Entire contents copyrighted 2005 by Jack Sanders. Reproduction without permission is forbidden.
Gay Road, a short path between lower Wilton Road East and Spectacle Lane, is an old but now little-used highway, which appears on maps as early as 1856. It takes its name from Ulysses S. Grant Gay. A native of Towners in nearby New York State, Mr. Gay was born in 1869, the year his namesake was elected president. In 1900, he came to Ridgefield, buying a house and 20 acres from Anna Seymour and establishing a farm which he held until his death in 1953 at the age of 83.
The house, which stands on the east side of lower Spectacle Lane almost opposite Gay Road, may have been built sometime between 1856 and 1867 by S. M. Seymour, who was probably the husband or father of Anna.
Mr. Gay had a large family, and many of his descendants still live in the neighborhood or in town. As recently as the early 1980's, the Gay family had sizable reunions here.
The road leading from near the main highway (Wilton Road West, Route 33) to this place probably became known as Gay Road because years ago the Gay farm would have been the only major landmark on the route.
Just south of the Gay homestead exists an old road running eastward, an extension of Gay Road across Spectacle Lane. This has been variously called Gay Road or Old Gay Road, and may have connected to Nod Road. Thus, as a shortcut from the southwest part of town to the south central "Nod" area, it may have been a more popular road in the 19th Century than in the 20th.
Gay's Hill is a subdivision of 15 acres into seven lots on the east side of Spectacle Lane. Developer Marcelino Lavin of Wilton, who also did Table Rock Estates (q.v.) on St. Johns Road, received town approval for the subdivision in 1977.
Although one of the surveys of the property notes that this area was called Spectacle Brook Ridge, at least in the 1940's, Mr. Lavin in titling the subdivision chose to recall Farmer Gay, who once owned part of the property (see Gay Road). Mr. Lavin acquired the land from the Henri Doll. Mr. Doll, who headed the Schlumberger-Doll Research Center here, acquired the house and much of the land from Arthur W. Northrop, who had Ferndale Farm there from around 1890 to the late 1930's.
GEORGE WASHINGTON HIGHWAY
George Washington Highway is one of several roads named in honor of the first president, but the only one for which the name carries some local significance. It commemorates a visit by the then commander of American revolutionary forces, but the commemoration once had more mileage attached to it.
According to Silvio A. Bedini in his Ridgefield in Review, "George Washington's visit to Ridgefield is probably the greatest bone of contention among local historians, some of whom believed that Washington passed through Ridgefield at least twice and possibly a third time. In addition to Washington's stay in Ridgebury, it is believed that Washington visited Colonel Philip Burr Bradley's home (on Main Street at what is now Ballard Park) on one or more occasions. "
Mr. Bedini reports that "it was in the course of Washington's fourth journey through Connecticut that he stopped in Ridgebury. He was to meet the Comte de Rochambeau, commander-in-chief of the French forces in America, and he arranged for an interview in Hartford to take place 20 Sept. 1780. Washington traveled from his headquarters...in Bergen County, N.J., and met with General Benedict Arnold in Peekskill."
Washington then probably entered Ridgefield from North Salem, via either Mopus Bridge Road or North Salem Road. He followed Ridgebury Road north to the village of Ridgebury, arriving on the afternoon of Sept. 19.
Most of the party, including Marquis de Lafayette and Colonel Alexander Hamilton, stayed the night at Ensign Samuel Keeler's tavern, which once stood north of the Congregational Church, while Washington himself spent the night at the home of Dr. David Burr, south of the church but long ago demolished.
When he left the next day, the general probably took the road eastward from Ridgebury to Danbury that is today called George Washington Highway in his honor.
However, Ridgebury Road - from North Salem Road north to Ridgebury Congregational Church - was once also called George Washington Highway to include almost the entire route General Washington followed through town. That name was first applied around 1932, when it was chosen to commemorate the general during the celebration of the bicentennial of Washington's birthday.
However, in 1959, First Selectman Leo F. Carroll had the original name of Ridgebury Road restored to the highway. Despite this action, deeds were being written into the 1990s still calling Ridgebury Road "George Washington Highway."
Both George Washington Highway and Ridgebury Road are very old highways, dating back to before 1750 and probably to the first settlement of Ridgebury in the 1730's.
Washington Street at Peatt Park off Danbury Road and Old Washington Road have no connection with George's having been at or near those places. In fact, Old Washington Road (q. v.) may recall someone other than the president.
At any rate, it is probably fitting - though confusing - that the name of the most famous American has been applied to more roads in Ridgefield than the name of any other person. Three people connected with Washington's Ridgebury visit - Lafayette, Rochambeau and Hamilton - have also found their way into Ridgefield's geographical names, the first two as roads at Peatt Park and the third a road at Westmoreland.
Gilbert Street is a fairly modern name for a very old road - so old, in fact, that it was probably among the first to be laid out by the early settlers of the village in the 1710's and 1720's. It originally served as the main route from the village to the forests and later pastures of West Mountain until the construction of Barry Avenue (New West Lane) in the 1840's provided a shorter and better path via Catoonah Street to the mountain.
A 1900 map labels Gilbert Street as Ramapoo Road (q.v.), showing its close association with the old road to West Mountain that still exists. However, by 1908, the section of Ramapoo Road from Main Street to High Ridge was being called Gilbert Street, according to a map published that year.
Who was the namesake? Probably William Henry Gilbert, who lived for many years at the intersection of New and Gilbert Streets. For a long time, he had one of the few houses along the street and was probably the most notable personality on it.
Born Farmingville in 1842, William H. Gilbert spent most of his life as a carpenter. However, he was also a partner in the old Gilbert mill at Titicus, the scene of a minor and brief deluge with which he was connected.
George L. Rockwell told it this way:
"The Titicus Flood occurred in September 1866, caused by the bursting of the dam on New Pond. The Gilbert brothers, Aaron B. and William H., built the dam in order to store water for their mill farther down in Titicus.
"People predicted that the pond would never fill up. On the day of the cataclysm, Aaron Gilbert had been called away. It was raining torrents and a great volume of water was pouring over the dam, and William Gilbert went over to look at it, as he had. some fears whether it would stand. There was a tremendous rock on the west end of the dam that the Searles brothers...who built the dam, had drawn in with a team of oxen.
"Mr. Gilbert had just returned from an inspection of the east side of the dam, as he thought that end would go first if the dam should break. He had scarcely reached the west side and was standing upon the abovementioned rock when he felt it teeter beneath him. He jumped off just in time, as the dam at that moment burst at this point, and a great torrent of water poured down the valley. The flood was four or five feet high... The few witnesses related that the column of rushing water resembled a tidal wave."
"The flood immediately carried away a barn and Jabez Gilbert's tannery office, along with much of his tanning equipment.
"Charles Smith 2nd lived in the house by the Titicus Bridge along North Salem Road at Mapleshade Road. Mrs. Smith's mother was downstairs in the basement baking bread. Her daughter called her, and she came upstairs just in time, for she had barely taken her foot from the last step before the flood carried away the stairs, as it flooded the basement...
"Philip N. Smith, son of Charles, saw the flood coming and rushing out, unhitched a horse that was standing in front of the store. The horse would have been drowned had it remained attached to the post..."
The late Marion H. Nash, former librarian of the Ridgefield Library, and her mother, Mrs. John D. Nash, whose husband operated the Titicus Store, were others who survived the Titicus Flood. Mrs. Nash suffered a broken ankle when she ran up the bank just south of the store with her six-year-old daughter in tow. Marion Nash later recalled the event vividly and disputed some of Historian Rockwell's details of it.
The Spoon Mystery
William was a son of Harry Gilbert, who lived in Farmingville. In this connection, Rockwell relates another interesting tale:
"One day, when the Gilbert family was absent from their home, someone entered the house and stole the silver spoons. One handle was found near the chopping block at the wood pile where an axe had evidently been used to cut the spoon in two.
"For many years, that was the last that was heard of the silver spoons until 1856 when New (Road) was built... While digging near the residence of Edwin A. Lee, the next house easterly, a flat stone was lifted and beneath it were found the silver spoons, six bowls and five handles, just as they were placed there by the thief.
"Why they were hidden there and why they were never removed will ever be a mystery. It is assumed that the thief either forgot under just what stone he had hidden his booty or else became terror-stricken and was afraid to go after it."
Gilberts, several clans of which settled in Ridgefield in the 18th and early 19th Centuries, were noted as millers. Josiah Gilbert was building a gristmill at Limestone in 1773 and Abner Gilbert later had a share in it. Harvey Gilbert had a sawmill (and a 226-acre farm) up near Scotland, probably on the Titicus River, in the 1830's. Harry Gilbert, William's father, had title to an old flax mill in Farmingville in the 1840's while James Gilbert acquired a shingle mill at Titicus in 1848.
Probably the best known of the Gilbert millers was Jabez Mix Gilbert, who was operating a gristmill at Titicus by 1812 and a sawmill there by 1819. He apparently devoted most of his attention, however, to his tannery, which was operating by 1822 and lasted many decades.
The last of the many Gilberts who lived in town over the past two centuries still bearing the family name was Aaron Victor Gilbert, who died in 1987. He lived on New Street, very near William Gilbert's homestead and also near the Gilbert brothers' grist and cider mills on the Titicus River along Saw Mill Hill Road.
Aaron V. Gilbert was a grandson of Aaron Bishop Gilbert and a grandnephew of William H. Gilbert. As a child he knew both men. In fact, when he was in his early teens, he used to work at the family grist and cider mills.
The Two Mills
These mills, in a building still standing, were co-owned by the brothers but operated almost single-handedly by Aaron B. Gilbert. At the gristmill upstairs, Aaron would grind wheat and rye into flour for many Ridgefield kitchens and corn into feed for many farms. Water from the Titicus was diverted through a sluice to an undershot wheel that powered the equipment.
Inside the mill were three different stone wheels, each capable of grinding a finer product. Food for livestock, for instance, was coarsely ground.
"All the farmers around here came to get their feed ground up for their cattle," Aaron V. Gilbert, then 78, recalled in a 1978 interview.
Aaron had an orchard and each season would make upwards of 50 barrels of cider at the downstairs mill. Apples were coarsely ground in the mill, powered by the water wheel. The resulting "cheese" was placed in a hand-operated press and squeezed by large screws to produce the cider. Two of these screws, handcarved by Aaron himself, were for years displayed at a little lane just beyond the old Titicus Schoolhouse (American Legion Hall) on North Salem Road.
Most of the cider was laid up for vinegar which Aaron sold at the train depot to stores in Danbury and Norwalk.
Many people would come to the mill to make their own cider, Aaron V. Gilbert said. His grandfather would grind the apples and the growers would then do their own pressing. The mill had two presses, each capable of producing seven barrels at a time.
Aaron B. Gilbert was, like his brother William, a carpenter. He learned the trade while working on the old Fairfield County Courthouse, still standing on Main Street in Danbury. The Ridgefielder walked to and from the job there every day. The pay was only 75 cents a day, according to his grandson.
Aaron V. Gilbert recalled that his grand uncle William was commonly called "Gin" Gilbert because of his fondness for that beverage. The brothers Gilbert often got together over a glass of gin.
William H. Gilbert moved to Gilbert Street in 1885, buying the house from two other Gilberts. Samuel Gilbert, whose relation - if any - to William is unclear, had been living there since at least 1867. In 1879, he sold the house to Smith Gilbert, possibly his son, reserving the right to live there for the rest of his life. But in 1885, both Smith and Samuel sold their rights to William
From 1884 to 1888, William Gilbert was a selectman of the town, suggesting he had been rather active in community affairs.
William Gilbert died in 1916 at the age of 73. He and other members of the family are buried under an imposing monument at the Ridgefield Cemetery, the stone for which was quarried from Gilbert land behind the Bacchiochi property on the west side of New Street, north of Gilbert Street.
GILBERT'S UPPER POND
Gilbert's Upper Pond was another form of the name "Upper Pond," used in the 1840's and 1850's at least. It recognized Jabez Mix Gilbert, who at various times had various mills powered by the water from the pond, but was most famous for his tanning works at Titicus. Gilbert owned the water rights to the pond.
Glen Acres is a 32-lot subdivision of 35.4 acres, owned at the time of division by James Franks, on the east side of Tally Ho Road (q.v.) and the north side of Haviland Road.
The subdivision, approved in 1963, was part of the old Elizabeth Glendinning farm and consequently the name may have deliberately punned on the nature of the terrain and its former owner's name.
Glen Road, a short, dead-end lane off Buck Hill Road, was developed around 1954 by Perry Scott and Richard Conley, head of the Connecticut Land Company.
Mr. Conley, whose father had owned this territory as part of his Outpost Nurseries (see Outpost Pond), named the road because of the glen it traverses.
A short dead-end road off Standish Drive, Glenbrook Court is in a glen near a brook. The road was laid out in 1965 and accepted by a town meeting in 1968. It was added to in the mid-1980's.
Glenbrook Court is part of the Meadow Woods development (q. v.), which was developed by Harry Richmond and William Connors.
Although not a green or a fairway is in sight, Golf Lane is a fitting name for this narrow old road running between West Lane and Peaceable Street.
Golf Lane once led to the Ridgefield Golf Club, a 65-acre course built in 1894. Most of the course later became Jack B. Ward's Ward Acres Farm, where show horses are raised, but in the 1980s and 1990s, was subdivided and is today house lots.
The nine-hole course was one of the first two in Fairfield County and predated by two years the Shinnecock course at Southampton, Long Island, the first course of any note in the United States.
The course closed in 1932 when the 18-hole Silver Spring Country Club course opened. However, the clubhouse managed to survive until the early 1980's. The late Francis D. Martin had moved the building in the 1930s to Grove Street where he used it as a goat barn. Later it housed a silversmithing firm and a plastics company, and then, in the 1950's, was incorporated into the scientific laboratories of the New England Institute for Medical Research.
The institute closed down around 1982 and its buildings became the object of vandals. One day, the old clubhouse portion of the complex was ignited by an arsonist, and was heavily damaged. The institute buildings, including the clubhouse, were razed by the mid-1980's to make way for the Executive Pavilion office condominium.
Golf Lane was so called as early as 1902 when the name appears on a vicinity map of the golf course. However, the road existed long before the course, and is shown on the earliest road map of Ridgefield (1856). The road was probably in use as early as the 1700's as a short cut from Peaceable Street to West Lane.
Governor Street takes its name from Governor Phineas C. Lounsbury who for many years lived on a Main Street estate along the south side of Governor Street.
The road itself is fairly new, having been built sometime after 1867 -- quite possibly by the Governor himself. In the 1700's the only roads off the east side of Main Street were, from north to south, Prospect Street, Market Street, and Rockwell Road. Branchville Road appeared in the early 1830's, and Bailey Avenue and Governor Streets in the late 1800's.
Governor Street from Main Street to East Ridge, was built by the year 1900 and was being called Governor Street by then. The portion from East Ridge to Prospect Ridge was probably built around 1913 in conjunction with the construction of what we now call the "old high school."
Governor Lounsbury, whose property is now Veterans Park-including the Community Center and the elementary school, was living on Main Street by the 1870's. When the Community Center building-his second house was to be built, he had his first home moved to Governor Street where it today serves as offices.
His homestead was interesting in that it included perhaps the first wind-powered water well in town. The well was in place by 1878, when it was pictured in Teller's History of Ridgefield.
Phineas Chapman Lounsbury was born in Farmingville in 1841, the sixth child of Nathan and Delia Lounsbury, who had moved here from Pound Ridge two years earlier. He and his brother, George, who also became governor of Connecticut, acquired their political interests from their father, who had held several town offices and was a member of the state legislature.
According to his own reminiscences, Phineas left town at 16 to seek his fortune, which he put at $10,000, and then returned to marry Jennie Wright. At the time of his death, his estate was estimated to be worth close to a million dollars.
He worked in the shoe manufacturing business with his brother, George, and was led into politics after the Civil War by an interest in public speaking. He was elected to the state legislature in 1874 where he devoted much of his time to temperance interests, including helping to frame the state's stiff option law that remained virtually unchanged until the advent of Prohibition. (When he was owner of The Press some years later, he forbade any liquor advertising and, one time when his instructions were disobeyed, got angry and sold the paper.)
After his term in the legislature, he returned to New York City to head the Merchants Exchange National Bank. He took part in the campaign for James G. Blaine in 1884 (Blaine's son, also James G., later lived on High Ridge), and three years later was elected governor of Connecticut on the Republican ticket.
Phineas Lounsbury retired from active political life in 1896 and built his Grovelawn, which was modeled after the Connecticut state building at the Columbia Exposition of 1893. At one time, the mansion and estate, kept up in lavish style, had 14 people employed in the house and 12 outside.
Phineas Lounsbury died in 1925. His funeral at the Methodist Church, where he had been chairman of the Board of Trustees, was attended by many hundreds of people from near and far. The house was acquired by the town in 1945 and soon thereafter, leased for $1 a year to the Community Center, which maintains it from fees it charges. (See also Lounsbury Road and Veterans Park).
GRAND VIEW DRIVE
Grand View Drive, a rather ordinary-sounding road name, is actually a somewhat clever pun which is descriptive of not only the terrain but also the history of the property. This development of about 47 acres on the east side of Barrack Hill Road indeed has a grand view. But it was also once owned by a couple named LeGrand!
The property had been the Benjamin Levy estate which, in the 1940's, consisted of about 80 acres running from Barrack Hill Road to Lake Mamanasco. Both Mr. Levy, president of Charles of the Ritz, and Mrs. Levy died in 1952. More than 10 years later, the Levy family donated 30 acres of the former estate to the town, and it's now Levy park on the east side of Barrack Hill Road.
In 1953, the estate was sold to Jean C. and Nina LeGrand. Mr. LeGrand, a Frenchman, was vice-president of Schlumberger-DolI, the oil well research firm here. In 1957 and 1958, the LeGrands sold much of their land to Peter Lorenzini, the building, and Norman Craig, the jeweler, who subdivided it to create Grand View Drive. (The large house and numerous outbuildings were sold at the time to Herbert and Alice Chayes. Mr. Chayes headed the former Chayes Dental Laboratories in Ridgebury.)
In reporting the sale of the estate to the LeGrands, The Ridgefield Press said in January 1953 that the property "commands one of the finest views in the town." And thus the name is doubly suitable.
An ancient name for a place that contains much of what is most modern in Ridgefield, Grassy Island was applied by the early settlers to the strip of land along both sides of Danbury Road (Route 35) from the foot of Island (or Danbury) Hill north to the river at Fox Hill Village condominiums.
Much of this area, ignominiously called Gasoline Alley for many years, today is heavily commercially developed and includes Copps Hill Plaza and several smaller shopping centers, as well as office buildings.
The name appears as early as 1717 when the proprietors apportioned various tracts there. For example, Richard Osborn received four acres "lying at ye Great Swamp on ye east side of ye Grassie Island." Osborn also received two acres of "plowland lying on Grassie Ridge," which may have been today's Island Hill and Peatt Park neighborhoods. While old place names that have fallen out of use are generally difficult to place today, various deeds locate Grassy Island west or south of the "branch" or stream that flows out of Great Swamp. One deed mentions land "lying in a sprang of ye Great Swamp, south of ye Grassy Island." This suggests that the island may have extended eastward along Farmingville Road for a short distance. However, the boundaries of the island would be impossible to accurately estimate today because so much filling, draining, and excavating has taken place in this area over the past two and a half centuries, and because the water level of Great Swamp has probably changed somewhat at the same time.
Why an "island"? The land was almost totally surrounded by swamp or streams. The early settlers called several inland localities "islands" although none was actually surrounded by unbroken water.
Grassy Island was probably the source of the name Island Hill, remembered today as Island Hill Avenue. The hill overlooks the island.
Island Bridge, an old and frequently cited name for the bridge over the Norwalk River at Fox Hill Drive (the old Danbury Road), connected Grassy Island with Great Island to the north.
Grassy Island continued to be used in land records into the late 18th Century, the last two references appearing in two 1789 deeds. However, the late Robert A. Lee, formerly of Farmingville, recalled that in his boyhood around 1900, the triangular area of Great Swamp now surrounded by Farmingville, Lee and Limekiln Roads, was called Grassy Swamp. This name may have been connected with Grassy Island to the west, but it's more likely that Farmingville residents coined the term simply because the swamp was grassy.
Grassy Ridge may have been an old name for Island Hill and the lower end of Copp's Mountain (see Grassy Island).
Grassy Swamp was a turn-of-the-century name for the swamp on the north side of Farmingville Road, below Lee Road - actually, a part of Great Swamp (see Grassy Island).
The Great Ditch first appears in a 1774 deed for a house and five acres. In the deed, Daniel Rockwell, giving up his interest in the property to Abraham Rockwell, says the land is bounded on the west "by ye Great Ditch so-called."
In 1792, David Rockwell sued Abner Rockwell of Massachusetts and obtained in the settlement two acres bounded westerly "by ye Great Ditch in Mope's Boggs so called."
The Great Ditch was thus west of Ridgebury Road, north of Chestnut Hill Road, and south of Old West Lane (Canterbury Lane). In fact, the ditch probably ran through the Dlhy Ridge Golf Course and carried a branch of the Mopus Brook in this area. Judging from all the Rockwells who held land in its vicinity, the ditch could have been excavated by that family in the early 1770's.
Ditches were commonly dug in the 18th Century to drain wetlands, just as they are today. Driving through south-central Florida, one will come across many drainage and flood control ditches with such names as "Rim Ditch" and "Slough Ditch." Some have only numbers to identify them.
Old-fashioned drainage ditches were not all simply gutters dug in the ground. Many consisted of stones, buried in troughs under the ground. The space around the stones provided enough room for the water to flow along the path of the ditch and the stones themselves prevented erosion of the soil from filling in the water passage. However, the Great Ditch was probably only a long trough dug out of the earth to direct water out of or to the Mopus Brook.
While there were probably many ditches draining wetlands in "Ridgefield, Great Ditch seems to stand out as the only one with a name that was regularly cited in deeds. This may have been because its digging was a sizable undertaking at the time.
Various deeds, particularly in the second half of the 18th Century, cite ditches, but few had names. There was another Great Ditch mentioned in an 1824 deed as being near Daniel Lee's house in Farmingville, but it appears only once in the land records. Gideon Smith had land at "the Ditch Meadow" in Scotland District in 1796.
GREAT EAST MEADOW POND
In 1769, Daniel Dean leased to Samuel Lobdell the right to raise the level of what was "commonly called the Great East Meadow Pond, otherwise sometimes called Burt's Pond." The surface was to be raised two inches in height, and five inches in width "at ye dam at the outlet," from March 15 to "April 15 each year "in order to catch fish."
Why Samuel Lobdell needed the pond raised for only a month a year to catch fish is unclear. But the lease contains the first mention in the land records of Great Pond, which today is such a: popular recreation spot.
The Great East Meadow Pond was so-called because it was one of two ponds situated at East Meadow, as the neighborhood was called in the 18th Century. The other may have been called the Little East Meadow Pond, today's Little Pond, but the term "Little East Meadow Pond" never appears in the land records. In fact, "Little Pond" isn't mentioned at all until 1848.
The term "Great East Meadow Pond" is of note because of how it was shortened to just "Great Pond" over the years. Obviously, Great Pond is much easier to say.
Great Hill is a common and very old name. While the term itself is still alive in the form of a road name, there were at least three others in Ridgefield in the 18th Century. One Great Hill was much more frequently mentioned than the one that survives at Limestone.
The term first appears in a 1740 grant of the proprietors to Benjamin Hecock's (Hickox) heirs of land "on ye Great Hill east of ye Long Pond." Long Pond, now Lakes Oscaleta, Waccabuc, and Rippowam, was situated in a part of Lewisboro, N.Y., that was once within the borders of Ridgefield. A small part of the east end of this water body is still in Ridgefield.
Subsequent deeds place this Great Hill as "southward of ye Round Pond so called" (1763), "southeasterly from Long Pond" (1774), and "south of Round Pond" (1780). Thus, it is probably the hill along West Mountain Road at Old West Mountain Road, and along Oreneca Road. The peak of this hill, elevation 880 feet above sea level, is the site of the Ridgefield Academy. Deeds continue to cite this "Great Hill" until 1876.
Great Hill was used in Limestone District as early as 1754 when Darius Lobdell sold John Lobdell eight acres "lying...on ye south end of the Great Hill at Limestone." Whether this was the Great Hill after which Great Hill Road (q.v.) was named cannot easily be determined. The Great Hill in Limestone District is never again cited in the land records through 1880, suggesting that this name for the hill had fallen out of use.
Of course, Great Hill is a very simple name, the kind that could be applied to any sizable hill anywhere. At least 27 towns in Connecticut have Great Hills-Great was a most popular adjective in 17th and 18th Century New England place naming. The word was used in the sense of large or tall, not "wonderful," as it is commonly used today.
Another Great Hill was mentioned in 1759 when the proprietors gave Nathan Sherwood "four acres of swamp land under ye Great Hill in ye New Patent" (Ridgebury). This was probably in the vicinity of Old Stagecoach and Ridgebury Roads, but the name appears only once in the land records.
Yet another Great Hill appears in an 1800 deed for land in the vicinity of Jo's Hill in Danbury, then part of Ridgefield.
GREAT HILL ROAD
Great Hill Road, extending today from Limestone Road to Bennett's Farm Road, is a very old highway that-apparently-has been called Great Hill Road only in recent times.
In the 18th Century, this was "the road to Bennett's Farm." Neither Limestone Road nor upper Danbury Road existed then, and this highway would have been the main route to the area now called the Ridgefield Lakes and then called Bennett's Farm
Interestingly enough, in the 19th Century, Great Hill Road was sometimes called "the Old Road to Ridgebury" to distinguish it from the "New Road," what we today call Limestone Road, which was built in the 1840's as a straighter and flatter road to the north. For example, an 1855 deed speaks of land through which passed "the old road leading from Ridgefield to Ridgebury." This suggests that Great Hill and Bennett's Farm Roads had been a popular route to Ridgebury, at least for people in the northeastern part of town.
The road was identified in very early deeds. In 1739, the proprietors gave Ebenezer Lobdell three acres "lying between Danbury Rhode and ye Rhode that goes up to Bennitts..." In the same year, Abraham Bennit received four acres "lying westerly of ye road that leads to Bennits Farm."
In 1740 the selectmen refer to "this highway that is laid out through Joseph Keeler's land, continueth along ye road that now is up to Bennits and from thence as far as our concern is." The selectmen appear to have been defining the route of the existing road so that it could be classified as a town road.
In 1755, Elizabeth Keeler sold Daniel Bennit five acres "at ye Turn of the River (q. v.) so called on ye east side of ye road that leadeth to Bennits Farm."
All of these references indicate that Great Hill Road should really be considered Bennett's Farm Road-at least, it clearly was in the 18th Century. It should be Bennett's Farm Road just as North Salem Road is the road to North Salem, Danbury Road is the road to Danbury, and Branchville Road is the road to Redding.
When this highway became Great Hill Road has not yet been ascertained. It was not so labeled on the 1946 zoning map of Ridgefield.
The "Great Hill" here is probably Buck Hill, across whose western slope the road is laid out. The segment of Great Hill Road from where it crosses the Norwalk River (near its south end) to its highest elevation rises 160 feet (from 520 to 680 feet 'above sea level) over a distance of about 1,000 feet of roadway.
That's a pretty great hill.
Great Island appears to have referred to the ridge along Danbury Road from Fox Hill Village condominiums north to approximately the intersection of Haviland and Limestone Roads.
This area, almost surrounded either by the Norwalk River (Ridgefield Brook) or fingers of the Great Swamp, was apparently called Great Island to differentiate it from the smaller Grassy Island, just to the south.
The two "islands" were connected by the "Island Bridge," which today carries Fox Hill Drive at the condominiums over the Norwalk River. This main road through the condominiums was once part of Danbury Road.
Great Island was first mentioned in a 1712 proprietors' deed when referring to 21/2 acres of "meadowland lying near (undecipherable) on ye Great Island, being some part of ye Great Swamp, lay'd out on ye account of ye Best Meadow Division." (The Best Meadow, already discussed, was a very early subdivision of land among the first settlers or proprietors.)
Great Island was last mentioned in a 1748 deed in which James Wallace of Salem, N.Y., sold Joseph Keeler one acre of boggy meadow lying "west of ye Great Island, east of Copps Mountain, in ye Cranberry Meadow."
However, Great Island may have been later abbreviated as just "the Island," a term appearing well into the 19th Century.
Great Ledges was an early term for Asproom (Aspen) Ledges (q.v.), the steep bank on the north side of Ledges Road. The name appears in a 1753 proprietors' deed to Stephen Smith for five acres lying "at ye Asproom Mountain, west of ye Great Ledges."
Great Meadow was another of those old terms that was used for several localities in town. Among them were:
* One, mentioned as early as 1780, was situated on lower West Lane, south of Cedar Lane. It was owned chiefly by members of the Northrup family, which had several farms in the West Lane district in the 18th and 19th Centuries. This locality was called Great Meadow as late as 1835.
* Another, first cited in 1781, was situated Hat the Island so called," probably Grassy Island (q.v.), along Danbury Road. It was owned by the Dauchy family.
* The Stebbins clan had a Great Meadow "on the Titicus Plain so called...east side of the river," mentioned in 1797.
* In 1798, John Perry and James Norris sold Samuel Saint john an acre "lying in the Great Meadow so called in Ridgebury Parish." This was "probably in northern Ridgebury, perhaps near Shadow Lake Road.
* The Warren family had a Great Meadow in Limestone District, according to a 1795 deed. The meadow was probably near Great Pond' in a neighborhood that was called "East Meadow" in the 1700's and early 1800's.
The term probably disappeared in all cases because the greatness of the meadows was diminished by original owners' selling off portions of them to other farmers."
Great Pasture, another example of the propensity for calling places "great," was located near both Whipstick and Miller's Ridges in the Nod Road area.
First mentioned around 1769, the term continued to be used in deeds through 1805. Land at Great Pasture was owned by the Sturdevant, Benedict, Smith, and Keeler families during the period the term was in use.
Great Pond is one of the handful of original, natural ponds in Ridgefield. Largely spring-fed, it has long been known for its beauty, as a source of recreation for the people, and as an aid to industry.
Great Pond is first noted in the town records not by its modern name, but by its Indian name, Nesopack (q.v.) This occurs in a description of the first purchase of land from the Indians in 1708 wherein' the eastern boundary of the town was described as' running from a tree at the shore of
Umpawaug Pond northerly "into a pond called Nesopack and continues ye same coarse untill it meets with a second pond called Aokeels, crossing by ye south end of both bonds..." Aokeels or Aokeets is Little Pond on the west side of Route 7, just above the Perkin-Elmer building.
Nesopack never appears again in the land records, perhaps indicating that the settlers did not fancy the name. One wonders why a mouthful like Mamanasco, another Indian pond name, survived.
In the first half of the 18th Century, Great Pond was probably owned by only one or two families who kept title to the land for some time, for the pond is very rarely mentioned. The first reference to it occurs in 1769 when Daniel Dean, who owned most or all of the pond, leased a fishing right to Samuel Lobdell. This deed calls it "Great East Meadow Pond."
The first use of "Great Pond" occurs in a 1774 deed. In 1780, when Hezekiah Smith purchased a house and grist mill, near the intersection of Stonehenge and Still Roads, the deed noted that the sale included "the privileges of the Great Pond that was obtained from Daniel Dean." Thus, be fore 1780, the waters of Great Pond were being used to help power at least one mill.
Dean apparently held title to Great Pond for a long time, for in1792 he sold a half-acre "joining the Great Pond (so-called) at the outlet of the pond...with the privileges of turning the water course through said land."
This was for another mill downstream. Several mills, in fact, were eventually using water stored at Great Pond. Most were on the Norwalk River and relied on the stored water at Great Pond for power when the river was running low. Today, the outlet of Great Pond enters the river just north of Pickett's Ridge Road and east of Route 7.
Great Pond was also called Burt's Pond during some of the 18th Century, although this fact is mentioned only once in the land records (1769). It is believed that Benjamin Burt, the blacksmith, had land there early in the 1700's. In the early 19th Century, the pond was occasionally called Smith's Great Pond (1828) or Smith's Pond (1835). Ezra Smith had land there. No doubt these farmers used the pond to water their livestock, a chief use of the pond in the 18th Century, although it probably also stored water for the mills not far downstream.
Today, Great Pond is most noted as a recreation site; The town of Ridgefield's only public beach is at Martin Park, a gift to the town in 1970 by the late Francis D. Martin. The Gilbert and Bennett Manufacturing Company in Georgetown owned the pond and land under it until XXXX because water was important in its industrial processing. Were the Norwalk River torun low, the company could obtain extra water from the pond. Proposals were announced in 1988 to convert the mill into a village of houses, condominiums, offices and shops and in 2005, the project was finally approved. In the 1990s, the town acquired title to the pond.
Great Pond, whose surface covers about five acres, is the town's deepest body of water. On a fishing outing, Peter Keeler once took a depth finder to Great Pond. The deepest spot he found was 34 feet.
The pond is undoubtedly deeper and bigger today than it was when the settlers found it. Damming has raised its level and increased its surface area. But even when it was smaller, the hills and the rocky cliff shores certainly provided a beautiful sight. No wonder it is said that Chickens Warrups, the Indian leader, used to sit for long periods atop Chickens' Rock (q.v.), gazing out over the clean, clear waters of the pond.
Keeping those waters clean and clear has been a constant concern of the Planning and Zoning Commission, which has received repeated applications for commercial and condominium use of the property on the north side of the pond. Commissioners feared that the quality and quantity of the water, as well as the beauty of the view, would be spoiled by development, and tried over 20 years - with long-time land owner George Bakes - to find a middle ground. Mr. Bakes bought what was once Camp Adventure, a summer camp for poor city children run in the 1950's and 1960's by the Volunteers of America. Middle ground was finally reached in 1992, when the commission approved two uses for the land, in the process gaining an open space donation of all the property along the northern shore of Great Pond. Laurelwood, the nursing home that was in 2005 called Laurel Ridge, opened in 1994 and Chancellor Park, housing for senior citizens that was in 2005 called Ridgefield Crossings, opened in 1999.
Incidentally, while the place is extraordinary, the name is not. At least 17 other Great Ponds exist in Connecticut.
GREAT POND MOUNTAIN
Great Pond Mountain is the hill just northeast of Great Pond. Situated on the line between Ridgefield and Redding, the hill reaches 790 feet above sea level, making it the highest point in eastern Ridgefield, south of where Route 7 crosses the line.
"Great Pond Mountain" is first mentioned in the perambulation of the town boundaries in 1808.
GREAT POND ROAD
Great Pond Road is what the town labels the road leading from Route 7 past the entrance to Martin Park and the Great Pond Club, and on to Pickett's Ridge. Although the road has been called by this name since at least 1946, it was formerly and is perhaps more properly called Pickett's Ridge Road, for it is the road leading to Pickett's Ridge in Redding.
In the 18th Century, this was part of the road to Danbury, a route that included Haviland Road. From Pickett's Ridge Road in Redding, the route ran over Starr's Plain Road to a no-longer-extant road across Moses Mountain to Wooster Heights in Danbury. Vestiges of this old road still exist on Moses Mountain north of Lake Waubeka.
In 1717, the proprietors deeded Richard Osborn 19 acres "lying eastward of ye Country Road (Wilton Road), bounded west by highway, south by Norwalk (now Wilton) bounds, east by ye Great Rocks and common (land), west by ye Country Road."
The Great Rocks, cited only in this deed through 1855, are along an old road, the southerly extension of Spectacle Lane. The late Karl S. Nash recalled that in the 1930s, a maple tree was growing in the middle of the large cluster of rocks, slowly splitting one of the boulders in two.
GREAT ROCKS PLACE
Great Rocks Place is the name for a short, dead-end road off Wilton Road West near the Wilton line. The name, suggested by this writer to recall the above locality, was accepted by the Board of Selectmen in October 1980, but was mistakenly transcribed as Great Rock Place.
The Great Spring, mentioned in only one deed, was probably situated in what is now western Danbury and what was once northern Ridgefield. It was cited in a 1734 deed that wasn't recorded on the land records until 1763.
Great Swamp, one of Ridgefield's finest and perhaps least appreciated natural resources, is a large wetland that occupies hundreds of acres in the east central part of town, no doubt the floor of an old lake created by the melting of the last glacier some 20,000 years ago.
The swamp is bounded approximately by Ivy Hill Road on the south, Ivy Hill, Blackman, and Limekiln Roads on the east, Farmingville and Lee Roads on the north, and Danbury Road and Prospect Ridge on the west. Although most of the swamp is south of Farmingville Road, a finger of it stretches north behind Fox Hill Village almost to Haviland Road.
At the time of the town's settlement, Great Swamp was probably much larger than it is today. It certainly extended across Danbury Road at Fox Hill Village, an area known as the Cranberry Meadow, most of which has since been filled in. (In 1709, the proprietors commissioned "a survey of ye New Pound Boggs, and the Titicus, with ye Cranberry Meadow in ye Great Swamp" to layout lots. This finger of the swamp, which once reached nearly a mile north of Copps Hill Road on the west side of Danbury Road, was mentioned in a 1719 deed for land at the "north sprang (spring) of ye 1,000 Acre Swamp, on ye east side of Copps Mountain.")
Great Swamp is one of the town's oldest place names. In the very first years of the town's settlement, the locality was occasionally also called "Thousand Acre Swamp" (q.v.), although the term was rather rare. Sometimes when it was used, it was in conjunction with the more common term. For example, in 1714, when Benjamin Willson sold some land to the new minister, Thomas Hauley, he described it as "lying in and commonly known as by ye name of ye _Great or Thousand Acre Swamp." The term, Thousand Acre Swamp, hung on as late as 1758.
The first settlers were quick to recognize the value of Great Swamp, particularly as a source of wood for village fireplaces. Because the land was generally not suitable for clearing into fields, pastures or meadows, the swamp was ideal for growing wood, being so close to the village. Careful cutting could yield many years of fuel.
Until fairly recent times, Great Swamp continued to be used as a wood sources. The late Robert A. Lee (1889-1984), who grew up in Farmingville around the turn of the 20th century, recalled the wood-cutting that went on 75 years ago.
"You could go on Great Swamp only in the winter when it was frozen," he said. The farmers used oxen to draw the sledges that would carry the wood across the frozen surface. "The farmers didn't like to use horses," he said. "If they fell through (the ice), they would struggle and injure themselves."
Access to woodlots was gained by various roads which led into the swamp. The Hauley map shows one road, probably an extension of Sunset Lane or Prospect Street, which led across the swamp to Blackman Road. This path was usable well into this century and vestiges of it could still be seen late in the 20th Century.
Near this road was what was called "the Island," an elevated area in the middle of the swamp. In the 1920's it was a source of ground pine, then growing hard to find. Youngsters used to go out to the island to get the evergreens for Christmas wreaths. Later, the plant became scarce and was on the list of endangered species. Lately it has come back.
The late Francis D. Martin remembered that from around 1910 to the 1930's, Jack Walker, a postmaster here, did quite a business in wood from the swamp. Walker arranged the cutting so that his woodsmen moved from piece to piece over a 20-year period, doing one section each year. By the end of 20 years, the first-cut section had regrown enough to be cut again.
Ditches-some still visible in the late 20th Century -separated the old woodlots; these may have dated from the early 1700's, serving a combination purpose of defining borders and helping to drain the swamp.
During the Depression, Mr. Martin continued Walker's woodcutting operations, hiring 26 men to do it. Trucks, he said, could easily drive out into the swamp when it was frozen in winter. Some old roads into the swamp still exist, though most have become overgrown by 2005.
Mr. Martin owned a sizable chunk of Great Swamp at the time, and sold the town part of what became the dump. This sale occurred sometime after the town had already begun dumping on his land. "I could have sued the town for a barrel," he said with a smile during a 1978 interview.
During that interview, Mr. Martin said he had long had an idea for a use for Great Swamp. "I had wonderful plans for Great Swamp," he said. "I never gave them to anybody." And he declined to reveal them even then, and they died with him.
In the 1700's, there may have been some use of the swamp for certain water-loving crops, such as cranberries, which were obviously native to parts of the Great Swamp, and marsh marigolds or cowslips, whose leaves were boiled and eaten as spinach. Mr. Martin participated in another popular swamp industry early in the century. As a youth he and friends used to hunt and catch skunks in Great Swamp to sell to Bissell's drug store. "Skunk grease," Mr. Martin explained, "is the greatest thing ever heard of for colds."
Since Great Swamp was of considerably importance, much of it was divided up into lots in 1718, one of the earliest subdivisions. Each of the proprietors - 27 of them at the time - received a lot of around 12 acres. This subdivision was described in an unusual "Mapp of ye Great Swamp Drawn by Me, Thomas Hauley, Register," which is filed in the land records in the town hall.
A year later, the proprietors voted to allow owners of lots to "ditch, clear or otherwise improve ye main branch (stream) running through said swamp for ye draining or drawing ye same dry for ye advantages of ye proprietors." Lot owners also received permission to dig drainage ditches to remove "springyness or moistness" from the land.
Efforts to remove "springyness or moistness" from much of the swamp were probably futile. Great Swamp is remarkably flat throughout. (Its elevation is 575 feet above sea level, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, and 581 feet, according to aerial imaging done in 2004.) Moreover, the swamp is steadily fed by many springs.
It is this subterranean water that makes Great Swamp an important resource today and probably even more important in the future. Beneath the bottom of the swamp is ahuge and extensive aquifer - an underground reservoir - that could be a major source of community drinking water, should surface supplies become inadequate to serve future and larger populations. It is chiefly because of this water source that the state ordered Ridgefield to shut down its dump back in the late 1970's; leachate from decomposing wastes right overhead could leak down into and pollute the aquifer. The dump closed in 1980, when a trash transfer station took over.
In modern times, the swamp has had little "practical" use. In the 1940's or 1950's, someone experimented with raising rice on a 100-acre section, but apparently met with little success. This same tract later proved, however, that swampland is hardly worthless. A man who bought it around 1960 for $10,000 sold most. of the tract to the state around 1975 for more than $400,000.
The state acquired this and most of the rest of Great Swamp to protect it-not for the wildlife that breeds and dwells there, nor for the aquifer under it, though both are certainly worthy ends. The state's interest is flood control: Great Swamp is the headwaters of the Norwalk River, which in 1955 flooded and caused millions of dollars of damage in Ridgefield, Redding, Wilton, and Norwalk.
The Norwalk River Flood Control Project, designed by the US Army Corps of Engineers, sets up a series of earthen dams along the river. These dams will hold back water in times of heavy rain and prevent the water from rushing with too much force down the river valley. One dam has been built across the outlet of the swamp at Fox Hill Village and will, in an emergency, have the ability to raise the swamp a couple of feet-equal to millions of gallons of water when spread across the entire surface of the swamp.
As a fringe benefit-perhaps as the most visible and lasting benefit - of the flood program, Great Swamp is forever preserved as a refuge for the myriad forms of plant and animal life that live there. The one drawback, perhaps, is that, in season, hunting is allow.
GREAT SWAMP II
There was another "Great Swamp" in Ridgefield besides the large one described above. According to a 1798 deed, Benjamin Barberry sold Matthew Northrop Jr. an acre "lying in the Great Swamp so called in Ridgebury Parish. "
The location was more commonly called New Purchase Swamp (q.v.), north of Ridgefield High School and south of Mopus Bridge and Ridgebury Roads.
Greenfield Street, off Barry Avenue, is part of the early 20th Century Bryon Park (q.v.) development. Before the area was subdivided around 1910, the land was a "green field," at least in the growing season.
Over the years the road has suffered from a bit of an identity crisis, demonstrated by the town's signs for the road. In 1986, the sign on the north end said "Greenfield Street" while on the south end, it was"Greenfield Avenue."
Green Lane is a short, dead-end road of about 950 feet off Eleven Levels Road on West Mountain. The name was used in Jerry Tuccio's mid-1960's plans for the property, but its origin is unknown. Perhaps it recalled former town engineer, John Green, or perhaps it just reflected the color of the vegetation.
Greenridge Drive is a short, private, dead-end road off Rita Road at the Ridgefield Lakes. The road traverses a ridge, presumably green at times.
GRIFFIN HILL ROAD
Griffin Hill Road is a little-known lane in the extreme eastern part of Ridgefield, off Fire Hill Road. In fact, the junction of Griffin Lane and Fire Hill Roads is crossed by the Redding-Ridgefield line.
Although Griffins were living in Redding and Ridgefield in the 18th Century, the origin of the name is a New York City Griffin of the 20th Century. In April 1924, a subdivision map showing 63 small lots on the southeast side of Fire Hill was filed with the Ridgefield town clerk and was labeled "property of V. Mulligan, Topstone, Conn." This property had been acquired around 1910 by Edward T. Mulligan of New York City, who a few years later transferred it to Virginia D. L. H. Mulligan, apparently his wife. In 1915, Isabel R. Griffin of New York City contracted to buy seven lots there for $413. Later she acquired more lots. And it is for Isabel Griffin that the road running by her property was named.
In 1941, Isabel Griffin filed a change of name on the land records and officially became Isabel Connor. But the road is still called Griffin.
Griffith Lane, the dead-end road off the east side of High Ridge, was named for Mr. and Mrs. William H. Griffith, who created the road.
Mrs. Griffith was a niece of Governor Phineas C. Lounsbury, who built the Community Center building as his home in the 1890's (see Governor Street). The governor had owned the Griffith Lane property and the McManus house on the corner of High Ridge and Griffith Lane 'once served as a storage tank for Mr. Lounsbury's water supply.
Mrs. Griffith inherited the Community Century building and the property upon the governor's death. With her husband, a Bridgeport banker, she had the property subdivided into 11 quarter-acre and two one-acre lots in 1938, using the name of The Rondax Company. Houses began to be built there within a few years.
According to Connecticut Place Names, a publication of the Connecticut Historical Society, Grove Ridge was "a steep ridge east of Pumping Station Swamp." This would place it on the east side of Oscaleta Road, between West Mountain and Pumping Station Roads.
Although the hill, of which this is the western slope, was long known as Great Hill, a search of land records from 1709 through 1885 has uncovered no reference to it as "Grove Ridge."
The historical society's source is a state boundary survey, done in 1957.
An ancient road with perhaps an ancient name, Grove Street extends from Prospect Street to Danbury Road and today serves chiefly as a bypass to Main Street.
Interviews with many old-timers produced no clues as to the origin of the name, which has been in use at least since 1908, when it first appears on a map. .
The road itself is shown on the first map of the town, published in 1856, but based on old highway descriptions in the 18th Century town records, the road probably existed before 1730.
Some clue to its name may be found in a 1796 deed in which the proprietors grant Jacob Dauchy "seven rods of land, on ye south side of his land west of ye Grove." This property, a thin strip, seems to have been near Grove Street, and the mention of "ye Grove" may be the first recorded reference to it.
In this connection, an interesting and unusual map is on file in the town clerk's office. Recorded with the clerk in the 1930's but apparently drawn some time between 1870 and 1895, the map describes the site of the old Stebbins homestead (the present location of Casagmo). Carefully labeled on the map are the locations of the house, barn, a lane, the "burial place Patriots," rail fences, streams, swamp and-beyond the east boundary-a place labeled "Grove" (including the quotation marks). Apparently the grove was extant just before the turn of the century, but was not part of the famous Stebbins homestead (see Casagmo).
An interesting deed was filed in 1877 when the Rev. Daniel W. Teller, the town's first historian, sold Ann Bailey a piece of land at "Miss Abby Smith's Grove," a parcel that appears to have been near Grove Street, though the road was not mentioned by name.
One possibility is that the Grove was once common land, planted in the early 1700's with apple and other fruit trees to supply the village homes with fruit. Common land existed in this neighborhood as late as 1796 when the above-cited deed was drawn for common land bordering the Grove, but eventually all common land was sold off. Perhaps the Smith family bought part or all of the Grove.
Whatever the origin of the Grove, it no longer exists. The east side of Casagmo-near the tennis courts-covers most of it.
GUN HILL FARMS
Gun Hill Farms is reportedly one of the names of the Robert Roache subdivision that includes Powderhorn Drive (q.v.) and Old Musket Lane. It has also been called Big Gun Hill.