School in District Number 10; it and Titicus were last district schools to close, 1939; long empty, building was sold about 1950 to Alexander Alland, photographer, who moved it to North Salem to serve as studio (still there 2019); had been gift of Gov. George Lounsbury in 1900, the last district schoolhouse built in town; previous Farmingville building, farther east and dating from mid-1800s, was razed ca. 1900 — land on which it stood was given to Louis Morris Starr (q.v.) in exchange for site of Lounsbury gift; George and his brother, Phineas, had been schooled in the older building and both became governors of Connecticut.  

NUGGET #5 – April 8, 2020

Eight Lakes: Town’s largest subdivision, with several hundred lots from tiny ones around Lake Mamanasco to one-acre parcels on West Mountain; part of Port of Missing Men (q.v.) property, which included eight lakes and ponds: Lake Mamanasco, Turtle Pond, and Round Pond in Ridgefield; Lakes Rippowam, Oscaleta, and Waccabuc in Lewisboro; and Pine Lake and Hemlock Lake in North Salem; 500-600 acres in Ridgefield acquired 1951, J. Wesley Seward and William H. Hayes of NYC; subdivided 1951-54; roads are Walnut Hill Road, Birch Court, Rock Road, Scott Ridge Road, Blue Ridge Road, Caudatowa Drive, Sleepy Hollow Road, Round Lake Road, First through 12th Lanes, Mamanasco Road, west ends of Barrack Hill and Old Sib Roads.

From Jack Sanders, Ridgefield Names.

NUGGET #4 – April 1, 2020

Desire Under the Elms: 1924 play by Eugene O’Neill (q.v.), said to have been inspired by the playwright’s time spent here. “It was not Brook Farm that inspired his play,” says Bedini*. “The inspiration came from his view of the smaller white colonial style house across the North Salem Road, owned by Louis G. Smith. From his front door O’Neill could see the Smith house framed behind the heavy drooping branches of two majestically tall elms on either side of it, which grew beside the road. The trees were cut down some years later to enable the road to be widened.” [P10/5/1983]

From Silvio Bedini, Ridgefield in Review, 1958.

NUGGET #3 – April 1, 2020

Camp, Rev. Samuel (1744-1813) was the first settled pastor, 1769, of Ridgebury Congregational Church; served as pastor for thirty-five years, until 1804, when he was obliged to resign, probably due to health; continued to live in Ridgebury until his death in March 1813; had 3 wives, all buried alongside him in Ridgebury Cemetery with matching stones, but half the size of his; in 1769, married Hannah Garnsey, died 1777 age 33; year later, married Lucretia Barker, who died 1782, age 35; eight months later, he married Mrs. Mary Keeler Northrop, who died 1800, age 54.

NUGGET #2 – March 26, 2020

Bailey, Halcyon Gilbert (1828-1905) married Emily Keeler of Ridgebury Road in 1854; Bedini describes satirical campaign Gilbert ran, complete with posters, for office of town hayward — posters generally made fun of women and promoted drinking; Emily divorced him by 1880; in 1908, national news stories reported his daughter, Dr. Annie Keeler Bailey (q.v.), asked court to change her name to Keeler to “free the honor of her mother’s family from the taint arising from the name of her father.” “Father,” she was quoted as saying, “was a man addicted to excessive dissipation, shocking immorality and profanity. He was a disgrace to the family”; buried in Peach Lake Cemetery, North Salem.

From Jack Sanders, Who Was Who in Ridgefield, RidgefieldHistory.com.

NUGGET #1 – March 26, 2020

Bailey, Dr. Annie Keeler (1855-1927), a Ridgefield native, was one of first women physicians in Connecticut; graduated 1876 from State Normal School (now Central Conn. Univ.), and studied 1881-86; established practice in Danbury in May 1886; associated with Danbury Hospital; was mentor to many nurses; wrote articles on healing for medical journals and also spoke on religious subjects at Danbury churches — two of her lectures were turned into books still available; in 1908 petitioned Superior Court to allow name change to Annie Keeler because she so much disliked her abusive father, Halcyon Gilbert Bailey (q.v.); she died in auto accident in Danbury.

From Jack Sanders, Who Was Who in Ridgefield, RidgefieldHistory.com.


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