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History on the Run

Ridgefielder Sean O'Neil talks about creating a long-distance run along the route that British soldiers marched to attack Danbury in 1777.

Experiencing the Danbury March the
Old-Fashioned Way — on Foot

People celebrate, commemorate, and learn about history in different ways. Many read. Some reenact. Others run. 

Sean O’Neil is one of those. 

The Ridgefield Historical Society first met Sean when he called in search of maps of the Battle of Ridgefield. Not just the immediate engagements, but the full course — from Compo Beach to Danbury.

An aspiring cartographer? A historic archaeologist? No, a runner. 

New to Ridgefield, but not to historic mileage, Sean has run the Sybil Ludington 50k (31 miles) race more than once, inspired by Ludington’s bravery in alerting the local militia to the British March on Danbury.  (An account which some historians question.

Upon moving to Ridgefield in March 2021, and hearing the fervor around the Battle, he thought it would be fun to try and recreate the British March.

And while fun is certainly a relative term, covering the British course can only expand one’s understanding of the March, the experience, the effort, and the passions of the soldiers on both sides. 

… Meet Sean O’Neil.  

Q: What gave you the idea to run the Westport to Danbury course? 

I had run the Sybil Ludington 50k race in Carmel, NY a couple of times.  I read about her story, to raise the local militia in response to the British March on Danbury. Once I moved to Ridgefield, I started to read about the town’s history. I visited the Keeler Tavern and saw the famous cannonball. I checked the Ridgefield Historical Society’s website and learned about the discovery of the human remains during a renovation and the events surrounding this year’s commemoration of the Battle of Ridgefield. The rest is history. 

Tell us about the running course.   

Sean, at bottom, before the takeoff at Compo Beach

I broke the entire route into three sections, aiming for about 20 miles each to make it runnable for more folks. [Sean has a bunch of buddies joining him.] 

On Sunday, March 20, we ran from Compo Beach in Westport to the Putnam Memorial Park in Redding. There were some very pretty parts, back roads with rolling terrain, old stone walls and houses. Overall, it was very runnable.

And the second leg?

We ran the second leg on Saturday, April 2. That one went from Putnam Memorial Park to Bethel, then on to Danbury with a stop at the Historical Society on Main St and a “respectful burning of the supplies.” Next on to Ridgebury and some “fun climbs” up those hills. We continued to Ridgefield with a stop at the marker for the 3rd Engagement and finally finished up at the Keeler Tavern.

The second leg was tougher — with more climbs. I can understand why the British had to rest after they climbed down from the Ridgebury hills. For us it was a relief to have the downhill and then gently rolling hills coming into Ridgefield. We weren’t trying to go fast — averaged about 9-minute miles and a little over 3 hours running time. We had modern running shoes and gels with an aid station in the back of a car about half way. I can’t imagine being one of the British soldiers being chased, or one of the Continentals/militia trying to catch them and then have to fight.

I am hoping to finish up all the running by April 16/17 and get back to Compo Beach (especially because the parking will become expensive there on May 1).

Are you in training for a particular race?

I am using the runs to help prepare for the Catamount 50k race at the end of June.

Are you a history person?

I was a history major in college, and I have always enjoyed reading about history.

Has your run awakened further interest in the Battle of Ridgefield and the Revolutionary era in CT?

I used to live in Westchester, NY and I ran with a number of other runners from there and Putnam County. Most of them had never heard of the Battle of Ridgefield nor knew about the British March on Danbury. It was fun to share what I had learned about the British March and the history surrounding it.

Did you see any interesting things on your runs? 

There was a great memorial on Compo Beach.  Another was for the Minute Men a little ways inland from the beach. There were also two markers in front of Christ Church in Redding. One to mark the passing of the British and the Continentals and another listing the name of Redding residents captured by the British. 

Would you change anything about your three courses?  

I created the route using maps that I received from the Ridgefield Historical Society as well as a bike tour map that I found on a great webpage: ctamericanrevolution.com. The route does have to follow a couple of larger roads which is not ideal, but those are the ones that are available. I would rather use backroads, but in some cases, it was not an option.

When and why did you move to Ridgefield?

My wife and I moved to Ridgefield in March 2021.  Prior to that we had lived in Westchester County, NY. We had been looking for houses in both NY and CT. We decided to take our dog Charlie for a walk in Ridgefield one snowy afternoon in 2020 and fell in love. Main Street in the snow with all the holiday decorations, music playing at Lounsbury House, and hot chocolate from Deborah Ann’s made for a fun afternoon. After the visit we focused on house hunting in Ridgefield, and we were lucky enough to find our new home.

How do you like it? 

We love living in Ridgefield.  We love being able to walk Charlie in town. There are plenty of restaurants to try. The Prospector Theater is a fun treat. The library is great. Listening to music in Ballard Park was a great thing to have during Covid.

Might you share your maps/courses with others? 

I created the maps on the Strava app and made them viewable to everyone. You’d likely need to get the app to view them.

And — just curious — what do your wife and Charlie think about your Battle of Ridgefield adventures?

My wife is getting back into running — she is training for a half marathon in May.  She laughs at my excitement for random historical facts. She is used to me setting random running goals (for example “The Brunch burger challenge”: run 20 miles, then eat two burgers topped with a fried egg; eating the burgers was harder than the run), but the historical aspect of this one is a first. I think Charlie is happy when I’m done with my long runs because he usually gets a share of my lunch and then a walk as a cool down. 

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