George Washington Gilbert (shown seated at right) was a most unusual fellow who lived in this ancient Florida Hill Road house as it crumbled around him.
Some say Gilbert snapped when he was deserted by his sweetheart. Others say he was just odd. For many years he lived -- usually barefoot -- in this family homestead as it fell down around him.
Born in 1847 in this house, he attended private school in town. Little is known of what he did until later in his life when he began to attract attention as a hermit. "By his own account he became a hermit following the death of the girl he had planned to marry," said historian Silvio Bedini of the Smithsonian Institution.
Although he led a life of seclusion, never coming into town in his later life and boasting of never having ridden a railroad or seen a trolley, he enjoyed visitors and hundreds of people called on him each year. "He related many strange tales and yarns, which gained in detail and wonder with each narration," wrote Ridgefield historian George Rockwell in 1927.
Gilbert enjoyed posing complex mathematical questions, such as "What is a third and a half of a third of ten?" to visitors, especially scholars and teachers.
Colonel Edward M. Knox, a wealthy businessman and winner of the Congressional Medal of Honor, who had a 50-room mansion down the road, took pity on Gilbert, and built him a little cottage nearby, in which the hermit lived his last years. "This was cluttered with old newspapers and magazines, the furniture of his ancestors, and the old man's memorabilia," said the late Karl S. Nash, longtime Ridgefield Press publisher who as a child knew Gilbert.
Among his most prized possessions was an old sword which he said his grandfather had captured from a Hessian officer at the Battle of Monmouth during the Revolution. The sword is now in the collection of the Ridgefield Library and Historical Society.
On Jan. 6, 1924, during a bitterly cold spell, a neighbor looked in on Mr. Gilbert and found him frozen to death. His gravestone can be seen today in the Florida Cemetery, on Route 7 at Simpaug Turnpike. It reads, "The Hermit of Ridgefield." Nearby are the graves of his mother, Eliza, who died in 1884, and his father, Jeremiah, who died in 1860.
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