Entire contents copyrighted 2005 by Jack Sanders. Reproduction without permission is forbidden.
Several deeds, some as late as 1990, report that Regan Road was sometimes called Nancy's Lane years ago. The origin is not known.
The first purchase of land from the Indians describes the southwest corner of the 20,000-acre tract as "Narahawmis," the native Indians' name for the region.
According to the 1708 deed, the western boundary of the purchase ran down along "ye east side of another mountain, called Asoquatah (West Mountain) until it meets Stanford Bound Line, about a quarter of a mile to ye eastward of Cross River Pond, where stands a marked white oak tree with stones about it, and is ye South West Corner, and from said marked tree (eastward) along by Stanford line untill it comes to Norwalk purchase..." The deed goes on to identify the corners of the tract by their Indian names, and says the "South West Corner" was "Narahawmis." Or at least, that's how George L. Rockwell read the word, which he transcribed for his History of Ridgefield. In some histories of Lewisboro, the name appears as Harahawmis.
This area is north of the Vista section of today's Lewisboro, N.Y. A portion of New Canaan was originally part of Stamford, which explains Ridgefield's having once bordered on "Stanford." In those days the northern line of the western "toe" of Connecticut was farther north and included lower Lewisboro (Vista), Pound Ridge and Bedford, N.Y.
The precise location of what the Indians considered "Narahawmis" may never be known. However, if it was literally a quarter of a mile east of Cross River Pond (now Lake Kitchawan), it would be around Kitchawan Road and Old Church Lane in Lewisboro.
The meaning of Narahawmis, probably a rather unskilled transcription of the Indian word, is not known. Nicholas Shoumatoff, a scholar who studied the language of the Indians of this region, suggested the word might be translated: "He is carrying something on his back." How that relates to a place in Lewisboro centuries ago must be left to conjecture, but it may refer to something the natives mined or cut from this area.
The word never appears in a subsequent deed in Ridgefield through 1731 when this area was ceded to New York Colony.
Lake Naraneka (pronounced nair-a-nee-ka) is the original and accurate name for what is today more commonly called Pierrepont Pond, a body of water along Barlow Mountain Road created by the late Seth Low Pierrepont. Mr. Pierrepont disliked the current popular name and complained to state authorities back in the early 1950s when he found "Pierrepont Lake" being used on state maps.
Mr. Pierrepont said in a letter to The Ridgefield Press in April 1938 that the lake was created from "an old impassable swamp" in which woods were cleared in 1936 and 1937 by "quite a number of men."
A. Bacchiochi and Sons built the dam, and it took about six months for the pond to fill up. Water went over the spillway for the first time on March 30, 1938.
"We are calling it Lake Naraneka after one of the Indian chiefs who signed the deed to the town of Ridgefield," Mr. Pierrepont said.
In 1955, he reported that some years earlier, when he was having a pond built near his home up on the mountain, the gardener came across a spoon-shaped piece of cedar, bearing marks of all the Indian signers of the deed, and probably used by them to drink spring water. This may have been Mr. Pierrepont's inspiration for the name.
In his will, Mr. Pierrepont gave to the state around 312 acres for what is now Pierrepont State Park, which includes much of the shoreline and land under Lake Naraneka. In the will he also expressed hope that his wife or her heirs would turn over the rest of the lakefront property to the state. However, Mrs. Pierrepont chose to sell the upper portion of the pond and the Twixthills estate to Jerry Tuccio, who subdivided the land and put a private beach on part of the shore for use by neighborhood homeowners.
The Indian for whom the pond was named was also called Oreneca or Tackora, and was the Sachem of the Titicus Village of the local Indians. He may have had a house in this vicinity. He will be discussed more under Norrans Ridge, Oreneca Road, and Tackora Trail (q.v.).
In the 1980s, it became evident that the dam was in need of repairs. A taxing district - the first such district in Ridgefield - was formed to raise money from neighborhood property owners and undertake the costly repairs. The district also maintains the beach.
Lake Naraneka - and before it, the swamp - forms the headquarters of the Kiah's Brook (q.v.), which runs alongside Ledges Road and into the Titicus River. It is thus one of the sources of New York City's drinking water supply.
Ned's Lane is a short dead-end road off the south side of Ned's Mountain Road (see below) near its Ridgebury Road junction.
NED'S MOUNTAIN ROAD
Silvio Bedini says Ned's Mountain and its road recall a black man named Ned who lived there. "Four Negro families made their homes on Ned's Mountain during the 19th Century," he wrote in Ridgefield in Review.
There is also a legend that Ned was very well liked because he always helped people. It is also said that he once saved a Ridgefielder's life and that he was rewarded with land or a home on Ned's Mountain - perhaps on Ned's Lane.
Historical record verifies none of this. The name did not appear in the Ridgefield land records before 1885, but was in use by the 1940s. The US Army Map Service was calling it "Ned Mountain" in 1946.
Ned's Mountain Road runs from Ridgebury Road, opposite Chestnut Hill Road, eastward and northward to the south end of Old Mill Road. Much of this narrow, winding path - dirt-surfaced until the 1950s or early 1960s - was probably used to gain access to wood lots in the 18th and 19th Centuries, when the area was commonly called Bogus. Wood lots supplied fuel for fireplaces and stoves.
The peak of Ned's Mountain is south of Ned's Mountain Road and east of Ned's Lane. At 962 feet above sea level, it may not be a mountain by upper New England standards, but it's pretty lofty for Ridgefield.
In 1855, Abigail Bradley sold Rufus Roberts one-half acre, "situate on the top of the 'Negro Rocks' so called."
This is the only reference to this place, probably a neighborhood name, between 1708 and 1880. The list of bordering property owners in the deed indicates the locality may have been somewhere along Great Hill Road, perhaps near Buck Hill Road. This area is notoriously rocky.
There is no clue as to the origin of the same. Similar localities in Connecticut (Negro Brook, Negro Hill, Negro Pond, etc.) have usually gotten their names because an African-American family lived nearby. In the same way, names like Indian Cave sprang up. However, in this case, the name could also have been descriptive of the color of the surface of the rocks.
In the first purchase of 20,000 acres from the native Indians, the deed to the settlers describes the eastern boundary line as passing across "a pond called Nesopack." This was probably the original and native name for Great Pond (q.v.). The translation of this word - or variations of it in other towns - has been the subject of some debate and conjecture. John C. Huden, who lists it as "Nisopack" in his -Indian Place Names of New England, calls it a Mahican word meaning "double pond" or "two ponds."
That's logical, considering that Little Pond is very close by, on the west side of Route 7. It might be that the pair of ponds was called Nesopack, or that the whole neighborhood around the ponds was Nesopack, named for the two ponds, just as the large Bennett's Farm section of town was named for one farm.
However, Huden also notes the existence of Nesopack Pond in Berkshire County, Mass., and says it's Mahican for "eels pond" or literally, "they come two by two" - that is, silver eels which travel in pairs.
Yet, for Nesepack Pond in Addison County, Vt., he speculates that it's an Abnaki word for "two ponds."
Arthur H. Hughes and Morse S. Allen, in Connecticut Place Names, liken Ridgefield's Nesopack to Nashapog or Neeshapoug, a place in Goshen. It is translated "two ponds," from neesh, two, and paug, pond. That is probably close to the original pronunciation of Nesopack.
Hughes and Allen also note the appearance of "NisoPark" in the 1892 (only) edition of the annual State Register and Manual, in its list of villages without post offices within towns. The one-year appearance of this name suggests a mistaken reading or understanding of Great Pond's name. However, the appearance is mysterious - where did it come from? Nesopack or Nisopack never occurred in another Ridgefield deed after the 1708 Indian purchase, and was not a popular local place name. The Rev. Samuel G. Goodrich, writing in the year 1800, mentions the name in connection with a list of Indian place names. He spelled it "Nisopack," which is probably the source of that spelling which appears in modern histories.
The modern name, apparently simpler and easier to say, began appearing as Great East Meadow Pond in 1769 and was Great Pond by 1780. The pond was probably a popular fishing place for the Indians. It was certainly one of the favorite places of Chickens Warrups, a chief - who legend has it - used sit atop Chickens Rock at the south end of the pond and enjoy beauty of the view (see Chickens Rock).
In the division of the estate of Samuel Smith Esq. in 1787, there is mention of land "in the Great Swamp south of the New Bridge."
Samuel Smith also had land at the "Long Bridge" near the western end of Farmingville Road, and the "New Bridge" may have referred to the recent erection of a bridge at "Long Bridge."
Long Bridge, as best we can surmise, was a combination of a raised-mound portion of Farmingville Road and of a true wooden bridge. The mound was fill, used to raise the road above the swamp, while the bridge would have allowed the water to flow out of the swamp. This outlet is the beginning of the Norwalk River - here sometimes called the Ridgefield Brook - which still flows under Farmingville Road in this "Long Bridge" or "New Bridge" vicinity.
Perhaps New Bridge was new because an earlier one had washed out or was rotting. The term does not appear again in the land records.
NEW CANAAN ROAD
The portion of West Lane (q.v.) from the schoolhouse southwesterly to the New York state line was sometimes called New Canaan Road because it was the main route from Ridgefield to New Canaan. A 1936 map of Ridgefield so labels it.
Back in 1805, Timothy Keeler mentions in a deed "the road that leads to New Canaan." Such phrases often led to a shorter, more efficient title; North Salem Road was once "the road to North Salem."
New Canaan Road was a somewhat unusual name, however. All of our other town-name roads - Danbury, Wilton, Redding, North Salem, and South Salem - lead to communities that border Ridgefield. New Canaan Road actually led to Lewisboro, and there is quite a bit of distance to traverse in New York before one reaches New Canaan.
Perhaps that is why New Canaan Road was not a popular and lasting name. However, it is more likely that the name "West Lane" survived because the continuation of the highway in Lewisboro is also known as West Lane. It would be odd to have West Lane run from the fountain to the schoolhouse, then turn into New Canaan Road, and then - in Lewisboro - become West Lane again.
Of course, in Lewisboro, West Lane is a somewhat odd name in that it is in the easternmost part of town and is generally used as a route connecting to territory eastward in Connecticut. But then, it would hardly have been called New Canaan Road either, since it's really a road to Ridgefield. However, there's already a Ridgefield Avenue in Lewisboro. So it's no surprise that we have West Lane sticking as a name in Lewisboro. In fact, the road was probably established and named West Lane when that portion of Lewisboro was still part of Ridgefield - back before 1730.
New Lane is the original name of Branchville Road as it comes off Main Street.
The name first appears in the minutes of a Town Meeting held Oct. 3, 1831, when a committee was "appointed to view New Lane, so called, and report to this meeting on the expediency of widening same." Later the committee reported the road itself was wide enough, "were all encroachments on said lane removed." However, still later, it was apparently decided that more land for the road was needed because, as an 1832 deed indicates, the road "has become narrow and difficult in certain seasons for teams and carriages to pass each other."
To widen the road, land eight feet deep was taken from Elisha Hawley's homestead on the north side of the road for a distance of 36 rods (576 feet).
Exactly when the "lane" was established is uncertain. Evidently it was only a short time before 1831 since the road was then called "new" and had never before been mentioned under that name.
It probably extended from Main Street only to East Ridge; the East Ridge to Ivy Hill Road section of Branchville Road had probably already been established by this time.
The lane may once have been a private path, and may have been taken over by the town as a short-cut from Main Street to the main highway to Pumpkin Ridge and, beyond it, to Branchville (though that name was not yet in use, and that neighborhood was largely farmland then). Before New Lane was created, villagers generally used Rockwell Road off lower Main Street to travel to southeastern sections of town.
New Lane last appears in an 1841 deed. By mid-century, it was being called Railroad Avenue (q.v.) because it led to the new Ridgefield railroad station in what is now Branchville.
Several deeds in 1817 and 1818 mention "the New Lots." One 1818 deed describes land at "New Lots, a place so called."
The New Lots appear to have been along North Street, perhaps near Wooster Street. Why they were "new" is unclear; perhaps the proprietors had divested themselves of some of their last holdings of public land in the form of small lots. The proprietors were the original landowners among the settlers and they at one time held all the private land in town. It was at about this time that the proprietors disbanded, having sold off all of their land.
New Patent, usually spelled with two T's, was the first name applied to what we today call Ridgebury (q.v.). It was so called because the town already had one patent from 1714, confirming in the eyes of the colony and Queen Anne that the settlers had the title to the town's land.
On June 1, 1731, Governor Talcott signed the "New Pattent" for land bounded on the south by Ridgefield, east by Danbury, north by New Fairfield, and west by the colony line. The grant came "together with all woods, timber, underwood, uplands, arable lands, meadows, pastures, ponds, waters, rivers, brooks, islands, fishing, fowlings, huntings, mines, minerals, quarries, and previous stones" - a rather all-inclusive list.
It is believed that the proprietors obtained the right to this land in exchange for the land that Ridgefield lost to New York Colony in that same year when Connecticut ceded the Oblong (q.v.). The Oblong was a one-and-three-quarter-mile-wide strip down the west side of Connecticut, given to its neighbor in exchange for Greenwich and Stamford, towns that had been in New York.
However, it was not until 1739 that the proprietors actually cleared title to the New Patent. They paid three Indians - Betty, Jacob Turkey, and Mokquaroose - six pounds and five shillings for thousands of acres. By today's standards, that payment was probably not more than a few hundred dollars.
After the Indians sold the land, Ridgefielders began settling in earnest in the upper sections of Ridgebury. A meeting house had been built around 1738 and a second parish or ecclesiastical society was established in 1769. It was around then that the term "Ridgebury" came into use. However, New Patent continued to be used until as late as 1784 when it last shows up in a deed.
New Patent extended from the vicinity of the intersection of Ledges and Ridgebury Roads northward all the way to New Fairfield - quite a chunk of land.
Not all, however, had been turned over to the proprietors. A wide strip, called The Crank (q.v.), straddled both sides of George Washington Highway. The land there belonged to Danbury residents and was for a long time part of the Town of Danbury. The area around Regan and upper Old Stagecoach Roads had been deeded to Dr. Isaac Hull or Hall of Stratfield before this time, and was later known as Knapp's Farm for a subsequent owner.
There may also have been other pre-patent grants in the part of New Patent that is now western Danbury. One reason to suspect this is a map of the division of New Patent lands, drawn in 1740-41 when the parcels were divided off into the "4th Twenty Acre Division." Large gaps of land are shown on the map, hinting that perhaps there were preceding owners who, like Dr. Hull, received grants on unsettled and untitled lands within the colony as rewards for special services, such as in the military.
This division map, a 1787 copy of which appears in the land records, shows a total of 29 lots - one for each proprietor. They vary from 29 acres to 120 acres. The variation in size may be due to the quality of the land - territory that was of better quality and closer to town was divided into smaller lots while land that was hilly or rocky and far from town was parceled into bigger pieces.
Many Ridgefield families wound up moving into this territory. Well into the 19th Century, names like Keeler, Rockwell, Benedict, Osborn, Abbott, Hoyt, and Bennett - many of them probably from early Ridgefield clans - dotted maps of northern Ridgefield and western Danbury, some still farming the land grants of 1740-41. A few original families - such as Keeler - remained well into the late 20th Century.
In 1846, upper New Patent was turned over to Danbury. This was a reasonable decision considering the distance that had to be traveled by someone near the New Fairfield line just to attend Town Meetings and other community functions in Ridgefield, the center of which was nearly 15 miles away. In fact, during the late 1700s, there had been efforts to make Ridgebury a separate town.
A 1750 deed mentions "New Pattent Road" which was either today's Sherwood Road or Ridgebury Road. It was the road to New Patent.
New Pond is a body of water west of New Road, south of Saw Mill Hill Road, and east and north of Ramapoo Road.
Aaron B. and William H. Gilbert, who operated mills on the Titicus River near North Salem Road, created the pond in the mid-1800s. The pond was "new" because it supplemented the long-existing Upper and Lower Ponds.
Milling operations along the upper Titicus River, south of Saw Mill Hill Road, had expanded markedly since the first mill was erected sometime before 1750, and additional water storage capacity was needed. A long, dry period could shut down many establishments, including the saw, grist, bark and cider mills. (The bark mill ground up tree bark to obtain tannin, a powder used in tanning hides at the Titicus tannery.)
In September 1868, the dam at this pond burst, causing the so-called "Titicus Flood." George L. Rockwell says that William Gilbert was inspecting the dam during a heavy rainfall when it broke and he barely escaped with his life.
A wall of water, said to have been four feet high, swept down the river valley, washing away several buildings, including a barn and D. Harvey Valden's tannery office. The flood "cleaned out every vat in the tan-yard and deposited boards, timbers, fence rails and skins of half-dressed leather across the flat beyond the road," Rockwell wrote. A couple of people were nearly drowned.
One eyewitness claimed the rushing water "roared like an earthquake," though it is doubtful that the fellow ever heard an earthquake, let alone one that roared.
"A singular incident occurred" in the cellar of the home of John D. Nash, Titicus postmaster, Mr. Rockwell reported. "A basket of eggs was raised by the flood and floated around on top of the water. When the flood subsided, the basket was found deposited on the top stair, which had not been torn loose (the rest of the stairs had been swept away) ... Not an egg was broken." Mr. Nash's wife, however, suffered a broken ankle while rescuing her young daughter, Marion, from the swirling waters.
New Pond was a popular place for skating early in this century. Francis D. Martin sponsored skating parties there in the 1920s and 1930s. The pond had also served as a source of ice for the town's iceboxes, precursors of the refrigerator. Ice houses owned by Joseph W. Hibbard, later a selectman, stood on the south and west sides of the pond early in the 20th Century.
In the early 1960s, a neighbor removed some stones from the dam to irrigate his vegetable garden, and the pond drained dry. Some years later, Martin Freeman of Saw Mill Hill Road repaired the dam, resurrecting the pond. However, Mr. Freeman reported in 1979 that the draining of the pond had killed all the carp that lived there, and caused the great blue herons that nested by its shores to seek homes elsewhere. Perhaps at least the herons have returned by now.
NEW POUND BOGGS
New Pound Boggs and New Pound Ridge are among the many names from early Ridgefield that have, unfortunately, disappeared from our geography. Their existence creates something of a mystery, one that may never be solved.
Early town records quite frequently mention New Pound Boggs or New Pound Ridge. The bogs, sometimes called "swamp," are what we now call Silver Spring Swamp, the wetland east of Silver Spring Road and west of St. Johns Road and South Olmstead Lane.
This long swamp ends in a pond near the intersection of St. Johns and Silver Spring Roads. The water level in the swamp and the pond is maintained today by this man-made dam, but there is evidence that the bogs were created by animals - early records mention "ye Beaver Dam" in this vicinity.
Precisely how New Pound Boggs got its name is unknown. The locality is first mentioned in 1709 when the proprietors instructed three men "to take a survey of ye New Pound Boggs and Metiticus..." to lay out lots.
This action, mentioning New Pound Boggs, occurred in the very year of the earliest settlement of Ridgefield. It is doubtful that more than a trading post and a few tiny homes or huts existed here at that time. Yet we have mentioned of a "new pound," the kind of reference that usually suggests that there is an "old pound" - i.e., an existing pound - already in town.
Pounds were small, fenced lots where stray livestock could be held by wardens until reclaimed by the owner. Their use would indicate a settled area, one in which there were farms with livestock. It seems hard to believe that a wilderness that had just been purchased from the Indians already had a "New Pound," or, for that matter, any pound at all.
What adds to the confusion a little is that a pound definitely did later exist in this neighborhood. It stood on the property now owned by Mrs. Arthur McKenna, on the west side of Silver Spring Road, opposite the St. Johns Road intersection. When this pound was built has not been ascertained from early town records, which do not appear to mention its creation.
A possible explanation of the mysterious pound and name is that land in this vicinity was being used for pasturing before Ridgefield's creation. Only a mile or so south of the pound site was the northern boundary for the town of Norwalk (now Wilton). That area was under settlement by the year 1700. The Norwalk folk could have had an agreement with the Indians, allowing the use - but not the settlement - of Indian lands north of Norwalk. In that case, there could have been a pound in Ridgefield before there was a Ridgefield.
Also possible is that a pound existed at the very north end of Norwalk along Silver Spring Road near the New York Colony line. The nearby ridge could have picked up the name "New Pound Ridge," a ridge and name that extended into Ridgefield. However, we have found no record of the use of "New Pound Ridge" or of a "new pound" in Norwalk or Wilton records.
Still another possibility is that the name was picked up from the nearby New York community of Pound Ridge (as New Hartford was from Hartford, New Milford from Milford, New Fairfield from Fairfield, etc.). When it was founded, Ridgefield bordered Pound Ridge, though that border was about two miles west of New Pound Ridge. Other that than, there seemed little connection between that town and Ridgefield; none of the proprietors or very first settlers hailed from Pound Ridge; and based on old records, there seemed to be little communication or commerce with Pound Ridge.
A final - and perhaps most likely - possibility is that the first settlers established a pound on Main Street in the year 1709 and had already made plans for another pound at Silver Spring and St. Johns Roads neighborhood. Though the pound was not yet built, the new locality could have been called "New Pound Ridge" because one was planned.
As noted before, the bogs were subdivided very early. Although bogs or swamps today seem of little commercial value, they were important back then. They were used as pasture as well as for growing cranberries. As recently as 70 years ago, cranberries were still to be found in these bogs.
So important were the New Pound Boggs that the proprietors in 1717 sequestered "all ye land from ye head of ye New Pound Boggs Swamp, with a direct line to ye path as it enters upon ye going up to ye foot of ye first Southwest Ridge." (A "going up" was a path.) Although the description is very vague in modern geography, it appears that this sequester included a good chunk of the upper bogs, which the proprietors wanted to protect - possibly for communal cranberry bogs.
There are indications that New Pound Boggs extended farther south in the 18th Century than the swamp does today. For example, the proprietors deeded Samuel Saint John in 1721 "19 acres lying west of ye New Pound Boggs Swamp at ye north end of Norwalk." Another early deed mentions three acres "lying below ye New Pound Boggs," and bounded on the south by the Norwalk line.
The term New Pound Boggs continued to be used throughout most of the 18th Century. The last reference occurs in a 1792 deed for land at "New Pound Bogg Swamp."
NEW POUND RIDGE
Perhaps not as old as New Pound Boggs but certainly longer-lived was the name New Pound Ridge, a term applied to the ridge on the west side of Silver Spring Road, running southward from the Silver Spring Country Club to the New York State line near Wilton.
The term first shows up as "New Pound Bogs Ridge" in 1716. Soon after, the "bogs" or "boggs" was dropped.
New Pound Ridge continued to appear in deeds as late as 1847. And it was at about this time that a new and shorter form appear. An 1841 mortgage describes land "at 'New Pound' so called" and an 1842 deed mentions property on the New York-Connecticut line as "at New Pound."
New Pound Ridge also occurs in different formats: New Poundridge" (1803) and "Newpound Ridge" (1774 and 1784).
NEW PURCHASE, NEW PURCHASE SWAMP
New Purchase Swamp is the sizable wetland behind the Ridgefield High School, extending along both sides of the Titicus River from Sherwood Road and lower Ridgebury Road westward into New York State. It includes the confluence of the Mopus Brook and Titicus River.
This territory was acquired on March 18, 1715 in the second purchase of land from the Indians. This purchase consisted of the territory around the high school, or westerly and northerly of Lake Mamanasco. Since it followed the first purchase by six years, it was considered the "New Purchase." Moreover, it retained that name for more than a century, even though there were six subsequent purchases from the Indians through 1739 that were "newer
Although "New Purchase Bridge" was being mentioned in the 1730s, it wasn't until 1743 that the first deed reference to the "New Purchase" was recorded. In that deed, James Wallis of "The Oblong" sold Timothy Foster seven acres "lying in Titicus Swamp in ye New Purchase." Both the Wallace and Foster families were early and longtime residents of the New Purchase neighborhood.
"Ye New Purchase Swamp" first appears in 1750. An 1805 deed speaks of "Ridgefield New Purchase," a somewhat unusual distinction probably used to differentiate it from the section of New Purchase acquired by North Salem when Connecticut ceded The Oblong to New York.
New Purchase Swamp continued as a term until 1846, but an 1878 deed mentions property at "Purchase Swamp."
New Purchase Bridge, mentioned in several 1730s deeds, was probably a bridge over the Titicus on Sherwood Road or Ridgebury Road. I suspect it was on Sherwood Road (q.v.), which, I believe, was the original route of Ridgebury Road (q.v.)
NEW ROAD (I)
At least four roads in town have been called New Road at one time or another, but only one survives under that name.
New Road, which runs between Farmingville Road and Route 7, was probably a simple, early descriptive name that caught on. Many roads were called "new" just after they were built and before they acquired formal names. A few were called "new" quite a few years after they were built (as will be seen in some subsequent examples, including New Lane and New Street).
New Road was clearly built as an alternative to the older, steeper, more curving Cain's Hill Road - the extension of Farmingville Road that connects to Topstone Road, a main route years ago to Redding.
The late Emma Goeppler, who lived for many years at Topstone (formerly Sanford's Station) in West Redding, recalled the difficulty that West Reddingites had early in this century negotiating Cain's Hill Road on their way to Ridgefield. Most were willing to go the extra distance to use New Road, she said in a 1979 interview.
George L. Rockwell maintained that the road, which he called "New Street" in 1927, was built in 1856. Certainly, it existed by then, for it is shown on Clark's map of Fairfield County, published that year. It is probable that, since it took a while for new roads to show up on such maps, it was built before 1856. It may well have been an old Lee family farm road before 1800.
Rockwell tells an entertaining story connected with the construction of the road. "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 woodpile 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 Street was built...While digging near the residence of Edwin A. Lee (near the corner of Farmingville Road)...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 hid his booty, or else became terror-stricken and was afraid to go after it."
NEW ROAD (II)
In 1835, when Phebe Thrall sold John Bates six acres "near the house of Widow Lucy Bennett," she described the land as being "on the New Road." That New Road was today's Limestone Road - from Great Hill Road northward to Bennett's Farm Road.
Back then, Great Hill Road was considered part of Bennett's Farm Road; it was the road from town to the Bennett's Farm district. Anyone who has driven over Great Hill Road knows why the flatter Limestone Road would be a better path to travel in a horse- or ox-drawn vehicle.
This New Road was a highway from Limestone District to Ridgebury and was shorter in length than the old route over Great Hill and Bennett's Farm Roads.
Why didn't the settlers build Limestone Road in the first place? Because Bennett's Farm district (mostly the area around the Ridgefield Lakes) was settled before Ridgebury. Great Hill Road may have led up more directly to that farming settlement.
In addition, Limestone Road crosses a good deal of territory that was swampy. In building highways, early settlers avoided wetland where possible, preferring higher, well-drained routes. By the 19th Century, money, manpower and perhaps techniques were available to fill or drain the land for flatter highways. Or maybe the growing population in the area simply clamored for a better road.
An 1878 deed still called this route "New Road."
NEW ROAD (III)
Another "New Road" was the highway built to bypass Old Branchville Road. Today, it is much of lower Branchville Road.
Train service had come to town in 1850 when the Danbury and Norwalk Rail Road was laid, passing through the southeastern corner of Ridgefield at a place the Indians called Wheer Cock but which had no "English" name until the railroad arrived. Then it was called Ridgefield Depot.
The arrival of rail service almost immediately sparked cries for a better road from the Ridgefield village to the depot. The old Branchville Road was too steep in some places and too swampy in others to suit the operators of passenger stages and heavy freight wagons that met each train and headed back up to town, a rise of more than 400 feet.
So, in 1851, the town acquired land for all the New Road, paying widely varying prices. While some community-minded people sold strips of their property as long as 950 feet for only a dollar, others cashed in on the new highway. Stephen Jones charged $100 for 330 feet of roadbed; Benjamin Godfrey, $45 for 922 feet; and Ebenezer Hoyt, only $50 for 2,545 feet. Some land was no doubt better than other pieces, contributing to the price variations.
At first this new highway was "the New Road to the Depot" (1853, 1854). An 1854 deed calls it "Ridgefield New Road," taking the "outlying" position that it was the road "to Ridgefield" instead of the road to the Depot.
An 1856 deed calls it "Railroad Avenue," but probably refers to the section near the depot rather than at the other end. It was called "the New Road toward the Ridgefield Station" in 1857, by which time its newness was fading, as was the name.
The term "Branchville" did not come into use until just after 1870 when the branch railroad was built from the depot into the village - sort of obviating the need for the new Branchville Road.
The New Road extended from today's western intersection of Branchville and Old Branchville Roads (at Pumpkin Ridge) to the eastern intersection, near Branchville Cemetery.
NEW ROAD (IV)
In the 18th and early 19th centuries, the way to go from the village to West Mountain (Round Pond neighborhood) was to head up Gilbert Street and across Ramapoo Road to West Mountain Road and then to Oscaleta Road.
Sometime before 1840, townspeople got tired of that round-around way and built a shorter, more direct route up the mountain. At first they called it New Road, then New West Lane, then Mountain Road, and finally Barry Avenue, the name that remains today.
A deed in 1854 called it "the New Road" and by 1872 it was still being described as "New Highway." However, throughout this period, it was more commonly called New West Lane (a name that will be discussed next week).
New Street, the newest of the "new" roads, runs from Gilbert Street to North Salem Road at Titicus. Privately built at the beginning of this century, it served one of the first modern-day, small-lot subdivisions.
The minutes of the 1907 Annual Town Meeting mention that the road - no name is given - had been built "recently" by Fred C. Lee and others "from near the old Pound site to a point near the Titicus Schoolhouse." Fred C. Lee, first selectman in 1893, lived at the corner of Main and Pound Streets.
A year later, the Annual Town Meeting accepted the new road as a town highway.
New Street probably acquired its name simply from being a new street, a description that caught on as a name (as probably happened with New Road). It is possible that the name stuck because just to the west is New Pond.
("Street," incidentally, is a name usually used for a highway in a village or city, while a "road" was more rural in setting. Once, while talking to a town official in Redding, which prides itself on its ruralness, I made the mistake of using the word "street" in connection with a Redding roadway. "We have no streets in Redding," the official interrupted. "We have only roads and some lanes." They also have a couple of turnpikes and a highway or two.)
Italian families that had recently arrived in America built most of the older houses along New Street. The men served as gardeners on estates or laborers on such projects as the sewer and water system installations in the village. Many were skilled masons.
The land had been mostly swamp that the new settlers drained, reported the late Francis D. Martin (1893-1982), who witnessed the development of that neighborhood early in the century.
"They (the Italian families) built those houses out of solid swamp and rock, and built very beautiful homes by working very hard," Mr. Martin recalled in the 1970s. "It was a mess in there, and they deserve a lot of credit."
NEW WEST LANE
New West Lane is a name that once applied to two roads in town, but was primarily an early name for Barry Avenue.
The term first appeared in an 1844 deed in which Rufus Canfield sold Betsy Sears two acres and buildings "in New West Lane, so called." This deed probably passed only a few years after the creation of this highway from High Ridge to the intersection of West Mountain and Ramapoo Roads, serving as a shorter route to West Mountain. It was at first called New Road (see New Road IV).
The road was a "new West Lane" because it served territory to the west of the center of town and was newer than the original West Lane, which is still so called. The term continued to be applied to the road through the 1860s and appears on Beers 1867 map.
However, Clark's 1856 map uses "New West Lane" as a name for Catoonah Street. Beers map 11 years later employs "Catoonah Street." Whether it was a Clark mapmaker's error or whether New West Lane was for a while in the 1840s and 1850s applied to Catoonah Street is unknown. No deed has been found using "New West Lane" for Catoonah Street.
Ninth Lane is another of the little dead-end lanes off the west side of Mamanasco Road, developed in the 1950s as part of Eight Lakes Estates.
Nod is one of our old and wonderfully old-sounding names, one that has been preserved in no fewer than three road names in Ridgefield and one in Wilton. It may be one of our very few Biblical place names, and the only one that has survived to modern times.
In Ridgefield, Nod is generally the area along Nod Hill Road and Pelham Lane. The Nod Hill neighborhood straddles the Wilton-Ridgefield line and the name first appears in Wilton records.
Why would a place be called Nod by early settlers? "The Land of Nod, east of Eden" was the place where Cain went after slaying Abel (Genesis 4:16). Thus, it would seem to connote a place that is not very well thought of. It may be that the hills, the rocky soils or the distance from the village of Norwalk combined to give it a reputation as a difficult place, a place fit for a murderer.
In his Annals of Wilton (1940), David H. Van Hoosear tells a story that offers a different reason.
"Tradition has it," said Mr. Van Hoosear, "that a certain Isaac St. John - or his father - owned land there and in summertime would ride out with his workmen from Norwalk. Arising very early - to enable them to get a fair-sized day's work done - they would oft-times grow sleepy by the time the hills were reached, and the horses were allowed to walk. It was noticed that Isaac would nod in his sleep with the movement of his horse, and the workmen designated it Nod Hills, a name which stuck and they have been so called ever since."
It is interesting to note that Jonathan Swift, writing in the 1730s, was the first writer to use the term "Land of Nod" as a pun for sleeping.
Is Van Hoosear's story true? It sounds more like a story made up to explain a name than an explanation based in fact. But who knows.
There are other Nod localities in the state. One in Avon, says -Connecticut Place Names, is of unknown origin. It may have come from the "Land of Nod" or it may have been an abbreviation for "North District." Perhaps it is no coincidence that our Nod Hill or Hills was at the northernmost part of Norwalk (northern Wilton Parish).
"Land of Nod" is also a village in England, near Market Weighton, Yorkshire. Many Connecticut localities recall places in England. The "Nod" in South Meadows of Hartford may have been a reference to the English village, according to -Connecticut Place Names.
Yet another possibility is that Nod is a variation of some long-lost Indian place name or word.
Van Hoosear found Nod mentioned in Wilton as early as 1757. In Ridgefield, the name first appears in 1786 when James Abbott of Norwalk (probably Wilton Parish) sells a member of his family land and a small house in Ridgefield "lying and being at Nod." The name appears again in 1788 (another James Abbott deed), and in 1819, but does not show up again through 1880.
However, the name obviously was remembered, for two old and one new Ridgefield roads are named Nod today.
According to U.S. Geological Survey maps (1949-1970), Nod Hill is the elevation of land just east of Nod Hill Road, a little north of the Beers family cemetery. This hill reaches 660 feet above sea level.
There is evidence that the whole area, including a section of northern Wilton, was called the Nod Hills in the 1700s.
NOD HILL ROAD
Nod Hill Road is an old highway running from Old Branchville Road south to the Wilton line where it connects with a road of the same name.
The highway existed before 1856 and probably is of 18th Century origin, having been designed to connect northeastern Wilton with southeastern Ridgefield.
The 1934 assessor's map of the town labels the highway as "Branchville Hill Road."
Bearing unfortunate and confusing similarity in name to the above, Nod Road extends from Branchville Road to Wilton, where it connects with Olmstead Hill Road. It is, like the above, an old highway, predating 1856.
Nod Road extends along Whipstick Ridge and was originally called Whipstick Road. According to Aldo Tulipani, who grew up there early in this century, the name "Nod Road" was selected by a group of wealthy residents of the road, who decided they did not like "Whipstick." They may have selected "Nod" because the road led to territory in Wilton that was in that town's Nod School District.
"Nod Road" was being applied to this highway by 1927 when it appeared on a property map filed in the town clerk's office. However, many townspeople used Whipstick Road for many years.
NOD WEST DRIVE
Nod West Drive is a short, dead-end road off the west side of lower Nod Road. It serves four, two-acre parcels, part of a 1964 subdivision by John, Robert, and Paul Morganti.
The name is a little confusing and rather unnecessary, in view of the two other Nod-named roads in that part of town. Perhaps it will someday be changed to recall an early landmark that borders Nod West Drive: the Brimstone Swamp. Then again, residents of the road might not take kindly to the underworldly sound of that name.
North Mountain was an old term for Ridgebury Mountain (q.v) and possibly also Barlow Mountain to the east of Ridgebury Mountain.
The term first appeared in a 1790 deed from Gideon Smith to his grandson, Jonah Foster Jr., for "one piece lying on the North Mountain, being part of the Saintjohn Lott..."
The Saintjohn Lott was a more common name than North Mountain - appearing frequently in the late 1700s. It was named for Nathan Saintjohn, who received an early grant of a sizable chunk of land there.
Another deed, from Gideon Smith to Isaiah Smith in 1793, was for 3 1/2 acres "in the north part of the Saintjohn Lott, so called, on Asproom Mountain." This indicates the lot - probably nearly 100 acres - was located on what modern maps called Ridgebury Mountain, where Twixt Hills and Ridgefield Knolls (q.v) are now.
North Mountain, a term that was in use as late as 1855, probably was derived from the fact that the mountain was north of most of the population of town. The term was relative, of course, for to Ridgeburians, North Mountain was south. And Ridgeburians had higher hills of their own to the north of North Mountain.
Hence, it's not surprising that the name has disappeared from the map as Ridgebury became a more settled section of Ridgefield.
North Pattent was another term for Ridgebury, used chiefly around the 1750s. A variation of New Pattent, it reflected the fact that Ridgebury was created under a 1731 patent from the colony's governor, and was north of the original patent, which created Ridgebury Parish. Ridgebury was also called Second Pattent for that reason. (Patent was invariably spelled Pattent by the early Ridgefielders.)
In his 1800 description of the town, the Rev. Samuel G. Goodrich says: "There is the appearance of sundry Indian graves at a place called Nooricus Ridge." This is probably Norrans Ridge, east of Fox Hill Village (below).
Lake Noroneke, more a pond than a lake, is a private, man-made body of water south of Old Branchville Road, a little west of Nod Hill Road. The pond and its name appear on current U. S. Geological Survey maps of the town (Bethel Quadrant).
John R. Eustis, a retired advertising executive who came here in 1936, built the pond shortly thereafter, reported Edwina Eustis Dick, the opera singer and his daughter, who lived on the property until the early 1980s.
The site of the pond had, before the turn of the century, been an apple orchard, reported Lois Owens, who with her father and sister had lived in the Eustis-Dick house at the turn of the 20th Century. However, Herbert Spencer Grimes, who owned all of the land in that neighborhood early in this century, had dammed up brooks in the area, which created what Mrs. Dick described as "an unsightly swamp" where the orchard had been. The pond did away with the problem.
Mr. Eustis named his pond after an Indian, also called Oreneca, from whom the settlers bought land. At about the same time that Mr. Eustis was creating his pond, Seth Low Pierrepont was building one of his own in the northern part of town. Coincidentally, Mr. Pierrepont called his pond Lake Naraneka for the same Indian. The variation in spelling is not unusual with Indian names, but especially with this Indian's name, as will be demonstrated under Norrans Ridge.
John C. Huden, in his Indian Place Names of New England, notes the appearance of Noroneke Lake on a map and, not knowing its origin, attempts to translate it as a Mahican word for "dry land" or Paugusett for "far-off land."
Norranorwa's Sprang was a locality at Great Swamp. The name appears on the Rev. Thomas Hauley's "Mapp of ye Great Swamp," drawn in 1718, and in various deeds. The map seems to place it along Farmingville Road a little west of Blackman Road or Limekiln Road.
For many years I had assumed that "sprang" was a variant of "spring," but the more I thought about the word, the more I doubted the meaning. "Sprang" as a variant of spring would be very rare - not even recognized in the 12-volume Oxford English Dictionary.
An old meaning of "sprang" is a "branch or shoot" of a plant. Branch, of course, is another word for a brook or stream, and it's possible that "sprang" referred to a stream or brook hereabouts.
While the more likely origin would seem to be a misspelling of spring, based on its local pronunciation, I now tend to believe "sprang" meant a brook. One sign of that is the fact that the second word is always spelled "sprang" in all its half-dozen appearances in the Ridgefield land records - between 1718 and 1751. One would think that the misspelling would eventually be corrected during that period. What's more "sprang" does not appear in any other contemporary place name in Ridgefield; the word "spring" does (see Peespunk).
"Norranorwa" comes from the name of the Indian, also called Oreneca (see the following entry). He was no doubt associated with the spring or brook; perhaps he lived nearby on Norrans Ridge.
The locality's significance is not clear, except as a landmark. It must have been sizable and noticeable since it was in or about Great Swamp, a naturally wet and large locality. The swamp, in fact, is largely spring-fed from a huge aquifer. It may have been used as a source of water for grazing livestock.
Norranorwa occurs in various spellings, as does the nearby locality, today called Norrans Ridge (q.v.). It is found in deeds between 1717 and 1751 as a landmark, such as in the deed for property "on ye east side of ye swamp, in or near Norranorwas Sprang."
Norrans Ridge is a locality whose name came about through years of modification by tongues that found the Indian language difficult to pronounce.
The name first appears in 1712 when the proprietors deeded Richard Olmsted land "at Nawranawoos Ridge." From there the name passed through many variations, as demonstrated by the following examples taken from deeds:
Nornorways 1717, 1749, 1796
Norranorwas 1718, 1801
Norrans 1739, 1801, 1811, 1826, 1858
Norrens 1751, 1785
(* This version appears in the Rev. Samuel G. Goodrich's 1800 essay on the town.)
The name also appears as "Norrins Ridge" in Silvio Bedini's Ridgefield in Review, although that spelling could not be found in any pre-1800 deed.
The ultimate corruption of Nawranawoos or Norranorwa had occurred by the 20th Century. Writing in his History of Ridgefield (1927), George L. Rockwell calls the place "Orange Ridge." From Nawranawoos to Orange in 200 years!
The origin of the original version of the name is subject to conjecture. Most likely, it is a version of an Indian's name - possibly Oreneca, whose name we have seen sometimes appears as Naraneke or Noroneke. Oreneca was sachem of the Ramapoo Indians, who inhabited the area and whose burial ground may have been on this ridge.
The white man's transcription of the Indian's language sounds was rarely accurate, so it's not unusual to see wide variations in what must have been - to the natives - a common word. However, the word, even in its shortest forms - Norrans, for instance - almost always ends in 's', strongly suggesting that it was the Anglicized possessive of an Indian's name, just as Mopus was probably once Mopoo's.
Another possibility is that the Farmingville region or perhaps the whole town was called Nornorwoo or something like it. The sound "nau" in the language of the Indians of this area meant "far" while "nawaas" or "nowaas" referred to the general Connecticut region of New England. Combined, they may have meant something like "the far edge of the (Connecticut) region." Such a boundary could have consisted of the lower Berkshires, which include (in Ridgefield) West, Ridgebury and Pine Mountains.
Norrans Ridge extends from the Farmingville Road area (where Norrans Ridge Drive is), northeastward of Lee Road, northerly to and along Poplar Road. It reaches an elevation of about 630 feet above sea level, and about 75 percent of its border is swamp. (Great Swamp's elevation is about 570 feet above sea level.)
Norranorwa's Sprang (above) probably got its name from the ridge; at least, the ridge is mentioned a few years before it appears.
Norrens Boggs, a term that first appears in 1717 as Norways Boggs, was also a common name, referring probably to the swamp to the west of the ridge.
Norrans Bridge appears as early as 1721 and seems to be the filled strip of land carrying Farmingville Road across Great Swamp between Danbury Road and Norrans Ridge. The term appears again in 1755. (This was apparently the "New Bridge" location mentioned in 1787.)
NORRANS RIDGE DRIVE
Norrans Ridge Drive is a looping road off Farmingville Road, serving the Beechwood subdivision.
The 27-lot subdivision, approved by the Planning and Zoning Commission in March 1987, is one of the most expensive developments in town, with new houses running from $600,000 to more than $1 million in price.
The subdivider was CV Realty, headed by Charles Szentkuti, a well-known homebuilder. Mr. Szentkuti had earlier built one of the town's first office condominiums, the Executive Pavilion at 90 Grove Street, on the site of the old New England Institute for Medical Research, razed in the early 1980s.
Mr. Szentkuti ran into financial problems with the Beechwood development, which was taken over by the Providence, R.I., bank that held the mortgage. The bank changed the name to "Beachwood," inappropriate but perhaps used to distinguish it from the fitting name of Beechwood. Beechwood reflects the copper beech trees planted in the area by Outpost Nurseries, which owned this land from the 1920s into the 1960s (see Outpost Pond).
Mr. Szentkuti had originally proposed putting condominiums on this land, but that plan was rejected by the Planning and Zoning authorities which believed sewer, water and traffic problems would result.
When the subdivision was proposed, Szentkuti Drive was suggested as the road name. The commission vetoed that, too, feeling it would be difficult for people to spell and pronounce. In addition, the commission has had a history of discouraging the use of developers' names for subdivision roads.
The commission asked this writer for ideas, and the present name was suggested because the road traverses Norrans Ridge (see above). It was a name that had long ago fallen out of use, but was worth preserving in a road name.
NORRANS RIDGE ROAD
Norrans Ridge Road, only vestiges of which still exist, ran from Danbury Road to Limekiln Road from the early 1700s until early in this century.
It left Danbury Road along an old portion of that highway which now runs through the Fox Hill condominiums. Stone Drive, one of the private roads at Fox Hill, is probably built on the path of Norrans Ridge Road as it left the old Danbury Road. From there the road went northeasterly, then easterly to meet Limekiln Road at or near the intersection of Poplar Road. Willow Drive and the lower end of Poplar Road were the eastern end of this old highway.
Norrans Ridge Road existed at least by 1750 when it was called "Danbury Path." Although the route went through some fairly swampy territory and was probably impassable at times of the year, Norrans Ridge Road was a shorter route to Danbury (via Haviland Road to Pickett's Ridge to Starrs Plain) than the main Danbury Road (north to and across Haviland Road). Stagecoaches reportedly used this path in the 18th and 19th Centuries.
In the late 1920s, a Town Meeting gave Norrans Ridge Road to Col. Louis D. Conley, who owned all the land on both sides of the road for its entire length as part of his Outpost Nurseries (see above). By then the road was hardly used, except perhaps for Colonel Conley's nursery operations along it.
NORTH AND SOUTH ROAD
In 1844, when Burr Edmond of Redding sold Frederick S. Edmond 55 acres, he described the land as lying on "both sides of the North and South Road in Florida so called."
The term, also used in an 1848 deed, refers to Florida Road, which was for most of the 18th and early 19th Centuries the only north-sound road in Florida District and was the predecessor of the Sugar Hollow Turnpike (today's Route 7). While the turnpike was built around 1829, the older Florida Road was still being called the North and South Road in the 1840s.
This highway was known as the Cedar Mountain Road in the early 1700s.
Sometime during the first half of the 19th Century, a school district was established in northern Ridgebury. If it was created before the 1846 ceding of northern Ridgefield to Danbury, then it probably originally included land that is now just south of Mill Plain district in Danbury.
The district and its name existed by 1849 when Walter H. Craft of Danbury sold Catharine Whitney five acres "in North District so called." The term was also used in an 1857 deed when Ms. Whitney sold her five acres.
More formally, it may have been known as the North Ridgebury District, a term used by Rockwell in his 1927 history of the town.
Just where the original schoolhouse stood is uncertain. It is not shown on either Clark's 1856 or Beers' 1867 maps of the town. However, in 1871, the estate of the late Aaron Turner (the circus owner who hired P. T. Barnum as his ticket-taker) apparently sold land for the building of a new schoolhouse. The deed describes a half acre on the west side of Ridgebury Road in 'School District Number 15', and adds the proviso that the school district create and maintained forever "a tight stone fence five feet high" between Turner's land and the schoolhouse. (If the fence were not erected and maintained, the deed was void; I wonder if the stone wall is still there and who might technically own the land if it isn't!)
The deed suggests that this schoolhouse was near the intersection of Ridgebury and Turner Roads (or, as modern maps usually label them, Ridgebury and Old Ridgebury Roads). A 1908 map shows "school number 6" just opposite this intersection. Probably shortly after that, the schoolhouse was closed because of the small enrollment and its students consolidated into the South Ridgebury schoolhouse, which was at the corner of Ridgebury and Old Stagecoach Roads.
In 1867, the North District served families on both sides of Ridgebury Road north of the Ridgebury Cemetery, plus Shadow Lake Road and Turner Road. It probably also took students from just across the northern line in Danbury.
NORTH LONG POND
A 1797 map of Salem (now Lewisboro), N.Y., uses the name "North Long Pond" for what is now called Lake Rippowam.
The three lakes (Rippowam, Oscaleta and Waccabuc) were once considered a single body of water called Long Pond. When environmental changes - probably from filling and from siltation caused by cutting so many trees for fields and pastures - made the lake shallower and created three ponds, new names came to be used. For a long time, Rippowam was North Long Pond or just North Pond, Lake Oscaleta was South Long Pond or South Pond, and Waccabuc retained the original Long Pond.
Before 1731 when the west border of town was moved (see The Oblong), Rippowam and Oscaleta, plus half of Waccabuc, were in Ridgefield. Today, the swamp at the east end of Rippowam and Oscaleta is still within the Ridgefield borders - swamp that was almost certainly part of Long Pond when the settlers arrived.
NORTH SALEM ROAD
North Salem Road is a fairly modern name for an old highway, much of which existed before 1720 and parts of which may have predated the settlement of the town. Except for Route 7, it is the longest road in town, measuring just over four miles from its beginning at the intersection of Main Street and Danbury Road to its end at the New York State line.
North Salem Road - at least portions of it between the village and Lake Mamanasco - was probably based on an Indian trail. From finds of pottery and other relics, it is known an Indian village or seasonal encampment existed near the north end of our village, near The Elms Inn and Casagmo. Relics also suggest that the natives had villages or regular encampments at Lake Mamanasco, particularly at the southern end. This body of water, though smaller then than it is now, was a good source of fish as well as wildfowl and animals who visited it, and it is reasonable to assume that a path existed between the lake and the main village.
This theory is further supported by indications that the Indians had a fortified position - a defense from attacking tribes - at Fort Hill on Barrack Hill, a locality between the two places and along North Salem Road.
Another clue to the origins of North Salem Road is the original path of the roadway, which followed today's Tackora Trail. The present road, east of Tackora Trail, was probably built in the early 19th Century as a flatter, though not straighter, route. The fact that the old highway has been called Tackora Trail since early in this century suggests that tradition held it was an old Indian route - Tackora was one of the Indians who sold land to the first settlers. This tradition is supported by evidence of yet another Indian encampment situated along the east side of Tackora Trail.
It is perhaps no accident that most of the town's Indian - or Indian-related - place names, both lost and surviving, are for localities situated near North Salem Road: Mamanasco, Tackora, Peespunk, Titicus, Tom's Spring, Fort Hill, Asoquatah (West Mountain), Asproomquak (Ridgebury Mountain), and Mopus. They suggest this valley was well-used or well-populated by the Indians.
The villagers needed a route to Lake Mamanasco because around 1717, the town's first grist mill for making flour was built there. This fact is reflected in the earliest name for the highway, "ye road yt leads up to Mamanasco Mill" (1743). And it is logical that the settlers would have made use of an established Indian trail in locating their own road.
Later, in parts of town near the highway, North Salem Road was simply "the Main Road." The first hint of its modern name came in 1792 when a deed described the highway as "the road that runs from Ridgefield to Salem."
In the first half of the 19th Century, land records mention "the main road leading from Ridgefield to North Salem." By the early 20th Century, it became simply North Salem Road, yet another example of a road's taking on the name of its destination.
North Salem was originally part of one large town, Salem, consisting generally of today's North Salem and Lewisboro, N.Y. When they split in the 18th Century (the mountain between the north and south districts made travel and communication between the two very difficult), North Salem was called Upper Salem while Lewisboro was called Lower Salem. By 1789, the term North Salem had come into use.
Salem, incidentally, is a form of the Hebrew word for "peace," as well as a shortened form of Jerusalem. It was a popular name in this country, with no fewer than 35 towns so called, plus many others with such variations as North Salem or New Salem.
The present route of North Salem Road was essentially the same as it was in the 18th Century. Tackora Trail was its old path south of Lake Mamanasco. It may be that, north of Mamanasco, the route to North Salem originally traversed Sherwood, parts of Ledges, Ridgebury, and Mopus Bridge Roads (see under Mopus Bridge Road).
Until modern times, the term North Salem Road was applied to the highway only from Titicus Crossroads (the intersection of Mapleshade and Saw Mill Hill Roads). South of the crossroads was considered part of Main Street (it was so shown on the 1946 zoning map of the town), but was better known as Titicus Hill.
North Salem Road has been a state highway since the 1920s. It was first called State Highway 143. From the 1930s until the late 1960s, it was part of Route 33, the highway that starts in Westport and today ends on Main Street at the fountain. A few years ago, the route number was changed to the present 116 in order to correspond with the New York State highway to which it connects.
North Salem Road's importance as a highway has changed a great deal since it was the road to Mamanasco Mill, the town's first sizable industry. Traffic between rural Ridgefield and even more rural North Salem has never been heavy and North Salem Road during the 18th, 19th, and early 20th Centuries was chiefly a route from the farms north of town to the village. For the past 30 or 40 years, it has been largely residential in use.
Its character changed a bit in 1972 when the Ridgefield High School opened on the corner of North Salem and Ridgebury Roads. The building can hold more than 1,800 students at capacity - and has held 2,000 uncomfortably - plus more than 150 employees; it is the biggest non-residential center of activity in the town's history. In fact, the population of the high school building alone has been higher than the population of the whole town in 1810 - and that was when Ridgefield extended all the way north to New Fairfield! Perhaps some day it will be called High School Road.
Commuting has also changed the nature of North Salem Road. The arrival of large corporations in Ridgebury, such as Boehringer-Ingelheim and Union Carbide, plus the large IBM facility in Somers, N.Y., has made Route 116 a relatively busy commuter route.
NORTH SHORE DRIVE
North Shore Drive runs along the north shore of Lake Windwing off Bennett's Farm Road.
The road was mapped in 1954 as part of Harold Goldsmith's Lakeland Hills development. However, only a few houses were built along the western end of the road while the land along the rest was purchased by the town, along with most of Lake Windwing, as parkland.
Today, most of North Shore Drive is a dirt road, ideal for hiking or biking, that connects with trails that lead up into the woods of the vast Hemlock Hills town preserve or that wander around the fields southeast of Lake Windwing.
North Street, which runs from North Salem Road about two miles to Barlow Mountain Road, is a late 18th Century highway that served chiefly the farms on Copp's Mountain, along which it runs. It is also so called because it heads almost directly north out of the village.
Its original 19th Century name - Skunk Lane - is more colorful, if not suburban subdivisionish.
Though its name seems drab and is hardly antique (it does not appear in a deed before 1883), North Street passed some interesting localities in town. Near the eastern end of Stonecrest Road was the "Bear's Den," mentioned as early as 1795 and by tradition once the home of a bear - probably black. Somewhere near there, an Indian named Poctocton was said to have had a hut by the Norwalk River on the east side of "Stonecrest Mountain," probably in the 19th Century.
Stonecrest itself was quite a place and certainly the most impressive building along North Street during the road's history. Built around 1900 by Dr. Allan S. Apgar, the mansion was later the home of John W. Cox, Democratic national chairman, who entertained there many nationally prominent people, including William Jennings Bryan. The driveway to the house, which was destroyed in a spectacular blaze in 1949, is now Stonecrest Road.
The Apgar house was in the style of Governor P. C. Lounsbury's Grovelawn, now the Community Center, though it had been built before Grovelawn. Its main hall was not as wide as the governor's, as Mrs. Lounsbury pointed out to Mrs. Apgar, a guest at Grovelawn's opening reception.
Farther north, also on the east side, was an old mica and quartz quarry, successfully mined in the 19th Century. It was in a ledge near what is now Mimosa, and was long held by the Lee family of Farmingville.
NORTH VALLEY ROAD
North Valley Road is a dead-end road which runs northerly off High Valley Road. Part of Giles and Barry Montgomery's 1969 High Valley subdivision, North Valley Road was accepted by the town in 1973.
In 1717, the proprietors deeded Joseph Northrup "one rood and eight pole upon an island in ye New Pound Bog Swamp, called Northrup's Island," surrounded by common land.
This deed and a subsequent one indicate that Mr. Northrup had owned part of the island before 1717, and the island had consequently acquired his name.
Northrup's Island was somewhere within the Silver Spring Swamp (between Silver Spring and St. John's Roads), but it's location could be difficult to pinpoint today because of changes in the terrain and the water level of the swamp. It may have been in the lower end of the swamp, perhaps south of St. John's Road.
The last mention of the island occurs when Joseph Northrup sold his 12 acres on the island to Henry Whitne (Whitney) in 1729. With the title change, the name died.
NORWALK MILL RIVER
There are several examples of place names, which, in their early use, were rather lengthy but which over the years, were shortened for convenience. The Great East Meadow Pond became Great Pond, and the Stamford Mill River became the Mill River. It may be that the Norwalk River was once formally called the Norwalk Mill River.
A single deed - from the proprietors to Ebenezer Smith in 1712 - mentions land "lying on both side of ye branch or river called Norwalk Mill River, about midway between ye Cedar Mountain and ye East Meadow."
The deed suggests that, to some people at least, the official name of the stream was Norwalk Mill River. The name probably did not stem from a Ridgefield mill, for there is no evidence of a mill on the Norwalk River that early in the town's settlement. Perhaps the name was in use in Norwalk, the town from which most of the first settlers or proprietors came. However, in Norwalk, the stream had been called the "Norwake River" as early as 1640 and "Norwalke" from around 1661. It is not clear whether there was a mill on the river by then.
However, the Norwalk Town Meeting in 1665 granted Henry Whitney permission to build "a good and sufficient ground corne mill ... at the mouth of the Norwake River by the falles." It is perhaps this mill and later ones upstream in Norwalk and the part of Norwalk that's now Wilton that led to the stream's being called a "mill river" at least once in Ridgefield's land records.
From the 1720s until the late 1800s, a dozen or so mills existed all along the Norwalk River which had indeed become a true mill river (see below).
The Norwalk River takes its name from the town where it empties into Long Island Sound. At seven miles in Ridgefield, it is the longest as well as the largest of the town's waterways.
The river's source is the Great Swamp, just northeast of the village of Ridgefield. From there it flows a couple of miles north west of Danbury Road, veers eastward at a place years ago called "Turn of the River," and then flows south along Route 7 into Wilton and down to Norwalk. From its source to its passage into Wilton, the river drops in elevation from about 590 feet above sea level to about 345 feet. The north-flowing section off Danbury Road is often called the Ridgefield Brook (q.v).
The Norwalk River was an important geographical feature in the history of Ridgefield. The first white men to set foot in Ridgefield may have followed the river north from Norwalk, which had been settled in 1649, 60 years before the creation of Ridgefield. Records indicate that the first settlers of Danbury traveled north from Norwalk along the river in 1687. Its existence probably tempted the more venturesome Norwalkers to explore northward, perhaps in the hope that its source was a lake - a valuable supply of both food and millpower.
The Indians undoubtedly made use the river in their travels to and from Long Island Sound, source of both fish and shellfish. It is a shame that we do not know what the Indians called the stream.
Once Ridgefield was settled, it wasn't long before townspeople were taking advantage of this resource. Mills were established at various points along the river. However, because the Norwalk was not too large and not too swift during the first few miles of its course, it was not convenient to build mills along the portions of the river closest to town. And mills were not established at better locations farther downstream in the Norwalk River Valley until a highway network had been established.
The Many Mills
The first mill downstream stood near where Limestone Road crosses the river. A saw mill had been established in the 1730s - possibly earlier - by Benjamin Burt, the town's first blacksmith (or by his son), and was later owned by David Osborn and then Benjamin Stebbins. By 1774, the mill was gone and in 1784, a deed mentions the "old saw mill" there. Stebbins, the last operator, perhaps could not get an adequate year-round supply of water to power a profitable mill.
By the 1740s, Richard Olmsted had a large operation going at Limestone, just above the Stonehenge Inn, where he owned both a grist mill and a bolting mill for cloth. This was later sold to Samuel Lobdell, who ran it for many years and added a saw mill.
Mills continued to be operated at this site until the end of the 19th Century, but not without the help of Great Pond. By 1780, a dam and gutter had been built to control Great Pond's water supply to the river above the mills.
Downstream, other mills were built, often in conjunction with man-made ponds. A grist mill stood on the site of Stonehenge Inn; a saw mill was operated on the west side of Route 7 between New Road and Cain's Hill Road; and Hugh Cain established his fulling mill on Topstone Road, just east of Route 7, around 1771. In the 19th Century, Cain's mill was expanded into a full-scale factory.
Down at the north corner of Florida Hill Road and Route 7, now the site of the home, Moongate, Peter Burr established a gristmill in 1737. Later, a sawmill was added. In the 19th Century, the site supported an iron foundry (see Cain's Hill).
Farther south, a little below and opposite the Ridgefield Motor Inn, there were cider, clover, and plaster mills. There was probably at least one mill in Branchville near the Wilton line, although for some reason - perhaps the slow speed of the water in this flat area - Branchville was never a popular site for mills. Just below it, however, in the Redding part of Georgetown, the Gilbert and Bennett Company established in the mid-1800s a wire mill that grew into the large factory complex. Although the mill long ago stopped requiring water from the Norwalk River for power, water was still used in the milling process until the 1980s. The company could, by adjusting a dam it owned at Great Pond several miles north, control somewhat the supply of water into its own pond at Georgetown. At this writing in 2005, the mill site was being proposed for a complex of houses, condominiums, stores and offices.
While mill dams held back the water of the Norwalk River at many points during the 18th and 19th Centuries, a new kind of dam is supposed to hold back unruly waters in the 21st Century. In the wake of the 1955 flood of the Norwalk River, which did millions of dollars in damage - especially downstream - and took several lives, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers designed a flood control project to lessen flooding in times of extremely heavy rainfall. In Ridgefield, it consists of earthen dams - one at the outlet of Great Swamp at Fox Hill condominiums and the other off Route 7 a little north of Florida Hill Road. In normal times, the dams allow the river to flow naturally. However, in heavy rainfall, gates are closed, holding back huge volumes of water, thereby reducing the torrents that caused so much damage in 1955. At Fox Hill, dammed water is stored in the Great Swamp, purchased by the state in the 1960s and 1970s.
Only the Fox Hill dam has been built. Financing and planning delays connected with the once-proposed "New Route 7" have held up the Miller's Pond dam project, although the state has bought much or all of the land that would be flooded by that dam.
For a short while, there was talk of bigger things for the Norwalk River. In 1825, discussion was underway over the building of the Erie Canal, a water route form the Hudson River at Albany to the Great Lakes. Danburians' only connection with the Long Island Sound, the Hudson River and New York City, was by slow, uncomfortable stages and freight wagons. Danbury residents, too, became interested in a canal at this time.
One route studied was up the Norwalk River Valley, probably using the Norwalk River itself. Water from the Umpawaug Pond in Redding was to help supplement the canal's water supply.
For some reason, that route was rejected in favor of one down the Saugatuck Valley to Redding and Westport. But even that path was abandoned because of the number of locks it would take to connect Danbury, whose Main Street is at 375 feet above tide water, with the Sound.
Perhaps it was just as well, for by 1850, a railroad was laid to connect Danbury with Norwalk, the Sound and the City.
Source of Name
It is perhaps fitting that the stream, which originates in Ridgefield, takes its name from Norwalk, the town from which Ridgefield originated. The name is from the Siwanoy Indian language, although no one is quite certain what it means.
Most authorities believe that the word is a variation of Norwauke or Nayaug, meaning "a point of land." Roger Williams, however, wrote that since words ending in -ock, -oug, and -aug denote some kind of fish, "hence, my conjecture is that the name has some relation to the abundant fish, clams, oysters, etc., that were found there."
Some, like 19th Century Connecticut historian Jonathan Trumbull, suspected that the place was named for an individual Indian. Naromake, with a similar-sounding name, was a signer of the deed of Indian lands to the first Norwalk settlers.
Certainly the most entertaining, if least plausible, explanation was a traditional once offered by Connecticut popular historian John Warner Barber in the 1830s. He noted that the Indian deed stated it was for land that extended "from sea, Indian one day walk into the country." Thus, he suggests, the town's name was a contraction of "north-walk."
In American Place Names, George R. Stewart suggested that the original Indian name, found in such versions as Norwaack and Norwauke, was modified in spelling (though not in sound) to suggest either a derivation from "walk" or a connection with some town name in England, where the syllables "nor" and "walk" occur frequently, though never in the same name. As likely as not, however, the early residents of the town spelled it Norwalk or Norwalke simply because that is how the Indian sounds were most easily represented in their English language.
A 1737 entry in the town record book reports that a "highway (was) laid out at ye New Pound Ridge, beginning at Norwalk Road at ye north end of Mr. Osburn's land, running southwesterly till it crosses ye brook..."
The description suggests that Norwalk Road was today's Wilton Road West. And, in fact, Norwalk Road would be a likely name for this highway since it was certainly the main route from Ridgefield to Norwalk during the first few decades of Ridgefield's settlement, mostly by Norwalk residents. (The road "running southwesterly" may have been St. Johns Road; otherwise, it was a highway no longer in use.)
Mention of this link between parent and child towns appears in the records of both communities. The Ridgefield Town Meeting voted in December 1723 "that ye Rhode to Norwalk pass over ye bald hill (in northern Wilton), where it was laid out by ye jury." The jury was a committee of representatives of both towns, appointed to pick a path. The same motion was passed at a November 1724 Town Meeting, and Samuel Keeler of Bald Hill in Wilton was warned to move his fence to make way for the road - perhaps explaining the year's delay in getting the road route settled.
This delay, however, was nothing compared to how long it took to get as far as the motions. For back in December 1713, the Norwalk Town Meeting chose three men as a committee "to make a settlement of a highway or road to Ridgefield, if they and the committee of Ridgefield can agree; and (the meeting) doth fully impower said committee to make restitution to such persons that sd. highway may take land from within the limits of Norwalk township." (Remember that Norwalk at that time extended all the way up to the southern boundary of Ridgefield; Wilton was only a parish of Norwalk in the 1700s.)
At a typical New England snail's pace, it apparently took the two towns 10 years to settle on a route. (Then again, it's been close to 25 years that plans for the New Route 7 from Norwalk to Danbury have been on paper!)
The creation of this road more than a decade after the settlement of Ridgefield raises the question of how people got back and forth between the two communities before the road was established. Undoubtedly, a path of some sort, crossing various pieces of private and public (common) land, had been used as an early route. But as northern Wilton parish began to be settled in the first 20 or 25 years of the 18th Century, disputes probably arose over what was public highway land and what was private property. A route had to be officially defined - hence the warning to Samuel Keeler.
It is likely that the original path between the two towns was pretty much the same as today's Route 33 - Wilton Road West in Ridgefield and Ridgefield Road in Wilton. Some changes, such as at Potash Hill (q.v) north of Silver Hill Road), have taken place in the 20th Century.
Although another road - the old Danbury Cart Path (q.v) - connected Ridgefield and Norwalk, this route was too far to the eastern side of Ridgefield to be a convenient road to Norwalk. The cart path generally followed the Norwalk River; the Norwalk Road was a more direct route from the population center of Ridgefield to that of Norwalk.
Besides Norwalk Road and Wilton Road West, this highway has been called the Country Road, Flat Rock Road and just plain Wilton Road. Its northern section, near Main Street, has also been called the Town Street and Main Street. And, of course, it is also state Route 33.
Norways (Norway's) Ridge is a version of Norrans or Nornorwas Ridge (q.v). The name, which occurs in deeds written between 1717 and 1791, has no connection with the Scandinavian nation.
Nursery Road was built in 1964 as the main route into Rolling Hills Estates off Still Road. The original section of the road was developed and named by Lewis J. "Bub" Finch, subdivider of Rolling Hills.
In 1985, the Crosswicks Corp. of Wilton subdivided 66 acres between the end of Nursery Road and Limekiln Road and extended Nursery Road to connect with Limekiln. The subdivision, called Overlook Groves, consists of 27 lots.
All of Rolling Hills and Overlook Groves was once part of Col. Louis D. Conley's huge Outpost Nurseries holdings. The nurseries encompassed a couple thousand acres on both sides of Danbury Road and Route 7 from Farmingville and Limestone Districts north into Danbury. Many of the roads on old nursery land are named after trees or shrubs planted as nursery stock in that area (see Outpost Pond for more on the nurseries).
Nutmeg Court, one of two roads in town named for this Connecticut trademark, is a short, dead-end road off Farm Hill Road. Part of Ramapoo Hills, Joseph H. Donnelly's 1956 subdivision, Nutmeg Court was accepted as a town road in 1963.
As far as natural history goes, the nutmeg, the aromatic seed of an East Indian evergreen tree, has nothing to do with Connecticut, much less Ridgefield. But in tradition, it is closely allied through its use in the popular nickname, Nutmeg State, though no one knows for certain why.
Ben Botkin, in his Treasury of New England Folklore, suggests that the nickname is derived from the fact that Connecticut merchants were famous for "speculation in wooden spices."
Charles W. Burpee, in The Story of Connecticut, reports that "tradition has it that when Connecticut 'Yankees' were peddling tinware in every colony, they also were whittling out wooden nutmegs in great number for the Southern market; hence, the title 'Nutmeg State.' "
Some say the Yankee peddlers used valued nutmegs as a form of barter with other traders and with settlers. Presumably, then, wooden nutmegs would be counterfeits, used to pad supplies of real nutmegs. They were the spice trade's version of a wooden nickel.
Nelson L. Alpert of Stamford, in a letter to The New York Times in 1977, said that on a visit to northern Ohio some years earlier, he learned that "a northeastern section of Ohio was historically set aside for Connecticut settlers as the Western Reserve when the western section of Connecticut was ceded by the federal government in 1786. Many families settled there from Connecticut. Their household needs were supplied by a steady stream of peddlers from their home state.
"With spices critically important in food preservation and cooking, these Connecticut Yankee peddlers acquired the habit of carrying these relatively light supplies on their backs and the settlers of the Western Reserve came to call the peddlers from home 'Nutmeggers.'"
Mr. Alpert observed at the end of his letter that the official nickname of Connecticut is the Constitution State. Somehow, we doubt that subdividers will ever come up with a "Constitution Court" for Ridgefield. However, anything is possible; after all, we do have a Charter Oak Court.
Nutmeg Ridge, which runs between Branchville Road and Old Washington Road, was first planned in 1950 when a corporation called Ridgefield Hilltop Acres filed a subdivision map.
It labeled this road Biddle Lane after the Biddle family, which had once lived across Branchville Road from the subdivision. For many years, the neighborhood had been called Biddle Hill (q.v.) and still appears as such on U.S. Geological Survey maps.
However, when Ridgefield Hilltop Acres Company, headed by A. Edward Major, refiled the plan in 1956, the name of the road had been changed to Nutmeg Ridge. Probably someone had decided that Biddle, while accurate and appropriate, was unattractive. Instead, Nutmeg Ridge was chosen.
The result is that we have a town with a Nutmeg Ridge and a Nutmeg Court, one located two miles from the other. Since both the court and the ridge subdivisions were filed in the same year, it's hard to say who had first claim to "Nutmeg." Nonetheless, the two Nutmegs have caused considerable confusion over the years and one of them should be changed. Someday an ambulance needed for an emergency on Nutmeg Court may wind up on Nutmeg Ridge instead, and valuable minutes - maybe even a life - will be lost.
Nutmeg Ridge, part of a 24-lot development, was accepted by the town in two sections in 1958 and 1959.