Ridgefield, Connecticut

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Ridgefield, Connecticut
Town
Official seal of Ridgefield, Connecticut
Seal
Location in Fairfield County, Connecticut
Location in Fairfield County, Connecticut
Coordinates: 41°18′19″N 73°30′05″W / 41.30528°N 73.50139°W / 41.30528; -73.50139Coordinates: 41°18′19″N 73°30′05″W / 41.30528°N 73.50139°W / 41.30528; -73.50139
Country United States
State Connecticut
NECTA Bridgeport-Stamford
Region Housatonic Valley
Incorporated 1709
Government
 • Type Selectman-town meeting
 • First selectman Rudolph P. Marconi
Area
 • Total 35.0 sq mi (90.6 km2)
 • Land 34.4 sq mi (89.2 km2)
 • Water 0.5 sq mi (1.4 km2)
Elevation 659 ft (201 m)
Population (2010)
 • Total 24,638
 • Density 700/sq mi (270/km2)
Time zone Eastern (UTC-5)
 • Summer (DST) Eastern (UTC-4)
ZIP code 06877
Area code(s) 203/475
FIPS code 09-63970
GNIS feature ID 0213496
Website www.ridgefieldct.org

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 24,638 at the 2010 census.[1] The town center, which was formerly a borough, is defined by the U.S. Census Bureau as a census-designated place.

History[edit]

Main Street, looking south, 1875
Main Street, looking south from Branchville Road, about 1906

Ridgefield was first settled by English colonists from Norwalk and Milford in 1708, when a group of settlers purchased land from Chief Catoonah (also known as Chief Katonah) of the Ramapo tribe.[citation needed] The town was incorporated under a royal charter issued in 1709.[citation needed] The most notable 18th century event was the Battle of Ridgefield on April 27, 1777. This American Revolutionary War skirmish involved a small colonial militia force (state militia and some Continental Army soldiers), led by, among others, General David Wooster, who died in the engagement, and Benedict Arnold,[2] 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. The battle was a tactical victory for the British but a strategic one for the Colonials because the British would never again conduct inland operations in Connecticut, despite western Connecticut's strategic importance in securing the Hudson River Valley.[3] 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.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

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. The Lounsbury Farm near the Florida section of Ridgefield is one of the only remaining operational farms in Ridgefield.[citation needed]

In the late 19th century, spurred by the new railroad connection to its lofty village and the fact that nearby countryside reaches 1,000 feet (300 m) 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 2,000 acres (8.1 km2), some of which is now Bennett's Pond State Park; Seth Low Pierrepont's "Twixthills", more than 600 acres (2.4 km2), much of which is now Pierrepont State Park; Frederic E. Lewis's "Upagenstit", 100 acres (0.40 km2) that became Grey Court College in the 1940s, but is now mostly subdivisions; and Col. Edward M. Knox's "Downesbury Manor", whose 300 acres (1.2 km2) included a 45-room mansion that Mark Twain often visited.[citation needed]

The Ridgefield School (postcard sent in 1909)

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 2-acre (8,100 m2) 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.[citation needed]

In 1946, Ridgefield was one of the locations considered for the United Nations secretariat building,[4] but was not chosen due to its relative inaccessibility.[citation needed]

Geography[edit]

According to the United States Census Bureau, the town has a total area of 35.0 square miles (91 km2), of which 34.4 square miles (89 km2) is land and 0.5 square miles (1.3 km2), or 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 to the north, Wilton to the south and Redding to the east.

The town has a Metro-North Railroad station called Branchville in the Branchville corner of town. The CDP corresponding to the town center covers a total area of 6.4 square miles (17 km2), of which 0.16% is water. 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, located northeast and east of the town center; Limestone, located northeast of the town center; Flat Rock, located south of the town center; and Florida, located just north of Branchville.

Geology[edit]

Ridgefield consists of hilly, rocky terrain, ranging from 1,060 feet (320 m) above sea level (at Pine Mountain) to 342 feet (104 m) at Branchville. Its average village elevation is 725 feet (221 m) above sea level.[5] 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 collision of "Proto North America" and "Proto Africa", and there are still occasional light earthquakes felt along its length.[citation needed] 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.

Climate[edit]

Climate data for Ridgefield, Connecticut
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °F (°C) 71
(22)
77
(25)
92
(33)
95
(35)
97
(36)
98
(37)
106
(41)
103
(39)
100
(38)
89
(32)
82
(28)
76
(24)
106
(41)
Average high °F (°C) 36
(2)
40
(4)
49
(9)
61
(16)
72
(22)
81
(27)
85
(29)
83
(28)
75
(24)
63
(17)
51
(11)
40
(4)
61.3
(16.1)
Average low °F (°C) 19
(−7)
22
(−6)
29
(−2)
39
(4)
48
(9)
59
(15)
64
(18)
62
(17)
53
(12)
42
(6)
34
(1)
25
(−4)
41.3
(5.3)
Record low °F (°C) −18
(−28)
−10
(−23)
−9
(−23)
14
(−10)
26
(−3)
36
(2)
40
(4)
38
(3)
28
(−2)
19
(−7)
10
(−12)
−11
(−24)
−18
(−28)
Rainfall inches (mm) 3.76
(95.5)
3.30
(83.8)
4.43
(112.5)
4.36
(110.7)
4.57
(116.1)
4.74
(120.4)
4.99
(126.7)
4.55
(115.6)
4.66
(118.4)
4.89
(124.2)
4.54
(115.3)
4.16
(105.7)
52.95
(1,344.9)
Source: [6]

Government[edit]

Ridgefield has a traditional New England Board of Selectmen–Town Meeting form of government, which is created by Town Charter and approved by the voters.[7] The Charter calls for an annual Town and Budget Meeting to be held on the first Monday of May each year. The following are the elective offices of the Town of Ridgefield: Board of Selectmen, Town Clerk, Town Treasurer and Tax Collector. The following are the elective boards and commissions of the Town of Ridgefield: Board of Education, Planning and Zoning Commission, Board of Appeals on Zoning, Board of Tax Review, Board of Police Commissioners and Board of Finance. The chief executive is The First Selectman, who also serves a legislative function as a member of the Board of Selectmen. The current First Selectman, Rudy Marconi (D), was first elected in 1999 and has served four terms.[8]

Demographics[edit]

Historical population
Census Pop.
1790 1,947
1800 2,025 4.0%
1810 2,103 3.9%
1820 2,310 9.8%
1830 2,305 −0.2%
1840 2,474 7.3%
1850 2,337 −5.5%
1860 2,213 −5.3%
1870 1,919 −13.3%
1880 2,028 5.7%
1890 2,235 10.2%
1900 2,626 17.5%
1910 3,118 18.7%
1920 2,707 −13.2%
1930 3,580 32.2%
1940 3,900 8.9%
1950 4,356 11.7%
1960 8,165 87.4%
1970 18,188 122.8%
1980 20,120 10.6%
1990 20,919 4.0%
2000 23,643 13.0%
2010 24,638 4.2%
Population 1756–2000[9]

As of the census[10] 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 per square mile (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 (these figures had risen to $125,909 and $154,346 respectively as of a 2007 estimate[11]). 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.

As of the census[10] of 2000, there are 7,212 people, 2,933 households, and 1,994 families residing in the CDP. The population density is 1,125.2 people per square mile (434.4/km2). There are 3,078 housing units at an average density of 480.2 per square mile (185.4/km2). The racial makeup of the CDP is 95.52% White, 0.54% Black or African American, 0.11% Native American, 2.44% Asian, 0.01% Pacific Islander, 0.51% from other races, and 0.86% from two or more races, while 2.26% of the population are Hispanic or Latino of any race.

There are 2,933 households out of which 34.4% have children under the age of 18 living with them, 57.7% are married couples living together, 8.1% have a female householder with no husband present, and 32.0% are non-families. Of all households 28.5% are made up of individuals and 12.3% have someone living alone who is 65 years of age or older. The average household size is 2.46 and the average family size is 3.05.

In the CDP the population is spread out with 26.9% under the age of 18, 3.3% from 18 to 24, 28.5% from 25 to 44, 27.9% from 45 to 64, and 13.4% who are 65 years of age or older. The median age is 41 years. For every 100 females there are 89.4 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there are 85.5 males.

The median income for a household in the CDP is $81,179, and the median income for a family is $127,327. Males have a median income of $93,084 versus $47,232 for females. The per capita income for the CDP is $46,843. 3.2% of the population and 1.7% of families are below the poverty line. Out of the total population, 1.6% of those under the age of 18 and 6.8% of those 65 and older are living below the poverty line.

Education[edit]

Ridgefield has nine public schools and two private schools. The public schools are managed by Ridgefield Public 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 high school's teams are called the Tigers.

Ridgefield's Roman Catholic schools are St. Mary, serving preschool through eighth grade, and St. Padre Pio Catholic School, serving kindergarten through sixth grade and run by the Society of St. Pius X.

Ridgefield Academy is a co-educational, independent school serving preschool through eighth grade, situated on a 42-acre (17 ha) turn-of-the-20th-century estate on West Mountain that was once home to the Congregation de Notre Dame.

There are also various preschools and a Montessori school.

Attractions, landmarks, and institutions[edit]

The Western Connecticut Youth Orchestra, formerly called the Ridgefield Symphony Youth Orchestra, has performed at Carnegie Hall and Avery Fisher Hall at the Lincoln Center.[citation needed]

The 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.[citation needed]

The Keeler Tavern Museum preserves an early 18th-century 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.[citation needed]

The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum is a leading venue for the world's best contemporary artists. Its exhibitions have attracted national attention and respect.[12] The museum was redesigned and expanded in 2004, and offers many special programs, including concerts.

Peter Parley Schoolhouse

The Ridgefield Playhouse, opened in December 2000, is housed in the former Ridgefield Alternate High School auditorium, and was remodeled as a playhouse. It is the year-round venue for dozens of concerts and other performances, many by internationally known artists. The Playhouse also shows movies, many of them first-run.[citation needed]

Weir Farm National Historic Site, which straddles the Ridgefield-Wilton border, preserves much of the farm of J. Alden Weir (1852–1919), a painter of the American Impressionism style. The property was later used by his son-in-law, Mahonri Young (1877–1957), noted sculptor and a grandson of Brigham Young. The site includes the Weir Farm Art Center and a gallery, and many special events take place there, including shows by visiting artists in residence. Weir Farm is one of only two official National Park Service units in the state.[13]

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 Conservatory is home to three pre-professional performance companies: the Ridgefield Civic Ballet, The Junior Dance Ensemble, and the Contemporary Dance Ensemble. The conservatory presents The Nutcracker annually at the Ridgefield Playhouse.[citation needed]

Ridgefield golf course

Located at the intersection of West Lane and Route 35, the Peter Parley Schoolhouse (c. 1750), also known as the Little Red Schoolhouse or the West Lane Schoolhouse, is a one-room schoolhouse in use by 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.[citation needed]

Ridgefield's public open space includes Aldrich Park, Bennett's Pond State Park, Brewster Farm, Florida Refuge, Hemlock Hills/Lake Windwing, Pine Mountain, Seth Low Pierrepont State Park, and the Weir Farm National Historic Site. Its public open spaces make up 5,200 acres (2,100 ha), accounting for 23% of the towns overall land.[14]

Ridgefield Golf Course is the town's municipal 18 hole golf course designed by George Fazio and Tom Fazio and opened in 1974.[citation needed]

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

In 2006, the tree selected to be displayed in New York's Rockefeller Center for the Christmas season came from Ridgefield.[citation needed]

The town also features a skatepark, owned by the town and maintained by the town's parks and recreations service, in which both skateboarding and aggressive inline skating are done. In 2010 the skatepark was rebuilt and expanded as a result of the need to expand the Ridgefield Playhouse parking lot.[citation needed]

Annual events[edit]

  • 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.[15]
  • The Antiques Flea Market is held every June outdoors on the grounds of the Veterans Memorial Community Center.
  • A local farmers market is held every Friday during the summer months.

On the National Register of Historic Places[edit]

Part of the town center is a historic district listed on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) as Ridgefield Center Historic District.[citation needed] The district was added to the Register in 1984 and includes representations of mid-19th century revival, Late Victorian, and Colonial revival architectural styles.[citation needed] Noted architect Cass Gilbert purchased historic Keeler Tavern within the district and renovated it for his use as a summer home.[citation needed] Roughly bounded by Pound Street, Fairview Avenue, Prospect Ridge, and Whipstick Roads, the district was added on October 7, 1984.[citation needed] In addition to the town center historic district, there are a number of individual properties and at least one other historic district in the town that are NRHP-listed:

Notable people, past and present[edit]

For more details on this topic, 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, who live in town. Authors have included Eugene O'Neill, Howard Fast, Cornelius Ryan, and Maurice Sendak. Ridgefield is home to American portrait artist John Howard Sanden. Cartoonist Roz Chast, a frequent New Yorker magazine contributor, lives in town as does singer 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. A notable metropolitan opera singer from the early 20th century Geraldine Farrar lived in a house on West Lane.

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 and author and journalist Todd Brewster. Curt Onalfo, former head coach of the Kansas City Wizards and D.C. United, went to Ridgefield High School.

Utilities serving the town[edit]

  • Electricity: Connecticut Light & Power (CL&P)
  • Water: Aquarion[17] 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. The water line was recently extended up North Street to Barlow Mountain and Scotland Elementary Schools, a proposal that took years to pass.
  • Telephone/Internet: AT&T
  • Cable television/Telephone/Internet: Comcast Cable in Danbury
  • Local newspaper: The Ridgefield Press

In popular culture[edit]

The 1939 film In Name Only, starring Cary Grant, Carole Lombard and Kay Francis, is partially set in Ridgefield, and the opening shot is of the wooden sign at the corner of Main St. and Branchville Road opposite what is now Jesse Lee Memorial United Methodist Church.[citation needed]

In the 1941 film The Lady Eve, starring Henry Fonda and Barbara Stanwick, Fonda's character hosts lavish parties in a fictional town called Bridgefield, Connecticut, a town full of millionaires, right outside of New York. This fictional town is based on the town of Ridgefield.[citation needed]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  • 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[edit]

External links[edit]

Government, health and education:

Local media:

Jack Sanders' history website: Jack Sanders, an editor at The Ridgefield Press, has extensive information about the town's history at his website.

Houses of worship: