Monday, June 10, 2019

Charles A. Goodrich: 
A Place in History  
As parents,  Samuel and Elizabeth Goodrich must have been amazing. One of their children, Samuel — better known as Peter Parley — produced more than 100 books for children and adults in the 19th Century and hobnobbed with some of the literary greats of his era. 
A daughter, Abigail, became one of America’s first female magazine editors and provided information and advice to countless 19th Century families. 
And a son, Charles, wrote more than two dozen books of history, geography and religion that helped educate generations of Americans.
For both Abigail and Samuel, their only formal education was the little red schoolhouse on West Lane in Ridgefield, ending in the eighth grade. Charles was a bit more fortunate: He went to Yale after West Lane.
Charles Augustus Goodrich was born in Ridgefield in 1790. His father, the Rev. Samuel G. Goodrich, was the third minister of the First Congregational Church. His mother, Elizabeth Ely Goodrich, was a member of one of Connecticut’s founding families. His more famous brother, Samuel, was three years younger, and his sister Abigail, two years older.
They all grew up at first in a house on West Lane and later a larger home still standing today on High Ridge at the head of Parley Lane.
After graduating from Yale in 1812, Charles Goodrich studied theology and was ordained in 1816. His first post was at the First Congregational Church in Worcester, Mass. In 1820, after dealing with much “acrimonious controversy” involving local church politics, he left Worcester and headed for Berlin, Conn., to which his parents had by then moved. There he helped a local parish while beginning to write magazine articles and books. Many of the latter he did in association with his brother, Samuel, who lived in Boston. 
Among his first books was History of the United States of America,  published in 1822. It quickly became one of the most popular history textbooks in the nation, and was used in many schools across the country until more than 30 years after his death. The New York Times called it “one of our best standard school books.”
Other popular books were Lives of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence (1829) and A Child’s History of the United States, first published in 1855. Both were being reprinted long after he died. Being a minister he also wrote books on religious themes, one of the most popular being Geography of the Chief Places Mentioned in the Bible (1855).
His interests also included politics and Goodrich served as a Connecticut state senator from Berlin in 1838. He moved to Hartford, home of his ancestors, in 1848 and died there in 1862 at the age of 71.  An obituary in The New York Times called him “a very gifted man and a most accomplished scholar. His mental organization was active, though of that sensitive nature which caused him to shrink from rough contact with the world. Mr. Goodrich’s love for his fellow men was refined, charitable, and of the most enlarged order.”
Today,  what is perhaps Charles Goodrich’s most famous legacy is a motto still often heard. Various authorities say he popularized “A place for everything and everything in its place,” by being the first person to have used the concept in print — in an 1827 magazine article on “Neatness.”
His version wasn’t quite as pithy as today’s epigram, however. He wrote:  “Have a place for every thing, and keep every thing in its proper place.” 

Friday, June 07, 2019

Tom Dawes: 
Bouncing from Fizzle to Fizz
“Red Rubber Ball,” the 1960s rock hit, and Speedy Alka-Seltzer, the animated TV commercial character, have something in common: A Ridgefield man who lived in a famous playwright’s house.
Tom Dawes co-founded The Cyrkle, which sang the 1966 hit, and later wrote Speedy’s famous song: “Plop, Plop, Fizz, Fizz, Oh What A Relief It Is.” 
Dawes, who lived more than 20 years in what was once the home of Nobel Prize-winning playwright Eugene O’Neill, was a talented musician and composer, much of whose career was spent writing advertising jingles, but who also wrote many rock tunes and a serious music, and who illustrated several books with his photography.
Born in 1943 Thomas Webster Dawes grew up in Albany, N.Y., learned guitar and bass, and “stole the show” at a high school talent show with his rendition of The Kingston Trio’s “Scotch and Soda,” said his sister, Robin Ducey.
The young Dawes was not only an accomplished bassist, but also an All-American diver, helping him earn a full scholarship to Lafayette College, Easton, Pa. 
There he met Don Dannemann. In 1962, the two founded a four-member band called The Rhondells that performed in the Pennsylvania-New Jersey area. 
After graduating in 1965, the band signed for a grueling gig at the Alibi Lounge in Atlantic City, N.J., performing 90 straight days from 9 p.m. to 4 a.m. with two matinees Saturdays and Sundays. There they were spotted by Nat Weiss, an entertainment lawyer and business partner of Brian Epstein, manager of The Beatles. A short time later, Weiss invited them to New York to record some demos.
In the meantime, while Dannemann was finishing up some service in the Coast Guard, Dawes signed on as bass guitarist with the touring band for Simon and Garfunkel, whose new hit, “Sounds of Silence,” was topping the charts. Paul Simon struck up a friendship with Dawes and offered his band three new songs, including one he had co-written, called “Red Rubber Ball.”
 When Epstein, Weiss’s partner, heard The Rhondells sing “Red Rubber Ball,” he arranged a deal for the band with Columbia Records. 
At Epstein’s urging, the group changed its name to The Cyrkle — allegedly John Lennon suggested the spelling — and “Red Rubber Ball,” as a single and with an album of the same name, was released early in the summer of 1966. The song wound up #2 on the Billboard top 100 list (at the same time The Beatles “Paperback Writer” was #1), and sold more than one million copies.
Adding to their sudden success, The Cyrkle was invited to open for The Beatles on the British band’s final American tour in August that year. (Band members wound up playing poker several evenings with the Fab Four.)
Later in 1966, another tune, “Turn Down Day,” reached #16 on the Top 100, but it was to be The Cyrkle’s last hit. The band released a second album, “Neon,” which critics have said contained better songs, mostly written by band members like Dawes, but it did not sell well. The Cyrkle made a soundtrack for the B movie, “The Minx,” and produced a few more singles in 1967.
“I got sort of frustrated with the whole situation,” Dawes said in a later interview. “We kept on coming out with what I thought were good singles, and very little was happening.”
Brian Epstein’s death in August 1967 may have been the final straw; The Cyrkle disbanded soon after. 
Fortunately for Dawes, Nat Weiss got him a job producing the jingle for the new “Uncola” advertising campaign for 7-Up, the soft drink. The band spent only a few hours recorded the music.
“Somebody handed me a check for $10,000,” Dawes recalled. “I said, ‘Hey, maybe I want to stay in New York and do this.’”
That was the beginning of a 20-year career of writing jingles for  major ad campaigns, including L’eggs hosiery (“Our L’eggs Fit Your Legs”) and American Airlines (“We’re American Airlines, Doing What We Do Best”).
After he married fellow jingle writer Virginia Redington in 1978, the two collaborated on such campaigns as McDonald’s “You, You’re the One,” Coca-Cola’s “Coke Is It,” and American Airlines’ “Something Special in the Air.” Ginny Redington was also a songwriter whose work has been recorded by Sarah Vaughan and Gladys Knight.
(Encouraged by Dawes, Dannemann also went into the jingle-writing business; he did the tunes for Continental Airlines’ “We’re Going to Move Our Tails for You” and for Swanson TV dinners, among many others.)
Dawes retired from the ad business in 1990 and focused on photography and serious songwriting. He did the photography for several of his wife’s books, such as “Victorian Jewelry: Unexplored Treasures” (1991) and  “Georgian Jewellery 1714-1830” (2007).
The couple teamed up to write “Talk of the Town,” a well-reviewed 2004 musical about members of the Algonquin Round Table that ran off-Broadway for two years and then became a cabaret show at the Algonquin Hotel’s Oak Room, where the Round Table group lunched.  The two spent years researching Round Table members including Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, Alexander Woollcott, Harpo Marx, Heywood Broun, George S. Kaufman, and Edna Ferber. “We also interviewed family members when possible,” Dawes said. “We read at least 100 books to find out everything we could that related to the Round Table. It took us time to weave together the characters, the humor, and the story line.”
In the early 1980s, Tom and Ginny Dawes bought Brook Farm, the former O’Neill homestead at 845 North Salem Road, living there for more than 20 years. In 2005 they sold the place for $3 million and moved to nearby Weston where Tom Dawes died of a stroke two years later.
Long after they disbanded, The Cyrkle — whose other two members became a surgeon and a lawyer — got together twice in the Lafayette area; in 1986, at a poverty benefit and in 1995, at their 30th college reunion.
When Dawes died, The Cyrkle’s most famous hit was frequently played on the radio in his honor.
“Usually when I hear ‘Red Rubber Ball,’ I’m happy,” Don Dannemann said at the time. “This time it was sad. I thought: Oh, my god, I can never sing it with Tom again.”

Friday, May 31, 2019

William H. Casey: 
Civic Businessman
For half of the 20th Century, Bill Casey was a leader in  the business, civic and social life of  Ridgefield. A soft-spoken man who often wore a smile, Casey founded a company that still bears his name and is still led by his family 70 years later.
Born in Manhattan in 1917,  William Henry Casey grew up on Long Island and graduated from Lehigh University, where he was president of the Class of 1939. The same year he graduated, he married Valerie Dyer, a New York City native who was raised in Montreal, Canada. They were wed at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
Casey worked for several oil companies before deciding to start his own business. In 1947 they moved to Ridgefield, living at first in the Bluebird Apartments on West Lane.
He began a fuel oil business in 1949  (just three years after native sons Frank and Fred Montanari started the town’s other still-thriving family-owned oil business, Montanari Fuel).
Four years later the Casey family moved to an 18th Century Main Street homestead that has
served as their house but also their office for nearly 70 years. Over those years Casey Fuel has expanded with the acquisition of the heating oil businesses of Ridgefield Supply, Outpost Supply and Venus Oil, added a propane service, and rebranded itself as Casey Energy. The company was led by his son, Michael, starting in 1976, and today is in the hands of grandson, Shane.
 In 1961, Bill Casey opened a real estate end of the business and was long active in the realty community, serving in 1967 as president of the Ridgefield Board of Realtors. In the early 1960s,  Casey also owned an Esso gasoline station and paint store on Danbury Road, now the quarters of Marty Motors.
 Casey was always active in the civic and community life of Ridgefield. A longtime member of the Board of Finance, he also served on the Board of Tax Review.  In 1971 he tossed his hat in the ring for the job of first selectman, but then bowed out in favor of Joseph J. McLinden, who won the job.
He was chairman of the Republican Town Committee, and worked on dozens of campaigns over the years. He served as a director of the Community Center and a trustee of Danbury Hospital. 
And he held the distinction of being the longest, continuous, still-resident member of the Ridgefield Lions Club. Casey joined the club on Nov. 1, 1948, and had served as the club president a few years later. All presidents had a special project to accomplish and his in the early 1950s was something that seemed more out of the inner city than suburbs: Building showers on the front lawn of the Community Center for the town’s children. 
“This was before air conditioning and since there was no place to swim then, we put in 10 showers,” he told a 1996 gathering honoring his 50th anniversary with the Lions. “The kids were there on all the hot summer days.” 
Soon after he and other Lions helped Francis D. Martin create Great Pond’s swimming beach — today’s Martin Park.
An avid golfer, Casey was one of the longest-term members of the Silver Spring Country
Club. There, he was a founder of the infamous Poison Ivy League, a group of local golfers that included such prominent businessmen and attorneys as Judge John E. Dowling, Alex Santini, Judge Joseph H. Donnelly, Edward Hyde, and Judge Reed F. Shields.
He was also interested in his family’s Irish roots — both his and Valerie’s ancestors came from Ireland. In 1997, 18 members of the Casey clan — representing four generations —  traveled together to Ireland for a 10-day trip that included visits to many ancestral sites of both the Casey and Dyer families.  
Bill Casey died in 2002 at his home on Main Street at the age of 84. He left behind one of a handful of Ridgefield businesses that have involved multiple generations of a family and that survive and thrive today. Others besides Montanari Fuel include Ridgefield Supply, Ridgefield Hardware, Neumann Real Estate, and Ancona’s Wines and Liquors.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Sgt. Jacob Nash: 
Murdered By Redcoats
Memorial Day is a most fitting time to remember a Ridgefielder whose murder by the British during the Revolutionary War has been largely forgotten.  Sgt. Jacob Nash was killed in 1779 while trying to defend Norwalk, the home of his ancestors and where some of his descendants later settled. He wasn’t just shot, he was stabbed to death — while his hands were tied.
Though at least eight Ridgefield soldiers died during the war, Nash may be the only one confirmed to have been killed in a battle.
As is the case with so many colonial residents, relatively little is known about Jacob Nash. He was born here in 1751, a son of Abraham and Rhoda Keeler Nash, farmers who had come from Norwalk with the early settlers. He grew up in town, married Freelove Keeler of Ridgefield in 1771 and a year later, they had a son, Jacob Jr. Freelove (the name projected the idea of freely giving the virtue of love) died in 1775, possibly in childbirth.  About two years later, Jacob married Phebe Kellogg of Norwalk.
Some sources say Jacob and his family moved with other members of the Nash clan to Ballston, N.Y., but returned to this area around the beginning of the Revolution because they feared attacks by American Indians allied with the British.
After the war broke out, Jacob joined the Continental Army. By January 1776 he was a corporal.
In July 1779, he was on furlough, visiting his family in Ridgefield, when news arrived that Major General William Tryon and about 2,600 British troops were attacking and burning coastal towns, including Norwalk. Nash joined a company of local militia, led by Capt. David Olmsted, and headed for Norwalk. There on July 11, he was fighting the invaders during the “Battle of the Rocks,” the largest of several engagements collectively called the Battle of Norwalk, when he was captured and executed by the enemy.
General Samuel H. Parsons, who commanded Continental forces during the Battle of Norwalk, told General George Washington that Nash “was found dead with his Hands bound together & pierced with Bayonets, no Shot having ever entered any Part of his Body.” Another account says his body had seven stab wounds.
Jacob Nash was 28 years old.
It is unclear why the British would have killed a captive that way, but a number of deaths by bayonetting were reported during the war. Lambert Latham, a 13-year-old black soldier fighting at Battle of Groton in 1781, died after being stabbed 33 times by British troops. 
Tryon’s attack was devastating — General Washington described Norwalk as “destroyed.” The British burned 80 houses, two churches, 87 barns, 17 shops, and four mills. Oddly enough, casualties were few; some accounts say Nash was the only American killed in the battle. Another report said he and one other died. 
British casualties, however, were higher and, in a touch of irony 50 years after the war ended, Daniel Kellogg Nash, a grandson of Jacob Nash, was digging on his farm in the Flax Hill section of Norwalk when he uncovered the skeletons of three British soldiers. They had been killed in the same battle in which his grandfather had fought and died.
Jacob Nash’s death in the Revolution might have been almost completely forgotten, were it not for Norwalk historians Ed and Madeleine Eckert, who uncovered and researched his story about 25 years ago. And in 2005, the Drum Hill Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) placed a special marker at the Titicus Cemetery grave of Jacob Nash, the only Revolutionary veteran’s grave in Ridgefield so honored.
Of the hundreds of Ridgefielders who served in the Revolution, Nash appears to be the only one known to have been killed in combat. Two others died in British-held prisons, one froze to death at Valley Forge, another succumbed to an illness, and four died of unstated causes during their service.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Alice Rockwell Lynch: 
The Life of A White House Party
Alice Lynch was about as steeped in Ridgefield as one could be. Her ancestors founded the town, many of their descendants became its leaders through more than two centuries, and her father wrote the huge “History of Ridgefield.” Yet while she may have been “old Ridgefield,” Alice Lynch was no “old fogey.”
Texas Governor John Connally could have told you that. So could have Pat Nixon, the president’s wife.
Alice Patricia Rockwell Lynch was born here on April 24, 1918, a daughter of George L. and Ann Ryan Rockwell. Her father was a diplomat, a longtime Ridgefield postmaster, a town official,  and the author of “History of Ridgefield,”  the 583-page compilation of his many years of research into the town and its people, published in 1927. 
Her mother was a sister of the father of Patricia Nixon, wife of President Richard M. Nixon.
Alice Rockwell grew up on East Ridge in the family homestead. There, Pat Ryan used to visit as a teenager. 
“Pat got a job with the Sisters of Charity Veterans Hospital in New York and spent weekends and vacations here in Ridgefield for two or three years,” Mrs. Lynch recalled in a 1968 interview. Her cousin loved to walk, especially in the rain, and one of her favorite places was Great Swamp, Lynch said.
Decades later, when she was the First Lady, Pat Nixon invited Mrs. Lynch to the White House to attend a party featuring Johnny Cash, the country singer. 
Lynch, whose typical attire was a flannel shirt and jeans, happened to mention to her garbage man that she had nothing to wear to such an elegant gathering.
 The trash collector replied that his wife had just picked up a gold lamé dress at a tag sale.
 The dress fit, Mrs. Lynch wore it to the White House, and she had no qualms about letting people, like Governor Connally, next to whom she sat, know that her gown was provided by her trash collector. Word reached a reporter, and a light-hearted story mentioning the first lady’s cousin’s wearing a dress from her garbage man hit the wire services, appearing in newspapers around the world.
But it wasn’t just the dress that the guests noticed. According to a Washington Post writer in April 1970, she gave Johnny Cash competition at the concert. “She was almost as much fun to watch as the entertainment,”  Post columnist Maxine Cheshire said 
“Senator John L. McClellan of Arkansas was so amused at her excitement that he turned sideways in his seat so that he wouldn’t miss any of her antics. She applauded, cheered, conducted and jumped up out of her chair ecstatically every time Cash broke into one of her favorites,” Cheshire wrote. “Everyone assumed that she must be one of Cash’s relatives or in-laws. Instead she was Pat Nixon’s cousin, Alice Lynch, of Ridgefield, Conn.”
The columnist continued, “Reporters who followed her as she hoisted her long skirt and did a kind of sailor’s hornpipe through the state rooms were completely enchanted with her down-to-earth good spirits.” 
“She works, she added cheerfully, as ‘a maid in a dog kennel,’” Cheshire said.
“We got clippings from Thailand, Japan and Australia,” recalled Dr. Alice P. Carolan, Mrs. Lynch’s daughter. “It never bothered her, things like that.” 
Alice Lynch graduated from Ridgefield High School in 1935 and went to work as the executive secretary for the editor of Field and Stream magazine. “It was perfect for her, with her love of the outdoors and animals,” said Dr. Carolan.
She remained at Field and Stream until 1942 when she married Richard J. Lynch Jr., a fellow Ridgefielder, who was about to go off to the war. Mr. Lynch, who died in 1971, had later worked at Kellogg and Theiss, the auto dealership, and at Bedient’s Hardware.
Mrs. Lynch had a lifelong interest in antiques and had operated Alice Lynch Antiques for 40 years before retiring in 1988. She sold at shows throughout the Northeast, specializing in early American primitives, Shaker furniture, and decoys.
In Ridgefield, Mrs. Lynch was well known for her work on behalf of animals. She was one of the most active and vociferous proponents of a new and modern dog pound and spent countless hours
as a volunteer at the shelter, walking impounded dogs and taking care of the building — hence, “a maid in a dog kennel.” 
She was also involved in many fundraisers to support the shelter.
Mrs. Lynch also worked for people in need, and for a long time was active in St. Mary’s Parish drives to collect clothing for the poor in Appalachia.
For many years she lived on St. Johns Road. Around 1983 she sold her home and moved to Bethlehem to be closer to family members.
 She died in 2001 at the age of 82.
“She knew everyone in town and was very friendly,” said her daughter. “She was always volunteering to help others.”
That volunteering began at a very early age. One day in 1923,  oil millionaire and family friend Frank I. Beers lined up the five Rockwell children — including Alice — in their East Ridge home and asked, “Which one of you thinks enough of me to do me the favor of putting flowers on my mother’s grave on Memorial Day?”  A Ridgefield native who then lived in California and Pennsylvania, Beers made his fortune oil wildcatting.
The four sisters and one brother looked at him in silence until, a few moments later, five-year-old Alice  — whom Beers called “Electricity” because she was so lively and eager — said, “I do.”
Beers looked at Alice and said, “You’re a good girl, Electricity. I won’t forget you.”
Almost every year for the rest of her life, Electricity put flowers on Frank Beers’ mother’s grave in Ridgefield Cemetery. After Beers died in 1942, his grave was also decorated.
And, indeed, Beers did not forget Electricity. At his bequest in 1942, Alice Lynch received, for the rest of her life, half the annual income from a trust fund today worth more than a quarter million dollars.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Boy Scouting, 1921
A rare glimpse into early Boy Scouting in Ridgefield is offered by a letter from one scout to another, mailed in 1921.
William Dingee, then 16 years old, is telling his older friend, Adelmar “Del” Bryon, then 22, about current scouting activities. Bryon, who was a member and possibly a leader of the local troop, was off studying at Princeton. 
Dingee, son of a town constable, was born in Redding and had moved to Ridgefield two years earlier. He grew up to be very active in town, running a couple of restaurants, founding Dingee Electric in 1950, serving on the Board of Finance and for 50 years on the Ridgefield Volunteer Fire
Department, and belonging to many local organizations. 
Bryon, son of the local doctor who developed Bryon Park (Fairview and Bryon Avenues, and Greenfield Street), became a Presbyterian minister and missionary in China. Later in life, he settled in the Catskills. His sister, Kathryn, founded the town’s first Girl Scout troop in 1921, the same year this letter was written. (His son, Dick, is active in Old Ridgefield.)
Dingee died in 1980, Bryon in 1995.
The letter speaks of Mr. Kasper — that’s Joseph F. Kasper, an early leader in Ridgefield scouting (some have said he founded Boy Scouting in Ridgefield; the letter suggests he wasn’t the initial leader, but he may have been the first to make things work). 
Here is the text of the letter, written on official Boy Scout stationery (a few spellings have been corrected):
“Ridgefield, Conn.
“Feb. 8, 1921
“Dear Del —
“I was very glad to receive your letter. Mr. Kasper is taking up the scout work and getting
along fine. At first we thought the troop would break up, but the boys took so much interest in it after Mr. Kasper took charge, that he said he would be scout master till we get starting up. We have about 31 boys in now and four patrols. Each leader has a certain thing to teach his patrol each week. I am going to take my patrol on a tracking trip Wed. night after school. Wish you here to go with us.
“I got through my exams all right with an average of 88%. Hope you got 98%. I am glad you are coming soon, for we can do some scout work then. We haven’t had any sliding since you were home last. We had to write a composition of a storm and I just finished writing mine. I wrote about the one at Lake ‘K’? [probably Kitchawan, in Lewisboro].
“With best of luck
“William Dingee”

Saturday, April 06, 2019

The First Movies
Bioscope Pictures of 1899 Were
Far Cry from Today’s Films
The Ridgefield Press, 1950 — The “new marvels of animated pictures” made their appearance in Ridgefield around the turn of the century. An advertisement in The Press of 1899 so referred to the American Bioscope Company movies augmenting Billy Lester’s new show of  “8 great artists 8.”
Three years later The Press reported that “A large and enthusiastic audience greeted the Edison Projectoscope Company on their second appearance in Ridgefield at the Town Hall Monday evening. The program was opened by piano overture. Mr. Forrest gave a few short stories and parodies on popular songs. His jokes were witty and new, and were well-received by the audience.
Then Mr. Plant, the manager, announced the moving pictures which were thrown on the screen, interspersed with illustrated songs, sung by Mr. Plant, who has a very pleasing voice, and stereopticon pictures of noted men.
“'The first moving picture, our late president’s (McKinley’s) funeral, was very impressive. After a short intermission more moving pictures were shown and nearly all of a laughable nature. The other scenes, those of noted cities and places in our own and in foreign parts, were explained by Mr. Plant. The pianist played selections appropriate to the scenes and accompanied the singers.”
The “large and enthusiastic audience” was evidently large and enthusiastic enough to support a permanent movie theater, for in the next few years several companies came in and out of business.
Town Hall Photoplays, an enterprise run by Julius Ficken and Mr. and Mrs. Arthur J. Ferry, was not as successful as it might have been, for some reason. But the hour long trip to Danbury by horse and buggy, though just right for spooning, was too tedious a drive to make for a mere movie, unless it happened to be “The Birth of A Nation.”
In 1915 The Press reported that “Mr. Ferry announces that he will start a series of excellent comedy and dramatic pictures,” which didn't speak too well of the quality of the previous pictures.
About 1920 at the parish house of St. Stephen’s Church, the pillars were removed and movies were booked by Arthur Carnall, the moving spirit behind many of Ridgefield’s cinematic enterprises. The parish house movies were of the better sort, and although no admission was charged (a hat was passed after the performance for voluntary contributions), there was never a deficit.
However, the trustees of the church objected to showing movies in the parish house, and the entertainment there was stopped.
At about this time the American Legion Post found itself in straitened circumstance and Arthur Carnall thought of showing movies for the benefit of the Legion. The post purchased the machinery the Ferry enterprises had used and began showing photo-plays in the Town Hall on Wednesdays and Saturdays. The Wednesday shows were the better or “cultural” shows and the Saturday shows were more run of the mill,  the theory behind this being that people went to the movies on Saturday night in any case. Interestingly enough, the Wednesday night movies made more money.
When St. Stephen’s gave the Legion their projection machine, the booth at the town hall was enlarged so that Jack Cranston, the operator, and his two machines would fit in. Up until this time slides had been shown during intermission while the reels were rewound.
All of these enterprises had musical accompaniment, furnished at one time or another by Mr. and Mrs. Willis G. Boyce, violin and piano respectively, and by Arthur Ferry, piano. Charles Stannard further enlivened Ridgefield evenings by selling popcorn and peanuts on the steps of the town hall. During this period there was sometimes dancing after the movies, too.
The Legion enterprise was successful, and the veterans enjoyed a steady income from it until the advent of the talkies, which made the machinery obsolete. This soon found its way to some corner
of South America, where talkies were unknown, so all in all, the Legion came out ahead on its movie venture. This proved to Arthur Carnall that Ridgefield would support a movie house that presented good features and did not show any “B” films.
It was not until 1938, however, that Irwin Wheeler, of the New Canaan Playhouse, became interested in opening a branch of the chain owned by Casey and Wheeler in New York (later the Prudential chain) and he and Mr. Carnall picked a site at the rear of the library as a likely spot for a Ridgefield Playhouse. The library was willing to sell the property, though a provision in the deed of the library property required title action in Superior Court before it could be sold.
The next problem faced by Mr. Carnall was the job of selling the public a $40,000 first mortgage bond issue. The library agreed to invest $6,000 of the receipts from the sale of the property and a public announcement was made that if $40,000 was raised, the new theater would be built. At the same time a lengthy prospectus of the plans of the theater company was drawn up and appeals were mailed to one hundred possible investors. In the next year this amount was raised, oversubscribed, and placed in escrow.
Construction would have begun immediately, as plans of the theater had been completed, and printed in the Press, but the contractors estimated that the cost of the building according to the plans would make the total investment too high. The plan for the present building was prepared by John Eberson of New York, architect. John McNeill of Floral Park, Long Island, was contractor. The building was completed and ready for the first performance on March 26, 1940.
Under the present manager, William Johns, the Playhouse is still sticking to the original formula of presenting good single-feature attractions and short subjects, which has proved so successful in the ten years it has been followed in Ridgefield. 
In addition the Playhouse has presented art exhibitions from the start and many prominent local artists have there shown their work to the community. Some Ridgefield artists who have exhibited at the Playhouse in the past few years include Herb Olsen, with his own and his students paintings; Elizabeth O'Brien, with her “table-toppers”; J. Clark Work, the portrait  painter; Photographer Richard Marks; Mrs. Wognar, with her embossed pictures and boxes; Mrs. Nicholas Lefore, the landscape artist.
Other exhibitors have been Mrs. Elizabeth Schleussner, with her California desert scenes; Photographer Alexander Alland of North Salem; landscape artist Bernice Webster; watercolorist Hazel Tobias, director of art at Danbury Teachers College; watercolorist Thomas De’Stasio, of the Walt Disney advertising department; Jeanne Melin, of New Canaan, whose specialty is painting horses; Ralph Jaeger, watercolorist of Armonk; photographer Janet Arem, of Croton Falls; and Mrs. Charles E. Wegmann, who has exhibited her own and her students’ work in oil painting.
During World War II the Playhouse held food fairs and several bond rallies. At one rally, September 1943, $524,013 worth of bonds were sold in little over an hour. The auction by which the bonds were sold was broadcast over NBC, with Francis D. Martin serving as auctioneer. Volunteered services and articles auctioned off included a speech by Walter Hampden, nylon stockings, a pig, a calf, and cartoons by Wood Cowan and Paul Webb.
Stephen Zvonkovic, the chief projection operator, is the only remaining member of the original staff of ten years ago. Except for his two years in the Army he has been with the Playhouse since its beginning. Adolpho Casagrande, custodian, has been on the staff for nine years without missing a day. Other members of the staff are Mr. and Mrs. Allen W. H. Sterry, Lois Sterry, Mrs. Marion B. Redman, H. E. Todd, John A. Hayes, David Clapp, Harold T. Scott, and Jack Yelinek.

[Note: This article, written by Karl S. Nash, appeared in The Ridgefield Press’s Jubilee Edition, a special 100-plus page tabloid publication marking the newspaper’s 75th anniversary in 1950]

Friday, March 22, 2019

Charlotte Wakeman, 
The First Superintendent
As of 2019, Ridgefield has had 19 school superintendents. Only three were women, but among those was the very first superintendent: Charlotte Wakeman. After she left in 1921, it was 85 years before Ridgefield hired another woman for the job.
An impressive person who was said to be close to six feet tall, “Biddy” Wakeman was remembered not only as a leader in bringing modern education to Ridgefield, but also as a disciplinarian and one who had a fondness for huge hats.
A native of  Copake, N.Y., Charlotte J. Wakeman was born in 1877 and grew up in Danbury. She came to Ridgefield in 1906 to be principal of and a teacher at the Center School on Bailey Avenue. 
In 1915, Ridgefield’s school system was considerably modernized with the addition of the Benjamin Franklin Grammar School, to which her classes were moved, and the opening of Alexander Hamilton High School at what had been the Center School. A year later, the district modernized even further with the creation of the job of school superintendent to oversee all the teachers and other staff. Wakeman held the position and at the same time continued to serve as a teacher. 
Wakeman was one of a number of Ridgefielders — educators, parents and “summer people” — who were leaders in modernizing the schools and moving the curriculum into the 20th Century. When she arrived here, the town had no high school. After Hamilton High opened, Wakeman then focused efforts on making it better. Even students chipped in: The girls in the home economics class under a Mrs. Myer created a “for a better high school” fund to raise money for the school.  
“I bought three hundred-pound bags of raw peanuts,” Wakeman recalled in 1968 when she was 90 years old. “After school the girls under the supervision of Mrs. Myer shelled those peanuts and salted them. Then they sold them at entertainments in the town hall and took orders for them. When they were finished with that, they gave the money made from sales to the Board of Education ‘for a better high school.’”
The girls also encouraged their mothers “to make cakes for several cake sales. They did many other things and gave the profits to the fund.”
Wakeman was known for keeping her classes orderly. Tabby Carboni, who had her as a teacher in 1912 and 1913, recalled that “she gave me the ruler many times!” Carboni added, however, “I wasn’t bad — there were others who got it a lot more than I did.”
She was also known for her hats. During her career in Ridgefield, Wakeman was photographed several times wearing enormous hats — in one picture, the hat appears four times the width of her head, and nearly twice as high. They were no doubt a style of the day, but she would don them indoors, too, even for group photographs where everyone else was hatless.
After World War I, the town was going through a protracted and sometimes bitter dispute about the modernization of  schools. Leading the support for a conservative approach was school
board Chairman Richard Osborn, owner of the Ridgefield Supply Company. As chairman, “he tangled repeatedly” with  Wakeman, and with Dr. William H. Allee, “her sponsor and supporter,” The Ridgefield Press later reported. (Dr. Allee, covered in a separate Who Was Who profile, was perhaps the most active worker for better education in Ridgefield early in the 20th Century.)
By 1921, Wakeman had had enough fighting and resigned. She took a job teaching English at the high school in Mount Vernon, N.Y., remaining there until her retirement in 1937. 
However, she continued to live in a small house on Main Street for some years,   commuting to Mount Vernon, and maintained contact with her former staff members over the years. In 1937, Ridgefield teachers and friends honored Wakeman on her Mount Vernon retirement, holding a tea for her at the Book Barn on Wilton Road. The attendees included a who’s who of 20th Century Ridgefield educators: Mary Regan, Mary Moylan, Marie Kilcoyne, Mary and Elizabeth Boland, Ruth Wills, Eleanor Burdick, Josephine and Alice Hearst, Margaret and Agnes Carroll, Catherine O’Hearn, Grace White, Isabel O’Shea, Linda Davies, Francis J. Bassett, Charles D. Crouchley, Levio Zandri, and Clifford Holleran.
Although she held no academic degrees, Wakeman had studied at Columbia, Yale, Dartmouth, and New York University. She was also a founder of the American Woman’s Association, a once active suffragist organization. She died in 1969 at the age of 91. 
One of the few Ridgefielders alive by the turn of the 21st Century to remember Biddy Wakeman was Mary Creagh, who recalled her as her school’s principal in 1918. “I remember I thought she was very tall and imposing, like a ship in full sail,” said Miss Creagh. “When I met her years later, she didn’t seem that tall at all.”
Perhaps she had taken off her hat.

Friday, March 15, 2019

A Lost Landmark
The black-and-white picture here is a rather remarkable snapshot in several ways: The crowd, the trees and the beauty of a long-lost landmark.
First off, for newer-comers, the scene is Main Street looking west from about where folks sit in front of Tazza and drink coffee. That big, handsome building is the Jesse Lee Methodist Church on the corner of Main and Catoonah Streets. The accompanying color photograph shows what the same corner looks like today.
The occasion is the September 1958 parade that marked the end of Ridgefield’s six-month celebration of its 250th anniversary. That tent at the right with a cross on it was part of a float, possibly done by St. Mary’s School pupils. (Many other pictures of 250th anniversary parades have been posted here.)
Trees dominate the picture, especially that Norway spruce at the right. It was one of two spruces that stood tall in front of the rectory, hidden at right by the boughs. The other, just a bit north, snapped in half when Ridgefield’s village was hit by a twister on July 13, 1950.
The tree at the left would have been near the front of Bedient’s or now, Books on the Common.
Then there’s the church. This picture does a remarkably good job of capturing the beauty of the facade of the building. If you enlarge the picture and look closely, you can see many find details like dentilated moldings, gable carvings, and nice use of clapboards and facings. And, of course, there are the two handsome towers.
Why, many have asked, would a building as beautiful as this, in the very center of the town, be torn down, as happened in 1964?
Several factors contributed to the church’s demise. To the growing congregation of Methodists, the church’s serious lack of parking space became a real problem. The building could not be expanded to handle the increasing needs of the membership. Then, too, the building was old — the earliest parts dated from 1841 — and was probably expensive to maintain.
So the congregation moved a couple blocks south to its present site, building a much bigger church, with support facilities and plenty of parking spaces. 
Couldn’t the building still have been preserved? Probably, but in the early 1960s, Ridgefielders were only beginning to develop a strong preservationist movement that resulted in establishment of historic districts and a commission to oversee them, as well as organizations like the Keeler Tavern Preservation Society, the Ridgefield Preservation Trust, and the Architectural Advisory Committee. 
The church might have been nice for a new, smaller religious congregation, but none was available or wanted the building. It could have been “repurposed” but apparently its age and the fact that it looked so much like a church dissuaded potential buyers. (However, the rectory next door — which looks like a Victorian house — was repurposed, and today serves as offices and shops.) 
If the same opportunity were to occur today, the church would probably have been preserved,
perhaps for use as shops or offices, or maybe even as a historical museum.
The church was replaced by a two-story, flat-roofed building of stores and offices that was aimed at looking colonial, with brick to match the town hall and the Ernest Scott buildings on two other nearby corners, and the firehouse and telephone building up Catoonah Street.
Incidentally, in 1964, the historic Philip Burr Bradley/Biglow/Ballard house farther north on Main Street was also torn down. That was not the choice of the townspeople, however; part of Elizabeth Ballard’s bequest of the land to the town included that the house be razed so the land could become Ballard Park. She also did not want the house to be a burden on a community that had only recently set up the Community Center in the Lounsbury mansion — Ridgefield already owned one big old mansion on Main Street and didn’t need another, she felt.