Saturday, September 19, 2020

 


Irad Hawley: 
His Name and Face Live On

A son of a Ridgefield deacon and great grandson of the town’s first minister, Irad Hawley made a fortune in food, coal and railroads, but he left his mark on the world in two rather different ways: The home of one of America’s leading art centers, and the name of a small Pennsylvania town.

And you can see his face, hanging on the wall, whenever you visit the Ridgefield Library — or the Salmagundi Club.

Born in Ridgefield in 1793, Irad Hawley was a great grandson of the Rev. Thomas Hauley, the first minister and the first school teacher in the town. The minister’s home  at the north corner of Main Street and Branchville Road is the oldest house in Ridgefield and is where Irad was born. It remained in the Hawley family for more than two centuries.

His father, Deacon Elisha Hawley,  was a leader in the First Congregational Church. His mother, Charity Hawley was active in the community, so much so that when he was preparing his autobiography, Recollections of A Lifetime, in the 1850s, Samuel G. Goodrich (“Peter Parley”)  interviewed her to refresh his memory about the town during his childhood (and he included a long profile of the Deacon in his book). She died in 1860, five months short of her 100th birthday.

 In 1807 when he was only 14 years old, Irad moved to New York to begin a career in retailing. He took a break to join the New York Militia’s 11th Regiment, serving in the War of 1812 as a private. He remained a reserve member of the militia until his death, by which time he’d reached the rank of major.

After the war he established a grocery firm called Holmes, Hawley & Company, which grew into “a prosperous house in the West India trade for more than 25 years,” said the New York Observer, a 19th Century newspaper. He married his partner’s daughter, Sarah Holmes, in 1819.

But his interests — and income — soon expanded. He helped organize the Pennsylvania Coal Company, and served as its first president. Many of that company’s operations were in Poconos.  There, Irad established the town of Hawley in 1827 at the important junction of a coal-carrying “gravity railroad” and the Delaware & Hudson Canal, which transported the anthracite from there to the Hudson River and on to New York City.

Not surprisingly, Hawley became a director Delaware & Hudson Canal Company.


However, he also invested heavily in the “new technology” of railroads, becoming a director of the Boston & Providence and the Chicago & Rock Island Railroads.

By 1841, he could retire from Holmes & Hawley with what one historian called “an ample fortune.”

The canal, railroads, coal company, and his own business have come and gone, but Hawley’s next big project proved quite lasting, and still stands today.

“In 1852 construction was begun on Hawley's imposing brownstone-fronted house at No. 47 Fifth Avenue between 11th and 12th Streets,” reports Manhattan historian Tom Miller.  “At nearly 40-feet wide, it engulfed two building plots.  Completed the following year, the house was an aristocratic expression of the Italianate style. Inside, the mansion was the epitome of current domestic fashion.  Elegant carved mantels adorned the main rooms, and the dining room was decorated in the Gothic Revival style.”

It is today a New York City Landmark and on the National Register of Historic Places.

Hawley became interested in education.  He was a director of the Rutgers Female Institute, the first New York City college for women, and in 1858 headed a group of citizens “in opposition to the expulsion of the Bible from our Public Schools” — not surprising for the son of a deacon and great grandson of a preacher.

By the early 1860s, Hawley was having health problems. In 1862, he sailed to Europe to try to regain his health. (His 1862 passport application, in the days before passports had


pictures, provided an interesting description of the 69-year-old Hawley’s appearance: “Stature, 5 feet 7½ inches; Forehead, high; Eyes, grayish blue; Nose, Roman; Mouth, small; Chin, round; Hair, white; Complexion, florid; Face, oval.”)

 Hawley wound up staying in Italy where, in 1865, he contracted typhoid fever and died in Rome. He left an estate valued at $500,000 — equal to about $8.5 million today — to his wife, Sarah, and five surviving children.

Some of that was real estate in Ridgefield and his sons, detecting the likelihood that the town would become more attractive to city dwellers once the railroad arrived in 1870, invested rather heavily in more village land — eventually owning most of what became the Lounsbury estate and Veterans Park as well as considerable acreage on lower High Ridge.

However, one son — Elisha Judson Hawley — proved a disaster for the family. Judson, as he was called, was caught in 1871, stealing more than $237,000 ($4.8 million) from family investments to cover personal business interests. The result was years of financial stress, battling among family members and even a  lawsuit as the Hawleys struggled to make up for the losses.  The New York Sun reported that the widow Sarah Hawley had “agreed to take a much less income than she was entitled to so as to help make up the deficit.” 

Judson Hawley was never arrested or prosecuted. He died in 1915 in England, leaving an estate valued at only $200,000 in today’s dollars — less than a 20th of what he had stolen years earlier, reports Ridgefield village historian David Daubenspeck.

Irad’s estate wasn’t finally settled until 1919 when the last Ridgefield property — the Hauley Homestead where he was born — was sold.

Sarah remained in the Fifth Avenue mansion with two of her grown sons, Daniel Edwin and Elisha Judson, along with Judson’s wife, Anna. After Sarah died in 1891, the house was sold at auction to a Pittsburgh steel magnate.

That family sold it in 1917 to the Salmagundi Club, which describes itself as “a center for American art since 1871.” Its members have included   William Merritt Chase,  Frederick Stuart Church,   Charles Dana Gibson,   William Hart, Childe Hassam,   Howard Pyle,  Norman Rockwell,  Augustus Saint-Gaudens,  Louis Comfort Tiffany,  J. Alden Weir,   Stanford White,  and N.C. Wyeth.

Today, portraits of both Ira and Mary are displayed in those hallowed Salmagundi chambers the couple once called home. 

Duplicates hang in the Ruggles Fine Arts Reading Room of the Ridgefield Library.

 


Jerry Tuccio: 

1,200 Ridgefield Houses

 An immigrant mason’s son who had tried his hand at butchering meat and selling cars wound up developing more of the town than anyone in its history. 

By his own estimation, Jerry Tuccio  built “about 1,200 houses” in Ridgefield.

“I’m very proud of each one,” the 85-year-old builder said in 2007, a few months before this death. “I put a lot of pride into every house. We used the best materials and had the best construction.”

Success did not come easily, he added.

“We came into Ridgefield with nothing,” he said. “I had no money when I started. Ridgefield Savings Bank gave me the world. They asked me to go with them for all my business and I agreed.”

Attilio “Jerry” Tuccio was born in 1920 in Compo, Calabria, in southern Italy. As a boy of about 10, he came to the United States with his family and grew up in Bedford Hills, N.Y., where his father was a mason.

During World War II, he served in the North African campaign with the 213th Army Anti-Aircraft Battalion, which fought German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel at the Battle of Kasserine Pass in February 1943. 

Tuccio recalled going into action on Feb. 14 — Valentine’s Day. “I was never so scared,” he said. “I remember thinking I would work the rest of my life for nothing if I could come out of there with my life. I wasn’t the only one that said that. It was a sad day.”

After the war and back home, he tried working as a butcher and as a used-car salesman, “but construction was in his blood,” said Robert Tuccio, one of his two sons.

His first construction experience was helping his father.

“Pop could put up stucco with the best of them,” said Robert Tuccio. “He learned the mason trade from his dad,” 

With his father, Jerry Tuccio began building houses in 1947. The first two he built sold for $12,500 each.

“Can you believe that, $12,500?” Jerry Tuccio said in 2007. “That was a lot of money back then and no one thought I would be able to sell them.”

He was building in Ridgefield by the early 1950s and during two decades, developed subdivision after subdivision — Boulder Hill Estates, Twixt Hills, Mimosa, Stonehenge Estates, Westmoreland, Scodon, Ridgebury Estates, Pleasant View Estates, and West Mountain Estates/Eleven Levels, plus many smaller projects.

In the late 1950s and 1960s, the town’s boom years, houses seemed to sell as fast as they could be built — and  Tuccio honed the art of building them quickly.

“We would put houses in a cycle to be built,” son Robert recalled. “And that cycle was six weeks, from start to finish, from literally cutting the trees down on the lot to having a finished house ready to move into. There were 180 subs working — literally. Subcontractors like plumbers, electricians, they’d have crews that were on the job every single day and they’d literally go house to house as they were being built.”

In the larger developments, many of the house styles he built — with names like The Ridgefield, The Ridgebury, The Brewster, The Sherman — were 3,000 to 3,500 square feet, big houses for that time. And Tuccio dressed them up.

“He was proud of what he built. He tried to put as many features into a home as he could,” his son told The Ridgefield Press’s Macklin Reid. “He was an innovator in the sense the homes were being built with intercoms, central vacuum cleaners, the antenna systems were being put in.”

Many of his developments had recreation areas with swimming pools, tennis and basketball courts.

Over the years, disagreements with town zoning authorities arose — during his application for the Eleven Levels subdivision, Tuccio protested the two-acre zoning and maintained he was being unfairly denied his right to develop his land reasonably. At one point he uttered the declaration, much quoted at the time, “This is Ridgefield and not Russia!”

Looking back in 2007, Tuccio didn’t make much of the disputes with zoners. “I got along well with everyone,” he said. “There were never any big problems.”

He retired in 1970, at age 50.  Robert said his father estimated that he owned some 600 empty building lots around town at that time — many of the lots his brothers and sons would build on in the years that followed.

Tuccio and his wife Ernestine moved to Florida, first to Marco Island and then to Naples. He died in 2007 and is buried St. Mary’s Cemetery.

His family said Jerry Tuccio was a generous man.

“He helped people out whenever he thought they could be helped,” said Arthur Tuccio, one of his two brothers.

“He helped a lot of people along the way,” Robert Tuccio said. “I think helping people gave him a lot of enjoyment.”


Friday, September 04, 2020

Geno Polverari: 
His Smile and His Sacrifice
On March 9, 1945, Private First Class Geno Polverari wrote to his wife, Marguerite, from Europe, saying that he was doing fine. Four days later, he was dead, the result of wounds suffered in combat in northern Italy.
He was one of three members of Ridgefield’s Italian-American community to sacrifice their lives in World War II.
Geno Joseph Polverari was born in Ridgefield in 1916 to Michael and Maria Polverari, immigrants from Italy. His mother died when he was two years old. As a teenager, to help support the family, Geno went to work for James “Jimmy Joe” Joseph at his well-known Joe’s Store at Main Street and Danbury Road. 
Aldo Biagiotti remembered Polverari as a clerk at Joe’s Store. “One day mother brought my brother Fabio (“Fibber”) and me into Joe’s Store to purchase some groceries,” Biagiotti wrote in his book, Impact: The Historical Account of the Italian Immigrants of Ridgefield, Connecticut. “Naturally, we both made mother aware that we wanted an ice cream.
“Geno Polverari, the clerk, came over and waited upon mother. My vivid recollection of Geno is his smile. He had a warm, friendly smile on his face at all times.
“Although it was during the depths of the Depression and our family could hardly afford the luxury of spending money on ice cream, mother ordered two vanilla cones.
“Geno Polverari was very generous in scooping out the vanilla ice cream that tottered on the top of each cone.”
Around this time, Polverari proposed to another Ridgefield native, Marguerite Mary Maddock, and the two were married in Katonah, N.Y., where Marguerite and her family were living. They soon had a son, John.
In 1943, Polverari was drafted into the U.S. Army and volunteered for the Ski Troops, joining the infantry’s 10th Mountain Division training at Camp Hale in Denver, Colo. By January 1945, he was in combat in Italy, the land of his roots. Two months later, he was
serving with a motor corps unit at Anzio, attacking the fleeing German troops in some of the war’s most bitter fighting.
He was wounded and died there March 13. 
Geno Polverari is buried at the American Cemetery and Memorial at Florence, Italy. He posthumously received the Purple Heart.
In 1946, his widow, Marguerite, married  Willis A. “Pop” Goodrow, who was chief of the Bedford Hills Fire Department. They had two daughters and lived in Katonah and later in Mahopac, N.Y., where son John still lives. She died in 2004 at the age of 81.
While few people in Ridgefield today remember Geno Polverari, he has not been forgotten. In 2019, members of the American World War II Orphans Network honored him as a “Fallen Father,” placing a rose on his monument at the cemetery in Florence.


Wednesday, September 02, 2020

Harvey J. Webster: 
Lost in the Bitterest Battle
November 1944 was a nightmarish month for Richard and Isabelle Webster of West Lane. On Nov. 8, they received news that their son, Sgt. George Webster, had been seriously wounded in France. A few days later, word came that another son, Harvey, had been blown up Sept. 15 in an amphibious tank involved in the invasion of Peleliu Island in the Pacific.
Private Harvey James Webster was only 19 years old when he died.
A native of South Salem, N.Y., Webster was born in 1925 and moved to Ridgefield with his family in 1941. He left school at 17 to join the Marine Corps.
According to one of Webster’s fellow Marines who took part in the same landing, Webster and the rest of the crew in the tank off the shore of the island were lost when a Japanese bomb scored a direct hit. 
“He wrote that he was a sad witness to the sinking of the tank,” The Ridgefield Press said in early 1945. It was then that Mr. and Mrs. Webster received news that their late son
had been awarded a Purple Heart.
Their son’s remains were never found.
The battle was one of the bloodiest of the war. The 1st Marines suffered over 6,500 casualties during one month of fighting, more than a third of their entire division. The infantry had another 3,300 casualties. The casualty rate was higher than in any amphibious operation during the Pacific War and has been called “the bitterest battle of the war for the
Marines” by the National Museum of the Marine Corps.
 “A touching bit of irony was the return of 15 letters written to Harvey from his family, which had not reached him, together with Christmas presents mailed to him,” The Press reported. “Harvey was moving too fast  to receive his mail and the last letters from him begged for mail from home.”
At about the same time, a second Purple Heart award arrived at the Webster home for their son, George, for the wounds he received on the German-French front. George was still recuperating  in late January, months after he was wounded.
Meanwhile, a third son, Charles R. Webster, was in Army training at Fort Knox, Kentucky. 
George and Charles Webster survived the war — George died in California in 1996 and Charles in Danbury in 1972.
Their mother, the former Isabelle Hawley of Redding, died in 1949. Their father, Richard, committed suicide in Danbury in 1970 at the age of 76.

Sturges Whitlock: 
Our Own Gutenberg
Ridgefield had its own Johannes Gutenberg, a man who invented a printing press that was so popular, his factory couldn’t keep up with the demand for it.
A fourth generation Ridgefielder, Sturges Selleck Whitlock was born in 1844 in the Bennett’s Farm section of town. His father, John, was a machinist and tinkerer, who taught his son the trade and apparently inspired  in him a desire to experiment.
Sturges grew up in Ridgefield, and probably attended the old Bennett’s Farm Schoolhouse.  As a young teenager, however, he studied at Jackson’s Academy, a private school that operated in the Turner House in Danbury (a hotel erected by retired circus owner Aaron Turner of Ridgefield). 
“He proved an apt and industrious scholar and left school at the age of eighteen, the possessor of a liberal education,” said a Whitlock family history.
He joined his father’s machine shop in Derby, learning both the skills and the business. In 1868, his father retired and Sturges took over, operating the shop for 20 years.
Meanwhile, he was coming up with ideas about improving the speed and performance of printing presses used for books, magazines and newspapers — all of which
were becoming increasingly popular after the Civil War. By 1877, he patented a new printing press design and began manufacturing them.
The presses became so sought-after, his factory could not keep up with the demand. For the first 10 years, he could produce about 100 units annually, each selling for the equivalent of about $60,000 in today’s money.
It might be said that his interest in machinery carried over into his romantic life. In 1868, Whitlock married Mary Olive Singer, a daughter of Isaac Merritt Singer of New York. Isaac Singer was a fellow machinist and inventor who had founded what has been called America’s first multinational corporation, the Singer Sewing Machine Company.
In 1888, as the demand for Whitlock’s Premier model press continued to increase, he reorganized into the Whitlock Machine Company and moved to larger quarters in Shelton (a building still standing and being considered for status as a state historic site).
Whitlock did not stop improving his press, and his business grew to the point where “the press is now used in most all of the printing offices in the country,” said an 1899 profile.
A year later, Whitlock’s wife died and he turned over management to a business associate and began to spend more time on community and political interests. A Shelton
resident, he served both as a state representative and state senator, was on the Board of Trade in Shelton, was active in Masonic organizations, served on the local board of burgesses, and was a strong supporter of the Episcopal Church.
Meanwhile his company took on a new name, the Premier and Potter Printing Press Company, and operations expanded in the 1920s to include actually performing high-quality printing. At one point, the firm was printing currency and stamped postcards for the U.S. government (which required the presence of federal agents who delivered the paper and oversaw the entire process).
In 1936, however, the company closed, apparently a victim of the Depression as well as competition from more modern press equipment. Sturges Whitlock had died in 1914 at the age of 70. So, apparently, had the ingenuity that had once brought his company to the top of the printing press manufacturers in this country.
“Mr. Whitlock possessed a rather unusual union of characteristics which, when taken together, almost invariably spell success,” said his family history profile. “The capable business man and the inventor are rarely found together in one person, the qualities which make for ability in each line somewhat negativing the others. In his case, however, this was not so and he was equally capable of inventing his splendid press and successfully putting it upon the market. 
“Nor was invention one effort merely, but he followed it up by much valuable work, making great improvements from year to year in his own device, and had eventually about twenty patents on these various supplementary inventions.”

David W. Workman: 
The Editor Who Became A Cop
David W. Workman was a small-town newspaperman with a large involvement in the community he covered for three decades. After he retired from newspapering, he turned to protecting the village, even packing a pistol as he patrolled village streets.
Workman spent 33 years at The Ridgefield Press, many of them as an editor,  changing the newspaper’s focus to solely local news. He also was unafraid to criticize powerful people, as a 1922 racial incident demonstrated.
“He was a staunch and loyal supporter of our town and lent his influence to its growth and progress through critical periods,” The Press said the day after his funeral.
David Whitney Workman was born in Norwalk in 1876, attended private and public schools there, and graduated from Brown Business College in Norwalk. He got his start in newspapers, working for the South Norwalk Sentinel, a weekly founded in 1870. 
In 1900, he joined the staff of The Press, then housed in the Masonic building just south of the Town Hall. He was in charge of what was called the mechanical department — the printing presses and typesetting. Back then the Press also did “job printing” and had both small and large presses to produce a variety of printed documents. 
It was also at a time when most of the type — the backward letters made of metal — were put together by hand, one letter at a time. Under Workman’s subsequent management, a Linotype machine, the company’s first “modern” piece of printing equipment, was installed. The giant, keyboard-controlled machine considerably speeded up the process of producing type.
Workman soon began taking on reporting and writing assignments and became assistant editor  in 1904 under S. Claude O’Connor. He wound up doing most of the writing. When O’Connor left in 1923, Workman took over full control. He ran the paper until it was sold in 1932, staying on for a while to help the new editor and publisher, John A. Thayer.
Under Workman’s reign, The Press became an entirely local newspaper. Before he took control, half of each issue was printed in New York City, filled with national stories, columns, pictures, and ads. The outside pages were written and printed in Ridgefield, then collated with the “boilerplate” pages. By the time he retired, the entire Press was printed in Ridgefield, and all its pages contained local news locally written.
Workman knew the town like few others. Besides covering Ridgefield for the newspaper he was for many years  the clerk of the Board of Finance, clerk of the Board of Education, and  a registrar of voters for the Republican Party. His wife, Edna Innes Workman, was secretary, treasurer at St. Stephen’s Church and superintendent of its Sunday school.
His special interest was Ridgefield’s woodlands and for 17 years, he was the district forest fire warden for the State Department of Forestry, issuing state-mandated burning permits and  overseeing fire prevention measures. Back when Ridgefield was much more rural, it was considered an important office.
“He devoted a great deal of time to the preservation of the beauty of the out-of-doors so often threatened by an expanding urban civilization,” The Press said in its tribute to Workman. “The blanket of pine and hemlock which covered his casket gave testimony that his efforts had not been in vain.”
 After leaving the Press in 1932, he became a town cop. Back in the 1930s, long before the town had its own “real” police department, Ridgefield’s policing was done by the Connecticut State Police, supplemented by town constables, local people who were chosen for that office at town elections — and had been since the early 1700s. Some of those constables were hired as paid employees of the town — one for daytime and one for night — to patrol the village, handle traffic, and deal with other minor offenses. The evening constable was often called the “night watchman.”
However, after the state enacted a new civil service law, the policing job conflicted with his fire prevention post. The state paid fire wardens a stipend of a mere $10 a year, but because it was a payment for an official position, he was considered a state employee; as such he fell under the  newly enacted civil service laws. Those laws forbade state employees from “political activities.” That meant Workman could not hold elective office — even constable.
So in 1937 he retired as forest fire warden (his son, Kenneth, took over) so he could continue as a “night watchman.” 
It turned out to matter little. Workman died the next year, 1938, after a lengthy illness. He was only 62 years old. 
The large crowd that attended his funeral at St. Stephen’s Church included “a squad of state policemen...in uniform,” The Press reported.
That might have been a little surprising to people 16 years earlier. Back in October 1922, The Press ran a fiery, front-page editorial criticizing the state police’s handling of the brutal beating of a black man on Bailey Avenue. 
The incident occurred in September when the inebriated brother of the commander of the Ridgefield state police barracks accosted the black man who was eating at Coleman’s Lunch behind town hall. After entering the diner, Thomas Kelly declared that he didn’t want to eat at the same counter with  “a nigger”  and ordered Robert Cooper to leave. When Cooper refused, Kelly punched him in the face. He then chased Cooper up Bailey Avenue, hit him, knocked him down, and kicked him  before several people finally rescued Cooper and called a doctor.
Several days later Kelly was arrested for assault and breach of the peace, but after a quick trial, was given a $15 fine.
The Press minced no words in expressing its outrage. “A brutal bully makes a most atrocious attack on an inoffensive peaceful man of good reputation, simply because he is a colored man, and he goes unpunished in this town,” an editorial said. “The state police take charge of the arrest and punishment of the bully and do not call Mr. Coleman [the lunch counter owner] or the doctor or any of the witnesses to testify to the assault or the seriousness of the crime so that the justice may know what punishment to inflict.” 
Then, it pointed out that “Thomas Kelly is a brother of John C. Kelly, head of the State Police in this town. Are relatives of the State Police exempt from punishment for crimes? Apparently an investigation should be made by those who appoint and control the State Police.”
Several wealthy townspeople wound up hiring a major New York City lawyer to demand that the Connecticut State Police headquarters in Hartford investigate the incident and its handling. The commissioner of state police said he’d look into it, but the outcome was handled quietly. 
Apparently Lt. John Kelly, the Troop A commander, was not found at fault, for he eventually rose to the position of commander of the entire Connecticut State Police.

Tuesday, September 01, 2020








Albert and Toni Roothbert: 
Art, Photos and Philanthropy
Among the most generous — and locally least-known — Ridgefielders of the 20th Century were Albert and Toni Roothbert, a modern art collector and a leading fashion photographer, who lived at Topstone Farm on Topstone Road for many years.
Together they aided many organizations and causes, and established a fund that has provided fellowships to more than 1,000 talented college students over a half century after their deaths.
Born in Frankfurt, Germany, in 1874, Albert Roothbert came to the United States in 1902 and soon became a partner in a Wall Street investment firm. In 1925, at the age of 50, he retired and began studying and collecting modern and Oriental art. With the noted Mexican painter Miguel Covarrubias, he studied the art of Bali, and traveled from Paris to Peking in search of fine examples of modern European and Oriental art. (Some of the works he owned were later donated to major collections, such as at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.)
He also began looking for ways to improve society, an effort that eventually led him and his future wife to found the Roothbert Fund.
Baroness Antonie “Toni” von Horn was born to a prominent family in Germany in 1899. Around 1920, she opened a photography studio in Heidelberg. While in New York on an assignment, she met Frank Crowninshield, editor of Vanity Fair (and a founder and the first secretary of the Museum of Modern Art), After seeing her photos, Crowninshield recommended she pursue a career in New York. 
She followed his advice and soon became a leading fashion and advertising photographer in the 1920s and 30s, working for Vanity Fair, Vogue, and Harper’s Bazaar and at her own studio. She became one of the first woman photographers to gain a national and international reputation in the field, and did many celebrity portraits, including Greta Garbo, Eleanor Roosevelt, Ginger Rogers, Cole Porter, Clark Gable, Claudette Colbert, and Jean Harlow. Her photograph of Albert Einstein has been called the best ever made of him. 
“She was one of the first women to operate in this field at the level of Edward Steichen, Adolf de Meyer and George Hoyningen-Heune, among others, and the only one to operate as an equal in direct competition with them,” said Charles van Horne, her great-nephew who serves as treasurer of The Roothbert Fund.
Unfortunately, she has not gotten much recognition as a pioneering woman in her field. Van Horne attributes that in part to the fact many people thought “Toni von Horn” was a man — she  sometimes actually signed her work Tony von Horn or just von Horn. What’s more, few originals of her work exist because “her plates and negatives lay in damp storage in an outbuilding at Topstone Farm and were discarded after she passed away, probably without a thought.”
Albert and Toni met in New York City and married in 1937. She closed her studio “and never took another picture,” The New York Times reported years later. 
In 1958, the Roothberts established the Roothbert Fund to aid “students motivated by spiritual values, who can satisfy high scholastic requirements and are considering teaching as a vocation.” 
According to the fund, “The Roothberts shared a devotion to young people, whose idealism, they believed, was the best defense against a recurrence of the tragedies of the first half of the 20th Century.”
Recipients are called Roothbert Fellows; more than 1,000 young men and women have received the fellowships. They have included black students expelled from Southern University in 1960 for their pioneering lunch-counter integration in Baton Rouge;  the first graduates of Harlem Preparatory School;  and top-ranking Yale graduates. 
The fund also has awarded grants for special projects, including training in family counseling in a poor neighborhood of Manhattan; funding a van helping street people in the  South Bronx; support for a program for inmates at a Pennsylvania prison involving mental health, poetry, and leadership; establishing an interfaith institute for clergywomen in rural Massachusetts;  a project on peace-making in Jerusalem;  and creating a library for the college-bound program at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility for women in nearby Westchester County.
Toni was also interested in the mentally handicapped. She had bought a 216-acre farm in Copake, N.Y.,  planning to convert it to an organic operation. Instead she wound up turning the farm over to Camphill, a program for adults with special needs. She also helped to secure Albert Schweitzer’s assistance for Camphill.
Albert Roothbert died here in 1965 at the age of 90. In his will he left money to create a Ridgefield High School scholarship fund as well as a sizable grant to the Ridgefield Library. Toni died here in 1970 at 71.
In later life at Topstone Farm, Toni Roothbert was an organic gardener and  conservationist, as well as a humanitarian. She was  interested in a variety of spiritual movements, including Buddhism and  Quakerism. She was inspired by and a friend of Albert Schweitzer, the multifaceted physician, philosopher,  and organist whose humanitarian work at Lambarene Mission in Africa she supported for years — she would annually supply Schweitzer with seeds for his vegetable garden.
When Schweitzer died in 1965, she wrote to one of  his friends in Switzerland: “Since my girlhood in war-torn Europe, I have been looking to Albert Schweitzer as a guiding light and in times of sorrow and stress, my thoughts and love turned always to him…
“Compassion drove the young philosopher-musician to the dark continent and here he administered medicine to the sick, but his greater gift has been to all mankind: The opening of the heart in love to all creation, the reverence for life to all creatures. He became an apostle of goodwill, the challenger to us all. He is the conscience of Man today. Though his strong heart has stopped beating, his light will shine and the world needs this light.”
And, she told The Ridgefield Press that week, “The ethic he stands for is certainly a precious challenge to human beings in today’s cruel and crucified world.”

John Lovejoy: 
A Forgotten Hero
In a time when many unsung acts of heroism are taking place daily throughout the land,  it’s perhaps fitting for Old Ridgefield to remember an unsung hero of the past. John Lovejoy’s effort to save another man’s life 167 years ago has long been forgotten, and probably wasn’t even much known in 1853 when the 19-year-old gave up his life.
Lovejoy was born in Ridgefield in 1834, a son of Daniel and Betsey Lovejoy. His father Daniel was a native of Chatham, N.Y., up near Albany, but Betsey was a daughter of the prominent Ridgefield tanner and miller, Jabez Mix Gilbert. Daniel and Betsey were married in Ridgefield in 1828 by the Rev. John Lovejoy, Daniel’s father and undoubtedly the namesake for our John. Rev. Lovejoy was an itinerant Methodist minister who preached in eastern New York and western Connecticut.
Daniel was a currier, an artisan who dresses, finishes and colors tanned leather to make it strong, flexible, attractive, and waterproof. He no doubt worked for his father-in-law — he lived next door to the Gilberts in the Titicus neighborhood just north of the village.
Son John Lovejoy apparently had no love of leather. The Gilbert tannery at Titicus was probably a rather dark, dank, and smelly place to work. Instead John felt a call to the sea. When he was still a teenager, he left home and soon joined the crew of Advantage, a large ship that plied the North Atlantic.
On the day John left home in 1852, his mother gave him a letter and a Bible. According to an 1854 article published in  Sailor’s Magazine, a trade publication of the era, Betsey Gilbert wrote the letter because her “heart was too full for utterance in any other way.”  
In the letter “she reminded him of the instructions he had received from his earliest years,” the magazine said. She “entreated him to read and pray over the Bible she put in his hand; to touch not, taste not, handle not the inebriating cup, and avoid everything injurious to his character, and which would cause grief to her.”
The magazine felt that Lovejoy had followed his mother’s advice as well as “his own sense of right, and the teaching of the word of God. Consequently, he was everywhere respected and beloved.”
In March 1853, Lovejoy joined the crew of the ship Advance under Captain Arthur Child, a master with whom he had already been sailing for eight months. “I always found him an active and attentive young man, and very much esteemed by all on board,” Captain Child told Sailor’s Magazine. “If he had not been lost we should have made him 2nd mate the next voyage.”
The Advance must have been a sizable vessel; in the fall of 1853, it was on a trans-Atlantic crossing from Le Havre, France, to New York City, with 738 passengers on board.  On Nov. 2, about 800 miles west of Land’s End in Cornwall, one of those passengers fell overboard. Captain Child recorded what happened:
“On the morning of the 2d of November at 7:30 A.M. in Long.24 degrees West and Lat. 48 degrees North there was a cry of ‘A man is overboard’ when Lovejoy ran aft and jumped after him with the intention of rescuing him. We brought the ship to the wind, and got a boat out immediately; but it was of no avail. He was drowned before the boat could reach him.”
Sailor’s Magazine reported that later, “his mother’s letter was found, not on file with others, but carefully folded in his Bible.”
The death of John Lovejoy, and that of another son, Francis Mix Lovejoy three years earlier, may have led the elder Lovejoys to seek a new life. By 1860, they had left Ridgefield and were living on a farm in Derby. By 1880, the 72-year-old Daniel was working as a “bathhouse keeper” in New Haven. He and Betsey were living with their son, Frank Mix Lovejoy, a reporter for The New Haven Courier, along with Frank’s wife and his 21-year-old son, a  gun maker with the Winchester Repeating Arms Company.
 Betsey died in 1886 at the age of 79. Daniel died ten years later, aged 90. They are buried in New Haven.



Monday, August 31, 2020

John P. Cooke: 
Outspoken Olympian
John Cooke accomplished at least two things that no other Ridgefielder has: He won a gold medal in the Olympics and he was the only member of a third-party ever elected to local public office, at least in the 20th Century.
Cooke also led the committee that oversaw the construction and fine-tuning of the Ridgefield High School on North Salem Road.
John Patrick Cooke was born in Ansonia in 1937, starred at high school football, and entered Yale University where he expected to continue to play football. As part of efforts for footballers to stay in shape over the winter, he rowed in the tanks at the university’s gymnasium. 
He fell in love with rowing. “I’m a short stocky fellow, not usually the type that rows,” he admitted in an 2001 interview.
Just 20 months later, he was rowing in the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne on what has been described as “the most successful U.S. rowing team ever to compete in the Olympics.” The team won two gold medals, three silver medals and a bronze.
Torrey Cooke, his wife, recalled meeting him for the first time at a wedding in Philadelphia. Though he was an Olympics medalist — and, later events would show, was interested in making an impression on her — he didn’t even mention the Olympics.
“Never said a word — he never bragged about it,”  she told The Press’s Macklin Reid. “Somebody else said, ‘Do you know that guy has an Olympic gold medal?’” 
He rowed in an eight-man shell. “He was the number three man, and that’s usually the steam engine,” Mrs. Cooke said. “He was a powerhouse. He was a terribly strong young man.”
He went on to coach at Yale and stayed active in rowing throughout his life, refereeing, judging, and being involved in various rowing associations. He was a referee for the Head of the Charles race in Boston for 20 years, and officiated at many other competitions in the eastern United States.
In 2001 he earned the United States Rowing Association’s Jack Kelly Award for “superior achievements in rowing, service to amateur athletics, and success in their chosen profession, thereby serving as an inspiration to American rowers.”
As a sign of his love of the sport, Cooke hung a rowing shell — more than 20 feet long — from his living room ceiling.
After graduating from Yale in 1959  with a bachelor’s degree in industrial
administration, Cooke enlisted in the Marine Corps and was commissioned a second lieutenant  in 1960. Two years later, he planned the loading and initial combat array for a secret mission — the 1962 invasion of Thailand — that was one of the early involvements of U.S. troops in what became the Vietnam War.
Later on,  he helped found the detachment of the Marine Corps League in Ridgefield.
During a 28-year career with Emery Air Freight, he oversaw the construction of buildings all over the world, including Emery’s “hub” in Dayton, Ohio, a project that occupied him for seven years.
His expertise in construction proved useful to Ridgefield  in 1967 when he became chairman of the Ridgefield High School Building Committee.
“We completed the new high school on time and under budget, the only school in Ridgefield that was under budget,” he said. 
A resident since 1965, Cooke had been outspoken on many issues over the years. He was a pioneer member of the Independent Party and in 1993, was elected to the Zoning Board of Appeals on the Independent ticket — and continued to serve on the board until a year before his death. 
In 1995, he ran for first selectman as an Independent because “I’ve become disenchanted and upset, like many other people, with the self-appointed, elitist group which runs the town.” Though he came in third behind Sue Manning and Barbara Manners, he collected a respectable 1,578 votes. 
He died of cancer in 2005.
John Cooke’s causes over the years included outspoken opposition to a variety of government endeavors including the Super 7 expressway,  the building of an elaborate visitor’s center at the Weir Farm National Historic Site, and what he felt in later life had become excessive school construction in town.
“It never scared him to get up and say his piece at a town meeting,” Torrey Cooke said. “He said, ‘You know, when you believe in what you’re talking about, it doesn’t bother you.’ He was encouraging to me, always, to be able to do that.”