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Ridgefield, Connecticut

Ridgefield is a town in Fairfield County, Connecticut, United States. Situated in the foothills of the Berkshire Mountains, the 300-year-old community had a population of 23,643 at the 2000 census, spread across .

Geography

According to the United States Census Bureau, the town has a total area of 35.0 square miles (90.6 km²), of which, 34.4 square miles (89.2 km²) of it is land and 0.5 square miles (1.4 km²) of it (1.52%) is water. The town is bordered by the towns of North Salem and Lewisboro in Westchester County, New York to the west, Danbury, Connecticut to the north, Wilton, Connecticut to the south and Redding, Connecticut to the east.

The town has a Metro North railroad station called "Branchville." Branchville is a business and residential community in the southeast corner of the town.

Other locales within the town include Titicus, on Route 116 just north of the village; Ridgebury, in the northern section of town; Scotland, which is south of Ridgebury; Farmingville, northeast and east of the village; Limestone, northeast of the village; Flat Rock, south of the village; and Florida, just north of Branchville.

History

Ridgefield was first settled by English colonists from Norwalk and Milford in 1708 when a group of settlers purchased land from Chief Catoonah of the Ramapoo tribe. The town was incorporated under Royal Charter in 1709. The most notable 18th Century event was the Battle of Ridgefield (on April 27, 1777). This Revolutionary War skirmish involved a small colonial militia force (the Connecticut Continentals, part of the Continental Army), led by, among others, General David Wooster, who died in the engagement, and Benedict Arnold, whose horse was shot from under him. They faced a larger British force that had landed at Norwalk and was returning from a raid on the colonial supply depot in Danbury, Connecticut. The battle was a tactical victory for the British but a strategic one for the Colonials since the British never again attempted a landing by ship to attack colonial strongholds during the war. Today, the dead from both sides are buried together in a small cemetery on Main Street on the right of the entrance to Casagmo condominiums: "...foes in arms, brothers in death..." The Keeler Tavern, a local inn and museum, features a British cannonball still lodged in the side of the building. There are many other landmarks from the Revolutionary War in the town, with most along Main Street.

In the summer of 1781, the French army, under the Comte de Rochambeau marched through Connecticut, encamping in the Ridgebury section of town, where the first Catholic Mass in Ridgefield was offered. (The town of Lebanon, Connecticut is where the first Catholic Mass was offered in the state.)

For much of its three centuries, Ridgefield was a farming community. Among the important families in the 19th Century were the Rockwells and Lounsburys, which intermarried. They produced two Connecticut governors, George Lounsbury and Phineas Lounsbury. The Ridgefield Veterans Memorial Community Center on Main Street, also called the Lounsbury House, was built by Gov. Phineas Chapman Lounsbury around 1896 as his primary residence.

In the late 1800s, spurred by the new railroad connection to its lofty village and the fact that nearby countryside reaches above sea level, Ridgefield began to be discovered by wealthy New York City residents, who assembled large estates and built huge "summer cottages" throughout the higher sections of town. Among the more noteworthy estates were Col. Louis D. Conley's "Outpost Farm", which at one point totalled nearly , some of which is now Bennett's Pond State Park; Seth Low Pierrepont's "Twixthills", more than , much of which is now Pierrepont State Park; Frederic E. Lewis's "Upagenstit", that became Grey Court College in the 1940s, but is now mostly subdivisions; and Col. Edward M. Knox's "Downesbury Manor", whose included a 45-room mansion that Mark Twain often visited.

Historical
population
of Ridgefield
1756 1,115
1774 1,708
1782 1,697
1790 1,947
1800 2,025
1810 2,103
1820 2,310
1830 2,305
1840 2,474
1850 2,337
1860 2,213
1870 1,919
1880 2,028
1890 2,235
1900 2,626
1910 3,118
1920 2,707
1930 3,580
1940 3,900
1950 4,356
1960 8,165
1970 18,188
1980 20,120
1990 20,919
2000 23,643

These and dozens of other estates became unaffordable and unwieldy during and after the Great Depression, and most were broken up. Many mansions were razed. In their place came subdivisions of one- and two-acre lots that turned the town into a suburban, bedroom community in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. However, strong planning and zoning has maintained much of the 19th and early 20th Century charm of the town, especially along its famous mile-long Main Street.

Right after World War II, Ridgefield was one of the locations considered for the United Nations secretariate building.

On the National Register of Historic Places

  • Benedict House and Shop — 57 Rockwell Road (added 1998)
  • Branchville Railroad Tenement — Old Main Highway (added September 12, 1982)
  • Frederic Remington House — 154 Barry Ave. (added November 15, 1966)
  • Hugh Cain Fulling Mill and Elias Glover Woolen Mill Archeological Site (added October 19, 1985)
  • J. Alden Weir Farm Historic District — 735 Nod Hill Road and Pelham Lane (added February 5, 1984; see Weir Farm National Historic Site, below)
  • Keeler Tavern — 132 Main St. (added May 29, 1982)
  • Lewis June House — 478 N. Salem Road (added March 16, 1984)
  • March Route of Rochambeau's Army: Ridgebury Road — Ridgebury Road, from intersection with Old Stagecoach South (added July 6, 2003)
  • Phineas Chapman Lounsbury House — 316 Main Street, also known as the Ridgefield Veterans Memorial Community Center (added November 3, 1975)
  • Ridgebury Congregational Church — Ridgebury Road and George Washington Highway (added April 1, 1984)
  • Ridgefield Center Historic District — Roughly bounded by Pound Street, Fairview Avenue, Prospect, Ridge, and Whipstick Roads (added October 7, 1984)
  • Thomas Hyatt House — 11 Barlow Mountain Road (added March 16, 1984)
  • West Mountain Historic District — state Route 102 (added March 23, 1984)

Attractions, landmarks, and institutions

The Keeler Tavern Museum preserves an early 1700s house that, by the time of the Revolution, had become a tavern and inn. The tavern was a center of community activities, an early post office, and a stop on the northern New York to Boston post road. In the early 20th Century, it was the home of noted architect Cass Gilbert. The tavern is open several days a week, offers tours, and has a gift shop.

The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum is a leading venue for the world's best contemporary artists. Its exhibitions have attracted international attention and respect. The museum was redesigned and expanded in 2004, and offers many special programs, including concerts.

Ridgefield Symphony Orchestra began as the Ridgefield Symphonette in 1965 with 20 players, only a third of them professionals. It became fully professional by the end of the decade and today has 75 musicians and draws soloists of international reputation. In 1984, Maxim Shostakovich, then a Ridgefielder, conducted a sold-out concert of music by his father, Dmitri Shostakovich, with the composer's grandson, Dmitri, performing as piano soloist.

The Ridgefield Playhouse, opened in December 2000, is housed in the "old Ridgefield High School" auditorium, designed in the 1940s by Cass Gilbert Jr. (son of Cass Gilbert, architect of the Supreme Court building and the Woolworth Building), and extensively remodeled as a playhouse. The Playhouse is the year-round venue for dozens of concerts and other performances, many by internationally known artists such as Joan Baez, Paul Newman, Arlo Guthrie, Jose Feliciano, the Bacon Brothers, Blues Traveler, Peter Yarrow, Marcel Marceau, Barbara Cook, and Moscow Boys Choir. The Playhouse also shows movies, many of them first-run.

Weir Farm National Historic Site straddles the Ridgefield-Wilton border, and is the only National Park Service property in Connecticut. The site preserves much of the farm of J. Alden Weir (1852-1919), a painter of the American Impressionism style, and was later used by his son-in-law, Mahonri Young (1877-1957), noted sculptor and a grandson of Brigham Young. The site include the Weir Farm Art Center and a gallery, and many special events take place there, including shows by visiting artists in residence. The Ridgefield Conservatory of Dance was founded as the Ridgefield Studio of Classical Ballet in 1965 by Patricia Schuster. In 2002 it became the Ridgefield Conservatory of Dance, a non-profit 501(c)3 organization. The Ridgefield Conservatory of Dance is home to two pre-professional performance companies: The Ridgefield Civic Ballet and The Contemporary Dance Ensemble. The conservatory presents the Nutcracker annually at The Ridgefield Playhouse.

Located at the intersection of West Lane and Route 35, the Peter Parley Schoolhouse (c. 1750) the “Little Red” schoolhouse is a one room schoolhouse in use in the town until 1913. The site and grounds are maintained by the Ridgefield Garden Club. The building is open certain Sundays and displays the desks, slates and books the children used.

Ridgefield's public open space includes Aldrich Park (65 acres), Bennett's Pond state park (460 acres), Brewster Farm (103 acres), Florida Refuge (63 acres), Hemlock Hills/Lake Windwing (421 acres), Pine Mountain (368 acres), the Seth Low Pierrepont State Park (313 acres), and the Weir Farm National Historic Site (57 acres). A more complete list, along with descriptions and a few trail maps, can be found the Ridgefield Open Space Association's website Rules governing the use of this land can be found at town hall, or on ROSA's page

The town's largest industry is Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals Inc., whose United States headquarters are located in the Ridgebury section of town.

In 2006, the tree selected to display in Rockefeller Center, New York for the Christmas season was chosen from Ridgefield.

Schools

Ridgefield has nine public schools and two private schools. The six public elementary schools are Veterans Park, Branchville, Farmingville, Scotland, Barlow Mountain, and Ridgebury. Scotts Ridge Middle School (Ridgefield's newest school) and East Ridge are the town's two middle schools. The high school is Ridgefield High School. The school's teams are called the Tigers.

Ridgefield's Roman Catholic school, St. Mary, serves preschool through eighth grade. A private school, Ridgefield Academy, teaches preschool through eighth grade and is situated on a former turn-of-the-20th-Century estate on West Mountain. There are also various preschools and a Montessori school.

Annual events

  • The Nutmeg Festival on Main Street is in August. It has been organized by St. Stephen's Church and held on its grounds since 1906, when it was started there as an "apron and cake sale" by the Ladies Guild to raise money for charity.
  • The Antiques Flea Market held every June outdoors on grounds of the Veterans Memorial Community Center.
  • Marathons and Tri-athalons

Geology

The Town of Ridgefield consists of hilly, rocky terrain, ranging from above sea level (at Pine Mountain) to at Branchville. Its village is between 800 and above sea level. The landscape is strewn with countless rocks deposited by glaciers and among the town's bodies of water is Round Pond, formed in a kettle left by the last glacier 20,000 years ago. A particularly interesting feature is Cameron's Line, named for Eugene N. Cameron, who discovered that rocks west of the line differed greatly from those east of it. This fault line was formed some 250 million years ago by the collison of "Proto North America" and "Proto Africa", and there are still occasional light earthquakes felt along its length. The line bisects the southern half of the town, running generally north of West Lane, across the north end of the village, past the south end of Great Swamp and generally easterly into Redding in the Topstone area. North of Cameron's Line, the town is rich in limestone. The mineral was extensively mined, and remnants of several limekilns exist today. Also mined here in the 19th Century was mica, pegmatite, and quartz. Gold, as well as gemstones such as garnet and beryl, have been found here, and dozens of minerals have been unearthed at the old Branchville Mica Quarry. Uraninite, a source of uranium, is found here, too.

Demographics

As of the census of 2000, there were 23,643 people, 8,433 households, and 6,611 families residing in the town. The population density was 686.7 people per square mile (265.1/km²). There were 8,877 housing units at an average density of 257.8/sq mi (99.5/km²). The racial makeup of the town was 96.12% White, 0.62% Black or African American, 0.09% Native American, 2.08% Asian, 0.03% Pacific Islander, 0.36% from other races, and 0.70% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 1.97% of the population.

There were 8,433 households out of which 43.0% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 70.6% were married couples living together, 6.0% had a female householder with no husband present, and 21.6% were non-families. 18.9% of all households were made up of individuals and 7.5% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.78 and the average family size was 3.21.

In the town the population was spread out with 30.6% under the age of 18, 3.2% from 18 to 24, 27.8% from 25 to 44, 27.5% from 45 to 64, and 10.9% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 39 years. For every 100 females there were 92.8 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 89.4 males.

The median income for a household in the town was $107,351, and the median income for a family was $127,981. Males had a median income of $100,000 versus $50,236 for females. The per capita income for the town was $51,795. About 1.3% of families and 2.4% of the population were below the poverty line, including 1.7% of those under age 18 and 5.3% of those age 65 or over.

Notable people, past and present

For further information see People of Ridgefield, Connecticut

Ridgefield has been associated with numerous famous people in many different fields. A brief summary includes actor Robert Vaughn and actor/playwright Harvey Fierstein live in town. Authors have included Eugene O'Neill, Howard Fast and Cornelius Ryan. Children's book authors Richard Scarry, Maurice Sendak and Andy Luckey have lived in town. Ridgefield is home to American portrait artist John Howard Sanden. Cartoonist Roz Chast, a frequent New Yorker magazine contributor, lives in town. Businesswoman Carolyn Kepcher, who appeared on the NBC show The Apprentice, is a resident, as is Judy Collins. Conductor Maxim Shostakovich once lived in town, as did Time magazine owner Henry Luce and his wife, Clare Boothe Luce, who was also a playwright and Congresswoman. Jeremiah Donovan was a United States Representative from Connecticut.

Kurt Waldheim, the former Secretary General of the United Nations, rested in town at the estate of a friend, and Theodore Sorenson, former advisor to President John F. Kennedy, was once a town resident. Ira Joe Fisher, a poet who is also a weatherman on CBS television, lives in town as does veteran newsman Morton Dean

Curt Onalafo, head coach of the Kansas City Wizards went to Ridgefield High.

Utilities serving the town

  • Electricity: Connecticut Light & Power (CL&P)
  • Water: Aquarion serves central and west parts of town (down Route 33 south to St. Johns Road, north along Route 35 to Farmingville, west to the Eleven Levels area and West Lane). Small water companies serve some other parts of town.
  • Telephone/Internet: SBC SNET
  • Cable television/Telephone/Internet: Comcast Cable in Danbury

Books about Ridgefield

  • Images of America: Ridgefield (1999) 127 pages; 1890s to 1950s.
  • Ridgefield 1900-1950, by Jack Sanders (2003) 126 pages
  • Farmers against the Crown, by Keith Jones. An account of the Battle of Ridgefield during the Revolutionary War. 162 pages, paperback (2002)
  • The Farms of Farmingville, by Keith Marshall Jones, 509 pages (2001)
  • Five Village Walks, by Jack Sanders, 56 pages
  • Ridgefield in Review, by Silvio A. Bedini (1958) Out of print, but used copies often available locally
  • History of Ridgefield, by George L. Rockwell, 583 pages, long out of print
  • The Barbour Collection of Connecticut Town Records, Volume 36, an index to Ridgefield births, marriages and deaths from 1709 to 1850. Genealogical Publishing Company (2000)
  • The History of Ridgefield, Connecticut, by the Rev. Daniel Teller (1878), 251 pages. Teller was pastor of the First Congregational Church.
  • The Proprietors of Ridgefield, by Glenna M. Welsh (1976)
  • St. Stephen's Church: Its History for 250 years: 1725 to 1975, by Robert S. Haight, 220 pages,
  • Saint Stephen's Church Reaches the Millennium, by Dirk Bollenback, 114 pages, covers 1975 to 2000.
  • Lost in Place: Growing Up Absurd in Suburbia, by Mark Salzman (1996), 288 pages, Ridgefield native reflects on the idiosyncrasies and absurdities of suburban Connecticut life.

Footnotes

External links

Government, health and education:

Local media:

Jack Sanders' history Web site:

Jack Sanders, an editor at The Ridgefield Press, has extensive information about the town's history at his Web site

Houses of worship:

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