Entire contents copyrighted 2005 by Jack Sanders. Reproduction without permission is forbidden.
VALLEY BROOK ACRES
Valley Brook Acres is a three-lot subdivision of 7.3 acres on the north comer of Nod Road and Davis Lane, created in 1977 by Roger Carpenter and William Valus.
Veterans Park, 17.2 acres in the center of town, is the heart of Grovelawn, the former estate of Governor Phineas Chapman Lounsbury, and has belonged to the town since the year World War II ended.
Gov. Lounsbury (1844-1925) was the state's chief executive from 1887 to 1888. In the early 1880s, he acquired the land on Main Street and lived in a house that, in the 1890s, he moved to Governor Street to make way for his new home. The original house is now offices just west of the Boys and Girls Club. The governor built what is now the Community Center or the Lounsbury Mansion, modeling it after the Connecticut Building at the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Charles B. Northrop, well known for the quality of his work, built the place.
In 1945, the town purchased the property from the son of Mrs. William H. Griffith, niece of the governor. The tract included all of the land bounded by Main, Market and Governor Streets, and East Ridge Road - except for the parcel at the corner of Main and Governor Streets. At the same time, the town also acquired the land now leased to the Boys and Girls Club.
The land and buildings, including two other houses and a barn, were dedicated to war veterans, and the house was supposed to become a community center right away. However, lack of money prevented this from happening until 1953 when a group of private citizens banded together to form the Veterans Memorial Community Association, leasing the building from the town for $1 a year and agreeing to maintain it. While the organization has been through rocky times on several occasions, it is going strong today.
In the late 1990s, the association took to calling its building "The Lounsbury House," apparently feeling the name has a better ring to it than "Community Center."
The front of the park property was once the site of the Independent School House, built in 1786 and for many years the village schoolhouse, just as Veterans Park School is today the "village" school. The town's first "modern" flat-roofed school was built in 1953-54 after a long hassle over costs. At one point around 1950, the town was actually considering converting a World War II coal bin into an elementary school classroom to hold the growing number of pupils.
In the 1800s, the park area was used for community fairs. Governor Lounsbury had horses grazing where the athletic fields are today, and there was an orchard and a pond there, too.
Although it was a "veterans park" from 1945, it was not until 1964 that a monument to veterans was erected. By then there had been another war, so the monument commemorated the service of both World War II and the Korean War veterans. (Veterans of earlier wars are remembered on the monument on Main Street at the head of Branchville Road.) Today, the monument and the front porch of Grovelawn serve as the center for the town's annual Memorial Day ceremonies. In 2003-04, a garden was built between the monument and the center's front entrance.
Two curious features of Veterans Park are a rock and a bell. The story goes that the rock, situated on Grovelawn's front lawn, a little south of the building, looked so much like a dog (or some other creature) that Governor Lounsbury had it left in place, and it's still there today.
The bell, mounted over concrete on the front lawn, belonged to the governor, a gift from a Union Army colonel and friend. The bell, cast in 1845 in Ohio, had been taken by Confederate troops to be melted down for use in making cannons. According to historian Silvio A. Bedini, when the bell and other scrap metal were captured by Col. Alexander Warner, commander of a Connecticut unit, it bore the painted inscription: "This bell is to be melted into a cannon - may it kill a thousand Yankees!"
The colonel eventually acquired the bell and later gave it to Gov. Lounsbury, who had it mounted in his yard. It was rung for the signing of the armistice at the end of World War I, and again in September 1945 at the end of fighting in World War II.
Victor Drive is a dead-end road off Ramapoo Road, built starting in 1957 by Victor Williams, who named it after himself. Part of the old Conklin dairy farm, the development consisted of 15 lots subdivided by Perry Scott, who did several other subdivisions around town in the 1950s.
The village today is an informal name applied to the center of town, the area roughly consisting of Main Street, High Ridge, East Ridge, and the crossroads around them. "Village," however, was once a formal term that referred to a government district within the town.
The word village comes from the French for a small town or a farm. Indeed, many early European villages originated from large farms, serving as a commercial center for the people who worked on or served the farm or villa. And Ridgefield, of course, was settled as a farming community, making the word quite fitting. (Names like Farmingville make use of this French root, too; in Farmingville's case, the name might be literally translated as "farming farm," though its coiners no doubt meant a farming "community.")
The term "village" does not appear in town records until well into the 19th Century. Possibly the first recorded use is an 1845 deed for land in "the village of Ridgefield."
It was not until the turn of the 20th Century that the term began to take on a formal meaning. At that time the center of Ridgefield was changing. Many wealthy New Yorkers had been moving to town, either building large "summer places" or converting existing old houses to larger, more ornate "mansions."
These places, while in the country, needed some of the amenities of the city and, at the beginning of this century, sewer and water lines were installed in the center of town, and gas lights, later electric ones, lit some of the village streets.
Since villagers were getting some services - sewers, hydrants, lights - that those in outlying districts didn't, the town in 1902 established the Borough of Ridgefield, with a warden and eight burgesses to oversee it. People living in the borough paid an extra property tax to cover the utilities that only they enjoyed. Eventually, the borough even had its own "night watchman," a constable to keep an eye on things.
The borough came to be controlled chiefly by a small group of villagers, including former state comptroller Harvey P. Bissell, who ran the drug store, Father R.E. Shortell, pastor of St. Mary's, and Dr. R.W. Lowe, a physician here for more than a half century.
Apparently the powers in the Town of Ridgefield government didn't like having this autonomous little government within the community, and in 1921 the borough was abolished and a new Village of Ridgefield was established through a special act of the state Legislature and a vote at the Town Meeting.
The chief changes that came with the Village District were that the first selectman and the Board of Finance took over control of the center district administration. In addition, the Board of Finance, which had been an elective agency, became appointed (it has since returned to its elected roots).
The annual budget for the Village District still had to be approved by the voters at an annual meeting, just as the Annual Town Meeting approved the townwide budget and a borough meeting had handled that district's finances.
The boundaries of the Village District were supposed to coincide with the sewer lines since operation of the sewer system was the most expensive service the village budget supported. Over the years, Village District boundaries were expanded outward to encompass new neighborhoods served by sewers, but eventually new sewer hook-ups were being made outside the district without expansion of the boundaries. In addition, hydrants were being installed outside the village, with no special extra cost to those served by them, and streetlights were becoming commonplace throughout the town. Moreover, the police force was established in the 1950s and became a formal and townwide service.
So, in the early 1970s, especially after development began on Fox Hill Village, the condominium project on Danbury Road that had sewers but was outside the district, villagers began getting tired of paying for services others were getting for "free." In July 1974, village voters approved - by a narrow margin - the abandonment of the village district.
The next night, the Town Meeting voted to absorb the Village District and its assets and to establish a Sewer Authority, which set fees for use of the sewer lines. In other words, only those who used the sewers would pay for them.
Abandonment of the Village District and creation of a Sewer Authority did not sit well with David L. Paul, the developer of Casagmo and Fox Hill, whose multifamily projects suddenly had to pay a considerably larger share of the sewer operating costs. Attorney Paul sued the town, but was unsuccessful in overturning the plan. (Paul later headed Florida's biggest savings and loan, a Miami bank that went belly-up in the mid-1980s after losing millions of dollars. He wound up in prison.)
"While the death of the Village District came somewhat quietly and in response to needs felt by the town as a whole," The Ridgefield Press Centenary Issue observed in 1975, "it spelled the end of a colorful part of Ridgefield's past - a day when the 'up-town' politics of the district were conducted quietly in the back of Bissell's drugstore, and the outlanders had only the Town Meeting, not the Vil1age Meeting, as a forum for their views."
Virginia Court is a name that came from an off-hand remark, made mostly in jest, some 40 years ago.
The road at the 1958 Ridgefield Knolls subdivision is a dead-end, running off the east side of Old Stagecoach Road, just south of Bennett's Farm Road. It became a town road in 1968.
Edgar P. Bickford was surveyor on the project, working for Robert "Bob" Kaufman's Topstone Development Corp. According to Mr. Bickford in a 1975 interview, Virginia George, assistant secretary of Topstone, joked one day during development of the sizable subdivision, "Why can't I have a road named after me?"
Mr. Bickford replied, "We're going to get Bob's name in there, we might as well have yours."
Therefore, today we have both Bob Hill Road and Virginia Court, though there is no name at the Knolls to recall Mr. Bickford, apparently a modest man.