Entire contents copyrighted 2009 by Jack Sanders. Reproduction without permission is forbidden.
Factory Pond once existed east of Route 7, north of Topstone Road. The “factory” was David and Daniel Banks’ woolen factory, a successor to Hugh Cain’s fulling mill, which stood on the Norwalk River just about 100 feet north of Topstone Road. It began to be called a factory instead of a mill around 1839 when the term first appears in the land records in a list of debts against the property.
The Banks family, which had acquired the mill from Cain in 1789, had possibly expanded the business enough that it came to be considered a factory, the first use in Ridgefield land records of the term “factory” to denote a business. The pond stored the water to power the factory but the dam that held back the waters probably burst many years ago. Stone remnants of it are still visible in the river.
Fairfield Court is a short dead-end road off Manor Road at Ridgefield Manor Estates (q.v.). Probably named for the county in which Ridgefield is situated, the road was accepted by Town Meeting in 1961.
The county took its name from Fairfield town, the county seat years ago and once a much more significant seat of government than it is now. A portion of Westport and much of Bridgeport (the last county seat) as well as Redding were parts of Fairfield town in the 17th and 18th Centuries, before they became independent towns. The name, Fairfield, may have been simply descriptive of the town, settled in 1639, prompting one historian to observe that the name is “one of the rare evidences that the settlers had an aesthetic sense.” It could also have been named after Fairfield in Kent, England. (A Fairfield also exists in Worcestershire, but it comes from the word, Forfeld, with the less aesthetic meaning of “pig.”)
The old county system of government was abandoned around 1955 when the county commissioners were abolished by a vote of the state Legislature.
The annual Ridgefield Fair and Cattle Show, sponsored by the Ridgefield Agricultural Society, began in 1858 and lasted until 1881. The first fairgrounds – then for a one-day event – was on Gilbert Street. As the affair grew in popularity and size, it was moved to Governor Street at what’s now Veterans Park, and finally to the Fairgrounds east of Wilton Road West, opposite Olmstead Lane. By then, probably at least 1867 when Beers Atlas shows a “race course” there, it was a four-day event – Tuesday through Friday – and was large enough so that, one year, 112 yoke of oxen were exhibited.
The fair in late September or early October was a typical country fair, with exhibits of products, produce and livestock, and awards. An old awards list contains 31 categories for ribbons: field crops; grains; grass seed; vegetables; fruit; floriculture; bread; dairy; honey; preserved fruit; pickles; cakes; wines; ladies' industrials; fine arts; musical instruments; domestic products; farming utensils; poultry; sheep; swine; oxen; draught oxen; working oxen and steers; milch cows and heifers; thoroughbred stock; fatted cattle; stallions; colts; family horses; and road horses. There were also trotting races on a racetrack, the remnants of which were visible well into the 1930s.
While such fairs were fun, they also functioned as agricultural “conventions.” Farmers got to see the latest products – and mid-19th Century agricultural markets were booming with new machines, tools and seed varieties. They could hear lectures on improved farming techniques. They also got to chat with a wider group of farmers, and could discuss and critique some of the modern-day advances. At a fair, “they saw, gathered up in a small compass, what was going on in the farmer’s world, and this within a single day or two,” said an 1860s book on farming. “Thus, they accumulated a fund of knowledge which they could not have acquired had they remained at home.”
The sizable exhibition building was dismantled after the fair closed, probably from competition from the Danbury Fair (which operated more than a century where the mall of the same name now stands). The lumber from the building was to build the Sperry livery stable, which stood across from the firehouse on Catoonah Street. The Fairgrounds had also been the location of the British overnight encampment after the Battle of Ridgefield in 1777. Today, the land is occupied by homes on Wilton Road West and Soundview Road, but remnants of the race count were visible into the 1950s.
Probably named for the “fair view” of both town and West Mountain, Fairview Avenue was originally called Fairview Street and was part of Dr. Benn Adelmar Bryon’s Bryon Park (q.v.) subdivision of around 1909. The road runs between Barry Avenue and Bryon Avenue. The area was covered with blueberries and blackberries around the turn of the 20th Century. Thus, it was probably farm land that was allowed to lie unplowed, with few if any trees to block the view.
In 1856, Daniel Edmond deeded Esther Edmond parcels that included a “piece called the Fallow,” consisting of six acres near the Redding line and in the “11th School District,” or Florida District. That would place the land east of Route 7 about opposite Florida Hill Road. While “fallow” is generally used adjectivally to refer to a field that’s unplanted for a season or two, an old meaning was land that contained cut timber ready for burning. Also, in the old days land was often flooded to kill timber and brush to make it suitable for meadow, and recently cleared woodland was called a fallow.
FARM HILL ROAD
Developed by Judge Joseph H. Donnelly (see Donnelly Drive), Farm Hill Road is part of the Ramapoo Hills subdivision (q.v.), plans for which were filed with the town in 1956. The road, accepted by the Town Meeting in 1963, traverses pastures of the old Conklin dairy farm, operated from around 1928 to 1948. Irving B. Conklin Sr., who had purchased the place from Ernest O. Wilson, had about 100 cows and supplied much milk in town. Mr. Conklin sold the farm to John Sturges, who operated it until around 1953.
A single deed – from 1869 – for a Ridgefield land transfer from one New Fairfield resident to another describes the 3.5 acres as being in “Farmers Mills District.” Judging from the names of surrounding property owners, the parcel was in Farmingville and the name was probably a misunderstanding or transcription error for Farmingville.
Farmersville, another interesting variant of Farmingville, is first found in an 1841 deed from Henry L. W. Burritt to Elizabeth Burritt for 16 acres in what is today Farmingville. In 1841 “Farmingville” was a rather new term and may not have been solid in the minds of Ridgefielders. Henry Burritt, who lived in Whitehaven, Md., may have been unfamiliar with the term and misunderstood it.
The fact that the town clerk at the time put quotation marks, unusual punctuation in land records of the era, around “Farmersville” when recording the deed indicates that the term may have been unusual and he wanted to emphasize that it was so written in the deed. However, it appears that Farmersville might simply have been an accepted, though little-used, variation of the then-new place name, Farmingville; the name shows up at least two more times in the land records, both in 1852, 11 years after its first appearance. One deed refers to land at “Farmer’s Ville” and the other says “Farmer’s Ville District.”
Farmingville is the section of town that extends generally east of Great Swamp to the Redding line. The name first appears in an 1839 deed and has also been applied to a school district and to the road (q.v.).
Probably the earliest definition of the school district that includes Farmingville (and parts of Limestone District) occurs in 1784 when all of the town was divided into five full school districts and two half districts. (Full districts had to pay to “keep” school at least three months a year while half districts had to do so only six weeks. For the other six weeks of a term, the other half of the district – which was in an adjoining town – was responsible.)
At this time informal names were not officially applied to the districts, and they were called by numbers, such as the Third School District. Farmingville, which was the Fifth School District in 1784, was defined as: “To begin at the south east corner of the Third District [around Danbury Road near Fox Hill] to run as far northerly on the east line thereof as the turn-of the river [near Danbury Road at Buck Hill], then to run east to the river, then along the river to Resseguies saw mill [south of Little Pond], then to run easterly a strait line across , the south end of Burt’s Pond [Great Pond] to Redding line, then southerly along s’d line, to the Cross Highway [Topstone Road] leading to Kains [mill], then westerly taking in the houses off the south side of said highway [Cain’s Hill and eastern Farmingville Roads] to Nathan Burr’s – including it – then westerly to a strait course to the southeast corner of the Second District [around Danbury Road and Grove Street], then northerly on the east line of the Second District to [John] Waters barn [near Fox Hill], then westerly to said southeast corner of the Third District at the river where it began.”
By 1867, the town had 14 school districts and half districts, and Farmingville was numbered the 12th. At this time the district was smaller, the northern boundary running parallel to and south of Haviland Road and the south line parallel to and north of Florida Hill Road.
Throughout the 18th Century and into the early 19th Century, before it had a name, this territory was frequently referred to in deeds simply as “east of the Great Swamp.” By the 1840’s and 1850’s, the term Farmingville was in “common use. The name referred to the fact that the district, one of the flattest areas in this hilly, rocky town, was very popular for farming. The suffix “ville” is almost solely a post-Revolutionary naming technique (one of the few exceptions is Charlottesville, Va., named in 1762). According to George R. Stewart in his Names on the Land, “in a very short time, -ville became so well Americanized that few people thought of its ever having been anything else.” Even the Pennsylvania Germans were fond of it, and thus we find such odd combinations as Trumbauersville, Kleinville, and Schwenkville. Mr. Stewart adds that “no feature of American naming has provoked fiercer attack than the prevalence of this suffix. It has been called ostentatious and lacking in good taste,” particularly by those who disliked linking English names with French suffixes. But the French, notes Stewart, fought on our side in the Revolution. “To reject -ville is to deny something very deeply rooted in the American past.”
Farmingville was home not just to farms. Several industries were situated here, including a busy limekiln that once stood on the north side of Farmingville Road just before New Road and another at the present intersection of Lee and Limekiln Roads. Down on the Norwalk River several important mills were established, most notably Cain’s or Banks’ mill (see Cain’s Hill Road). A cider mill was located somewhere off New Road.
In the early 1800s, Farmingville was also known as Woodchuck (q.v.)
Farmingville Road is an old highway, extending from Danbury Road to the junction of Lounsbury and Cain’s Hill Roads. However, it is obvious from the geography and from old maps that Cain’s Hill Road and Topstone Road are actually continuations of Farmingville Road. In fact, Farmingville Road was once a main route to western Redding, via Topstone Road to Topstone (Sanford Station), and is shown as such on Blodget’s 1792 map of Connecticut.
The Farmingville Road of 1900 was rather different from today’s route in other ways. Originally, it extended across present Lee Road to Limekiln Road and across that road back to the modern highway at the south end of Limekiln Road. It thus skirted the northern edge of the main body of Great Swamp, an area years ago called the Reed or Ready Swamp (q.v.).
The first straightaway across the swamp was built around 1914. Folks in Farmingville called it “Bailey’s New Road” because E. N. Bailey was first selectman when it was built. Robert A. Lee, who grew up in Farmingville in the early 20th Century, could recall as a young man having to walk to town from his family’s home at the corner of Farmingville and New Roads. When he approached Blackman Road and saw the long, straight, flat strip on a hot summer’s day, “it was very discouraging,” he said.
This stretch of Farmingville Road has also been rather troublesome to highway officials because of its instability. Laid across constantly settling swamp, the road suffers from potholes, breakups and weak edges. In the 1970’s alone, this writer saw three multi-ton cement mixers that had rolled over into the swamp. Each had come too close to the edge of the pavement which caved in from the weight and tipped over the rigs.
Farther east, Farmingville Road in front of the present school, used to run a rod or so south of its present route. The road was moved to the north when the “new” schoolhouse was built at the turn of the 20th Century and a little red 19th Century schoolhouse was torn down. The latter stood at the west edge of what is now the driveway to the present school. Two stone pillars, erected by the late Louis Morris Starr, mark the western end of the old road that became the driveway to Mr. Starr’s home on the corner opposite Cain’s Hill Road.
The “new” schoolhouse was given to the town by Governor George Lounsbury with the provision that church services be conducted in it every Sunday (few were actually held there). Lounsbury had grown up in Farmingville (see Lounsbury Road), and apparently had no love for the little red schoolhouse that he had attended.
In the 1940’s, after the district schoolhouses had been consolidated into the bigger central schools, the schoolhouse was sold to Alexander Alland, a photographer, who moved it to West Mountain in North Salem, N.Y. He used it as a studio for his photography work, and later it became a dance studio and then an artist’s studio. It stands there today, on the road to South Salem from Mountain Lakes Camp.
Not too many years ago and for most of Ridgefield’s history, farms covered much of the town. The more significant of these were handy for describing localities. “That place is just beyond the Jones farm,” someone might have said in giving directions.
In a few cases, farms were significant enough that their names lasted longer than their owners. Bennett’s Farm, as in the road and the old school district, dates back to before 1740. Bates Farm Road, a newer name and a much smaller farm, is still a place name, even though its namesake long ago turned into part of the Ridgefield Lakes development.
In the 18th Century, there were several sizable farms whose names appeared fairly frequently as localities in old records then, but eventually disappeared from use, such as Governor Fitch’s Farm (see Fitch’s Farm) and Knapp’s Farm (q.v.) Among the many 19th Century farm names that appear in land records as landmarks were the Crane Farm, the Dean Farm, the Keeler Farm (probably several of them), the Limestone Farm, and the Society Farm – the last, an interesting name that I’ve not yet been able to research.
Farrar Lane was named not for the more famous of the two Farrars who lived here, but for a certainly noteworthy one. The short old road, running between Tackora Trail and North Salem Road, recalls Sidney D. Farrar, father of Geraldine Farrar, the Metropolitan Opera star; he owned a farm bordering the road.
Born in Paris, Maine, Sidney Douglas Farrar was named for the then governor of the state, Sidney Douglas, a friend of Farrar’s father. Farrar became a baseball star when the sport was in its fledgling years. By 1879 he was playing with the Philadelphia Nationals, one of the first professional teams. Being a ballplayer paid not nearly the salary then that it does now, so Mr. Farrar was a storekeeper off-season in Melrose, Mass. There he spent most of his life and there he and his wife, Henrietta, had Geraldine, their only child. In 1886, the girl was but four years old and, according to Mr. Farrar’s obituary in The Ridgefield Press, “she having shown unmistakable musical talent, Mr. Farrar gave up baseball and devoted himself very strenuously to giving his daughter a musical education.”
His efforts and her talents proved successful, for after an education in Paris and Berlin, Geraldine made her debut at the Royal Opera House in Berlin in 1901 – at the age of 19 – playing Marguerite in “Faust.” She was soon named a member of the Berlin Royal Opera, but joined the Met in 1906, singing there until 1922. When she retired at the age of 40, Miss Farrar made her home in Ridgefield (chiefly at her father’s prompting) and had houses on West Lane and later New Street.
Mr. Farrar was a prominent citizen of Melrose which, before it became a city more than a half century ago, was governed by a board of selectmen, much like our own. At one time, Mr. Farrar ran for a seat on the board. “There was a great drive to defeat him,” The Press once reported. “In the southern part of town there were some factories and Mr. Farrar had always been a friend of the factory worker. The election progressed through the day and at 4:30 in the afternoon, when the factories were let out, 600 men marched to the polls and swept their friend, Mr. Farrar, into office.”
Mr. Farrar and his wife were both talented singers and would often appear in community musical programs. She died in 1923 and in the same year, Mr. Farrar moved to Ridgefield, buying the North Salem Road farmhouse and 30 acres from Joseph T. Hubbard and calling it “Farrar’s Thirty Acres.” He became active in the community, and served for a while as a director of the Ridgefield Savings Bank. He died in 1935. When his estate was probated, his possessions included a 1927 Locomobile sedan and 200 shares of International Telephone and Telegraph stock, then worth about $1,375.
His daughter sold the place to Mrs. Mary L. Olcott, who named the farm High Pastures. Real estate broker James Hackert acquired the farmland in the 1960’s, subdivided it and named the road serving the lots High Pastures Court.
Farrar Lane existed long before Mr. Farrar came to Ridgefield, and appears on Clark’s 1856 map of Fairfield County. According to some deeds, it was formerly considered to be the southern end of Mamanasco Road.
FIELD CREST DRIVE
Field Crest Drive runs off the west side of lower Wilton Road West, apparently along or across the crest of a field. The late Charles W. Weitzel Sr., founder of a plumbing firm of that name, subdivided the property, long used for farming. Mr. Weitzel was the town’s part-time sanitarian for many years, and retired around 1970. He died in 1973.
The name appears first on a 1955 map for Parting Brook Estates, but development of the property did not begin until the 1960’s. The first section of the road, ending in a cul-de-sac, was accepted by the town in 1968. The road was extended to join with Silver Brook Road around 1976.
Fifth Lane is another of the “numbered” dead-end roads at Lake Mamanasco, part of the Eight Lakes development.
Fillmore Lane, a short dead-end road off Ritch Drive, was named by and for Leslie D. Fillmore of Stamford who, in 1956, bought and developed three lots on this road. He purchased the land from Harold Ritch, the subdivider. A name memorializing a Stamford builder of several houses hardly seems very suitable. The town accepted the road in 1963.
Finch Drive extends between Chestnut Hill Road and Harding Drive at the Chestnut Hills subdivision in Ridgebury, and was named for Lewis J. Finch (1916-2003), its developer. The road was begun around 1958 and accepted by the town in 1963.
Mr. Finch, a Ridgefield native, had been a real estate agent and a developer for many years. In 1956 he established Lewis J. Finch Real Estate, which operated on Main Street for many years. Over his career, he developed some 800 acres in Ridgefield, including Rolling Hills, Hunter Heights, Colonial Heights, and Chestnut Hills, plus several small shopping centers, such as 590 Danbury Road. He had also subdivided in area towns such as Lewisboro and Westport.
Nicknamed “Bub” because he was the only brother to three sisters, Mr. Finch served as chairman of the Republican Town Committee, as president of the Ridgefield Boys’ Club, a longtime Lions Club member, and a board member, trustee and president of the Ridgefield Library.
Fire Hill is an oval-shaped hill, half way between Great Pond and Umpawaug Pond. Most of the hill, which reaches an elevation of nearly 700 feet above sea level, is in Redding, but the southwest slope crosses into Ridgefield along Route 7, opposite Stonehenge Inn.
One explanation of the name was offered to us by the late Emma Goeppler, a long-time resident of West Redding (who once operated the old cider mill at Topstone). She said years ago, ashes from the steam locomotives that passed along the southeastern foot of the hill would regularly catch the hillside fields and woods afire. “That section burned almost every year,” she said. She recalled meeting a neighborhood woman who told Mrs. Goeppler that her insurance company “won’t take a customer who lives on Fire Hill.”
Her story is entertaining, perhaps explaining why the name Fire Hill has survived. But the origin was not train-started fires, for Fire Hill was being called that at least three years before the railroad came (in 1850) to the Norwalk River valley. In a deed written in 1847, David and Elizabeth Platt and Harry and Eliza Ann Gilbert sold Bradley Hull 10 acres “at a place called Fire Hill.”
One tradition is that the hill served as a location for signal fires during the Revolution or at some other time, perhaps when the Indians inhabited the region. However, Fire Hill is by no means the highest hill in that vicinity (both Topstone Mountain to the south and Great Pond Mountain to the north are taller). If it were a Revolutionary signal fire location, it is strange that it took so long after the Revolution for the name to appear in the land records.
The name might simply recall some large conflagration on the hill, or perhaps some landowner’s custom of burning off the vegetation regularly. The early settlers did this. According to the Rev. S. G. Goodrich, writing in 1800: “In the first settlement of the town, the inhabitants annually burnt over the high rough land for the benefit of the wild feed that grew on them, which was a great injury to the old trees and entirely prevented the young from growing; but since that practice has ceased, our rough lands have a most beautiful thriving young growth coming on, which promises plenty of timber.”
FIRE HILL ACRES
Fire Hill Acres is the original name for the 61-lot subdivision, now commonly called Stonehenge Estates, on the southwestern slope of Fire Hill off Route 7. The subdivision map, filed in 1963, includes Jerry’s Court (named for subdivider Jerry Tuccio, but now called Druid Lane), Riverside Drive, Longview Drive, and Bobby’s Court (named for Jerry’s son, Robert).
FIRE HILL ROAD
Fire Hill Road skirts the top of Fire Hill, extending from Pickett’s Ridge in Redding southward into Ridgefield, then along the Ridgefield town line and back into Redding, emerging at Simpaug Turnpike. Some maps label the Ridgefield section as “East Fire Hill Road.”
First Lane is the northernmost of the “number lanes” off Mamanasco Road, most of which were part of the Eight Lakes development (q.v.).
Fisher Lane is a short dead-end road running easterly off Old Trolley Road, just north of George Washington Highway, at Stone Ridge Estates (q.v.). The Board of Selectmen chose the name to honor Charles R. Fisher, the town engineer in the 1990s and 2000s who designed the subdivision that became Stone Ridge Estates.
FISHKILL ROAD, the
Sometime during the Revolution, the land of James Morehouse on North Salem Road near the New York State line was declared forfeit to the state. Morehouse evidently was among the Loyalists who fled the colony. In 1783, John Lawrence, the treasurer of the state, sold Morehouse’s property – 50 acres, a house, and a barn, noting that “the road from Ridgefield to Fishkill (is) running through said land.”
This is the only reference in Ridgefield’s land records to North Salem Road’s being considered the road to Fishkill, a Hudson River Valley town near Beacon, about half-way between Peekskill and Poughkeepsie. The property description was probably written by a state official who considered Fishkill the most important town the traveler would come across if he continued along this highway.
Sometime during the 1700’s, Thomas Fitch IV, governor of Connecticut from 1754 to 1766, acquired at least 132 acres in Redding. Fitch’s Farm or Governor Fitch’s Farm, as it came to be known, extended along northern Route 7 north of Great Pond, probably in the vicinity of modern-day Laurel Lane and the Laurelwood and Ridgefield Crossings senior citizen communities in 2007), Ridgefield territory that was until 1786 part of Redding.
Born in 1700 to a founding and wealthy family of Norwalk, Thomas Fitch IV was the first Norwalk man to graduate from a college (Yale, 1721). He served as a representative from Norwalk and later as chief justice of the Connecticut Supreme Court. Although he led Connecticut during the difficult French and Indian War, he may be more famous as the father of Col. Thomas Fitch V, reputed to have been the inspiration for “Yankee Doodle Dandy.”
According to The Birth of Yankee Doodle by Ferenz Fedor of Norwalk (Vantage, 1976), Colonel Fitch led a rather tatterdemalion group of volunteers that hiked to upper New York in 1755 to fight the French and Indians. As the men marched into Fort Crailo near Albany with feathers in their caps, “the volunteers from Norwalk inspired Dr. Shockburgh to write the words to the now famous ‘Yankee Doodle’ song, which became one of the most famous marching songs ever written,” Mr. Fedor reported.
Governor Fitch died in 1774 and his farm passed on to his heirs. One of these was a son, Jonathan Fitch (1723-93), who apparently got into financial difficulties. The Ridgefield land records report that in 1787, Samuel Squire of Fairfield sued “Jonathan Fitch of New Haven, sheriff of said New Haven County,” to recover a 126-pound debt, and obtained as settlement from the County Court 132 acres of land – Fitch’s Farm. Squire subsequently sold the land to Thomas Sherwood, noting that it “is commonly known by the name of Governor Fitch’s Farm, lying in the northwest corner of the town of Redding, lately sett off to the township of Ridgefield.”
A year earlier (1786), Sherwood and others petitioned the state legislature that a piece of Redding be annexed to Ridgefield because most of its inhabitants found it “inconvenient ... to attend public business in said Reading.” William Blodgett’s map (published in 1792, but not up-to-date) shows a triangular wedge of Redding extending nearly a mile into Ridgefield, north of Great Pond. Other boundaries on the map were not very accurate, but the document gives a clue as to the location of both the farm and the annexed territory.
The terms “Governor Fitch’s Farm” and “Fitch’s Farm” appeared fairly frequently in the land records in the 1780’s and 1790’s, but thereafter disappeared; it was probably later called Sherwood’s Farm (q.v.). Although the farm had been called Fitch’s, the governor probably never lived there. He may have maintained the land for growing crops, sending up crews from his Norwalk home to work the fields.
In 1717, both Norwalk Samuel Smith and Timothy Keeler received proprietors’ grants for land at “ye Flaggy Boggs.” These two deeds, the only ones mentioning the name, give no clue as to the location. The word “flaggy” means “abounding in flags or reeds,” a flag being a type of large, coarse grass. Such a place could be found almost anywhere in Ridgefield, though doubtless this locale was somewhere near the village since that was the first area settled. Quite possibly, it was on the fringes of the Great Swamp – perhaps it was the area later called Reed Swamp (q.v.), situated in the triangle created by Lee, Limekiln and Farmingville Roads.
As a term descriptive of furniture material, “flag” was common in the 19th Century. When Harvey K. Smith borrowed $2,232 from Amos Smith in 1845, he put up all his property, including the contents of his house, as mortgage collateral. Among the household possessions was “one set (of) flagg bottomed chairs.” It was like saying cane-bottomed chairs.
Flat Rock is an early Ridgefield name that remains alive today in a somewhat inappropriately named road. The term was in use as early as 1716 when the proprietors deeded James Benedict five acres “lying near ye end of ye Flatt Rock Ridge.” A year later Thomas Hauley, the first minister, received land on the south side of “ye Flatt Rock Hill.”
Even the rock itself is mentioned occasionally as in the mid-1700’s deed in which Ebenezer Nash of Norwalk (probably today’s Wilton) sells Oliver Whitlock a house and 40 acres bounded on the north by “the Flatt Rock.”
The Flat Rock District includes approximately the areas on both sides of Wilton Road West (Route 33) from the south end of Main Street to Wilton. It takes its name from a massive stratum of rock that surfaces mostly between St. John’s Road and Wilton Road West. It can also be seen near the site of the Flat Rock Schoolhouse, which stood just off the east side of the former “Twin Maples” rest stop (q.v.) on Wilton Road West. Portions of the rock ledge can also be seen along the eastern end of Whipstick Road at Nod Road and on southern Olmstead Lane.
The “Flat Rock” stratum enters Ridgefield below ground at the town’s southwest corner, surfaces here and there, and last appears above-ground on Prospect Ridge at the Congregate Housing on Prospect Ridge. A small outcropping can be seen in the cellar of the old house, the foundation of which was erected around the rock to avoid the expense of having it removed. From there the ledge sinks under the Great Swamp and disappears until Danbury where it surfaces for the last time in the south part of the city. This “rock” is said to be part of the same shelf on which Manhattan Island’s many skyscrapers have been built.
There were several other localities associated with Flat Rock, such as the Flat Rock Hill and Ridge mentioned above. A 1717 deed mentions land “near ye Flatt Rock Brook, east of ye Rhode.” This is the east branch of the Silvermine River, also later called the Beaver Brook, which flows southward east of Wilton Road West. The Rev. Daniel W. Teller wrote in 1878 that an area around Soundview Road was called Flat Rock Woods.
Jamie O. Shafer owned in 2008 what may be the oldest extant house in the Flat Rock District. The center-chimney, fully restored farmhouse was built in the 1730’s by Joseph Osborne, son of Richard Osborne, one of the very early settlers of the town. The home on Wilton Road West has been called “the house on Flat Rock Ridge,” and is just south of one of the main surfacings of the Flat Rock. (The house used to stand close to the road, typical of an old house, but the Allen and Jamie Shafer moved it back a bit.)
Flat Rock was for many years a school district, although it is not certain when the district was formed and picked up the name. The first deed reference occurs in 1862 when a description mentions “Flatrock School District.”
In the 18th Century school districts were usually referred to by numbers. The Flat Rock District did not exist by 1784 when the First and Fourth School Districts covered almost all of southern Ridgefield, except the Branchville corner. The Flat Rock School District may have been created around 1845; that year that Hiram L. Seymour deeded the committee of the Ninth School District land “at the southwest corner of my farm” at Flat Rock. The deed makes no mention of an existing schoolhouse, as was the custom if a land acquisition was for a replacement schoolhouse. The schoolhouse that was standing by 1856 was situated at what would have been the southwest corner of Seymour’s farm, so this deed may have been Seymour’s providing land for the first Flat Rock Schoolhouse.
By 1867, “Flat Rock District,” also called District Nine, included all of Wilton Road West, St. John’s Road, southern Silver Spring Road, and southern Wilton Road East.
The schoolhouse remained in operation until 1915 when the district was consolidated with the center district and the young scholars attended classes in what is today the “old high school” on East Ridge (now called the Richard E. Venus Municipal Building). Pupils were “bused” there in a horse-drawn wagon operated by Edward R. Scribner. The schoolhouse was razed in 1928.
FLAT ROCK DRIVE
This dead-end road, beginning at lower West Lane near the New York State line, should probably not have been named Flat Rock Drive since the territory it traverses was never in the Flat Rock District. Developed by Perry Katz, the road took its name from the Flat Rock Corporation, the organization formed in 1929 to build the Silver Spring Country Club. Mr. Katz had acquired his land from this corporation. The road was accepted by Town Meeting in 1965.
FLAT ROCK ROAD
Maps published in 1912 and 1936 label today’s Wilton Road West (Route 33) as “Flat Rock Road.” In a 1975 interview, Joseph Bacchiochi (1906-92), an old-time Ridgefielder, also remembered the road’s being called that.
Since the road goes smack down the middle of the Flat Rock District, Flat Rock Road is perhaps more fitting than Wilton Road West, a cumbersome name frequently confused with Wilton Road East, and vice versa. Originally, this highway was called “The Country Road” (q.v.), a name appearing frequently in pre-1750 deeds.
A map in the town clerk’s office, showing the property of Dr. Royal C. Van Etten in 1929, labels St. John’s Road as “Flat Rock Road.” This is probably a surveyor’s error.
Florida is one of the real mysteries among Ridgefield’s old place names. To this day, no one knows its derivation. The first mention in the Ridgefield land records occurs in an 1827 deed in which William Edmond of Newtown sold Robert C. Edmond three acres “at a place called Florida,” bounded on the east by the Redding line.
George L. Rockwell wrote in his History of Ridgefield (1927) that “Florida District is mentioned in the early records of Ridgefield. The author has endeavored to ascertain why this district was thus named, but for 40 years no information as to the nomenclature of this portion of our town has been forthcoming. Old residents, whose grandparents lived in Florida before the Revolution, have been unable to shed any light upon the matter, and so reasons for this district’s being called Florida must be left to the imagination or to conjecture.”
Here are some possible explanations:
* The United States in the early 1800’s was shaped such that the distance from north to south was greater than the distance east to west. So was Ridgefield, even more so than today; at that time the town extended all the way from Wilton north to New Fairfield. Florida District was situated in the southeast corner of Ridgefield (the Florida school district originally included Branchville), just as the territory of Florida was in the southeast corner of the United States. Some imaginative person may have found a name-worthy similarity there.
* The peninsula of Florida was ceded by the Spanish to the United States in 1819. It is possible that someone thought this a significant event and decided to name the school district to commemorate it.
* Someone named “Florida” may have been a prominent character in the neighborhood. However, no surname “Florida” exists in our land records and a careful eye to thousands of deeds written during more than a century preceding the 1827 deed uncovered no given name of Florida, which presumably would have belonged to a woman. The closest was a “Philetta” Blackman (later Philetta Buttery), who owned land in this district as early as 1825. By slurring and drawling Philetta, it’s possible to come close to the sound of Florida. But the possibility seems remote, and “Florida,” the Ridgefield name, is consistently spelled correctly as in the state name in the land records.
* Some prominent resident of Florida District may have been born in Florida territory. However, an exhaustive search of thousands of death records (which usually listed the place of birth from the 1840’s on) failed to uncover one Ridgefielder who had been born there. This does not exclude the possibility since the Floridian may have moved on from here before his or her death, or the birthplace was simply not recorded in our records.
* The reverse connection could have occurred. For example, there is a locality in New Canaan called “Michigan” supposedly because two early New Canaanites moved to the state of Michigan and later inherited some property in their old Connecticut neighborhood. That land came to be called the “Michigan Lots” and later the whole area around them became “Michigan.”
* Someone from the district could have been a hero – even a victim – of the First Seminole War (1816-18) in Florida. However, Mr. Rockwell, who extensively researched Ridgefielders’ military records, could find no one who served in that campaign.
* The word “Florida” is derived from words meaning “flowers,” and can mean “flowered” or “flowery.” An unusual abundance of wild flowers in the area might have prompted someone with knowledge of Spanish to coin this name for the locality. Jill Kelley, a resident of Florida Hill Road in the late 20th and early 21 Centuries, suggested that it may have been the territory’s wealth of mountain laurel that inspired the name. Or perhaps it was the population of the common dogwood, appropriately named Cornus florida.
* Florida could have been a corrupted form of an Indian word for the area. However, I could find no record of an Indian word even remotely resembling Florida. What is more, words beginning with an “F” sound were extremely rare among Indians of the Northeast.
* Florida was a “half school district” when defined by the town in 1784 (though not at the time using the Florida name). The other half of the district was in the town of Redding. It may be that “Florida” originated there, even though the word does not appear anywhere in the geography of that town. Interviews with persons familiar with Redding history and a cursory search of Redding histories and maps has uncovered no clues. However, Redding land records have not been searched, and the answer may lie there.
* The name could have originated from some off-beat, long-forgotten and unrecorded incident of the past. In the town of Meriden, there is a neighborhood called “Oregon.” A history of that town says, “two small boys used to run away to this fairly wild region of Meriden and say they had been to ‘Oregon.’ The name was picked up by townspeople and thus the name Oregon Road was given to the new road built through that district.”
* Florida, says George R. Stewart in his American Place Names, was “one of the exotics which were favored in the post-Revolutionary period” for place names in Massachusetts and other states. Thus, it may simply have been a “fad” name applied to the area so that it – like Farmingville, Ridgebury, Flat Rock, etc. – would have a name of its own.
It is curious that most of the early deeds – from the late 1820’s to the 1840’s – that refer to Florida speak of land close to or bordering on the Redding line, and apparently on the hill east of Florida Road, not far south of Florida Hill Road. Thus, the original place called Florida seems very limited in territory.
A schoolhouse existed in Florida District as early as 1761, and probably stood near the corner of Florida and Florida Hill Roads where later schoolhouses were situated. It is described in 1761 as “near Platt’s Mill,” which stood at the northwest corner of today’s intersection of Florida Hill Road and Route 7. School districts were set up for the first time in 1773 and in a 1784 definition of districts, Florida was labeled the “Second Half District,” encompassing the whole southeast corner of town. The term “Florida District” was in use by 1835, when it appears in a deed.
By 1867, a separate district had been established at Branchville, a growing community since arrival of the railroad 17 years earlier. Florida was squeezed in between Branchville and Farmingville, still a half-district whose schoolhouse was shared by Redding children. The later schoolhouse in Florida District, also called the 11th School District in the mid-1800’s, was located on the south side of Florida Hill Road, a little west of the junction with Florida Road and just about on Mrs. Kelly’s property. The last of the Florida schoolhouses was torn down around 1934 and was the only outlying one-room schoolhouse made of brick.
Among Connecticut localities named after states, Florida is found only in Ridgefield and formerly in Redding as it applied to that half district. Other state names that are place names in Connecticut include Kansas, Maryland, Nebraska, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington (for a reason other than the state), and Wyoming, besides the aforementioned Michigan and Oregon.
FLORIDA HILL ESTATES
Florida Hill Estates, a subdivision of 36 acres into 31 one-acre lots off the north side of Florida Hill Road, is served by Ridgewood Road (from Florida Hill Road to Harvey Road) and was developed around 1960 by William P. Connors and Harry Richmond, who also did the nearby Meadow Woods (q.v.).
According to the US Geological Survey, Florida Hill is the little round hill, 620 feet above sea level, situated southeast of Florida Hill Road about 1,200 feet west of the Florida Road junction.
FLORIDA HILL ROAD
Florida Hill Road, one of our more narrow and winding thoroughfares, is also one of our oldest roads, and was once a major route eastward to northern Fairfield, now Redding.
The road existed by the 1740’s; on Dec. 6, 1744, when the selectmen officially laid out the right of way for the path now called Florida Road, they said it terminated on the north at “ye Mill road.” The Mill Road was undoubtedly Florida Hill Road’s common name through much of the 18th Century because it led from the center of town to a grist mill, erected by Peter Burr in 1737 at the northwest corner of Florida Hill Road and Route 7, now occupied by the stone house called Moongate (q.v.). It later became the site of Couch and Sanford’s iron foundry (see Abbott’s Mill Road, Couch’s Station, Miller’s Pond, and Moongate Trail). That it was a major route eastward is confirmed by Samuel Huntington’s map of Connecticut, drawn in 1792, which shows only major highways and clearly depicts Florida Hill Road leading from the center of Ridgefield to Redding.
The extension of Florida Hill Road into this neighboring town is called Old Redding Road. Although Florida Hill and Old Redding Roads are connected dog-leg fashion by Route 7, this was not always so; it used to be a single highway. In former times, Florida Hill Road veered northward just after crossing the bridge over the Norwalk River and just before reaching Route 7. It then turned east to join with Route 7 exactly opposite Old Redding Road (this route existed almost a century before Route 7 was even there). The northward jog was removed around 1926 when Nathaniel L. Miller, Moongate’s first owner, and others petitioned the town to do away with the turn north and to have Florida Hill Road meet Route 7 straight-away from the bridge.
When Florida Hill Road picked up its modern name has not been determined. It was not so called before 1880.
Florida Road is another very old highway, which was laid out in 1744, but which may have existed before the right of way was defined. Old town records indicate Florida Road was a portion of a highway that began at the Wilton line (probably more or less on the path of modern Route 7), ran north through Branchville, across the Cooper Brook in the vicinity of the intersection of Branchville Road and Route 7, and then north along the present path to Florida Hill Road. In the distribution of lots in the proprietors’ Sixth 20 Acre Division of grants in 1745, Florida Road was called “ye Cedar Mountain Road” because Cedar Mountain parallels the road to the east.
Florida Road was probably the 18th Century precursor of Route 7. North of Branchville the modern-day Route 7 traverses territory that was probably too wet or steep for the settlers to handle. Thus, Florida Road would have been a portion of a main highway between Norwalk and Danbury. It connected with Florida Hill Road, which, probably at the Florida Hill-Old Redding Road junction, joined with a third road on the present path of Route 7, which led up to Simpaug Turnpike. From there travelers would probably go either to Starr’s Plain and over Moses Mountain, or eastward to and over Brushy Hill, into Danbury. Or they could have traveled a little more eastward, up present-day Route 53 into Bethel, then part of Danbury.
There have been reports that one, possibly two taverns, were situated along Florida Road in the 1700’s and early 1800’s to serve passengers of Norwalk-Danbury stagecoaches.
Florida Road has long been one of the most picturesque back roads in town, its old-fashioned charm marred only by high-tension power lines, which cross the road about midpoint in its length and travel up the old railroad bed to Ridgefield village. When the new transmission line was proposed in the mid-1970’s to replace lower-voltage lines on wooden poles, residents of Florida Road and other nearby areas raised a storm of protest. As a result, the size and color of the poles was toned down. Florida Road’s flavor and quiet were also threatened for some 40 years by plans for the new Route 7 expressway. The plans were shelved in the 1990s.
Florida Road was known by that name as early as 1900 when a book of photos, called Glimpses of Ridgefield, was published and contained a picture so labeled.
Fly Brook refers to a stream that was apparently noteworthy for the insect population in its vicinity or for the speed of its waters (a meaning of “fly”). The term is mentioned in several deeds written between 1815 and 1828, but the locality has not been pinpointed. However, based an the names of landowners in deeds in which the name was cited, Fly Brook appears to have been in the vicinity of Nod, Branchville and Whipstick Roads.
The name is unusual; a Fly Pond in Norwich is the only “fly” place name mentioned in Connecticut Place Names. However, in Westchester County, there is a Fly Brook at Whitehall Corners near the Muscoot Reservoir, about 15 miles to the west of Ridgefield. Another Fly Brook is found in Minnewaska State Park, near New Paltz, N.Y.
In American Place Names, George R. Stewart says the name is rare, “the insect apparently not being of sufficient note to occasion naming.” In places where there were many Dutch settlers, it was sometimes an Anglicization of vallei, the word for valley. Stewart says Fly, Ohio, was so called chiefly because it was easy to pronounce and spell.
Folliott’s Ridge was applied to an area west of North Salem Road in the vicinity of Barrack Hill Road. The name, found in an 1803 deed, is derived from Bartlet Folliott, who owned the land in at least 1785 when this area was still being called “Toilsome” by townspeople.
Main Street from near Casagmo’s entrance north to Pound Street was called Foote’s Hill in the mid-1800’s, according to Silvio Bedini. Eli Foote, a blacksmith, was born in 1799 in Weston. In 1823 he married Mary Edmond of Florida District and two years later bought the house and blacksmith shop of Caleb Grumman on Main Street (possibly the Coffey place opposite the Casagmo entrance) for $1,200. Mr. Foote died of “acute gastritis” in 1864, aged 65.
When Nehemiah Keeler deeded five acres to sons Nehemiah Jr. and Adonerham[MSOffice1] in 1834, he said the land was “at a place called the Fore Hills.” This locality was probably just north of our town line in the Ridgebury section of Danbury (then part of Ridgefield), west of Briar Ridge Road. The term may have referred to the fact that the hills there are “before” the more elevated regions to the north (such as Jo’s Hill, q.v.).
Forest Drive, a short dead-end road off White Birch Road, was developed in part around 1962 by a firm called Hanco Inc. It was probably named for the woods in the neighborhood.
Forge Pond was the body of water at the southwest corner of North Salem and Craigmoor Roads, so called at least in the 1830’s because an old iron works was powered by the water stored there.
In 1789, Elias Reed, a part owner of the gristmill on the shore of Lake Mamanasco, gave Timothy Keeler Jr., Nathan Dauchy and Elijah Keeler “the privilege of making a dam...and raising a pond of water for the purpose of carrying on an iron works ... on land southwest of Reed’s house” for seven shillings and six pence per acre annually. The pond was on the stream from which the waters of Lake Mamanasco flow. Reed’s gristmill would have already used the water to turn its wheels, but waterpower for an iron works would require a second pond downstream.
Four years after the Reed agreement, the heirs of Isaac Keeler, whose gristmill at North Salem and Sherwood Roads had been burned by the British in 1777, sold another Isaac Keeler, of North Salem, the old mill site “for the purpose of erecting an iron works.” The iron works was probably a large-scale blacksmith shop, a small factory for turning pig iron into tools, axles, tires, straps, hinges, and other devices that farmers would use. The waterpower was probably needed to turn equipment needed to work the metal.
The works was in place by 1790, when a deed for neighboring land mentions it. However, the operation was evidently short-lived, for by 1797, deeds were referring to land “where the iron works lately stood.” Perhaps it, too, burned down. Although the iron works apparently didn’t last long, Forge Pond was being so called in 1833. By then, however, it was storing power for a gristmill and a saw mill operating on the site of the old iron works.
In modern times this pond has been called Perch Pond (q.v.). However, since the dam long ago deteriorated to the point where it will not hold water, there is no pond today, only a large swampy area that’s gradually turning into a pasture.
“Fort Hill” has intrigued many students of Ridgefield history, especially Silvio Bedini of the Smithsonian Institution, who devoted nearly two pages to it in his Ridgefield in Review. He was unable to explain the term’s origin, although he assumed it was connected with the Revolutionary War – as have many other people. The name appears on Beers 1867 map for a building on the northern corner of Barrack Hill and North Salem Roads.
Around the turn of the century, James F. Kennedy purchased property there and, having heard old-timers call the section Fort Hill – or having seen the atlas reference, he named his house Fort Hill, erecting masonry gate pillars with the inscription, “Fort Hill, 1777.” He also believed the name referred to a Revolutionary War edifice or event.
However, Fort Hill had no connection with the Revolution – even though there was a military outpost on “Barrack” Hill. The first book of the town land records contains a deed in which the proprietors give Ebenezer Smith “seven acres and three roods, lying in Titicus, north of Fort Hill.”
The deed was written Feb. 15, 1721, 55 years before the Revolution! So whose fort was it?
“Fort” in old senses meant a strong place, rocky and high, with a view over a wide terrain, or a place where animals lived – synonymous with “den.” These, however, seem unlikely sources of the name.
Fort Hill could have referred to some protective place erected by the Ridgefield settlers as a defense against the Indians. This, too, seems unlikely since there was no known trouble with the native people in this part of Connecticut at the time Ridgefield was being settled. Moreover, the location was not close enough to the village to provide a quick retreat for the main concentration of population. Nor was there any record of the settlers’ building such a structure. However, western Connecticut was at the eastern reaches of 17th Century Dutch settlements along the Hudson. The eastern boundary of a land grant called “van Cortlandt Manor” was not precisely established and may have included territory that is now Ridgefield. There is evidence that in the 1600’s, the Dutch had fort-like structures around the distant perimeters of their grants; they may have had one here.
The most likely derivation was an Indian fortress. At least 20 towns in Connecticut have localities named Fort Hill and, as far as is known, these places are named for Indian forts in all but two cases. In addition, the location here was a logical one from the Indians’ standpoint. According to tradition and some archaeological evidence, the Indians inhabiting our region had encampments both at Lake Mamanasco (summer) and near the modern village (winter) before the settlers came. Fort Hill would have been almost equidistant from the two campsites, making it handy in case of attack (assuming the Indians had some advance warning). Much of the length of North Salem Road follows an old Indian trail (Tackora Trail [q.v.] probably predates the corresponding segment of North Salem Road).
The site of the fort – probably a little way up Barrack Hill Road – would command a good view of the countryside to the north and east. And presumably, attacks would have come from the north, where the Mohawks lived. In Newtown, the nearest community to Ridgefield having a Fort Hill, the Pootatucks are supposed to have erected their fort on the Housatonic River to protect themselves from Mohawks, reports a history of that town.
If the fort were Indian in origin, its design must be left to conjecture. Indians of the Northeast built both round and square or rectangular walls around the protected area. Some walls were quite tall, others man-high. Usually, they were made of vertically placed sticks, which probably explains why there are no known remnants of the fort. Pinpointing its location might be interesting – and painstaking – work for local archaeologists.
The term, Fort Hill, appears in land records from time to time throughout the 18th and early 19th Centuries. Oddly enough, a name that lasted so long is recalled today only in Mr. Kennedy’s misleading gateposts.
FOSTER’S MILL POND
“Foster’s Mill Pond” and “Foster’s Pond” appear in several deeds from the early 1840’s, and probably referred to Lake Mamanasco (q.v.). In the early 1800’s, Jonah Foster owned several mills in the Scotland District, including a good portion of the gristmill at Mamanasco, a sawmill at North Salem Road opposite Craigmoor Road, and a saw mill and fulling mill along Ledges Road. He was dead by 1849 when his “estate” was selling its interest in the mills. The names evidently died with him.
Today when we mention “the fountain,” everyone thinks of the Cass Gilbert Fountain (q.v.) at Main Street and West Lane. But in the 19th Century, another “fountain” existed a little to the north on Main Street.
In 1837, Isaac Lewis sold Abner Brush one third interest in “a spring or fountain of water with the appurtenances thereof, situated on my homestead, on the west side of Town Street, and west side of David Hurlbutt’s home lot, including the one third of lead pipes laid in the acqueduct [sic] in which said water is now conducted from said fountain to the west side of my dwelling houses, together with the privilege of passing and repassing through my land to repair said fountain or water works, and acqueduct, and pipe or pipes, and to lay down new ones – and replace the same as may be found necessary from said spring to the west side of my dwelling house as aforesaid, and the same privilege from thence southwardly through my garden to the highway, where said pipe is now laid.”
A year later, another document in the land records indicates that at least five people – Smith B. Keeler, Abner Brush, Isaac Lewis, William Hawley, and Abijah Ressiguie – were using the fountain. Ressiguie owned the Keeler Tavern across the road from most of the properties apparently being served by this very early Ridgefield water system. Platt Brush, who operated a carriage factory on the site of the present First Congregational Church, got permission to connect to the water system in 1838. (That factory is now the Big Shop – see Big Shop Lane.) How long this water system lasted and how many people it eventually served is not known.
FOUNTAIN, Cass Gilbert
If there is a single landmark by which visitors remember Ridgefield, it’s probably the Cass Gilbert Fountain. Standing in the triangle of the intersection of Main Street and West Lane, the fountain is seen by all who enter the village from the west or south, and by most who pass through.
Made of Italian marble, the fountain was erected in the fall of 1915 by Mr. Gilbert, who bought what is now the nearby Keeler Tavern in 1907 and lived there until his death. Cass Gilbert designed many major buildings, including the US Supreme Court in Washington, the Woolworth Building – once the tallest building in the world and still one of New York’s most beautiful “skyscrapers,” the US Custom House in New York, the main libraries of St. Louis and Detroit, and the state capitols of Minnesota, Arkansas, and West Virginia. He also drew the general plans for the Universities of Texas and Minnesota.
Said one biographer: “Although almost all of Mr. Gilbert’s buildings were intended for strictly utilitarian purposes, it was characteristic of him that he insisted upon grace and beauty as much as practicability and therein lay one of the highest attributes of his genius. This quality is seen not alone in the Woolworth Building, but in scores of other buildings which he designed.”
Cass Gilbert not only designed buildings but also held high offices: He was the president of the National Academy of Design, and of the American Institute of Architects. He was appointed chairman of the Council of Fine Arts by President Theodore Roosevelt, and was reappointed by Presidents Taft and Wilson.
A native of Zanesville, Ohio, Mr. Gilbert was born in 1859, son of Samuel Augustus Gilbert, a brigadier general in the Union army. He grew up in St. Paul, Minn., and studied architecture at MIT. He opened his first office in St. Paul in 1883, but soon moved to New York City. He died in 1934 while on one of his frequent trips to England, where his work was much appreciated. Only three years earlier he had been elected to the Royal Academy of Arts, the only American to be so honored since John Singer Sargent, the painter.
In his obituary, The London Times called him “the most remarkable architect of his generation in America... His range and versatility were extraordinary. Like his old master, Stanford White, he was attached to no traditional style. He was both an architect and an executive, able to direct staffs and carry out his own designs, and from the beginning his work bore the impress of his personality.”
Whether his personality can be seen in the fountain is a moot point. Over the years both the man and nature have taken their tolls. The surface of the fountain is no longer smooth and finely carved, having been worn by years of weathering, including acid rain. And over the years, errant automobiles, often with drivers a tad intoxicated, have hit the fountain. A hit-and-run motorist’s car shattered the structure one summer in the early 1980’s, and it had to be carefully pieced together and glued with special epoxy by Dr. Robert Mead. Ironically, Dr. Mead lives next to the Keeler Tavern in a brick house that Julia Gilbert, Cass’s widow, had erected as a monument and museum to her husband’s works. For some reason, that plan fell through, and the “museum” was sold as a house.
Because it considers the fountain a “hazard,” the state highway department has repeatedly suggested that it be moved. However, town officials and townspeople have vehemently opposed the proposal, most recently after the worst of the accidents involving the fountain. In June 2003, a Stamford man who had been drinking crashed his Hummer into the fountain, smashing it into dozens of pieces. It took a pair of professional repairers many months to put it back together at a cost of more than $100,000. While some recommended the fountain be moved – or replaced with a non-breakable plastic version – a town commission agreed to keep it where it was, but to raise it higher off the ground.
Various devices for protecting the fountain from the harsh winters and the harsher cars have been explored over the years. Architect John Kinnear designed a cover, which is erected in the cold months to protect the stone. Various reflectorized sign-and-fence combinations have been put up facing west, the direction most of the crashing autos come from. But despite careening cars, stone-eating acids, and hard-hearted state officials, the fountain remains in its triangle, perhaps the smallest structure ever designed by a great man who was world famous for big buildings.
The intersection of Barrack Hill Road and Old West Mountain Road was long known as the Four Corners. The name first appears in an 1839 deed in which Czar Jones sold Jared Mead eight acres “near the ‘Four Corner’ so called.” Four years later, Lewis C. Hunt sold Horatio Mills five acres “near the ‘Four Corners’ and known as the Ben-Burt lot” (see Burt’s Lane and Burt’s Pond), and thereafter the name was always in the plural form, Corners.
While only two corners exist at this intersection today, the junction was four-way until the early 20th Century. A road, almost opposite Old West Mountain Road, went northerly down the side of West Mountain to Tackora Trail, intersecting a little south of Old Sib Road. This road was shown on maps as late as 1908.
Like almost all other old four-way road junctions, Four Corners was an offset intersection. In fact, few symmetrical four-way intersections exist in town. Most occur along Route 7, the old Sugar Hollow Turnpike, a road that was not built until after 1800 when most of the town’s major roads had long been established. Three symmetrical intersections exist along this road: at Haviland and Pickett’s Ridge Roads, at Cain’s Hill and Topstone Roads, and at Branchville Road. (One used to exist at Florida Hill and Old Redding Roads (see Florida Hill Road.) The four-way intersection at Danbury, Farmingville and Copps Hills Road was also offset until the late 1980s when the state moved Copps Hill and Farmingville Roads moved opposite each other.
In the Northeast, a symmetrical four-corner intersection (with corners each forming 90 degree angles) is uncommon outside of cities, partly because the design was not as necessary in the 18th and 19th Centuries as it is today for traffic control. It was unusual for two travelers to meet at a country intersection in the 18th Century and since they would be moving so slowly anyway, there was virtually no chance of them or their animal-drawn vehicles colliding. Thus, in those days, offset intersections were as easy to negotiate as symmetrical ones. Yet how many modern-day motorists and town planners have cursed the likes of the intersection of Prospect Street with East Ridge and Grove Street, or Catoonah Street and Bailey Avenue with Main Street? The latter was so confusing in times of heavy traffic that town officials in the early 1970’s decided to make Bailey Avenue one-way so cars could not enter this dog-leg from Bailey Avenue.
Intersections often occurred more by happenstance than by design, especially in a town so full of hills, ridges and streams. New roads sprang off old roads as the need arose – to gain access to newly settled territory or as short cuts. Often a path between fields became a road if it turned out to serve some popular purpose. Usually, roads followed property lines to avoid splitting tracts in two; exceptions were made, however, to avoid swamps, sharp drops, or other geographical features difficult to negotiate.
Four-way intersections often result from the crossing of two main or through highways. In an area as hilly as this, roads usually followed the contours of the land – valleys and ridges – spreading out like tentacles from the village located near the center of the township. There was little occasion for highways to intersect at 90-degree angles.
The term Four Corners lasted into the 20th Century. In his boyhood (up to 1925), Karl S. Nash of Main Street went berrying with his family at Four Corners. The name might have survived until today if one of the roads had not fallen out of use. The old road down to Tackora Trail was officially abandoned by action of an October 1941 Town Meeting, but the road had long been little used, probably because it was so steep and difficult to negotiate and maintain.
At least ten other towns in Connecticut have places named “Four Corners.”
This is another of the short, dead-end roads off Mamanasco Road at Eight Lakes.
Fox Drive is a short, dead-end road off Aspen Ledges Drive at the Ridgefield Knolls. Edgar P. Bickford, a surveyor on the project, said the name resulted from the surveyors’ noticing many red foxes in the vicinity when development was beginning around 1959.
The Rev. Samuel G. Goodrich reported in 1800 that Ridgefield still had both red and gray foxes, even though, he said, the likes of deer, beaver, bears, wolves, panthers, and wildcats were “extinct” by then. Today, both species as well as the “extinct” beaver and deer, plus bobcat, occasional bear, and perhaps a wildcat (mountain lion), are found in town. Wolves are still “extinct.”
The gray fox, which lives in almost every part of the United States, is smaller than the red fox, and is quite shy and secretive; consequently, it is more rarely seen. It favors swamps and woods as opposed to the open lands frequented by the red fox. Gray foxes are short-lived – 18 months maximum, 11 months average – but make up for it in fertility: 50 pairs can produce 225 pups in the spring. The gray fox feeds chiefly on mice while the red is omnivorous – and as a result has been considered a pest by farmers. Unlike the red fox, it can climb trees.
Red foxes will attack even cows and horses if hungry enough, and are fond of poultry. They will also eat sweet corn and fruit, like plums, as well as larger insects, such as grasshoppers. They are also common carriers of rabies. The gray fox is the only wild canine that can climb a tree.
Fox Flat was a 19th Century name for the flatland on the west side of North Street, south of and opposite Pine Crest Drive. First mentioned as “Fox Flat, so-called” in an 1835 deed, the name also turned up in deeds from the 1840’s and 1850’s. The area, remarkably flat considering the lofty hills in the immediate neighborhood, was probably the bottom of a lake a few thousand years ago. In the 18th and 19th Centuries, red foxes on the hunt no doubt frequented the flat.
Fox Hill is a fairly modern name for the hill, 740 feet above sea level, to the west of Route 7 along Bennett’s Farm Road (formerly Maplewood Road), in Bennett’s Pond State Park. In 1914, Col. Louis D. Conley, who had just retired as a tin manufacturing executive in New York, built his retirement home – more like a mansion – at the summit of Fox Hill, calling the place Outpost Farm because it was to be an outpost from the hectic city and business life.
More as a hobby than a business, he began the Outpost Nurseries. By his death in 1931, he had amassed some 2,000 acres of nursery land in northeastern Ridgefield. His house later became the Fox Hill Inn, opened by Fred Barker in 1946, and operated from 1961 to 1970 by John Yervant, who sold the property to IBM. Faced with damage from vandals and with insurance risks, IBM razed the mansion in 1975. Today, thanks to the town, the state owns it (see Bennett’s Pond State Park).
The name Fox Hill does not appear in the land records before 1890 for this locality, so the name is of fairly modern origin.
FOX HILL LAKE
One of the so-called “Ridgefield Lakes,” Fox Hill Lake is just west of and 200 feet lower than Fox Hill. It is an artificial lake, created by the Pequot Realty Company of Bridgeport in the mid-1920’s. Its waters flow north into the Bennett’s Ponds, from there into the Saugatuck River and Saugatuck Reservoir, situated in Redding and Easton. From there, the water flows into Saugatuck Harbor in Westport, and Long Island Sound. The land under the lake was originally meadows and swamp.
Small lots surround the lake. Many of the original homes were built as summer cottages for people from New York City. Most are now winterized and used year-round.
FOX HILL VILLAGE
Fox Hill Village is the name that David L. Paul of New York City finally selected for the town’s first residential condominium development, on Danbury Road north of Farmingville Road. Construction of the 286 units began in the early 1970’s, and was completed in 1977.
It was originally to be called Oreneca Village because the region to the east (rear) of the 28-acres was once called Norrins Ridge (q.v.), a corrupted form of Oreneca. Also known as Tackora, Oreneca was an Indian leader who signed several of the early deeds of land to settlers.
However, after residents of Oreneca Road, on West Mountain, complained that their mail would be misdirected to the condominiums, Mr. Paul considered “Outpost Village” because the property had been the site of the old Outpost Inn, founded by Col. Louis D. Conley (see Outpost Pond). In fact, Mr. Paul had planned to use the old inn building as a community center, but it burned in a mysterious fire as construction of the project was about to begin. Outpost Village was also rejected because “Outpost” was still a business name used by the real estate holding firm that descended from Outpost Nurseries.
Finally, Mr. Paul chose Fox Hill, named for the site of Colonel Conley’s house and center of Outpost Farm and Nurseries. Unfortunately, the condominium project has only this tenuous relationship with the true Fox Hill more than two miles away, and the name is not really suitable.
When he named the alleys, sidewalks, and lanes in Fox Hill Village, Mr. Paul went on a botanical binge. Following is a list of the “lanes” and “paths” there: Cottonwood, Lime, Juniper, Melon, Nectar, Honeysuckle, Greenbriar, Persimmon, Olive, Sugar Maple, Forest, Edelweiss, Daisy, Cottonwood, Blackberry, Apricot, Plum, Raspberry, Sandalwood, Vine, Teaberry, Orange, Apple, Blueberry, Quince, Cypress, Dogberry, Elderberry, Grape, Hollyberry, Juneberry, Kumquat (!), Meadow, Nettle, Lemon, and Redwood. There is also Frog Hollow, Quarry Corner, Hilltop Court, Stone Court, and Drive, Kiwi Corner, Outpost Court, and Island Path.
Fox Hill Drive is the main route from Danbury Road through the property and back to Danbury Road. This was the original path of Danbury Road until the 1920’s when the state straightened the highway. The little stone bridge (or its predecessors) that traverses the Norwalk River (Ridgefield Brook) on Fox Hill Drive was known to the settlers as Island Bridge” as early as 1717.
An interesting aside is the fact that Fox Hill Village was the site of the last known “billboard” sign in Ridgefield. The sign stood along Danbury Road, between the highway and the pond, and had been erected to advertise the Outpost Inn in the days before the town had banned the use of billboard signs. One Thursday soon after Mr. Paul purchased the property, The Ridgefield Press published an article that mentioned the fact that old sign there was the last billboard in town. An hour or two after the paper came out, Mr. Paul saw the story, and immediately ordered one of his workmen to fire up a bulldozer and knock down the sign, whereupon he called an editor of the paper and proudly announced that Ridgefield was now a town completely without billboard signs.
Long before there was a “Fox Hill,” there were “Fox Hills” in Ridgebury. In 1802, Theophilus Benedict of Danbury sold 12 acres “being the west part of my farm, including what I call Fox Hills and sheep pasture.” This was the first recorded use of fox as a place name here, and the wording suggests that Theophilus coined the name.
Fox Hills continued to be used, at least through 1846. However, an 1859 mortgage for land here used “at Fox Hill” in the description, and two 1876 deeds mentioned land “at Fox Hill, so-called.” All referred to territory in the vicinity of Shadow Lake and Beaver Brook Roads, west of Briar Ridge Road in northern Ridgebury. The area was probably noted for its fox population.
Franklin Heights is a small, 1960’s subdivision of 11.5 acres between Barry Avenue and Nutmeg Court, which roads serve the lots. Developer Lewis J. Finch named the subdivision for Professor Fabian Franklin and his daughter, Margaret, who owned the property early in this century.
Born in Hungary in 1853, Professor Franklin was an unusual man, talented in several seemingly unrelated fields. During his lifetime he was a civil engineer, surveyor, professor of mathematics at Johns Hopkins University, editor of The Baltimore News and later associate editor of The New York Evening Post, and author of several books on economics and Prohibition. At his death in 1939, The New York Times wrote in an editorial: “The scientist, economist, and journalist were different facets of a harmonious personality combining extraordinary gifts of mind and heart, vibrant with learning, wit and a broad humanity. Dr. Franklin was beyond question one of the great conversationalists of our day and worthy to be compared with the giants of the art, not excluding his favorite Lord Macaulay.”
In the 1920’s Margaret Franklin roomed at the home of Dr. Henry W. Allen on Main Street, razed in the early 1980’s to make way for the Ridgefield Library addition. In the interest of good health, she liked fresh air and slept outdoors, summer and winter. Her bed was in a specially constructed wire cage, with a canvas cover, fastened just outside her bedroom’s double window on the north size of Dr. Allen’s house. Her sleeping in this cage in mid-winter presented a rather unusual sight, according to those who saw it.
Frank’s Corners is an old name of uncertain origin for the intersection of Ridgebury, Spring Valley and Mopus Bridge Roads. It was in use in 1912.
Fraser’s Pond is on the north side of West Mountain Road, a little east of Eleven Levels Road, and was probably created as part of the Eleven Levels estate. The pond is named for Arthur C. Fraser, a noted patent attorney, who amassed the 180-acre estate and lived there for many years (see Eleven Levels).
Freeholder’s Corner is an unusual term that first appears on the land records in a 1734 deed for land far away from the corner itself. The deed, from Joshua Lobdell to Recompense Thomas, was for property in Ridgebury on the Danbury line. At that time the boundary between the two towns was somewhat unclear so the two parties had to refer to the nearest known and certain marker – at Freeholder’s Corner. This known bound was described in a deed as being in a line from a small tree at Umpawaug Pond in Redding north to “a monument called ye Freeholder’s Corner, being a birch tree with a heap of stones laid about it, and well-known...” The line then ran northwestward several miles up to Ridgebury.
The location of Freeholder’s Corner is precisely defined in perambulations of the town as the junction of the boundaries of Ridgefield, Danbury and Redding, which today is near the east end of Laurel Lane. A perambulation was a walking of the town lines by officials (perambulators) of the two townships. They did not survey the lines, but merely checked to see that the boundary markers – rocks, monuments, trees, or pipes – were standing in place. The state requirement that towns periodically perambulate their boundaries was repealed in the 1980s, but by then Ridgefield was rarely obeying that law. The last perambulation was in 1975, and it had been the first in decades.
The first perambulation to mention this name occurred in 1786, and the term was transcribed then as “Freehold Corner.” Perambulations in 1792, 1800, and 1808 referred to either Freeholder’s or Freehold Corner.
A freeholder was someone who owned at least 40 shillings’ worth of property, free and clear, and thus had a right to vote in certain elections and meetings. In 1750, meadowland in Hartford County was being assessed at 15 shillings per acre; upland pasture at eight shillings. A person owning three acres of meadow or five of pasture thus met the 40 shilling requirement to be a freeholder. In fact, to own real property virtually meant one could qualify to vote.
But why was this corner called Freeholder’s as early as 1734? A possibility is that land in this area was of uncertain ownership and had simply been claimed by a number of people or was owned by squatting. The corner was north of the land Ridgefield proprietors had bought from the Indians and may have been south of the land Danbury owned in the early 1700’s. It was also in the northwestern corner of Redding – originally Fairfield – and again Fairfield’s jurisdiction over this area was in question. Thus, being free and possibly unclaimed territory in the early 1700’s, tracts there may have been acquired by simply staking out claims.
A peculiar name, Frog’s Point first appears in the land records in an 1842 deed in which Darius Holly mortgaged to Hanford Sellick three acres “on the Mountain at Frog’s Point so called.” An 1843 deed refers to six acres “on the West Mountain near Frog’s Point.” The locality seems to be somewhere near the intersection of Peaceable Hill Road and Peaceable Ridge Road.
Although the name probably was a reference to the amphibian, it’s also possible that it was slang for a Frenchman or Dutchman who lived or owned land near the point. Frog has been used as a term for a Dutchman since the 1600’s. The French were contemptuously called frogs or frog-eaters because of their taste for the legs of this creature. Interestingly enough, the Dauchy family, of French origin, owned land for many years at or near Frog’s Point.
FULLING MILL LANE
Fulling Mill Lane, which extends from Cain’s Hill Road to New Road, is named for Hugh Cain’s fulling mill, erected in 1771 at the corner of Route 7 and Topstone Road – a site the lane overlooked before the trees returned (see Cain’s Hill).
A fulling mill fulled, a process most people today know little about. “When woolen cloth came off the loom, it had a loose weave, was dirty, and generally unattractive,” wrote Martha and Murray Zimiles in Early American Mills. “Fulling was the process that... cleaned, felted and shrank the cloth. Cloth was placed in a vat of water with some detergent or caustic substance such as animal urine or fuller’s earth. The cloth was pounded, wrung, and turned, again pounded and wrung until the desired consistency was attained.”
In ancient times, such as in Rome, the cloth was stamped like grapes with feet. The word “full” is derived from the Old French, fuler, which means to walk or tread upon. The common surname, Walker, is derived from this occupation.
According to the Zimiles, the first water-powered fulling mill in America was erected in 1643 and by 1810, there were nearly 1,700 of them recorded. Like many, Cain’s fulling mill was later modernized and expanded to include weaving, and by the 1840’s was being called a factory instead of a mill. But who would like to live on “Factory Lane”?
There was at least one other fulling mill in town and another mill that did fulling on the side.
Fulling Mill Lane, accepted as a town road in 1964, was developed by Harry Richmond and William Connors, who also did Meadow Woods and Florida Hill Estates.
In 1853, Maria Couch gave the heirs of Thomas Couch “the Pond Lot so-called,” which was bordered on the west by “Furnace Pond.” The water was probably what’s today called Miller’s Pond (q.v.), west of Route 7 just north of Florida Hill Road. In the 1800’s the Couch family operated an iron foundry here, centered on a furnace (see Couch’s Station).