Entire contents copyrighted 2005 by Jack Sanders. Reproduction without permission is forbidden.
Lake Waccabuc, now in northern Lewisboro, was once partly in Ridgefield, and was lost to New York Colony in 1731 when Connecticut ceded the so-called Oblong along its western border.
Formed along with Lakes Rippowam and Oscaleta some 20,000 years ago as one long body of water, Waccabuc was called by the Indians Wepack or Wepuc, and by the early white settlers Long Pond. It is said that Long Pond is a rough translation of Wepack.
The name Waccabuc didn't appear on the scene till 1860 when Martin R. Mead built the Waccabuc House hotel on the lake. The origin of his "Waccabuc" is uncertain, but some think it might be a version of wequa-paug, which itself is a longer version of wepack.
The hotel burned down in 1896, but the name stuck. Over years, the lake area became a community and it was a popular spot for summer homes. A post office was established for Waccabuc in the 1870s and still exists. There's also a golf club and a sizable conservation preserve there.
The History of Lewisboro (1981) reports that one of the better-known legends associated with the lake is the Waccabuc elephant. "According to the story, an elephant died on or near Mead Street during the early to mid-1800s (when this area was a winter quarters for several circuses), was dragged out onto the frozen lake, weighted with chains and scrap iron, and left to sink in the lake when the ice melted." A 1960 search of the bottom by skin divers failed to find any conclusive evidence that the story was true.
When Ebenezer, Daniel and Job Smith sold 11 acres in 1746 to Gideon Smith, they described it as "lying...under Asproom near Wallis' Hoghole, so called."
Wallis was no doubt James Wallis (or Wallace), whose family settled on the colony line, mostly in North Salem. The hoghole, however, was probably somewhere near what's now the Ridgefield High School property.
Hoghole is probably a variation of "hoghollow," a term used in a 1749 deed referring to "Smith's Hogholler," quite possibly the same location. That word, in turn, is probably a variation of "hogwallow."
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a hogwallow is "a hollow or ditch in which pigs wallow." Especially in the United States, it can also be "a natural depression having this appearance." Most likely, Wallis' Hoghole was a place where James Wallis kept his pigs - presumably, for the sake of sensitive noses, far from his house.
WALNUT GROVE, and ROAD
Walnut Grove is a 1960s subdivision of 35 house lots, served, appropriately enough, by Walnut Grove Road.
The name is not something dreamed up by a developer looking for an attractive title; it was the name of the longstanding farm that operated on the property, and may have traced its origin back to the early 18th Century.
In the 1700s, there was a locality in Farmingville known as Walnut Tree Ridge; this may have been the ridge to the east of Walnut Grove. In any event, it is clear that walnuts were growing in this vicinity from an early period. The late Francis D. Martin recalled "a great grove of walnut trees" at the farm, though the late Karl S. Nash, who once lived there as a child, remembered them as hickories.
David L. Jones, a Wilton native who settled in Farmingville in the 1890s after spending time in Colorado where he had a copper mine, named Walnut Grove Farm. Mr. Jones operated a dairy from this farm and grew crops at his Fairview Farm along Lee Road.
After his death in 1917, the farm remained in the family for several years, but in 1921 was acquired by Carl A.F. Stolle, who ran it until around 1950 when Alex C. Johnston bought it. Three years later, it was sold again, and eventually wound up in the hands of William Peatt Jr., whose West Lane Company subdivided 48 of the 96 acres in 1964. Nicholas R. DiNapoli Sr. put up most of the houses.
The Walnut Grove farmhouse, built around 1850 and remodeled in 1950, and the barn, now a house, still stand on the south side of Farmingville Road, just beyond Walnut Grove Road. The farm's pond, now mostly swamp, was called Jones' Pond and is preserved as part of three acres of open space along Farmingville Road.
Walnut Grove Road, which runs in a circle through the subdivision, became a town road in 1969.
WALNUT HILL ROAD
Walnut Hill Road runs from Old West Mountain Road to Round Lake Road at the Eight Lakes subdivision on West Mountain. It became a town road in 1957.
The road was named for the tree, perhaps because some were found in this neck of the woods when the development took place in the mid-1950's. Now rather rare and highly prized, the black walnut is so valued for its wood, used in veneers and fine furniture, that threes have actually been known to have been felled and stolen.
In ages past, not only the wood but the bark was valuable, the latter for tanning. The nut was used both for a food and for a yellowish-brown dye that was made from its shell.
WALNUT (TREE) RIDGE
Walnut Ridge or Walnut Tree Ridge is an elevation of land in Farmingville, apparently in the vicinity of the Farmingville School, perhaps including the top of Cain's Hill.
The name appears as early as 1718 when the proprietors deeded four acres to "Milford Samuel Smith... on ye Walnut Ridge west of ye East River." The East River was a name for the Norwalk River, situated as it is in the eastern extreme of the town.
In 1722, the proprietors granted Thomas Hyatt 15 acres at "ye Walnutt Tree Ridge." Hyatt in 1723 sold the same land to Timothy Canfield, describing the tract as "lying eastward of Sherwood's Ridge, over ye Great Swamp, lying on a ridge called Walnut Ridge."
The name in either variation continued to appear in deeds for more than a half century, the last being a 1774 transfer which speaks of "Walnutt Ridge," combining the two words. The name may have fallen out of use with the emergence of Cain's Hill, if it included that territory, but may also have been the inspiration for Walnut Grove, the name of the old farm that is now a subdivision in Farmingville. Or, of course, he trees, no doubt now long-gone, could have inspired both names.
Washington Avenue, at Peatt Park, runs between Lafayette and Rochambeau Avenues, a fitting arrangement since the names of all three gentlemen are connected with an incident in Ridgefield history.
As noted in more detail in the entry on George Washington Highway (q.v), the first president paid up to three visits to Ridgefield, but only one is documented. That occurred on Sept. 19, 1780, when the General and the Marquis de Lafayette were on their way to Hartford to meet the Comte de Rochambeau (who later came here - see Rochambeau Avenue). They stayed the night in Ridgebury, near the intersection of Ridgebury Road and George Washington Highway.
Though that was far to the north of the village of Ridgefield and Peatt Park, Washington may have once visited the Main Street home of Colonel Philip Burr Bradley, who lived where Ballard Park is now. There is no record of the visit, only tradition.
Though Washington probably had no connection with the neighborhood, the late William Peatt Sr. nonetheless felt the name was a fitting remembrance when he created the subdivision way back in 1928.
WASHINGTON PARK ESTATES
Washington Park Estates is a subdivision of 78 one-acre parcels along Branchville and Old Washington Road, as well as the new roads of Lincoln Lane, Jefferson Drive and Adams Road. The subdivider was Bertram H. Ison, who moved here around 1950 from Long Island, where he had sold motorcycles.
Work on the subdivision was started some years before the final plan was filed in 1961. According to The Ridgefield Press in October 1952, Mr. Ison and his mother, Minnie, were then planning a 100-acre subdivision with 1,300-square-foot houses that would sell for "under $20,000."
The name of the subdivision came from the road (see below).
Washington Road is a variation of Old Washington Road, an old roadway that once ran from Branchville Road to Ivy Hill Road. The road now serves only home lots at the Washington Park Estates (above), which got its name from the road.
As noted in the entry on Old Washington Road, the name may not have recalled the first president, at least not directly. There are reports that it was actually named for George Washington Gilbert, a turn of the 20th Century hermit, who lived along Ivy Hill Road not far from its old intersection with Old Washington Road (see Hermit Lane).
Wataba Lake is another name for what is called Rainbow Lake, one of the "Ridgefield Lakes."
According to John C. Huden in Indian Place Names of New England, wataba is a Mahican word for "roots," not just any roots but "the kind of roots used for cord and for thread in sewing canoes."
Whatever language is the source, Wataba is clearly not of early Ridgefield origin. The developers of the Ridgefield Lakes, probably recalling some place in some other state, selected it. There are no other watabas in Connecticut, nor could I find any in other states, but there is a Watab River in Minnesota that George R. Stewart, in American Place Names, says is Ojibwa "for the roots of the tamarack and pine used by the Indians for sewing canoes." Wataba is a surname in Japan and Uganda, and has been used as a given name in Zambia.
The name existed by 1934, about the time the Ridgefield Lakes were being created. It never appears in any pre-1930 land records.
Why is the lake also called Rainbow? Probably because someone, or ones, didn't like "wataba," perhaps feeling it sounded more like a children's camp in the mountains than a lake in a residential neighborhood. Yet, while no Indians ever canoed across the 20th Century, man-made Wataba Lake, they did negotiate Lake Mamanasco and such streams as the Titicus and Norwalk, and it is likely that they employed wataba to hold their boats together. Whether or not they actually used that word is, of course, unknown.
WATER'S EDGE WAY
Water's Edge Way is a private Road at the Ridgefield Lakes, running along the northwestern shore of Fox Hill Lake. It connects Greenridge Drive with Bennett's Farm Road.
Waterfall Road is a short lane, running between Bear Mountain and Old Mill Roads at Otto H. Lippolt's 1959 Hemlock Hills subdivision in Ridgebury.
The name apparently refers to the fall at the end of Old Mill Pond, presumably over a dam built for the old mill.
Webster Road at Westmoreland (q.v.) runs between Remington and Holmes Roads, all developed in the mid-1960s by Jerry Tuccio on plans drawn by the Lincoln Development Corporation of Massachusetts.
The road was probably named for Daniel Webster (1782-1852), the noted statesman who spent part of his life in Massachusetts, the home state of the Lincoln corporation. Webster was a congressman, senator and secretary of state whose speaking abilities and understanding of law were legends in his own time. Said one 19th Century author, "His great speech in reply to Hayne, delivered in the Senate Jan. 26 and 27, 1830, on Foote's resolution, has been declared, next to the Constitution, the most correct and complete exposition of the true powers and functions of the federal government."
Those who live along Bayberry Hill Road should probably be thankful that their address is neither Wenbos Lane nor Boswen Drive, both of which were originally used for the development.
According to the map of the subdivision, Wenbos Lane was the portion from Branchville Road to the circle. The circle itself was known as Boswen Drieve. Both names still appear on some deeds for houses in this subdivision.
"Wen" and "Bos" were, not surprisingly, the developers, Norwalkers Raymond D. Winnik and George Bossert. They seemed fond of such names, calling their corporation the Stam-Nor Holding Company.
Also not surprisingly, residents of the road petitioned in 1959 to have the names changed and, after several possibilities were mulled over, the Board of Selectmen chose Bayberry Hill.
Wepack was an Indian name for the territory at Long Pond, mostly now in Lewisboro, but which would have included some land still remaining in Ridgefield where West Mountain Road crosses into New York state.
The name appears in the settlers' fourth purchase of land from the Indians. In the 1727 deed, "we Taporneck & Moses, Indians belonging to Wepack or long pond so Called, & Richard and Samm Indians, belonging to ammawogg," sold territory, most of which went to New York Colony in the 1731 transfer of the Oblong (q.v.).
The deed nicely points out that Wepack is Long Pond or at least, at Long Pond. Long Pond is an area now consisting of three ponds: Lakes Oscaleta, Rippowam and Waccabuc. Back at the time of the settlement of this territory, the three bodies of water were probably considered one long pond - hence the common name, Long Pond, used into the mid-19th Century. Swamps connected with these mostly New York bodies of water extend into Ridgefield.
The meaning of Wepack is not certain, but there have been educated guesses. Some students of the Algonquian tongue maintain the word is a variation of wequapaug, meaning "at the end of the pond." John C. Huden, in Indian Place Names of New England, guesses that it was a variation of the word, Wepaug, which is also a locality in Tolland County, Conn. Pog or pok was an Indian sound meaning water, usually shallow water.
Another possible translation is "narrow waterway."
Wepack also appears in some New York records as Wepuc. (See also under Waccabuc.)
Incidentally, Ammawogg, where Richard and Samm lived, was probably Amawalk, a locality that includes a mountain in Somers, N.Y., west of this location.
WEST BRANCHVILLE ROAD
Perhaps the prize, were there one, for the most bizarrely named road in Ridgefield could go to West Branchville Road, a small piece of ancient highway that runs on the far side of the railroad tracks from Branchville's Peaceable Street north to a dead end by a storage business. The name is ridiculous because, no matter how you look at it, there is no reason for this highway to be labeled West Branchville Road.
Just pick up a town map. The road almost parallels the Redding town line in the very southeast corner of Ridgefield. There is probably no road in Ridgefield that is a far to the east as West Branchville Road is. It is in the easternmost part of Branchville and it is east of Branchville Road. It runs north and south, so it can't be said to lead anyone westward (as it can be said of West Lane). It is east of the town's only train station, and east of the tracks. Walk a few feet east of the road and you're in western Redding.
Who dreamed up the name and why it has managed to survive, no one seems to know. Since the late 1960s, the name appears on various maps, in highway lists, street directories, and even on signs. It is an official mailing address.
It should have been banned from print.
Fortunately there is another, earlier name for the road and one that's used by a few mapmakers such as Mail-A-Map (2005). "Old Main Highway" is much more suitable because the road is actually a small segment of the old Sugar Hollow Turnpike, the main highway that ran in the 19th Century from near the Danbury line south into Wilton and perhaps to Norwalk.
Much of the turnpike's path is now Route 7, but early in this century, when the state was improving Route 7, it moved the main highway to the west side of the tracks and the west side of the Norwalk River, a flatter and straighter route than the turnpike builders had used. It also did away with the bother of the highway's twice crossing the railroad tracks in a short distance.
The road left behind from this straightening is West Branchville Road, nee Old Main Highway.
A postcard from the 1920s labels a scene on this road as "Main Street, Branchville, Conn."
WEST CEDAR MOUNTAIN(S)
West Cedar Mountain is a name mentioned rarely in Ridgefield records. The first occurrence was in the 1709 grant from the General Assembly, allowing the town of Ridgefield to be created and using "West Cedar Mountain" as a boundary.
The name was still in use, though possibly only by reference to that ancient record, in 1828 during the perambulation (boundary walking) of the Ridgefield-Redding town line. In their report, the perambulators noted a boundary marker as existing in Abijah Nash's lot "on the West Cedar Mountains on the rear of the Long Lots so called."
The locality is the ridge more commonly known as Cedar Mountain, the north-south "mountain" that runs between Route 7 and Florida Road.
Why "West" in view of what was said about West Branchville Road (q.v.)? Perhaps the ridge on the east side of Route 7, across the valley from the West Cedar Mountain, was known as the East Cedar Mountain (or simply East Mountain, a name that appears also in the perambulation) by Ridgefielders, even though it was mostly in Redding. Or perhaps Cedar Mountain was named by people in Fairfield (not Redding), who looked upon its eastern slope as being in the west part of their town, part of the Fairfield "Long Lots" mentioned in the perambulation.
The Northrup family, which owned considerable land in the West Lane (Bedford Road) area in the 18th Century, sold several parcels at the "West Field" in 1763. The locality was probably on the western slope of High Ridge, in the vicinity of Manor Road or Golf Lane.
The name was mentioned as early as the 1750s and continued to appear in deeds well into the 1770s.
While it was probably more a family name than a well-known Ridgefield locality, West Field is interesting in that, in another place in New England, it became the name of a whole city: Westfield, near Springfield, Mass.
West Lane, one of our oldest highways, runs from Main Street at the fountain into New York State where it is known by the same name.
Although a road may have existed before then, West Lane near the village was probably laid out in 1722 and the eastern portion was probably first called Bedford Road (q.v.). Bedford Road was the present Route 35 - West Lane from Main Street to the little red schoolhouse, and then South Salem Road to the state line, part of a major Boston-to-New York stage route. Bedford was the next town of any consequence to the west of Ridgefield, and the present South Salem Road continued to be called Bedford Road as late as 1902, when that name appears on a property map on file in the town clerk's office.
From the 1770's
The term "West Lane" did not come into recorded use until the 1770's, and the first deed mentioning the name was filed in 1775 when John Northrup sold Josiah Hine "one certain tract or piece of land lying in sd. Ridgefield, joyning to the West Lane so called." Thereafter, the name begins appearing with increasing frequency.
It sometimes confuses people that a road that the state labels Route 35 and that seems as one actual1y bears two names, and that West Lane wanders off at the schoolhouse, heading southwest without a state highway number. Actual1y, from the schoolhouse to the state line, this winding road is still a state highway, though the number is kept from public view because the road does not lead to a state highway in Lewisboro, N.Y. This segment of road, however, bears the official state route number, 835.
West Lane started out as a route to the southwestern corner of the town, a territory then known as the Southwest Ridges, fertile and rolling hills that were valued farmland. Much of the Southwest Ridges, however, was lost to New York Colony when Connecticut exchanged the Oblong for Greenwich and other concessions in 1731. Much of the land along Route 123 and Elmwood Road, which run along the Southwest Ridges, were in Ridgefield then. Although the name sounds a little sil1y in Lewisboro, that town has retained the ancient name of West Lane, despite the fact that the road is in the easternmost part of that town.
Were the Southwest Ridges to have remained in Ridgefield, lower West Lane may have come to be known as the Southwest Ridges Road - there were occasional references to such a name. For a while, especially in the early part of this century, the western leg of West Lane was also cal1ed New Canaan Road because it has always been the main route from Ridgefield to that town, via New York State.
There was also once a movement, albeit very limited, to have the name of the entire road changed. Edgar C. Bross (1864-1935), editor of The Ridgefield Press from 1886 to 1889, once wrote an editorial in which he suggested changing the street's name to honor William W. Whiting, the fourth editor of The Press (1882-84). Despite Mr. Bross's apparent admiration for Mr. Whiting, his idea met with little success, not too surprisingly.
The name West Lane also lent itself to the school district, centered on the schoolhouse that still stands within the intersection of West Lane, South Salem Road, and Silver Spring Road. The district, also known as Number Seven, was cal1ed "West Lane School District" as early as 1862. At that time, it included all of West Lane, South Salem Road, northern Silver Spring Road, much of Peaceable Street and most of Peaceable Hill, the Westmoreland area, Olmstead Lane, and southern High Ridge.
One of the most noted residents of West Lane - a native of the street, in fact - was Samuel G. Goodrich, who was born in 1793 in a house that no longer stands near the corner of West and Golf Lanes, and who received his first schooling at the West Lane schoolhouse.
Goodrich, known around the world as Peter Parley, wrote or edited more than 100 books under that name. In his Recollections of A Lifetime, his autobiography published in 1856, Mr. Goodrich gives us a first-hand glimpse of what it was like to go to school in Ridgefield around the year 1800:
"About three-fourths of a mile from my father's house, on the winding road to Lower Salem (South Salem or Lewisboro) which I have already mentioned, and which bore the name of West Lane, was the school-house where I took my first lessons, and received the foundations of my very slender education. I have since been sometimes asked where I graduated: My reply has always been, 'at West Lane.' Generally speaking, this has ended the inquiry, whether because my interlocutors have confounded this venerable institution with 'Lane Seminary,' or have not thought it worthwhile to risk an exposure of their ignorance as to the college in which I was educated, I am unable to say.
"The site of the school-house was a triangular piece of land, measuring perhaps a rood in extent, and lying, according to the custom of those days, at the meeting of four roads. The ground hereabouts - as everywhere else in Ridgefield - was exceedingly stony, and in making the pathway the stones had been thrown out right and left, and there remained in heaps on either side, from generation to generation. All around was bleak and desolate. Loose, squat stone walls, with innumerable breaches, inclosed the adjacent fields.
"A few tufts of elder, with here and there a patch of briers and pokeweed, flourished in the gravelly soil. Not a tree, however, remained, save an aged chestnut, at the western angle of the space. This, certainly, had not been spared for shade or ornament, but probably because it would have cost too much labor to cut it down, for it was of ample girth. At all events it was the oasis in our desert during summer; and in autumn, as the burrs disclosed its fruit, it resembled a besieged city. The boys, like so many catapults, hurled at it stones and sticks, until every nut had capitulated...
"The school-house itself consisted of rough, unpainted clapboards, upon a wooden frame. It was plastered within, and contained two apartments - a little entry taken out of a corner for a wardrobe, and the school-room proper. The chimney was of stone, and pointed with mortar, which, by the way, had been dug into a honeycomb by uneasy and enterprising penknives. The fireplace was six feet wide and four feet deep. The flue was so ample and so perpendicular, that the rain, sleet, and snow fell direct to the hearth.
"In winter, the battle for life with green fizzling fuel, which was brought in sled lengths and cut up by the scholars, was a stern one. Not unfrequently, the wood, gushing with sap as it was, chanced to be out, and as there was no living without fire, the thermometer being 10 or 20 degrees below zero, the school was dismissed, whereat all the scholars rejoiced aloud, not having the fear of the schoolmaster before their eyes.
"It was the custom at this place, to have a woman's school in the summer months, and this was attended only by young children. It was, in fact, what we now call a primary or infant school. In winter, a man was employed as teacher, and then the girls and boys of the neighborhood, up to the age of 18, or even 20, were among the pupils. It was not uncommon, at this season, to have 40 scholars crowded into this little building.
"I was about six years old when I first went to school. My teacher was Aunt Delight, that is, Delight Benedict, a maiden lady of 50, short and bent, of sallow complexion and solemn aspect.
"I remember the first day with perfect distinctness. I went alone - for I was familiar with the road, it being that which passed by our old house. I carried a little basket, with bread and butter within, for my dinner, the same being covered over with a white cloth. When I had proceeded about half way, I lifted the cover, and debated whether I would not eat my dinner then. I believe it was a sense of duty only that prevented my doing so, for in those happy days, I always had a keen appetite. Bread and butter were then infinitely superior to pate de foie gras now; but still, thanks to my training, I had also a conscience. As my mother had given me the food for dinner, I did not think it right to convert it into lunch, even though I was strongly tempted.
"I think we had 17 scholars - boys and girls - mostly of my own age... The school being organized, we were all seated upon benches, made of what were called slabs - that is, boards having the exterior or rounded part of the log on one side: As they were useless for other purposes, these were converted into school-benches, the rounded part down. They had each four supports, consisting of straddling wooden legs, set into augur-holes. Our own legs swayed in the air, for they were too short to touch the floor. Oh, what an awe fell over men, when we were all seated and silence reigned around!
A lesson learned
The children were called up, one by one, to Aunt Delight, who sat on a low chair, and required each, as a preliminary, to make his manners, consisting of a small sudden nod or jerk of the head. She then placed the spelling-book - which was Dilworth's - before the pupil, and with a buckhandled penknife pointed, one by one, to the letters of the alphabet, saying, "What's that?" If the child knew his letters, the "what's that?" very soon ran on thus:
" 'What's that?'
" 'E.'" &c.
"I looked upon these operations with intense curiosity and no small respect, until my own turn came. I went up to the school-mistress with some emotion, and when she said, rather spitefully, as I thought, 'Make your obeisance!' my little intellects all fled away, and I did nothing. Having waited a second, gazing at me with indignation, she laid her hand on the top of my head, and gave it a jerk which made my teeth clash.
"I believe I bit my tongue a little; at all events, my sense of dignity was offended, and when she pointed to A, and asked what it was, it swam before me dim and hazy, and as big as a full moon. She repeated the question, but I was doggedly silent. Again, a third time, she said, 'What's that?' I replied: 'Why don't you tell what it is? I didn't come here to learn you your letters!'
"I have not the slightest remembrance of this, for my brains were all a-woolgathering; but as Aunt Delight affirmed it to be a fact, and it passed into a tradition, I put it in. I may have told this story some years ago in one of my books, imputing it to a fictitious hero, yet this is its true origin, according to my recollection.
Visit to the parents
"What immediately followed I do not clearly remember, but one result is distinctly traced in my memory. In the evening of this eventful day, the school-mistress paid my parents a visit, and recounted to their astonished ears this, my awful contempt of authority.
"My father, after hearing the story, got up and went away; but my mother, who was a careful disciplinarian, told me not to do so again! I always had a suspicion that both of them smiled on one side of their faces, even while they seemed to sympathize with the old petticoat and pen-knife pedagogue, on the other; still I do not affirm it, for I am bound to say, of both my parents, that I never knew them, even in trifles, to say one thing while they meant another.
"I believe I achieved the alphabet that summer, but my after progress, for a long time, I do not remember. Two years later I went to the winter-school at the same place, kept by Lewis Olmstead, a man who had a call for plowing, mowing, carting manure, &c., in summer, and for teaching school in the winter, with a talent for music at all seasons, wherefore he became chorister upon occasion, when peradventure, Deacon Hawley could not officiate (at the Congregational Church).
"He was a celebrity in ciphering, and Squire Seymour declared that he was the greatest 'arithmeticker' in Fairfield County. All I remember of his person is his hand, which seemed to me as big as Goliath's, judging by the claps of thunder it made in my ears on one or two occasions.
"The next step of my progress which is marked in my memory, is the spelling of words of two syllables. I did not go very regularly to school, but by the time I was 10 years old I had learned to write, and had made a little progress in arithmetic. There was not a grammar, a geography, or a history of any kind in the school. Reading, writing, and arithmetic were the only things taught, and these very indifferently - not wholly from the stupidity of the teacher, but because he had 40 scholars and the standards of the age required no more than he performed. I did as well as the other scholars, certainly no better..."
Young Samuel Goodrich's not-so-pleasant experiences at the West Lane schoolhouse may have sparked him to produce dozens of schoolbooks, considered the first that tried to make the material interesting to the child. He has been called the father of the modern textbook.
The West Lane schoolhouse continued to be used until 1915 and there may be still people alive in 2005 who learned their ABC's there.
WEST LANE II
For many years, Ridgebury had its own West Lane, a road that accomplished a task almost identical to the Ridgefield center's West Lane. Like the latter, the West Lane in Ridgebury led people from the center or village westward into New York (or from New York to Ridgebury).
Unlike the winding village road, Ridgebury's West Lane was almost "straight as an arrow," running westward from Ridgebury Road opposite George Washington Highway till it hit the state line For much of the 20th Century, this road was little used, but then in the late 1960' s, developers designed a subdivision for its eastern end. Rather than have people run into confusion with the more "established" West Lane, the Planning and Zoning Commission in 1969 opted for a new title, Canterbury Lane.
"West Lane" appears as early as 1799 when John Perry sold William Forrester three acres in Ridgebury "Parish adjoining the West Lane so called." An 1800 reference speaks of land "adjoining the West Lane near the Meeting House."
The term continued to appear through the mid-19th Century and was still being used on some records into the 20th Century.
West Mountain, probably the best-known "mountain" in Ridgefield, is the ridge along the western side of town that runs southwesterly from around Lake Mamanasco at the north well into Lewisboro, N.Y., on the south. At its highest point, in a remote area south of Sleepy Hollow Road just east of the state line, the elevation reaches just about 1,000 feet above sea level, not quite the 1,010 to 1,040 feet variously claimed for Pine Mountain in eastern Ridgebury.
The Indians called the place asoquatah, a word of uncertain meaning but perhaps translatable as "pine tree sap place," the sap being used as a glue or sealer by the natives. Asoquatah is the name that appears in the first deed from the Indians in 1708. By 1722, documents were using "West Mountain," a name whose origin is self-evident.
Some, however, might argue the use of the term "mountain" to refer to a place that's only a thousand feet up at its summit. The American Heritage Dictionary defines mountain as "a natural elevation of the earth's surface, having considerable mass, generally steep sides, and a height greater than that of a hill." So how high is a hill then? The same dictionary says a hill is "a well-defined naturally elevated area of land smaller than a mountain." Thanks a lot.
The earliest uses for West Mountain appeared to be as woodlots and for lumber, supplying firewood for the farms at the lower elevations and lumber for construction. Soon, however, as the choice lower lands were all spoken for and turned to field, newcomers moved to the mountain, clearing its surface of what must have been massive trees and plentiful rocks.
Millers on the mountain
Millers had also eyed the mountain and Round Pond, whose spring-fed waters provided a good source of power along the outlet stream for mills to saw the lumber taken from those virgin forests. However, as early as 1773, the proprietors had granted to "Joshua Pardy... ye privilege of using the water of the Round Pond (for carrying his grist hill)." A 1786 deed speaks of the land "by Pardee's" on West Mountain and in 1797, the proprietors granted Joshua "Pardu" land where "his grist mill stands," while "reserving the privilege to the owners of the sawmill standing near said grist mill." One Israel Pardee was operating a sawmill there sometime before 1818. Thus, there was some early industrial activity atop the mountain and the fact that a grist (grain) mill could successfully be operated there indicated either that the neighborhood was becoming fairly developed or that people in western Ridgefield and probably northern Lewisboro, lacking a good stream for a grist mill in more accessible neighborhoods, felt the trek up the mountain was worth the trouble.
Around the turn of this century, the mountain became a place second only to High Ridge and West Lane, for mansion for wealthy New Yorkers seeking retreats in the country. The John Lynch estate (in 2005 the Ridgefield Academy), Sunset Hall (long the home of actor Robert Vaughn), Jonathan Bulkley's "Rippowam" and Philip D. Wagoner's stone "palace" - once owned by book collector Harrison Horblit - and the Arnold bakery family's Eleven Levels, are five magnificent examples.
From at least he first half of the 19th Century, the mountain had its own school, which was also one of the last district schools to close its doors in 1928.
The last schoolhouse still stands and is used as a residence on the property of Dr. Patrick Neligan (2005). It sits along a portion of an old sharp curve on West Mountain Road that was bypassed when improvements to the highway were made by the state some years ago (see West Mountain Road).
In the 1860s, the West Mountain School District, long known as District Number Five, included West Mountain Road west of Peaceable Ridge, Oscaleta Road, Old West Mountain Road, Rippowam Road, Pumping Station Road, and Oreneca Road. There must have been some mighty cold hikes up there for the young mountain-dwelling scholars in the winters of the 19th Century.
In 1970, there was a hotly debated plan to erect a new West Mountain School, which would have been the town's seventh elementary school, on town-owned land along Oscaleta Road. Voters rejected the plan, both because of objections to developing conservation land and because of predictions that school enrollments would decline, making a new school unnecessary. The voters made a wise choice, since the town eventually closed two elementary schools when enrollments dropped.
To the 19th Century author Samuel Goodrich ("Peter Parley"), who grew up on West Lane and High Ridge at the turn of the 19th Century, West Mountain was a special place for an activity we would frown upon today - the mass hunting of passenger pigeons, a species trapped and blasted into extinction by Americans in the 1800s. In his Recollections of A Lifetime, Mr. Goodrich gives us a fascinating picture of the hunt and a beautiful picture of the mountain:
"I can recollect no sports of my youth which equaled in excitement our pigeon hunts, generally taking place in September and October. We usually started on horseback before daylight, and made rapid progress to some stubble-field on West Mountain.
"The ride in the keen, fresh air, especially as the dawn began to break, was delightful. The gradual encroachment of day upon night filled my mind with sublime images; the waking up of a world from sleep, the joyousness of birds and beasts in the return of morning, and my own sympathy in this cheerful and grateful homage of the heart to God, the Giver of good - all contributed to render these adventures most impressive upon my young heart.
Sights and sounds
"My memory is still full of the sights and sounds of those glorious mornings: The silvery whistle of the wings of migrating flocks of plover - invisible in the gray mists of dawn; the faint murmur of the distant mountain torrents; the sonorous gong of the long-trailing flocks of wild geese, seeming to come from the unseen depths of the skies - these were among the suggestive sounds that stole through the dim twilight. As morning advanced, the scene was inconceivably beautiful - the mountain sides, clothed in autumnal green and purple and gold, rendered more glowing by the sunrise - with the valleys covered with mists and spreading out like lakes of silver, while on every side of the car was saluted by the mocking screams of the red-headed woodpecker, the cawing of congresses of crows, clamorous as if talking to Buncombe; and finally, the rushing sound of the pigeons, pouring like a tide over the tops of the trees.
"By this time, of course, our nets were ready, and our flyers and stool birds on the alert. What moments of ecstasy were these, and especially when the head of the flock - some red-breasted old father or grandfather - caught sight of our pigeons, and turning at the call, drew the whole train down into our net-bed. I have often seen a hundred or two hundred of these splendid birds come upon us, with a noise absolutely deafening, and sweeping the air with a sudden gust, like the breath of a thundercloud. Sometimes our brush-hut, where we lay concealed, was covered all over with pigeons, and we dared not move a finger, as their red, piercing eyes were upon us. When at last, with a sudden pull of the rope, the net was sprung, and we went out to secure our booty - often fifty and sometimes even a hundred birds - I felt the fullness of triumph, which words are wholly inadequate to express!"
It is sad to think that such techniques helped to wide out a whole species of bird. Nonetheless, Goodrich's description of the early morning on West Mountain was magnificent, and one that - in the day when the noise of the automobile pervades the air, day and night - would be impossible to experience today.
WEST MOUNTAIN ESTATES
West Mountain Estates is another name for Jerry Tuccio's Eleven Level's subdivision (q.v.), first proposed in 1960, not approved by the town will nearly a decade later, and still being developed in the late 1980s.
WEST MOUNTAIN PINES
West Mountain Pines is a 23-lot subdivision of 55 acres of the former Conron, later Doubleday, later Graham, later Minot property on the northeasterly side of West Mountain Road, just westward of Ramapoo Road. The 1980 subdivision by Carl Lecher was named for the trees, planted by former owner James S. Doubleday, and includes two roads, Doubleday Lane and Sharp Hill Lane.
WEST MOUNTAIN ROAD
West Mountain Road, the road up West Mountain, is the state highway that is the continuation of Barry Avenue, running from the intersection of Ramapoo Road westward to New York State.
The original 18th Century path over the mountain began with Gilbert Street in the village and continued over Ramapoo Road, then up the mountain on the current West Mountain Road, across Oscaleta, Oreneca and Rippowam Roads, to get to Old Oscaleta Road and the state line.
It is possible that Oscaleta Road was the original path of the highway. However, since that road is generally flatter, it is more likely that Oscaleta Road was built (sometime before 1850) as a bypass to the steep West Mountain Road. With the advent of the automobile, for which hills were not quite the obstacle they were for beasts of burden, the state opted to use the West Mountain Road path for its official highway. Note that the old route took one all the way up Oreneca and down Rippowam Roads to get to the state line. Sometime between 1856 and 1867, a shortcut was built, bypassing those two roads.
Around 1932, when the state fixed up West Mountain Road, a straighter linek from Oreneca Road to the state line was created. At the same time other small improvements were made in the road, such as straightening out the double curve at Sharp Hill (near Ramapoo Road) and eliminating the curve at the old schoolhouse.
The term "West Mountain Road" is fairly modern. It does not appear in any deed through 1888, and is first noticed early in the 20th Century.
Although long labeled Route 102, West Mountain Road, as well as Barry Avenue and Catoonah Street, had their state route number signs removed in the 1970s. The reason? A new state highway department policy discouraged the use of state roads that lead into other states, but do not connect with state roads once they cross the line. West Mountain Road connects with Lewisboro's little Main Street, which is apparently a bypass of Old Oscaleta Road, the original extension of West Mountain Road.
Though it's numberless on signs, West Mountain Road, Barry Avenue and a couple hundred feet of High Ridge are nonetheless still maintained by the state.
WEST PINE MOUNTAIN ROAD
West Pine Mountain Road is shown on a couple of maps of the Hemlock Hills subdivision, a huge development on paper, only a small portion of which was ever built.
All that ever existed of West Pine Mountain Road were portions of a dirt road, north of and parallel to North Shore Drive. The road was never completely built by Otto H. Lippolt as part of his plan to subdivide what is now the Hemlock Hills Refuge.
According to a map filed by Mr. Lippolt in 1959, West Pine Mountain Road would run from Skytop Road or Bogus Road easterly, joining with a southerly extension of Bear Mountain Road and finally connecting with Pine Mountain Road. All this area was then and is still wooded wilderness, part of the town's largest chunk of open space, amounting to more than 600 acres. The town bought the undeveloped portion of Hemlock Hills, some 275 acres of it, in 1967.
The road was called West Pine Mountain Road presumably because it ran westerly from Pine Mountain Road.
WEST RATTLE HOLE
West Rattle Hole, one of the more colorful of the early Ridgefield names, was a locality near the colony line. As best as can be estimated, it was situated west of Peaceable Street, north of the former Pinchbeck's Nurseries.
The name was first recorded in 1717 when the proprietors granted Benjamin Willson "10 acres and a rood, lying east of ye West Rattle Hole." In 1721, the same Willson was given one and one-half acres of meadow and pasture "lying southeast of ye West Rattleholes" and three acres of swamp "lying northeast of ye West Rattle Hole under ye West Mountain."
The proprietors in 1731 deeded Jonathan Rockwell's heirs three acres "lying by a swamp below West Rattle Snake Swamp, north of Bedford Rhode." The Bedford Road was today's Old South Salem and South Salem roads.
Deeds in 1753 and 1761 mentioned land near "West Rattle Rocks."
All these localities, plus "the Rattle Holes" and "Rattle Snake Swamp" discussed earlier, were probably related and close to one another. And they were probably well populated with serpents.
West Ridge is another name for High Ridge, at least as the ridge runs from Peaceable Street and Catoonah Street.
Writing in a 1910 edition of The Press, the secretary of the Village Improvement Society described a possible new school site "on the east side of West Ridge, between Peaceable and Catoonah Streets."
The late Francis D. Martin also recalled this name. When he was a child, he said, it was the only name used for High Ridge. (High Ridge is, of course, the older name, dating from 1710.)
West Ridge was so called because it was west of the town street, just as East Ridge is east of it.
Ever hear of West Ridgefield? Thanks to some Branchville residents and the cooperation of the railroad, there was for a while one on paper and on a signboard, at least.
Lois Hall Herrick of High Ridge, who died in 1983, told in reminiscences published in The Press in 1978 of how her late husband, Gerard, used to commute from New York City years ago. He would reach the station in Branchville and take the train, which at that time ran up the branch line into Ridgefield's village (the old station still stands at the Ridgefield Supply Company lot).
One day, he handed the conductor on the main line a ticket stamped "Ridgefield," meaning the village. But the conductor looked at the ticket and told Mr. Herrick to change trains at Ridgefield.
"You live in West Ridgefield," he said.
Mrs. Herrick continued: "My husband, knowing quite well where he lived, decided that the conductor had been drinking and did not propose to argue with him, so he went on reading his newspaper.
" 'You heard me,' continued the ticket taker, 'a change at Ridgefield.' 'Yes, yes,' said Mr. Herrick.
"Getting off as usual at Branchville Station, he was amazed to see that the sign had been removed and that indeed in its place there was one reading, 'Ridgefield,'" Mrs. Herrick said.
"However, the shuttle was waiting and the passengers, after stopping at Florida (station), arrived in what had been known since 1708 as Ridgefield. The sign on the station had also been taken down and in its place was one announcing that this was now 'West Ridgefield.'
"It seems that some enterprising people in Branchville had brought this about, thinking that it would be an advantage for that community to be known as Ridgefield. It was about five days before some equally enterprising people in Ridgefie1d exploded this dream."
The old timetable omitting Branchville and listing it as Ridgefield and also calling the present Ridgefield "West Ridgefield" hung in Mrs. Herrick's hall for many years. "This was the only issue needed, for the schedule had to go back to its original listing of stations after so few days, and including again the name of Branchville," she said.
West River was a stream that, though it had its name early, quickly lost it.
A pre-1720 deed from the proprietors to Nathan Saintjohn describes three and a half acres "lying at ye West River, under ye West Mountain." The west side of town has no sizable river other than the Titicus. Since the Titucs had always been known by version of that name, some other stream had to be the West River and the only candidate "under West Mountain" is is the upper reaches of the Stamford Mill River.
In Stamford, which was then the next town to the southwest, the name "Mill River" was probably already well established, and perhaps when Ridgefielders discovered that their West River was really part of the beginnings of Stamford's Mill River, the latter quickly supplanted the former. The name, Stamford Mill River, began being used as early as 1716 (q.v.).
West Teer was a term used to describe a set of proprietors' lots that, according to Ridgebury historian Ed Liljegren, ran from Ridgebury Road westward to the New York Colony line.
The term was in use in the first half of the 18th Century, last appearing in a 1759 deed.
A tier is one of a series of rows of something, usually one above another. The West Teer was probably one of the sets of lots subdivided by the proprietors when they gained title to the huge northern Ridgebury tract that extended all the way to New Fairfield (see Ridgebury).
Westmoreland, one of the town's biggest subdivisions, is a portion of an old estate that was once offered to, and declined by, the town.
Westmoreland was the name that George Doubleday gave to his huge homestead that stretched over more than 250 acres, and was presumably so-called because it was moorlike and west of the village. In England, the shire called Westmorland (minus the "e") means literally "land or district of men living west of the moors." However, in this case, the so-called "moors" were west of where the people were living, for the Doubleday house was at the eastern end of the property - it's now the Temple Shearith Israel - and the village was farther eastward still.
A moor may be defined as a broad tract of open land, often high but poorly drained, with patches of heath and peat bogs. When it was on the market in the early 1960's, the tract of former farmers' fields was certainly broad, open and high, though most of it was well drained and there were no peat bogs or heath of note.
Mr. Doubleday, who came here in 1911, first lived in a house on West Lane. In 1915, in the name of his wife, Alice, he bought the 100-acre estate of Francis M. Bacon on Peaceable Street. Over the years, they more than doubled the property's size, and by 1965 there were 246 acres.
Mr. Doubleday, who was born in 1866, joined the Ingersoll Sergeant Drill Company in New York in 1894 and soon became its treasurer. When Ingersoll merged with the Rand Drill Company in 1905, he became a vice president. He took over as president in 1913, and was elected chairman of the board of lngersoll-Rand in 1936, holding the position till 1955, the year of his death.
In 1939, the House Ways and Means Committee made public a list of the highest salaried men in the nation, and among them was George Doubleday who in 1938, had received the then tidy sum of $78,000 as board chairman of Ingersoll-Rand.
Doubleday Lane, a road off West Mountain Road, bears his name, but recalls not him but his son, James, who had once lived on the West Mountain property.
In the early 1960's, the Doubleday family offered the town the Westmoreland property, some of which could have been used for a school site or even a multi-school campus. However, after much debate, the town rejected the land acquisition as expensive and unnecessary.
Subsequently, in 1964, 237 acres were sold for about $590,000 to the Lincoln Development Company, a Cambridge, Mass., firm that received subdivision approval in 1966 for 150 lots. However the firm ran into financial troubles, and sold the property to Jerry Tuccio, who developed it.
Alice Doubleday died in 1919 and Mr. Doubleday's second wife, Mary, died in 1968. The second Mrs. Doubleday had been considerably more active in the community than her husband. She was a founder of the Ridgefield Boys' Club, long serving on its board and at one time was its president. She had been chairman of the Ladies Committee of the New England Institute for Medical Research here, and a member of the Village Improvement Committee of the Ridgefield Garden Club.
Westmoreland Road, which became a town road in 1969, is the shortest of seven roads at the Westmoreland subdivision (above), and serves as a main entrance, running from Peaceable Street into the development and connecting with the circular Holmes Road. The rest of the names were taken from famous Americans of the 18th through early 20th Centuries - Webster, Marshall, Hamilton, Holmes, Remington (the Ridgefield artist who lived nearby), and Conant (a Harvard president).
Wett Swamp is a once-mentioned place name whose locality today is unknown. The only reference to it in the land records occurred in 1739 when Ebenezer Lobdell sold Abraham Bennitt two acres "lying at ye Wett Swamp," bounded on the east and west by Samuel Lobdell's land, and west and south by highway or common land.
Based on the property owners, the swampland was probably in or near the Limestone District, perhaps even beneath one of today's Ridgefield Lakes.
Wheeler Road is a small old road running between Mopus Bridge Road and Spring Valley Road. A dirt path until the 1970s, it probably was originally a farm path, serving as access to fields; it does not appear on Beers' atlas of 1867, though it does show up on Whitlock's atlas in 1912.
Wheeler Road is one of the few modern examples of an old-fashioned system for naming roads. It was first called Lee Lane because the Lee family lived along it. It is now called Wheeler Road because Wheelers lived along it. That's why we have St. Johns Road, Olmstead Lane, or Haviland Road - because that's where, years ago when the roads acquired their names, the St. Johns, Olmsteads, or Havilands lived.
In this case, the road was named for Mr. and Mrs. John N. Wheeler, who bought a home at the corner of Spring Valley and Wheeler Roads in 1936. By then, John Neville Wheeler had gained an international reputation as a newspaperman and a friend of some of the best known American writers of the first third of the 20th Century.
A native of Yonkers, N.Y., he began his career in 1908, the year he graduated from Columbia. His first job was for The New York Herald, and, as the obituary writer for The Press observed, "he never quit newspapering, permanently, until his death."
He founded several press syndicates, most noted of which was the North American News Alliance, which he started in 1922 and which competed with chain newspapers in covering major stories around the world.
He remained as its chairman until 1965 when, at the age of 78, he sold NANA.
As head of such syndicates, Mr. Wheeler hired and assigned many of the leading writing talents of the 1910s, 20s and 30s. Among them were Ring Lardner, Grantland Rice, Joseph Alsop, Doroth Thompson, Pauline Frederick, Sheilah Graham and F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Among the books in his library was a copy of For Whom the Bell Tolls, inscribed "To Jack Wheeler, who gave me the chance to go to that war." Ernest Hemingway, whom Mr. Wheeler had hired as a correspondent to cover the Spanish Civil War, signed it.
John Wheeler is buried at the Ridgefield Cemetery beneath a simple stone that gives his name, dates, and then the one word, "Newspaperman." (For more on John Wheeler, see under Spring Valley Road.)
His wife, Tee, who died in the 1985, was well known to many old-time Ridgefielders.
Wheer Cock, certainly one of the more unusual names in Ridgefield's geography, is also one of the least-used, appearing only in one deed.
The reference occurs in the very first deed, the 1708 transfer of lands from the Indians to the first settlers. Each corner of the town is described with an Indian name, and the southeastern corner - the present-day Branchvi11e - was called Wheer Cock.
No translation has been handed down. However, it's possible that the words are the early Ridgefielders' way of transliterating the sounds approximately "wawr-ock."
Ock, -ack, -auke, -uck, and -aug were among the ways of expressing American Indian sounds that were locatives, meaning "place of' or "at the place" as well as "country" or "region." The sound, "wawr," meant "good" or "favorable." Thus, it could have meant just "a nice place."
However, in translating some similar words from western Connecticut place names, John C. Huden in Indian Place Names of New England, finds more to the meaning. "Werewaug," which he identifies as being somewhere in Fairfield County, is translated "a good fishing place." In addition, "werawaug," the name of a mountain and a meadow in New Milford, is also translated "good fishing place."
Connecticut Place Names by Hughes and Allen notes that a map on Indian camps in western Connecticut, drawn in 1913 by a scholar on American Indians, mentions a "werawaug" and describes it as a Tankiteke village near Danbury. Tankiteke was the name of the sachemdom of the Wappinger tribe that inhabited this area. In Ridgefield were the Ramapoo and Titicus villages in the Tankiteke sachemdom. Tankiteke, incidentally, is believed to mean "forest dwellers."
At any rate, it seems reasonable that Wheer Cock could have been the settlers' way of writing down the Indians' word for "good fishing place." Branchville is at the confluence of the Norwalk River and the Cooper Brook and, in the spring at least, is still popular with fishermen seeking the trout, which, nowadays, are provided not by the Great White Father but by the state fish and game service.
Whipstick is another of Ridgefield's old, colorful, and entertaining names of unclear origin.
George L. Rockwell, in his History of Ridgefield, maintained, "Whipstick District received its name from the whipping-post in Colonial days. The whipping-post was on the (south) corner of Main Street and Branchville Road."
The story is quaint, but seems far-fetched. For one thing, no corner of Branchville Road, which is of 19th Century origin, existed when the whipping post stood on Main Street, so there was nothing really to associate the post with a section of town centered some distance away. For another thing, Whipstick as a name was in use within four years of the town's founding, before Ridgefield even had a minister, and it's unlikely there were enough sins - or people - to warrant having a whipping post so early on.
More likely is the theory of former first selectman Leo F. Carroll (1900-1985). Ridgefield' s settlement occurred in the days of animal-centered transportation and farm power, and whipsticks were necessary tools for prodding beasts, be they horses or oxen. Mr. Carroll believed that early Ridgefielders went down Whipstick way to cut their sticks, perhaps because the kind of sapling best suited to this purpose grew in that area, possibly in swamp. (A 1735 deed mentions land "on the east side of Whipstick Ridge Swamp," probably east of Nod Road, south of Whipstick Road.)
The name is one of the oldest in town, so the characteristic of providing whipsticks must have been noticed early and been noteworthy to the settlers. The first reference to the name occurred in 1712 when the proprietors granted Samuel Keeler "21 acres on ye upper end of a ridge called Whipstick Ridge." It is interesting that these 21 acres probably remained in the Keeler family well into the 20th Century for Keelers were the predominant landowners of upper Whipstick for two centuries.
It is possible, too, that the name came north from Wilton. That town, originally the northern part of Norwalk, was settled before Ridgefield and has a Whipstick Road of its own, connected to the lower end of Nod Road. Perhaps that's where the sticks were, before 1712, though Wilton historian David Herman Van Hoosear fails to mention Whipstick in his 1940 volume on Wilton Localities. Wiltonian Stowell Rounds, in A Connecticut Town Names Its Roads, notes the existence of a Whipstick district in Ridgefield, says Wilton's Whipstick Road was named by 1909, but adds, "the derivation of the old name is not known to the author."
"Whipstick" was used in the 18th Century to apply to Whipstick Ridge, which runs along the east side of Nod Road from the Branchville Road area down to the Wilton line. Soon after the turn of the 19th Century, the ridge was lending its name to the neighborhood, and deeds referring to land as simply "at Whipstick" began appearing.
Young scholars from the "Whipstick District," so called from as early as 1841, attended school at the corner of Whipstick and Nod Roads. An 1865 deed refers to the "Whip-Stick School District." (The deed's author perhaps used the dash to emphasize "whip" in a belief that the school was a prime employer of the stick to prod not animals, but children into obedience. No doubt sticks from the district were so used by at least some masters and mistresses of the Whipstick Schoolhouse. Think of what it would be like for a 19th Century youngster attending a school named for a feared tool of corporal punishment!)
In 1867 the district, called Number 8, included Nod Road, Whipstick Road, Rockwell Road, Perry Lane, East Ridge, Prospect Ridge, Grove Street, Branchville Road to beyond Old Branchville Road's western end, western Ivy Hill Road, northern Wilton Road East, and the east side of Main Street from West Lane south.
The schoolhouse originally stood near the south corner of the intersection. The last schoolhouse, which closed around 1915, was built on the north side. It stood on the northern corner, but few would have recognized it. Covered with stucco, the school had become a wing of a house. Here, the noted American precisionist painter, Charles Sheeler (1883-1965), lived and worked from 1932 to 1942. The house was torn down in the late 1990s to make way for a much larger house.
Our Whipstick Road today runs east from Wilton Road East to Nod Road. However, originally, townspeople considered upper Wilton Road East, from Main Street, to be part of Whipstick Road. This is so indicated in an 1851 survey when the term "Whipstick Road" first appears in Ridgefield records and as recently as 1936 when a highway map of the town labeled upper Wilton Road East as Whipstick Road.
Thus, the name follows the system used in naming other roads for districts of the town: it is the road to Whipstick, just as Farmingville Road is the road to Farmingville and Ridgebury Road, to Ridgebury. (The Whipstick Road in Wilton, leading to Ridgefield's Whipstick Ridge and District, could also be said to follow that old naming system.)
Whipstick Lough is a three-lot subdivision of 8.7 acres, obtained in 1978 by Attorney Paul S. McNamara. The lots lie along the north side of Whipstick Road.
A "lough" is, in the tongue of the Irish, a lake, bay, or inlet. Alas, there's no water nearby. But in Middle English, "lough" means "south." Whipstick is in the southern part of town, although the subdivision is on the north side of Whipstick Road. Oh, well, the name appears only on the subdivision map, not on a road sign, so few will worry about the meaning.
WHITE BIRCH ROAD
White Birch Road runs from Silver Hill Road southerly, then westerly, connecting with Silver Spring Lane at Silver Spring Park.
The road serves a one-acre subdivision started in 1952 by John M. McCormick. The development, done over some years, also involved Silver Spring Lane. The name White Birch Road was in use by 1954.
The American white birch (Betula papyrifera) is perhaps the most beautiful of our smaller native trees, and often is a subject for artists. It's also the famed source of birch bark, used by various American Indian cultures as a skin for canoes and wigwams. This durable bark has also been used for boxes, cups, shoes, and even snow goggles. The wood is not considered important in modem industry. Though the lumber has been used to make small housewares, it is more often used for pulp.
WHITE BIRCHES ROAD
White Birches Road is a short dead-end off Wilridge Road in Branchville. The road begins in Ridgefield, but within a couple hundred feet enters Wilton.
The road is part of a post-World War II subdivision by Joseph L. Dioguardi who, on a 1950 map, was calling this road White Birch Road. By 1958 it was White Birches. When it was switched is unclear, but it may have been done to avoid confusion with the later White Birch Road.
It doesn't help much, and the two roads remain excellent examples of how to confuse the heck out of policemen and firemen, responding to an emergency, as well as deliverymen. "Did he say 'White Birch' or 'White Birches'? could be an oft-asked question, one that could be a life-or-death question if it's being asked by an ambulance driver.
Clearly, one of the names should be eliminated. Although White Birches apparently can lay claim to first use, far fewer people live along it than White Birch. Thus, it would be easier to eliminate White Birches.
One warning, though: Don't just drop the "White." Ridgefield has already got a Birch Lane and a Birch Court doing their own confusing.
WHITE OAK ISLAND, POINT
Ancient names and among the very few to be recorded on an 18th Century map here, White Oak Island and White Oak Point were probably applied to the same location.
When he drew his "Mapp of ye Great Swamp" in 1718, Town Clerk and Minister Thomas Hauley labeled one spot as "white oak point" and, as if to make sure everyone understood what he was talking about, actually drew four little pictures of trees under the name.
The map is not very accurate and somewhat difficult to interpret. However, it appears that White Oak Point was situated in the northwestern corner of what was then defined as Great Swamp. Thus the point was probably in the vicinity of today's intersection of Farmingville and Danbury Roads.
One of the lots bordering the point on the map belonged to Richard Olmsted. The deed for this lot, part of the subdivision of the swamp among all the proprietors or first settlers, describes the nine acres as "lying near ye point of ye White Oak Island." Actually, it lay just to the south of the point, but it is interesting that the deed speaks of there being an "island." As a term, island was common in early Ridgefield deeds and often referred not to land in the middle of a lake or pond, but high-and-dry land in the midst of a swamp. Apparently in this case, the island wasn't much bigger than the point, for references to the point are more common, and mentions of the island are usually connected to the point.
A 1752 deed speaks of "White Oak Point in ye Great Swamp" while a 1753 deed covers both bases, mentioning land "nearby ye White Oak Point or Island." The last appearance of the term, a White Oak Point, occurred in a 1786 deed. Either the oaks or the island must have been gone by then.
It is also interesting that the Olmsted deed mentions a highway on the north side of the parcel. This may have been an early version of today's Farmingville Road.
White oak is both a group of oaks and a single species of oak, the latter marked by its whitish bark. These hardwood trees were exceedingly important to the first settlers, serving as the framework for their homes and for most other jobs requiring a strong and durable wood.
WHITE OAK RIDGE
A single deed in 1730 mentions White Oak Ridge, a locality probably in today's New York State (but then part of Connecticut Colony), perhaps on the northeastern slope of Titicus Mountain in North Salem.
Whiting's Pond is an old name for what is now cal1ed Sanford's Pond, situated in Danbury on the north side of the old Route 6 near the New York State line. This was territory that belonged to Ridgefield between 1739 and 1846.
The earliest mention of the name occurred in 1786 when Joseph Field gave his grandson Joseph 90 acres "in New Patent" bounded on the north "by a certain pond called Whiting's Pond" and westerly by the New York line. A 1799 deed mentions "Whitin's Pond" while deeds in 1815 and 1835 use the correct "Whiting's."
The name apparently recalls someone who owned or lived near the pond before 1786. It has also been known as Andrew's Pond, according to Beers Atlas of 1867.
Whitlock Lane is a short dead-end road off the north side of Bennett's Farm Road, west of Mountain Road. It was created in a 1979 subdivision of 22.7 acres into six lots and 13 acres of open space. The subdivider was the late Marcelino E. Lavin of Wilton.
The name recalls the Whitlock family, which formerly owned much of the land in that neighborhood.
Though not among the first settlers, the Whitlocks were one of the early families to establish themselves in Ridgefield, particularly in southern Ridgebury, and members of the family still live here. The clan also spread into southern Danbury.
The first Whitlock to come here was probably John, who had lived in "Greenfield," probably Fairfield, and bought 20 acres at a place called "East Ridge" near "Dutchman's Swamp" soon after the town's founding. This is in the neighborhood of the present Ridgefield Lakes, possibly around Fox Hill Lake. The first Whitlock born here was probably Daniel, son of David and Margaret Whitlock, in 1720.
At least three Whitlocks from Ridgefield served in the Revolution, one was in the War of 1812, and two in the Civil War. Those two were Joseph and Nephi Whitlock, probably brothers, who enlisted together July 25, 1862, and were wounded together July 1, 1863, in the Battle of Gettysburg. Joseph died 15 days later of those wounds, while Nephi survived and served until 1865. Nephi Whitlock lived until 1912. His father was John Whitlock, a native of Danbury - probably the Ridgebury section, and his mother was Sallie Sellick Whitlock, a Ridgefield native who died in 1907 at the age of 97.
(Some years ago, a descendant of Nephi Whitlock reported to this writer that the sword and certain other Civil War effects of this soldier were still in Ridgefield and in possession of the family. Unfortunately, the name of the descendant has been misplaced.)
Another noted member of the family was Henry Whitlock, a stage driver here when he was but 12 years old and one-time driver for Barnum and Bailey's circus who was reported to be able to handle a circus wagon pulled by 16 pairs of horses. His son, Morris B. Whitlock, operated a long-standing livery stable on Catoonah Street opposite today's firehouse.
A 1733 deed from Thomas Hyatt to John Sturdevant describes two acres on the east side of Great Swamp "where ye brook running at ye north end of ye Whortleberry Hill empties into ye Great Swamp."
The location, mentioned only in that one deed, may be the hill that stands near the fork of Ivy Hill and Florida Hill Roads, rising from some 580 feet above sea level at Great Swamp to some 670 feet at its peak. There is a small stream on this hill's north side, running into the swamp, perhaps the same brook mentioned in the old deed. The hill may be the same that was later called Ivy Hill (q.v.), a shorter name that stuck.
Redding, Danbury, and a couple of other towns in Connecticut are on record as having localities named for the whortleberry, but what is this oddly titled fruit?
The whortleberry is actually a European plant, but the tall huckleberry or blue tangle or tangleberry (Gaylossachia frondosa) was called in early times the "blue whortleberry," perhaps because of its resemblance to the European species that the settlers or their parents knew from the old country. This huckleberry was indigenous to moist woods and would have been at home in the forests near the Great Swamp. It bears blue berries.
Thus, Whortleberry Hill would probably be more properly called Huckleberry Hill or Tangleberry Hill. But who's going to argue with something short, sweet, and established, like Ivy Hill?
Wiggin-Roberts Lane is a private accessway serving four houses off eastern Peaceable Street. Built probably to serve the outbuildings of turn-of-the-century mansions in the area, the accessway is of uncertain ownership today, according to one of its users.
The lane was named informally for Albert H. Wiggin, president of the Bank of Manhattan, and Steele Roberts, both of whom were landowners thereabouts early in the 20th Century.
A minister's son who headed Chase National bank, Wiggin was once listed among America's richest people. Later, however, he was labeled a scoundrel after it was revealed that, during the period of the Crash of 1929, he had manipulated Chase stock to his own advantage, but not the shareholders'. In so doing he used loans from his own bank, put his earnings in a Canadian holding company to avoid taxes, and made millions that the bank itself did not discover until a U.S. Senate investigation several years later.
WILD CAT LOT
The Wild Cat Lot is a once-mentioned locality, noted here because it's unusual and colorful.
In 1761, Thomas Wilson sold his son, Daniel, seven acres "called the Wild Cat Lott" in New Patent (Ridgebury). The lot was probably on or about Ned's Mountain.
Just what kind of "wild cat" is recalled in this name is not certain, but probably several types lived here in the 18th Century. Writing in the year 1800, the Rev. Samuel G. Goodrich observed, "there were formerly deer, bears, wolves, panthers, and wild-cats in our woods, and beavers in our ponds, but they are now extinct."
Well, deer and beavers are certainly in great evidence today, and there have been reports of bobcats - possibly the wild cat referred to. Nehemiah Lyman Keeler of Ridgebury Road (1913-2005) was reported to have seen a bobcat in Ridgebury years ago, and around 1970, a resident of the Lake Windwing area near Ridgebury School reported seeing what appeared to be a bobcat in a tree in her yard. Bobcats, the most common North American wild cat, exist well with man and its range includes the entire Northeast. Because they are shy, nocturnal and very fast, they are rarely spotted, however.
Mountain lions, much larger than the bobcat, are also believed to have inhabited the area. Around 1970, one lived in the Florida District, but it was the pet of a resident. Late one night, the big cat got loose and headed eastward, running across Route 7. A motorist who saw it dash in front of his car was so shocked he drove straight to the police station five miles away and began his report: "I know you're going to think I'm drunk, but I just saw a lion run across Route 7."
The cat was later captured and kept under better tether.
WILLOW COURT, ROAD
Willow Court is a dead-end road off the west side of Poplar Road, the result of a six-lot subdivision by Armando Salvestrini.
Mr. Salvestrini was involved in the original 1956 subdivision, called Ridgefield Gardens and including Poplar and Linden Roads, and Birch Lane. In that development, a street called Willow Road was planned to run from Poplar Road to Linden. For some reason, it was never built, but in 1978, Mr. Salvestrini sought and received a new subdivision from the Planning and Zoning Commission for this undeveloped portion of Ridgefield Gardens.
The Board of Selectmen accepted the new road as a town road in 1980.
Like others in the area, the name of the road recalls a species of ornamental trees grown by the huge Outpost Nurseries, which owned most of the land in the triangle between Danbury Road, Route 7, and Farmingville Road from 1920 to the early 1950's.
Of the more than 50 species of willows in eastern North America, some 20 could be found here, though probably only two - the venerable and imported weeping willow, and the popular pussy willow - are readily recognized by most people. The trees, once used for basket making, fuel, charcoal, and posts, are now chiefly decorative or "weed" trees, whose leaves, fruit, twigs and buds are eaten by many forest birds and animals.
Wilridge Road runs from Route 7 in Branchville section of Ridgefield into the Georgetown section of Wilton, where it connects with Sunset Road.
The two-town status of the road gives it its two-town name.
The road dates from around 1950 and is a part of the collection of small-lot, post-war subdivisions done by Joseph L. Dioguardi on the west side of Route 7 in Branchville.
WILTON ROAD EAST
Wilton Road East, sometimes called just Wilton Road, is an old highway whose origins might cause one to wonder about the frugality of our early Yankee settlers.
The name today applies to the road that runs from the southern end of Main Street south till it meets Wilton Road West a little north of the Wilton line. Until fairly recent years, however, what was considered to be Wilton Road had its northern terminus at Whipstick Road (q.v.), the rest of the highway north of there being considered part of Whipstick Road.
The south end of Wilton Road East - around the little community of houses at Silver Hill Road - was originally part of Wilton Road West. That main road had veered easterly from its present route, down a hill, and came out onto the existing path of Wilton Road East a bit north of Silver Hill Road, and then continued on into Wilton. The newer route for the southern end of Wilton Road West was installed sometime after 1867.
Wilton Road East and West present a bit of a mystery. Why would the normally thrifty pioneers of Ridgefield engage in the luxury of creating two parallel roads, beginning more or less at the same place and ending more or less at the same place? Which was the first road and why was a second one built?
It seems clear that Wilton Road West was the first road, chiefly because some of the houses along it date from a very early period. The house owned in 2005 by Jamie Ogle Shafer, for example, was built around 1730. On the other hand, no houses along the old portion of Wilton Road East are nearly that old.
Why have the alternative route then? Probably at least some of the path of Wilton Road East existed from early times as a "farm road" that provided neighborhood access to fields east of the main highway. Eventually, however, the "farm path" could have taken on a status of a full highway because it provided a more gradual, less steep route to the village of Ridgefield from parts south than did Wilton Road West, a road that had long stirred debate because of its hills. Anyone who rides a bicycle will easily see the difference in cycling the two roads from the Wilton line to Main Street; Wilton Road East is much easier. A horse or an ox would notice the same thing.
Wilton Road East was certainly well established by the 1850s, for the selectmen in 1851 conducted a survey of "a public road... commencing on the north side of the old highway near Potash Brook so called, running thence north" to "the Whipstick Road, so called, easterly of the dwelling house of Josiah Northrop." This was the main section of Wilton Road East, from above Silver Hill to Whipstick.
Whitlock's map of 1912 labels the road "Wilton Road" as does a 1931 map and a 1936 atlas. Old-timers also recalled its being commonly called that while Wilton Road West, despite being the main road to Wilton, was better known as Flat Rock Road (q.v.) years ago.
According to historian George L. Rockwell, the portion of present-day Wilton Road East between Creamery Lane and Main Street was cut through an old cemetery there around 1850. If that's the case, Creamery Lane may have been the original western end of Whipstick Road.
"Wilton" means "town among the willows" or "willow-town," though it's also possible that the name could have stemmed from the Old English adjective, wilde, meaning "wild, uncultivated, desolate." The Norwalk residents who began settling the area in 1701 and created Wilton parish in 1726, probably took the name from Wilton in Somerset Shire, one of four Wiltons in England, say histories of the town. Wilton did not become an official town until 1802 and thus, highways leading to it might properly have been called Norwalk Road until then.
WILTON ROAD WEST
Wilton Road West is a relatively new name for an old highway that, over the years, has had several different - and perhaps better - names.
The road was probably officially laid out by order of Town Meetings in 1723 and 1724 as a highway to Norwalk. Wilton was then a section of Norwalk, so the Ridgefield town line was also the Norwalk line.
As the road to Norwalk, it was probably the single most important highway in town since it connected the new settlement of Ridgefield with the well-established town of Norwalk, whence came most of Ridgefield's first settlers.
Actually, because a link between the two towns was so essential, a trail had probably been established by 1715, maybe earlier. However, it took the Town Meeting action to make the route official, and that action was important so that people whose land was "taken"for the path of the new highway could get compensation, in the form of other land, from the town.
1713 Norwalk vote
In fact, a highway to Ridgefield had been discussed by Norwalk residents as early as 1713 when "the town by a major vote made choice of Capt. Joseph Platt, Capt. John Raymond, and Ensign James Stewart, for their committee, to make a settlement of a highway or road to Ridgefield, if the and the committee of Ridgefield can agree; and both fully impower said committee to make restitution to such persons that sd. highway may take land from within the limits of Norwalk township."
Whenever the road was established, it was long a headache for the town. At various times over the years, meetings took place about changing its route to make it less hilly and perhaps to make it avoid springs, which turned it into a morass of mud. Those springs, or at least poor drainage of runoff, still take their toll on the highway's surface as evidenced in the pockmarked surface in the vicinity of Woodchuck Lane that existed until the fall of 1983, when the state repaved the entire length of the highway in Ridgefield.
Potash Hill problems
Several times over the centuries, particularly in the 19th and early 20th Centuries, major studies of the route of the road in the vicinity of Potash Hill (south of Woodchuck Lane) were undertaken. Years ago the highway veered off to the east, just below the old Flat Rock Schoolhouse and went over Potash Hill to Wilton Road East. Even earlier, in the 1700's, there was an old road that also veered to the east, only farther south, and connected to Wilton Road East.
The town and eventually the state corrected these problems by straightening the road and creating a new strip of highway that connects with the old highway at the old Hilltop Service Station. This may have been done in 1922 when the state paved Wilton Road West. However, vestiges of the old cross-over roads still exist, and along one, the hiker can find samples of the "potash" of Potash Hill.
Another section of the old highway is more visible, for it still had pavement on it until the 1990 This strip of road on the east side of Wilton Road West, a little below Woodchuck Lane, was abandoned by the state some years ago when it attempted to straighten out a curve. Along it can still be seen the dry laid stone foundation of the old Flat Rock Schoolhouse. Also visible is much of the surface of the "Flat Rock" for which the district was named. (Incidentally, Flat Rock Drive was never in Flat Rock District and has, in effect, stolen the name and taken it away from its "homeland.")
For a long while, the state maintained this strip of abandoned highway as a roadside rest stop, but apparently tired of the cost and effort of maintaining it. The state even had a fancy sign that bore the irrelevant name, "Twin Maples," that had no doubt been invented by some state official who had no inkling of the age-old names for the area.
Still another example of the change in the highway's route can be seen on the west side of the road, opposite Creamery Lane. The bed of the original highway can be see just a few feet west of the existing road. Why the route was moved so little is unclear, but it probably occurred at the time the road was paved.
Over the years the road has had many names. Perhaps its earliest was "Ye Country Road," a term frequently used in early Connecticut for highways that traveled through "the country" to connect two towns. At the time it was probably also widely known as "the road to Norwalk," or "Norwalk Road," though we have found only one example of Norwalk Road, a 1737 entry in the town record book.
Maps in 1912 and 1936 labeled the highway "Flat Rock Road," certainly a suitable title for a road that ran down across the huge Flat Rock and through the middle of the old Flat Rock School District. Too bad the name wasn't maintained.
The highway has also been called Ridgefield Road (as its extension into Wilton is known) and the Town Street (at least its upper reaches). And, of course, it has long also been known as Connecticut Route 33.
Lake Windwing is a small, man-made body of water off Bennett's Farm Road, opposite the Ridgebury School. It can be reached from either North Shore Drive or South Shore Drive.
The pond was created in the 1950's by Harold Goldsmith, developer of Lakeland Hills, the subdivision that borders the westerly and northerly sides of the lake, and could be considered the uppermost of the Ridgefield Lakes, because its waters flow into those of the lakes to the east.
Efforts to learn something of the origin of the name have failed. To be sure, it is not based in any Ridgefield history, for no word like it is found in the town or land records up to the turn of the century. Perhaps Mr. Goldsmith picked up the name in some other state, or simply made it up from scratch because he liked its sound. (Former First Selectman J. Mortimer Woodcock apparently didn't think much of it; he invariably called it "Wingding.")
According to Annette Zelson, who was a longtime resident of the neighborhood, Windwing has also been called "Goldsmith's Pond."
Much of the perimeter of the pond is owned by the town of Ridgefield, which acquired in the late 1960's, and land to the south has been developed into Little League fields. Because of its proximity to the lake, this town-owned land has often been called the "Windwing property."
Included in the acquisition of this land was a barn, which in 1968 the town decided to convert into a storage garage for highway equipment. Neighbors didn't like that much and complained to the Planning and Zoning Commission, which agreed that a garage didn't belong in a residential zone. It issued a "cease and desist" order, including a threat of "fine or imprisonment or both" for noncompliance, to First Selectman Woodcock.
Upon learning of the commission's decision to issue the order, Mr. Woodcock declared: "They know where I am - let them serve me!"
The first selectman ignored the order, pointing out that town property was exempt from zoning regulations (at that time). Eventually, however, the town stopped using the barn as more room became available at the highway garage in the center of town.
Over the years there has been talk of putting in a beach at Lake Windwing, but the pond is generally considered to be too shallow and its water turnover too slow to make it good for swimming. However, it has been a popular spot for fishermen and ice skaters.
Jon Elkow, a former school board chairman, reports that Lake Windwing was also informally called "Bob's Lake," for Bob Kaufman, who owned the land the town now has on the southerly and easterly shores, and who maintained a swimming beach there for a while.
"We swam and fished in the lake up until the early '70s, even though the beach had begun to deteriorate without Bob's annual fixing-up," Mr. Elkow said. "I can remember bringing our new canoe down in the summer of '73 to practice the 'what do we do if it tips over' drill.
"That same summer was the end of my swimming in the lake when I caught - snagged, really - a snapping turtle that was bigger than any dinner plate in our house."
WINDY RIDGE LANE
Windy Ridge Lane is a short, dead-end road off St. Johns Road, a part of a 1962 subdivision by Robert Olmstead. The road was named for the former Olmstead farm, whose house is right on the sharp curve of St. Johns Road south of Windy Ridge Lane, owned in 2005 by the Kukulka family. The farm's name, in turn, came from the tendency for the wind to whip through the area, especially in storms. Mrs. Betsy Shape, who owned the farm in the 1920' s and early 1930's, first used the name.
"It was windy as hell," said Richard E. Venus, the former postmaster and the town historian for many year, who once lived on St. Johns Road below Windy Ridge.
Mr. Venus noted that the wind, combined with heavy snow in a 1947 storm, created drifts that were 11 to 12 feet deep across St. Johns Road at Windy Ridge.
Bob, John and Frank Symon put in the lane and built many of the houses at Windy Ridge.
Wintergreen was a tiny locality in the early 19th Century, somewhere in the Scotland District, perhaps near the modern-day Scotland School.
The name first appears in an 1835 deed in which Hul1 Gilbert sold Sarah Ann Roberts land "called Wintergreen or common land." Nine years later, the owner, by then married to Lewis J. Seymour of Wilton, sold the acre "cal1ed Wintergreen" to James Scott.
The name is interesting in that it apparently applied only to a smal1 parcel, yet was not the "Wintergreen Lot," "Wintergreen Meadow," or "Wintergreen Wood" as would have been typical for so smal1 a piece of land.
Wintergreen Hill was evidently a larger locality than the former, and was first mentioned in an 1831 deed in which Hiram L. Seymour sold Joel T. Pike one-half of his land "at Wintergreen Hill so called."
Indications are that Wintergreen Hi]] was in southern Ridgefield, perhaps on the Wilton line in the vicinity of Silver Spring Road or Wilton Road West. Unfortunately, the name did not establisr itself in deeds and apparently in common use, for it was mentioned only twice, both times in deed drawn in 1831.
Wintergreen is a wildflower, appropriately named for the fact that its leaves remain green through the winter. The aromatic plant, common to woods and shady places, has tasty red berries, often sti]] around in mid-winter.
After the Boston Tea Party, Americans frequently employed wintergreen as a tea substitute. Th oil of wintergreen, obtained by steaming or steeping the plants, contains methyl salicylate, which is similar to aspirin, and consequently people years ago used the tea for headaches, rheumatism, as well as for sore throats and upset stomachs.
The Wolfpits and associated names bring back a hint of life in pioneering time that we often forget. Unfortunately, the name has all but disappeared from our geography.
On Dec. 26, 1744, the selectmen laid out the east end of Branchville Road (much of it now the Old Branchville Road), describing it thusly: "Beginning at Fairfield (now Redding) line at ye south end of ye Cedar Mountain, at ye northeast comer of Abraham Bennit's land, and so running westward between ye Bennetts land and Matthew Seamore's till it comes to ye Pompion Ridge,"and thence into town.
That wasn't the first mention of the Wolfpits, but it's one that helps give a good clue as to where they were situated. Pompion or Pumpkin Ridge is at the "top" of Branchville Road, where today the western end of Old Branchville Road joins Branchville Road. In addition, the highway description speaks of the "west side" of the land at "ye Wolfpitts," suggesting that the generally east-west Old Branchville Road might have taken a turn to the north so it could pass the west side of the land. That, in fact, happens west of Nod Hill Road and east of Bruschi Lane, and from that first sharp turn northward, the road tends to head northwesterly till it meets today's Branchville Road.
Thus, it seems likely that somewhere in the woods off Old Branchville Road and Bruschi Lane, perhaps into Twin Ridge, is the old site of the Wolfpits, probably long ago filled in by man or nature.
But what were these pits? Back in the early 1700's, Ridgefield was wild, "mountainous" territory whose animal population included bears, mountain lions, rattlesnakes and wolves. None of these were appreciated by the colonists, either because of their own safety, or for the safety of their livestock. Farm animals were the most likely victims of attack from large carnivorous mammals.
Apparently wolves were much more common than either wild cats or bears, and to get rid of them, the colonists dug deep pits, covered them with a loose mat of twigs and leaves, and baited them with carrion. When an unsuspecting wolf or two or three happened along for a snack, down they went into the pit where they could be shot or starved to death.
Getting rid of wolves was serious business. The Norwalk Town Meeting voted on Sept. 16, 1659, "that it shall be lawful for any person or persons to make any wolfe pitt or pitts in convenient places, and what wolfes shall be taken and killed by sayed persons, they shall be allowed for every wolfe 10 shillings by the Towne."
Evidently, the reward was getting too few takers, for in 1667, the Norwalk voters jacked up the amount to 20 shillings. Proof, the Town Meeting said, was showing the "head or eares" of the animal.
Nailed to the wall
Alice Morse Earle, in her Home Life in Colonial Days, reports that the bloody heads of slain wolves were often nailed to the outside wall of meeting houses - why, it is not clear.
The Ridgefield wolfpits were around long before Branchville Road was laid out, and may even have been here before the town was. The first mention occurs in a 1721 deed from the proprietors to Richard Olmsted for a parcel "lying in ye lower end of that swamp called and known by ye name of ye Wolfpitt Swamp," bounded westerly by a highway.
In 1753 the proprietors gave Alexander Resseguie 11 acres "lying on ye east side of his land near ye Wolfpitts by Norwalk (now Wilton) line," suggesting that the pits may have been well south of Old Branchville Road in what is now Twin Ridge. Indeed, a 1792 deed for 10 acres from James Rockwell to Anthony Beers says the parcel was "easterly of sd. Rockwell's house and next to ye Wolf Pitts," and bounded on the south by the Norwalk line. Beers, incidentally, lived on lower Nod Hill Road near the Wilton line, and Resseguie, it is believed, lived on lower Nod Road. Beers sold the parcel in 1797, which is the last mention of the W olfpits in the land records.
Since the wolfpits were at the south end of town, near the old Norwalk line, it's quite possible that settlers of Norwalk, particularly in Wilton Parish, crossed into the wilder Indian territory to dig their wolfpits. Thus, the pits could very well have predated the town of Ridgefield.
Around 1980, a land developer (who soon after left town owing hundreds of thousands of dollars) asked for a suggestion for the name of a road in the Old Branchville area, and was offered Wolfpits Road. He quickly rejected the idea, feeling it didn't fit in with the fine and fancy colonial houses he was erecting. In fact, it was a far more colonial and meaningful name than most in town, and is one found on roads in Norwalk, Bethel and Wilton - with some pretty fine and fancy houses on them.
WOLF PIT RIDGE
In 1789, Henry Whitlock sold Thaddeus Whitlock about six acres "near where Widow Mary Wood now lives at Wolf Pit Ridge, a place so called."
According to Ed Liljegren, who was a historian of Ridgebury, Wolf Pit Ridge was probably in the vicinity of Pleasant View Estates, out behind the Pink House. The name suggests that Ridgeburians, too, had their wolfpits.
WOLF POND LANE
Wolf Pond Lane was suggested for the name of the little road in a 1982 subdivision by Nancy Purdy of land off Pine Mountain Road. However, the name was subsequently changed to Ives Court (q.v.) to honor composer Charles Ives, whose family owned a cottage on Pine Mountain. Wolf Pond Lane was proposed because of the Wolf Pond Run in the neighborhood (see below).
WOLF POND RUN
Wolf Pond Run is reported to be a very old name for the stream that runs northerly along the west side of Pine Mountain Road. The pond itself is no longer much of a body of water, probably remaining only in the form of a swamp in the town-owned Hemlock Hills Refuge.
The name has not been found in the land records. Silvio Bedini, in his Ridgefield in Review (1958), recounts the story of the British, on their way from the burning of Danbury, having difficulty when they approached Ridgebury. "The British discovered too late that the bridge over Wolf Pond Run had been removed by the Americans and their cannon became enmired in the stream. Finally, a temporary bridge of rails was constructed. The incident gave birth to the stream's new name, which was thenceforth known as Miry Brook."
As we have seen earlier, Miry Brook was known as Miry (or Miery) Brook long before the Revolution. In addition, that name probably applied to the stream to which Wolf Pond Run joins, about 150 feet south of the intersection of Pine Mountain Road and Miry Brook Road in Danbury.
Wononkpakoonk, a little-known name, was one of the Indian words used to label the four corners of the town when the settlers bought Ridgefield from the natives in 1708.
The deed gives a fairly detailed description of the original boundaries as running from the Norwalk (now Wilton) line down in Branchville, up to near Umpauwaug Pond, turning northwesterly up to Little Pond, then generally west northwest to Mamanasco, then southerly to the Norwalk line somewhere in modern-day Lewisboro.
The deed continues: "The Four Corners of said tract of land being called by the following Indian names: South East Corner 'Wheer Cock'' North East Corner 'Wononkpakoonk'; North West Corner 'Mamanasquag'; South West Corner 'Narahawmis.'"
Thus, Wononkpakoonk was up in the area around Umpawaug Pond, Fire Hill, Great Pond, and Little Pond, but was probably applied mostly to the area north of Topstone Road and just west of Umpawaug Pond (which lies in Redding).
According to Connecticut Place Names by Hughes and Allen, many words like Wononkpakoonk appear in various forms in New England. John C. Huden in Indian Place Names of New England translates some similar words, such as Wonuncopauk and Wonunkapukook as "rocky point where the lake bends." He also translates the word Wonokpakook as Mahican for "an open space." It could also be a variant of Wonunkapaukook, which Trumbull translates as "land at the bend or turning of the pond."
The fact that Umpawaug Pond is so close to a turn in the town line suggests that either of the two pond-related names could be correct, especially since there is a "turn" or "bend" on the west shore of Umpauwaug Pond very near the turning point in the Ridgefield line.
Woodchuck is a colorful old name for the area that's now called Farmingville.
The name first appeared on the land records in 1832 when Charlotte Monroe of Wilton sold Phineas Chapman three roods "at a place called Wood Chuck." Another deed, dated 1835, spoke of land "in Woodchuck District so-called," that was clearly in Farmingville.
Apparently, there was some debate back in the 1830s about what to call that neck of the woods - or fields, as the case probably was. For in 1839, the first appearance of "Farmingville" was recorded, and no more Woodchucks appeared after that.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, woodchuck comes from the Cree Indian word, wuchak, descended from an early Algonquian word, wecyeka, meaning "fisher." Nonetheless, the beast itself, a variety of marmot also known as the groundhog, is a vegetarian who doesn't touch fish.
For a mammal so common, it's surprising that Ridgefield's Woodchuck is the only locality so named in Connecticut, according to Connecticut Place Names. There are a couple of Woodchuck Hills upstate, however.
Ironically, the earliest recorded use of the word, says the Oxford English Dictionary, was as a place name. An old Massachusetts document, dated 1689, speaks of "a parcell of meadow commonly called Woodchuck Meadow."
Woodchuck Lane is the road serving the 19-lot Ridgefield Hills, developed off Wilton Road West. The 1961 subdivision was done by Lewis J. Finch and John F. Coyle.
According to Mr. Finch, who selected the name, a road of the same name in Wilton had "always attracted my attention."
Besides, he added, all farms have many woodchucks in their fields, and this subdivision was built in an old field.
Woodcock Lane is a short, dead-end road off Barry Avenue, serving a 1974 subdivision by Marcelino Lavin of Wilton.
At least part of the road made use of an old highway called Keeler Lane that ran from Barry Avenue over to Peaceable Hill Road. Keeler Lane was described in 1974 as a "very narrow, unimproved pathway."
The road is named not for the bird, but for the former first selectman and well-known Ridgefielder.
Joseph Mortimer Woodcock, a native of upstate New York, came to Ridgefield in 1933 as a salesman for the huge Outpost Nurseries that owned most of northeastern Ridgefield along Danbury Road and upper Route 7 and which at the time employed some 200 people. He had graduated from the Forestry School at Syracuse University, had been a forester in Vermont for the Civilian Conservation Corps, and had worked briefly for another nursery.
Mr. Woodcock became general manager in 1939 and bought the business in 1945, renaming it Woodcock Nurseries. The company specialized in large-scale projects, such as estates and park plantings, and did such work as landscaping for the 1964 New York World's Fair.
Always active in the community, Mr. Woodcock belonged to many organizations including the Republican Town Committee, which he chaired in the 1950s, and served on the Board of Finance, and the Parks Commission. In 1967 he was elected first selectman, retiring four years later. While in office, Mr. Woodcock convinced the state to lease the town more than 100 acres of woodland and lake - most of which is in Wilton - for what's now known as the Woodcock Nature Center. "Woody" Woodcock died in 1992 at the age of 88.
WOODLAND HILL COURT
Woodland Hill Court was the original name proposed for what is now Downesbury Court, a subdivision by Roger Carpenter and William Valus. The name was abandoned because of probable confusion with the name below, and because of the availability of the better one that was used.
Woodland Way, which runs between Mountain Road and Bennett's Farm Road, is one of the many private roads at the Ridgefield Lakes, developed originally in the 1930s as a place for summer cottages.
The name is one of a group that make use of the word "wood" in combination with other words or letters to reflect what is viewed as one of the chief beauties of Ridgefield, its many trees. They include Woodlawn, Woodstone, Woody, Kingswood, Knollwood, Ridgewood, and Sprucewood, but not Sherwood, Woodchuck, Dogwood, or Woodcock.
Though it might at first seem surprising, in view of all the development that has taken place in the last half of the 20th Century, there are many, many more trees in town today than were here 100 or 200 years ago. For most of its settled history, Ridgefield was an agrarian community and consequently most of the land was treeless, used for fields and pastures. Trees were pretty much restricted to rocky, steep land, or woodlots, around the yard, or as property markers at the corners of fields. It is only since the disappearance of the farms that trees have come back, growing like weeds in the fields of the past.
Woodlawn Drive is a short, dead-end road off the north side of upper Branchville Road, developed around 1960 by the late Joseph P. Coffey Sr.
The name makes use of the words that describe two of the most important things homeowners look for. The road became a town highway in 1963. In 1985, an additional 430 feet was added.
Though it's some 15 miles from the sea and has only small bodies of water, Ridgefield had a number of islands, including one still recalled in Island Hill Avenue. But a gulf, too?
As early as 1731, deeds were appearing in the Ridgefield Land Records mentioning a place called "Wood's Gulf." One of the best references for us in pinpointing its location was a 1743 description of land within which common land would not be divided. The line ran from land below Whipstick Ridge to "Wood Gulf below Flatt Rock, continuing westerly to ye outlet on ye New Pound Boggs..."
This description, plus ones that appeared in other deeds, make it clear that the "gulf" is the valley at the intersection of Silver Hill Road with the two Wilton Roads, particularly Wilton Road West. Indeed, an old meaning of the word "gulf" is a deep hollow or chasm, a description that may be a little exaggerated in the case of this gulf or valley.
Was it loaded with trees? Perhaps, but that was not the origin of the name. Titus Wood, one of the early farmers in the town, had land here by 1731 and it's pretty certain that's where the name, usually found in the possessive "Wood's Gulf" form, came from.
The name last appeared in the land records in 1792.
Use of gulf as an inland geographical term is rare today, but was not uncommon across Connecticut in the 17th and 18th Centuries. Hughes and Allen's Connecticut Place Names records a half dozen places called simply The Gulf. Wood's Gulf, however, is believed to be the only use of the term in Ridgefield records.
Woodstone Road is an aptly named little lane off Danbury Road. Running east from the highway north of Fox Hill condominiums, it goes through a stone wall and into a wood.
The road was developed by William Mannion from a 1953 subdivision of 6.6 acres into five lots.
Woody Place, a private road at the Ridgefield Lakes, runs off the west side of Mountain Road to a dead-end at Rainbow Lake. Presumably, its namer liked the trees.
WOOSTER HEIGHTS DRIVE
Wooster Heights Drive runs between North Salem Road and Settlers Lane, both roads serving the 1963 Wooster Heights subdivision of Orrin and Marion Beers.
Wooster Heights Drive overlooks the spot along North Salem Road where General David Wooster was shot during one of the skirmishes of the Battle of Ridgefield on April 27, 1777.
General Wooster, head of the Connecticut militia, hurried from New Haven to fight the British troops that were attacking Danbury, but by the time he arrived in this area, the British were heading back via Ridgefield to their ships on the Sound. With several hundred men, he surprised a British encampment near the intersection of North Salem and Barlow Mountain Roads, disorganizing the Redcoats and inflicting heavy losses.
Wooster and his men withdrew with prisoners, but soon attacked again, this time as the British moved quickly down North Salem Road toward town. In heavy fighting near the present intersection of Wooster Heights Drive, the General turned toward his men and reportedly shouted: "Come on, my boys, never mind such random shots."
A moment later, a not-so-random bullet struck him in the back. According to legend, the shot was fired by an American loyalist, standing some 300 yards away with a gun of unusual length and accuracy.
General Wooster was taken to Danbury. He suffered great pain and died on May 2 in a house that is now part of the Scott-Fanton Museum on Main Street. He was buried in the old cemetery on Wooster Street across from St. Peter's School, but his remains were later moved to the Danbury cemetery that now bears his name.
A native of Stratford, David Wooster was born in 1710 and graduated from Yale in 1738. As a young lieutenant, he had fought the Spanish in 1739. The following year, while a captain of a vessel in the Coast Guard, he married the daughter of the president of Yale. He later fought as a colonel in the French and Indian War.
When the Continental Army was formed, Wooster was made one of eight brigadier generals, and fought in Canada in 1776. He was soon named the first major general of the Militia in Connecticut. His sword and sash are at Yale today.
Wooster Street is an old highway running between North Street and North Salem Road, connecting with the latter nearly opposite the spot where General Wooster was felled.
The road, a handy shortcut over the Titicus River between the two, old, north-south highways, may have been there in Revolutionary times. It existed by 1856 when it is shown on Clark's map.
Early in the century, the road was commonly called Cross Street.