Monday, January 14, 2019


Dick’s Dispatch #84
A History of A Little Dog
By Richard E. Venus
Economic laws can be very interesting when used to compare one era with another, or comparative prices in volume purchasing. The fact that coffee may cost $2 per pound does not mean that two pounds will cost $4 or less. Sometimes the two-pound can will cost more per pound.
Something like that applies to the barber trade. In the 20’s, when the population of Ridgefield was about 2,700, our tonsorial needs were administered by seven or eight barbers, working out of four or five barber shops. Since our population today is in the neighborhood of 22,000 to 23,000, it may be assumed that it would require more than 30 barber shops and some 60 barbers to keep us well trimmed. The last time I looked, there were less now than there were in the 20’s. Perhaps visits to the barber shop have become less frequent.
In the mid 20’s, a Mexican, whose name was Mike, opened a shop where the Candlelight Shoppe is now. He had two barbers working for him and one of them had a marked resemblance to the reigning cowboy movie star and was promptly dubbed “Hoot Gibson.”
At the time “Baldy” had his barbershop in the large three-story building where the Ridgefield Savings Bank in now. The venerable Conrad Rockelein had his shop across the street, over S. D. Keeler’s Store. 
Con moved his shop around quite a bit. He was a very good barber but it always seemed like you had to go looking for him. He was still cutting hair in his 80’s, at his home on the corner of Mountain View Avenue, and Danbury Road.
Mike Massamino had his shop at 3½ Catoonah Street where J. R. Interiors is now. Mike had a Charlie Chaplin-type mustache. He even looked very much like the “Little Tramp,” but no one ever called him Charlie.
Mike was a nice little guy and a good barber. However, he was the victim of hard times and experienced great difficulty in keeping his bills paid. I had a rather extensive newspaper and magazine route at the time and he was one of my customers. One time his bill got to be what was considered a rather large amount by the standards of the time. Mike offered to give me a dog in payment of the bill. Further negotiations looked hopeless and I reluctantly agreed to the settlement.
I had never seen the dog and did not know what to expect. The next time I went to the shop, Mike had a little white poodle waiting for me.
Daisy was a rather forlorn little bundle of white curls that were heavily infiltrated with burrs and nettles of all kinds. She was the albino type and her little pink eyes always seemed to be running. Mike had her tied with a rope that could have moored the Queen Elizabeth II.
In those days, a toy poodle was not considered the proper dog for a boy and I was thinking that I would be the butt of considerable kidding. All of this, plus her bedraggled appearance made me want to reconsider our agreement and I felt like backing out of the deal. However, it looked like my only opportunity to settle the bill so I finally left the shop with Daisy in tow.
When Daisy and I finished the route and arrived home, there was a lot of explaining to do. The first order of business was to make Daisy a little more presentable. My father was experienced in removing burrs from horses’ tails by using kerosene to make them slip along the hair. He helped me and we finally got the last one off the little dog, though the tight curls made it difficult.
After a bath that Daisy seemed to fully appreciate, we started the business of becoming friends. She followed me around each time, on my route and got to be a well-known fixture.
A year or so later, my brother Gus got married and I had nothing else to give him and Stella for a wedding present, so I presented them with Daisy. They lived on Market Street in a garage apartment at the rear of the Main Street home of Dr. William H. Allee (now the office of the D.N.A.) The building has since been moved further down Market Street and converted into a large home.
A year or so later, Daisy had four, very cute, little brown and white pups. Gus gave one of them to George G. Scott, who was then both town clerk and judge of probate. “Tippy” probably became one of the best known dogs in Ridgefield. She used to accompany Judge Scott each day to the town hall. They fixed a little window box for Tippy and she sat in the front window of the town clerk’s office for years and never missed a day. She yelped each time that someone came to the door and then would jump down to meet the visitor. She was a very friendly little thing and I guess you could say she was the official greeter.
In the meantime, Ridgefield’s dog population increased much more rapidly that did that of the humans, as Daisy continued to have puppies and her puppies began to have puppies. By now they began to increase in size and came in various colors.
In the 30’s Eddie Schmidt had one of the pups and in the 40’s Peter Edel had another of the offspring. Peter lived with his mother in the Ashland Cottage, at 321 Main Street, where the Hess family now makes their home.
By now the dogs, through the generations, had increased in size to that of a large springer spaniel. When Peter’s dog, Queenie, decided to join the production line, she had a litter under the kitchen floor. The year was 1948 and there was no basement under the kitchen at that time.
Queenie would crawl out to eat, but never brought the pups with her. They must have been about two weeks old when I brought them out to face the world. They were a nice shiny black and you could see they were going to be big dogs.
A couple of months later, the Knights of Columbus was having a carnival and a crisis developed when they ran out of prizes. I remembered the puppies and mentioned them to John Bacchiochi. Johnny took off for the Edel’s home and bought the litter. When he returned with the puppies, there was a great joy among young and old alike, and the games went on with renewed interest.
When our family moved to its Olmstead Lane home in 1951, we found that the John Moore family next door had one of these puppies. It was now as big as a small black pony. Peter Carboni had one and so did Joe Sheehy. They must have all been males so the lineage that started with a little white poodle, some 30 years before, had come to an end, as far as we know.
Mike Massamino sold that barber shop to Andrew Geria. Andy’s wife was a beautician and was herself, a beauty. They were great dancers and it was a great pleasure to see them glide over the floor at the many dances we used to have. After a few years they moved to Croton Falls, N.Y., and in 1937,  invented a therapeutic device for use in beauty shops and by chiropractors. Andy and Mary had the gadget patented and I guess it is still in use today.
The Gerias sold their business to Paul Laszig, who did his barbering there for many years. Paul made a sizable fortune in the stock market, by listening to advice from his customers; one of which was Philip D. Wagoner [head of the Underwood typewriter company].
Mrs. Laszig, who died only a few years ago, was kind enough to leave a portion of that fortune, in trust, for worthwhile organizations like Meals on Wheels.

(NOTE: Dick Venus, who became Ridgefield’s first town historian, wrote 365 “Dick’s Dispatch” columns for the Ridgefield Press, telling about life in Ridgefield during the first half of the 20th Century. This column appeared Jan. 5, 1984. We plan to publish many of them on Old Ridgefield in the coming months — and, probably, years.)

Sunday, January 13, 2019


The Colts of High Ridge
This handsome family portrait shows Harris Dunscombe Colt Jr. and his wife, Teresa Strickland Colt, with their son Harris George Strickland Colt, at their High Ridge home around 1937. Little Harris became  a memorable character on the New York City bookselling scene, the subject of a biography flatteringly reviewed by The New York Times.
H. Dunscomb Colt was an internationally known archaeologist who specialized in Middle Eastern deserts. Also an expert on Rudyard Kipling and a noted collector of old engraved views of New York City, he is profiled in a Who Was Who biography posted here (search “Dunscomb” to find it).
The Colts lived at 15 High Ridge, the Peter Parley House. This picture was taken by the then well-known Kaiden-Kazanjian Studios from New York.  
Teresa Colt died in 1955 and two years later Dunscomb married Armida Maria-Theresa Bologna Walsh, a native of Trieste. After his death she donated thousands of items in her husband’s archaeological, engraving and Kipling collections to museums and libraries in the U.S. and Europe. Many ancient pieces were given to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
Armida died in Washington, D.C., in 2011 at the age of 99.
Little Harris, born in 1935, went on to graduate from Princeton and become a financial analyst on Wall Street with J.P. Morgan, Dean Witter and Auerbach Pollok & Richardson.  He lost his Wall Street job in 1975 and decided that was the chance to follow his dream. An avid student of history who read many books about Napoleon in French, he opened The Military Bookman, a New York City store specializing in military books and items related to the military.
His wife, Margaretta, “joined him in this endeavor, even though it meant wrangling with a predominately male customer base, including ‘Soldier of Fortune’ types and even some with ‘SS tendencies,’” wrote the New York Times’s Dwight Garner, reviewing her book, “Martial Bliss, The Story of the Military Bookman,” in 2015.
A “pleasure of Ms. Colt’s book is feasting on details about the store’s offbeat band of customers: the regulars, the cranks, the autodidacts, the dandies, the lurkers, the charmers, the cheats, the mouth-breathing Soldier of Fortune types,”   Garner said.
“Historians and journalists were devoted to the store, and leaned on it for their research. ... George C. Scott was a patron of the store. So were Paul Newman, Robin Williams, Bette Midler, and James Gandolfini. Richard Nixon’s office rang for books. The talent agent Michael Ovitz dropped in to buy a pile of gifts for Tom Clancy. The store became a hangout, a bookish ‘Cheers.’ ”
Garner was disappointed that the book did not have more about Harris Colt or the author herself. “We don’t learn a great deal about her or her husband’s lives before they wed in middle age,” he wrote. “She was tall and willowy; he was short and alert. In photographs, they put you in mind of Julia Child and her husband, Paul. What information there is about Mr. Colt arrives only haphazardly. He coxed crew at Princeton, for example, and collected Napoleonic sabers. Nor do we learn from this book the sad news that this man, who cuts such a warm and witty figure here, died in 2004.”
The Military Bookman closed in 2003, although today there is a store of the same name in Manhattan, operated by Chartwell Booksellers.

Friday, January 11, 2019


Dick’s Dispatch #120 
Harry And The Hooves
By Richard E.Venus
When we left off in our story, Harry [Thomas] was in the process of recuperating from a kick in the head, that had been delivered by a wild horse. During this period he must have wondered whether or not he was engaged in the right business. His excellent physical condition was a big factor in his recovery and the doctor suggested that he find less arduous work until his health was fully restored.
The Ox Ridge Hunt Club in Darien was looking for a farrier at the time so Harry closed his shop on Olmstead Lane and took the job. After wrestling with the great draft horses, shoeing the sleek little polo ponies was just a snap for Harry. 
We have seen farriers who felt that it was only necessary to cut down the horse’s hoofs and nail on the shoes. Harry was a perfectionist and settled for nothing less than a first-class job.
After removing the worn shoes, he would carefully cut and shape the hoof, just so. He would take his heavy rasp and smooth the bottom and the outer walls of the hoof. The new shoe was then placed on the hoof to size it up. The shoe was then placed in the forge and shaped until it fit the hoof perfectly. 
The shoe would be red hot when Harry removed it from the forge and when he placed it on the anvil he knew exactly where to apply his hammer in order to bend it to the correct shape. 
Sometimes calks were applied to the toes and heels of the shoe, to prevent the horse from slipping. The shoe was then subjected to more heat from the forge and while it was still hot, several trips would be made back and forth between the hoof and the forge to make sure that the shoe fit perfectly. 
The hot shoe would burn the hoof in each instance as Harry blew away the smoke so as to observe the fit. This all looked very barbaric but really was not and caused no pain or discomfort to the horse.
To carry the shoe back and forth during this fitting procedure, Harry used a punch that had a rectangular point and was inserted into one of the nail holes in the shoe. When he was entirely satisfied with the fit of the shoe Harry would again use this punch to clear all the nail holes in the shoe.
The punch would be set in a nail hole and then tapped with the hammer until the hole was large enough to accommodate the rectangular shaft of the horseshoe nail. Between the clearing of each hole, the punch was inserted in a hole in the large wooden block on which the anvil was set. Into this hole a piece of suet had been packed. I suppose this was to facilitate the removal of the punch from the shoe after each nail hole had been cleared.
Whatever the reason, this maneuver added to the many delightful aromas one could encounter in a blacksmith shop as the punch was hot enough to melt the suet and a gentle little cloud of smoke would arise from the anvil as each nail hole was cleared. 
There were eight nail holes, four on each side of the shoe. Actually Harry only used seven nails. The back hole on the inside of each hoof was not filled as there was the danger of drawing blood because of the location on the wall of the hoof. Harry was so expert at nailing the shoe that the eighth nail was not really needed.
There was a saying that went something like this, “For want of a nail, a shoe was lost and for want of a shoe, a hoof was lost and for want of a hoof a horse was lost,” etc. This did not apply to Harry’s workmanship and we do not recall any of his horses ever “throwing a shoe.”
As each nail came through the hoof as it was being nailed, Harry would twist off the end of the nail, leaving about three eighths of an inch of the nail to be bent over and “clinched.”
Before clinching the end of the nail he would carefully prepare a place for the clincher by using his rasp to make a little receptacle on the side of the hoof to receive it. He was so careful and painstaking in doing this that when the job was completed, the hoof was as smooth as it could possibly be.
If a horse’s hoof could be considered beautiful, then it would have to be said that when Harry was through, the hoof could be considered a thing of beauty. I think even the horses were proud of the way they looked and they probably stepped a little higher. 
There were times when a horse may have had a hoof problem and Harry was expected to correct whatever it might be. Sometimes the frog of the hoof became tender or it might have an infection. The hoof might also have become dry or brittle. 
Harry would cut a piece of leather to fit the shoe and before nailing the shoe he would stuff
pine tar and oakum into the bottom of the hoof. The piece of leather would then be placed over this concoction to hold it in place and the shoe was then nailed over it to keep the leather in place.
This must have felt good as we can remember a horse that was very sore, looking at Harry when be had completed his errand of mercy with a look of gratitude. Harry must have sensed it as well and it is doubtful if any man before or since ever thoroughly enjoyed his own work as much as he did.
Harry was very proficient at correcting many problems that afflicted horses. The speedy driving horses seemed to be particularly susceptible to overreaching (striking their front hooves with their rear hooves as they trotted) or interfering (striking one front hoof with the other or one rear hoof with the other). Harry would correct this by making a shoe with more weight in one area than another to make the horse throw his hoof away from whatever he was striking. Many times this resulted in some very funny shaped horseshoes.
Dr. Edwin B. Van Saun had a bay driving horse that was exceptionally fast. He used to enter it in the Sunday afternoon races on Main Street, along with William R. Keeler, Henry C. Swords, George G. Haven, Edward Payson Dutton, and others. Doctor Van Saun’s horse had a real problem with interfering and Harry was charged with correcting his stride to eliminate this serious problem. 
Harry was a very patient man and this assignment would test his patience to the limit. He must have made at least 15 different shoes before finally correcting the interference. The shoe that eventually would prove to be successful hung in the blacksmith shop for many years after the horse was gone as proof of Harry’s uncanny ability. It sure did not look like a horseshoe and caused many a comment but it enabled Van Saun to beat Haven and the great dentist was always loud in his praise of Harry M. Thomas.



Tuesday, January 08, 2019


The Allee Sisters
This charming portrait shows the Allee sisters, Jean Harriet (left) and Dorothy Diemar (right) with an unnamed nurse, probably around 1916. Jean is holding a monkey and Dorothy, what appears to be a clown  — they may have been favorite toys or just props provided by the photographer, Joseph Hartmann.
The sisters were the daughters of Dr. and Mrs. William Allee, who lived at 304 Main Street at the southern corner of Market Street. After the doctor’s death in 1927, Mrs. Allee married James Van Allen Shields and became Laura Curie Allee Shields. (She wrote a 300+-page autobiography, “Memories,” with many glimpses of early 20th Century Ridgefield.)
Dorothy (1909-96) married August J. Detzer Jr. (1898-1976), a Navy captain who served in World Wars I and II, as well as Korea, and owned radio stations WINE-AM and WGHF-FM in Brookfield. (WINE is still around at 940 kHz, but WGHF is now WRKI, long called “I-95 Radio.”) The Detzers lived in the family homestead at 304 Main Street for some years.
Jean (1908-90) married Graham Ford Dawson (1910-95), and moved to New Zealand, where she spent the rest of her life.
The Allee/Shields house still stands (and was just sold in November). Laura Shields lived there until her death in 1968 and so did her daughter Dorothy and son-in-law. After Capt. Detzer’s death, Dorothy Detzer moved to Bayberry Hill Road, where she lived for many years, and then spent her last years at Casagmo.

Sunday, January 06, 2019


Judge George Scott: 
A Good Paperhanger
George Scott was the ultimate home-town boy. Descended from the earliest settlers of Ridgefield and a son of perhaps the most influential community leader of the 19th Century, Scott lived a civic-minded life, running several local businesses and holding several major town offices for many years. 
But after World War II broke out, he did something rather unusual: He volunteered to serve — at the age of 71.
George Gorham Scott was born in Ridgefield in 1871, a son of Col. and Mrs. Hiram Keeler Scott. His influential father was a major leader of the community. A Main Street merchant, Col. Scott founded in the 1850s what is today’s Bissell Pharmacy — the oldest locally owned business in town today. As a boy George worked for his dad at the store. 
As a young man George Scott sought adventure and headed west. He established a painting and decorating business in San Francisco for a few years and, in 1893, joined in the gold rush at Cripple Creek, Colo. But soon he headed back home to Ridgefield, where he continued his painting and decorating business. However, the arrival of that new fangled machine, the automobile, prompted him to go into the car business. He had a dealership on Main Street where, until recently, Cheers and, previously, Liberta’s liquor store was. He also had an insurance business.
Community service was in his blood. He was a longtime member of the Board of Education, was town assessor, a registrar of voters and a member of building committees that expanded the East Ridge School (“old high school”) in 1925 and in 1939.
In 1924, he was elected Ridgefield’s town clerk, a post that his father had held for 46 years. Son George lasted 44 years, retiring in 1948.
Also in 1924 he was elected judge of probate, another job his dad had held, and he remained in that office until the mandatory retirement age of 70, reached in 1942.
“In all of his activities, Judge Scott has been impelled by high ideals and a keen sense of duty and honor,” The Ridgefield Press said in a 1932 profile of him. “Ridgefield has every right to be proud of such a valuable citizen.”
Perhaps it should be of no surprise then that, in 1942, the year he retired as probate judge, Scott wrote a rather remarkable letter to the War Department in Washington, D.C.
“I am 71 years of age, but I feel like 30 and want to do anything that I can to help in this war effort,” Scott wrote.
“I have been Judge of Probate in Ridgefield, Connecticut for the past 40 years and am now Town Clerk of the Town of Ridgefield, Connecticut, but I feel that almost anyone can take my places as such and I want to do anything that I can to crush that damned paperhanger in Berlin.
“Speaking of paper hangers, I was once one myself, the only difference is that I was a good one.
“I don’t think that I would fit in the front line trenches, but I do feel that I could be of use in some other capacity.
“At present I make about $7,000 a year, but I would be more than glad to make $21 a month from Uncle Sam.”
The War Department turned down his offer. Presumably, they did so politely and with a great appreciation.
George Scott died in 1957 at the age of 85. 
Scott may have had the look of a prim and proper bureaucrat, but he was hardly stodgy. Each day in the 1930s he would walk to the office, accompanied by his dog, Tippy, a poodle mix.
Scott had a special platform affixed to the sill of a front window in the town clerk’s office, allowing Tippy to rest and watch the passing scene outside. When people walked into the town hall, Tippy would invariably jump down and greet them, giving any offered hand a friendly lick.

Saturday, January 05, 2019


A Bunch of Bankers
This happy-looking group of people is actually a sort of Who’s Who of Ridgefield’s business community during the last half of the 20th Century.
The photograph by Clarence “Korky” Korker was taken in July 1975 at the Silver Spring Country Club and shows a gathering of the directors and corporators of the Ridgefield Savings Bank (now Fairfield County Bank).
From left, starting with those in front and going back, sort of in rows: Town Clerk Ruth Hurzeler, bank Chairman Carleton A. Scofield, President Charles Coles, and May Piser (bank treasurer?); Octavius “Tabby” Carboni, Robert A. Lee (bow tie), Abraham Morelli Sr., and Judge Hjalmar Anderson of Redding; D. Harvey Valden (no tie), Dr. Philip L. Martin, and Judge Reed F. Shields; N. Donald Edwards, Robert Wilder, unidentified, Walter E. Evans (in dark shirt), former first selectman J. Mortimer Woodcock, and Ralph B. Crouchley; Paul S. McNamara (shaded glasses), Judge Joseph H. Donnelly, Lawrence W. Hoyt Jr., and Edwin B. Allan (shaded glasses).
Incidentally, Paul McNamara is one of only two people in this picture still living (the other is Larry Hoyt; we don’t know about the status of “unidentified.”) 
McNamara just retired last July after 31 years as chairman of the board of the bank. According to a press release at the time, “Mr. McNamara has seen the bank grow from 2 to 17 branches and from $98 million in assets to $1.5 billion.  Capital has grown from $8 million to $200 million over his tenure. He orchestrated the Ridgefield and Fairfield County Savings Bank merger along with the bank’s expansion into insurance with the Carnall Insurance acquisition (Fairfield County Bank Insurance Services today) and the introduction of investments with the launch of Fairfield County Financial Services.”
In May 2019 he and his wife, Dewey, are slated to receive the Ridgefield Library’s “Hope H. Swenson Visionary Award.” Said the library: “As chairman of Fairfield County Bank since 1987, McNamara spearheaded over $1 million in donations to local organizations annually. Throughout his long career he has been instrumental in creating economic growth and opportunity in this area and beyond through the development and support of individuals, local entrepreneurs and businesses.”



Wednesday, January 02, 2019


Jeb and Dan
Many Ridgefielders and former residents who were here for the Bicentennial celebration and the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Ridgefield will remember Jeb and Dan.
The oxen were “members” of the Fifth Connecticut Regiment, the Ridgefield-based group that recreated a military outfit that had existed in the Revolution.
The animals were acquired late in 1974 and appeared in many parades and re-enactments here and in the Northeast. Their main job was to pull the Fifth’s cannon.
Jeb and Dan were cared for by Dave Hebert, who was the Parks and Recreation superintendent in the early and mid-1970s. Hebert lived in a town-owned cottage at Richardson Park on North Salem Road, where the oxen also stayed.
This picture was taken in March 1975 by Perry Ruben. Perry (a woman) lived in Georgetown and did a lot of photography for The Ridgefield Press and Redding Pilot in that era.
She writes on the back of this picture: “Dan and Jeb have changed places and are now steers — young oxen. They have calmed considerably under Mr. Hebert’s steady training, and now stand still on order when the ox-goad is laid on their shoulders. Dan holds his head lower, is bigger and will be the better ox.”
After the hoop-la of the Bicentennial in 1976 and battle anniversary a year later, Jeb and Dan got fewer assignments. And around then Hebert left his Ridgefield post to work elsewhere.
So Jeb and Dan did what many Revolutionary soldiers did after the war: They became farmers. Well, they portrayed farmers, living on the farm of the Stamford Museum and Nature Center, where thousands of visiting children got to see them in an agricultural setting.
The last mention we could find of them occurred in 1982 when they were still part of the museum farm. Since oxen can live for 20 years, we assume they continued to reside there or were moved to a real farm where they grazed peacefully for the rest of their days.

Tuesday, January 01, 2019


Happy New Millennium!
On this first day of 2019, we offer a look back 19 years to when Ridgefield celebrated a rather rare event: A new millennium.
These pictures by Scott Mullin were taken New Millennium’s Eve, Dec. 31, 1999, at the Community Center grounds where a big bash was underway. The all-day festivities included nearly a dozen concerts under several  tents in Veterans Park, food, dancing and, at midnight, fireworks and the ringing of the town’s churches’ bells. Thousands of people participated.
Shown here at the Community Center that evening are, top, Suanne and JP Laqueur, lower left, eight-year-old Alycia Hudson with her balloon hat, and lower right, Mike Harney and daughter Caitlin, 9, dancing.
The weather was cold but clear, and not many people seemed all that worried about the  , the Millennium Bug, also known as the Y2K problem, which computer experts had warned for years could shut down the power grid and other computer-controlled operations at midnight, when many computer programs supposedly would not be able to recognize the new date.
The shutdowns didn’t happen, and life went on, with the biggest problem being people remembering that there’s a 2 at the beginning of the year, instead of a 1, when writing a check. 

Sunday, December 30, 2018


Dick’s Dispatch #119
The Last Blacksmith & Greatest Walker
By Richard E. Venus

Under the spreading chestnut tree, 
the Village Smithy stands. 
The smith, a mighty man is he, 
with large and sinewy hands, 
and the muscles of his brawny arms, 
are strong as iron bands.

It was 143 years ago that Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote his famous poem. That was 43 years before Harry Marvin Thomas was born, so we can not say that the great poet had Harry in mind, when he composed it. Yet, the description of the village smithy fit Harry to a T, especially the references to his honesty and sterling character.
I was less than ten years of age when l first met Harry Thomas and a friendship began that was to last all those many years. Harry enjoyed a great reputation for miles around and we felt very privileged to be included in his circle of friends. When he passed on, just a few years ago, in his 89th year, he was the last of Ridgefield’s many blacksmiths. Just a few years later his wife Minolia, followed him to her reward at the age of 96.
Harry Thomas was a descendent of Benjamin Stebbins, one of Ridgefield's very earliest settlers. Members of the famous Stebbins family lived where Casagmo is now for almost 200 years.  Harry’s father, George M. Thomas, was a conductor on the railroad branch that ran from here to Branchville. George was only 27 when he was crushed to death while assisting the brakeman in the coupling of two railroad cars.
As reported in an earlier column, the business of hooking the railroad cars together was probably the most dangerous part of railroading. This tragic accident left Mrs. Thomas with  the task of raising three children, a daughter, Edna, and two sons, Harry and Howard.
Howard will probably be best remembered as the proprietor of the West Lane grocery, where Gene Casagrande has his CasaMore store today. Sports enthusiasts will recall how Howard made those great left-handed shots in basketball games at the old town hall. For some reason, Howard would always shout “Hey” as he unerringly made those shots from either side of the court.
Harry and Minolia had three daughters, Gertrude, Esther and Marie. Gertrude is now Mrs. Lawrence Hoyt and still lives on Silver Spring Road. The Hoyts' daughter, Doris, is Mrs. George Ventres and the Ventres’son Dale is proprietor of the Ridgefield Power Equipment Shop. So Dale can easily trace his lineage back to 1714, when Benjamin Stebbins came to town.
The Thomas family has had an active participation in town affairs for many years. Harry's great grandfather, Albert N. Thomas, was town clerk for Ridgefield back in Civil War days. Albert was also an original member of the Library Club, which formed a nucleus for our present Ridgefield Library.
Albert’s son Elijah L. Thomas (grandfather of Harry) succeeded his father as town clerk and also served as a judge of probate for the town. All this would seem to indicate that the Thomas family were pretty solid citizens.
At the time Harry's father suffered his fatal accident, there was no such thing as Social Security to assist Mrs.Thomas in raising her three children. When Harry was 16 he went to Purdy's Station, near Brewster, N.Y., to learn the blacksmith and farrier trades.
Perhaps we should explain for those not familiar, that a farrier is a shoer of horses, whereas, a blacksmith performs all kinds of iron work and may also engage in horseshoeing.
During his years at Purdy’s, Harry worked 12 hours each day and six days each week. The shop opened at six in the morning and normally closed at six in the evening. However, if six o’clock came around and there were still horses to be shod, the farriers continued to work until they were done.
Harry was a religious man and always looked forward to Sunday. After church services he would walk the 15 miles to Ridgefield to visit his mother. He would time his return walk to Purdy’s so that he would arrive in time for work on Monday morning.
Harry Thomas was the greatest walker we ever saw and even in his late 70's, he would think
nothing of a Sunday walk to Danbury or Brewster. Though he was of average height, his long strides were as great as those of the long-legged giants that play basketball today. He was often offered a ride but would always, graciously, turn it down and then many times he would keep pace with the horse, whose driver had offered the ride.
Ridgefield had several real good walkers. Frank Parks Jr. took very quick steps, when he was a young man and Earl Hibbart had a very smooth and graceful stride, but they could not keep pace with Harry Thomas.
He was by nature, a very friendly man, but always walked alone, for no one could keep up with those great strides. He got over the ground, at a walk, just as fast as some of the joggers that I see on the highway.
Harry was born in the old Bailey Inn that was located on Main Street on the west side almost directly across from where the Christian Science Church is now. Before he and his family moved to their new home, next to the firehouse, he walked daily from his home in Flat Rock near the Wilton town line.
He rarely wore a jacket, except in real cold weather and very seldom was seen with a hat, although when he got to his shop he would don the little black cap with the shiny visor that was the trademark of the smithy.
After Harry had finished his apprenticeship at Purdy’s, he returned to Ridgefield and worked at the Big Shop for a short time. The Big Shop was, as everyone knows, at the rear of the Allan Block, where it had been moved from the corner of West Lane and Main Street, to make room for the Congregational Church. Today the old building is home to a multitude of enterprises, but at the time it served as a blacksmith shop and a carriage shop.
Soon Harry was able to open his own little blacksmith shop. It was located on the Rufus Seymour lot on Olmstead Lane about opposite from where the Piser family now lives. It was while he had this shop that he almost lost his life.
When you brought in a horse to be shod, Harry would never refuse to tackle the job, no matter how bad or unruly the horse might be. He was shoeing a real wild horse one day when he received a kick in the head that Dr. Bryon said would have been fatal if it were one half inch closer to a vital spot. Fortunately Harry was in excellent physical condition and recovered.
  [The next  column will continue the story of Harry Thomas. Dick Venus, who became Ridgefield’s first town historian, wrote 365 “Dick’s Dispatch” columns for the Ridgefield Press, telling about life in Ridgefield during the first half of the 20th Century. This column appeared Sept. 27, 1984.].