Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Mary “May” Rockwell: 
A Hotel of Culture
A house with a lot of history was torn down in 2014, but little of its former glory was left by then. The large Victorian on Governor Street, which had long been an office building, was razed to make way for the new Ridgefield Visiting Nurse Association headquarters. It was a building that had led four lives in its two centuries, including several decades as the House of Friends.
The building originally stood on Main Street, in front of today’s Community Center, where it had been the home of the Perry family, which produced three prominent Ridgefield physicians. It then became the home of Gov. Phineas Lounsbury, who turned a colonial-style structure into a Victorian. When he decided to build a grander place, today’s Community Center, he moved his old house to Governor Street where it became the home of  Mr. and Mrs. John W. Rockwell and and their daughter, Mary. John, longtime owner of The Elms Inn, probably paid a modest price because the Rockwells and Lounsburys were relatives.
 Mary Hester “May” Rockwell was born in 1874 and received an education that was well above the average schooling for a Ridgefield native of the era. In 1889, when she was only 15 years old, she was studying at Centenary Collegiate Institute, a Methodist-owned college preparatory
school in Hackettstown, N.J., that is now Centenary University.
In 1891, when she was 17, her parents sent her to Europe and she spent six months studying music in Berlin, Germany. She later also studied at Oberlin College.
“Miss Rockwell was a tall, stately woman whose life was clouded by poor eyesight,” wrote Karl S. Nash in 1980. “She was an albino with one-quarter of normal sight in one eye and none in the other.
“In the 1920’s when she was in her forties, she left the Methodist Church where she had grown up and embraced Christian Science. She threw away her thick-lensed glasses and never wore them again. In embracing the teachings of Mary Baker Eddy, she became more calm of spirit and more able to cope optimistically with her infirmity.”
Rockwell was an accomplished pianist who taught piano to hundreds of Ridgefield children over more than 30 years, at first with her cousin Faustina Hurlbutt. The Hurlbutt-Rockwell School of Music regularly gave public recitals at her home.
Her house became rather large for a single woman, so in the 1910s May Rockwell began
renting rooms in a boarding-house fashion. She didn’t rent to just anyone, however; she sought guests who were intellectually interesting as well as congenial, and she called the place the “House of Friends.”
   Among those friends, best known was Mabel Cleves, her companion of more than 40 years (previously profiled in Who Was Who).  Columbia-educated and Montessori-trained,   Cleves began teaching here in 1898, and established not only the first kindergarten in town but also a public preschool.  She also founded the PTA in Ridgefield.
In late life, Miss Cleves bought an automobile and learned how to drive it. She would take Rockwell and other friends on fairly long rides around the countryside. “Sometimes Mary and Mabel would go wading at Compo Beach or Sherwood Island,” Nash said.
Besides long-term clientele, guests at the house included actors and actresses doing summer theater, and teachers and professors on summer break. The place had a “high cultural level,” The Ridgefield Press once reported. 
At Oberlin, Rockwell had studied under Professor Charles K. Barry who later became a regular summer visitor at the House of Friends.
Among the more unusual guests there were Mr. and Mrs. William Picke. Mr. Picke was a tutor
for the Doubleday family of Westmoreland. “He was a distinguished-looking man with a goatee and a British accent,” said Nash, who then recounted this widely told incident:  “At the silent movies in the town hall one Saturday night, Mr. Picke looked about and whispered to his wife — loud enough for somebody to hear— ‘Oh, my dear, we are the only ones of the upper class here.’”

Frail and infirm, Rockwell sold the house in 1947 and died two years later in a nursing home. Mabel Cleves died in 1952. 

David Weingast: 
Superintendent and Scholar
A few days after he accepted the job of Ridgefield superintendent of schools in 1967, Dr. David Weingast was offered a college presidency. 
“I have often wondered what would have happened if I had accepted that instead,” said Weingast in a 1977 interview. But, he added, running a college was “no bed of roses” then, and “I have no regrets. Ridgefield has been a tough superintendency, but you have to remember that I became superintendent at a time when the academic world was a very tough place to be.” 
Weingast, the second longest-serving of the town’s 20 or so superintendents, had indeed worked through tough times, a decade of turmoil with one crisis seeming to come on the heels of another: school building debates, problems with overcrowding, book burning controversies,  budget battles, a very unhappy teachers’ union, and many lesser issues. 
But, he said, it was also a period of accomplishment: the creation of a modern, balanced program of studies, the introduction of greater emphasis on writing, the expansion of fine arts offerings, the increasing use of community resources, the hiring of capable staff, rewriting the whole curriculum from kindergarten through 12th grade using teams of teachers, and the improved management of money. 
“I think we’ve achieved a good balance between teaching the basics and promoting student creativity,” Weingast said. 
The most scholarly of Ridgefield’s superintendents — he wrote four books — and the only one to settle permanently in town,  David Elliott Weingast was born in 1912 in Newark, N.J., and began teaching elementary school there in 1931 at $1,300 a year. 
He received his master’s from Columbia in 1936 and moved to teaching history at Newark’s prestigious Weequahic High School. He got a Columbia doctorate in 1948, was made department chairman, and in 1961, became assistant superintendent for secondary schools in Newark, responsible for nine high schools and six junior highs. 
Meanwhile, he was writing four books: “Walter Lippmann: A Study in Personal Journalism”
(1949), “Franklin D. Roosevelt: Man of Destiny” (1952), “This Is Communism” (1959), and “We Elect A President” (1962). The last two have appeared in several editions, and the Roosevelt book was once chosen one of The New York Times best books for young people.
Before coming to Ridgefield, he received a Ford Foundation grant for study in Europe, concentrating on political systems and the rising tide of communism in Italy. 
In 1975,  Dr. Weingast spent a month visiting Russia, Switzerland and England as one of 25 school superintendents on a trip sponsored by the American Association of School Administrators. He admired the rigor, though not necessarily the approach, of the Russian schools. 
“The program is academically strong, the spirit competitive,” he wrote  after returning. “Academic offerings in the secondary school are compulsory and there are no electives. The Russians would, I think, be bewildered by our system of electives and of our effort to fit a program to every child.”
He retired here when he reached 65, and became a consultant on education, working out of his Main Street home. Like his wife, Bea, he was an active citizen, participated in Rotary and other organizations,  but seemed content to remain on sidelines of Ridgefield politics. 
Occasionally he wrote letters to The Press on issues that interested him — opposing condominiums on north Main Street, supporting expansion of the library.  In 1981, with characteristic thoughtfulness, he opposed a zoning variance to allow an expansion of hotel uses on West Lane. 
“The people who ask for exceptions to the zoning rules mean Ridgefield no harm,” he wrote. “But each applicant wants what he wants. The sum of their wants is more cars, more blacktop, more congestion, more noise, more dirt, more pollution... Beautiful towns don’t decline overnight; they surrender, one building at a time.”
In retirement he had been researching and writing a new book, “The President’s Choice: The Story of the Presidential Cabinet,” but the book had not been completed when Weingast died in 2007 at the age of 94.
His longtime home on Main Street is now the residence of First Selectman and Mrs. Rudy Marconi.
Over his tenure here, his employer, the school board, had caused Weingast much aggravation — at one point the board even voted to fire him, then changed its mind and gave him a new contract. 
When Weingast retired, he was asked if he might ever run for a seat on the school board. 
He laughed loudly.  
“Never!” he said. “I couldn’t be dragooned or seduced or bought!”  


Dr. B.A. Bryon: 
Physician and Entrepreneur
Long before “subdivision” was a common word in Ridgefield, Dr. Benn Adelmar Bryon was a subdivider, probably the first. A road and a neighborhood recall his name today.
Born around 1866 in Saugerties, N.Y., Bryon graduated from Bellevue Medical College (now New York University Medical School) in 1890 and came to Ridgefield at the turn of the century to open a medical practice. 
He built a house on High Ridge that later served for decades as Frances Cleaners as well as a home to the business’s owners, Mr. and Mrs. Arnold Strouse. However, after a few years there, he bought a house on Main Street where he lived and practiced for many years. It stood where the CVS parking lot is now.
When he came here, there were only three other doctors in town — and one had a drinking problem. “His patients felt that he was an excellent practitioner of the medical profession,” former town historian Dick Venus said of Bryon.
 The doctor, who always signed his name B. Adelmar Bryon, was often called “Barney” by townspeople. Venus theorized that it may have been because he drove rather fast, like race car driver Barney Oldfield, or simply because people made up a name for the mysterious “B.”
A small-town doctor didn’t make a lot of money back then so Bryon turned to other endeavors to supplement his income. 
In 1903, he bought a piece of land at the top of Titicus Mountain on which a rock spring flowed. He dubbed the spring St. George and was soon bottling its output under the name of  St. George Pure Water. Sales were reportedly respectable.
But his real interest was real estate. “Barney was truly a man of vision and the town is better off because of his efforts,” Venus said.
Between 1908 and 1912, he developed Bryon Park, the subdivision off High Ridge and Barry Avenue that includes Bryon and Fairview Avenues and Greenfield Street. Consisting of dozens of homes, it was the first housing development in the town since the proprietors had laid out Main Street in 1708.
“In that day there were no zoning regulations in Ridgefield, nor any building code,” The Ridgefield Press reported in a 1980 feature on the Bryon family. “Dr. Bryon even enlisted the aid of his 16-year-old son to do electrical work in some of the new houses.” That son was Adelmar R. Bryon, who later became a missionary to China and longtime Presbyterian minister near Woodstock, N.Y.
Bryon also was the original developer of the Lake Kitchawan neighborhood of nearby Lewisboro. While his development there was popular and respected, another project he undertook in that town became famous as an eyesore. 
According to former Lewisboro Ledger editor Chris Noblet, around 1940 Bryon wanted to build a service station on Route 123 where Oak Ridge Commons is now. When town officials rejected the plan, Byron apparently decided to seek a sort of revenge and instead erected some perfectly legal, but shoddy houses in a development he called Vista Woods. A half dozen houses were erected, and others started but never finished. “The houses were right up against the road so you could barely get a car in front,” wrote Noblet in 1977, quoting a resident, who also said: “They painted the houses up and put on imitation siding. It looked like shingles, but it was tar paper.”
Writing later about Vista Woods, Lewisboro historian Maureen Koehl said, “Everyone I talked with remembered the collections of derelict cars and household detritus littering the yards — bathtubs, iceboxes, sinks and just ‘stuff’ that never seemed to go anywhere. There were no lawns or attempts to landscape the yards.”
In 1961 a New Canaan firm bought up all the houses, tore them down, and built Oakridge Condominiums  and Oakridge Commons.
Bryon had a much better reputation in Ridgefield. He “exhibited not only a great deal of foresight, but a considerable amount of courage as well,” Venus said of Bryon’s development. “There seems little doubt that it was the biggest, if not the very first, project of its kind ever attempted in Ridgefield.”
Late in life, Dr. Bryon moved his practice and home to Norwalk where he died in 1949.
Incidentally, in 1921 his daughter, Kathryn G. Bryon, founded the town’s first Girl Scout troop, consisting of a handful of girls. She would be astounded at the hundreds of Girl Scouts in Ridgefield today.  


Thursday, January 26, 2017

Elizabeth and Mary Boland: 
The Teaching Sisters
For two generations of young Ridgefielders, the name of Boland was impossible not to know. Between the sisters Mary and Elizabeth, they taught virtually every child who went through the school system. 
Their subjects were the opposites of what their given names might suggest: math for Elizabeth and English for Mary. 
Together they worked 93 years in the Ridgefield schools. 
Westport natives, the Boland sisters came to Ridgefield as young children, living in a house on
West Lane that had been the first state police barracks in Ridgefield. They attended local schools,  graduated from Danbury Normal School (now WestConn), got master’s degrees at Columbia, and started teaching in 1919.
Mary, who was known as May, was born in 1898. She began teaching at the Center School, then went to the one-room West Mountain School, and from 1929 until her retirement in 1964, taught at the junior and senior high school.
Elizabeth, born in 1899, began at Titicus School, then Center School. In 1947, she moved to the high school and taught math there and at the junior high until her retirement 30 years later.
“Bess” Boland taught for 48 years, three more than Mary. 
Both moved to Fairfield where they died, Mary in 1986 at the age of 87, and Elizabeth in 1990, aged 91. 
When they began teaching, their salaries were $1,000 a year. When they left, it was only $10,000.


Wednesday, January 25, 2017

William Winthrop: 
Mr. Ridgefield Lakes
William “Willie” Winthrop was one of the most influential  — and colorful — characters in 20th Century Ridgefield. Responsible for the town’s largest development, he frequently clashed with town officials and even ran into problems with the law. 
In 1932, Winthrop came to Ridgefield and within 10 minutes of seeing the Fox Hill Lakes, a large subdivision planned around several man-made lakes, he placed a deposit on the development which he renamed “Ridgefield Lakes.” He then spent the next four decades developing the region, involved in the building of more than 325 houses and creating lots for even more. 
Many of the houses were constructed as summer cottages, but virtually all have since become year-round homes. 
He envisioned The Ridgefield Lakes as “a true haven for people who wanted a home they could afford and a haven for a potential area for their retirement years.”
A native of Minneapolis, William Lawrence Winthrop was born in 1895 and served as a gunnery sergeant with an aviation unit of the U.S. Marine Corps during World War I. He became an attorney, but he did not practice law in Ridgefield.
When he came to town, Ridgefield had neither zoning nor planning. “I hired an engineer and surveyor to plan and lay out this property,” he said in 1966. “Unlike so-called ‘planners,’ I knew this
could not be done in three weeks. I did get a plan suitable to my dream for this place in two years and I changed it repeated to achieve a real plan which would not only be suitable for homes but provide for the comfort and recreation of those who chose to build a home there.”
Winthrop maintained that “long before the alleged planners and zoners dreamed up the open space and recreation areas of which they prate, I dedicated by use and deed more than 125 acres of lakes and another 30 acres for open spaces.”
Especially after zoning arrived in 1946, he maintained running battles with the town. He fought zoning and planning officials, complaining that their rules were keeping the little people out of Ridgefield and making it more difficult for the poor to find homes. 
When planning — which included the control of the design of subdivisions — was proposed in the 1950s, he said it was “an expression of extreme snobbery, and is designed to eliminate ... the men in overalls.”
He doggedly opposed most of the town’s school building projects, calling them extravagant. 
Conflicts between Winthrop and town officials were sometimes quite public and often colorful such as at a Planning and Zoning Commission public hearing on a Winthrop proposal, at which he fought with commission Chairman Daniel M. McKeon over when he could speak.
“Mr. Winthrop, you’re out of order,” said McKeon. “Take your seat.”
“What?!” replied Winthrop.
“Take your seat!” McKeon repeated.
“What was that?” Winthrop asked.
“Please sit down!” demanded McKeon.
“Why?” asked Winthrop.
“Please sit down!” McKeon said again.
Winthrop turned to the audience and declared, “He robs me of a half a million dollars and wants me to sit down!”
Then he turned to McKeon and added, “You never had to work for yours.”
A by-now irate McKeon shouted: “You’re out of order — sit down!”
Ambling to his seat, Winthrop turned toward McKeon and said, “To hell with you!”
Coleman London, who was sitting in the audience, leaned over to Karl Nash, who was covering the meeting for The Ridgefield Press, and said, “THAT was worth the price of admission.”
Winthrop was more liberal in his views on national and international affairs, however, and,
though he was a Republican, he was an admirer of Presidents Roosevelt, Truman and Kennedy. Among his interests were American Indians, and he once proposed a national holiday honoring them.
He also had some run-ins with authorities. He was arrested in 1937 and 1952 for writing fraudulent checks, and was brought to court by the town for zoning violations. In 1967, he was charged with drunken driving after his car on Danbury Road turned  toward Limestone Road, and into the path of an oncoming police cruiser, sending the officer to the hospital.
He died in 1971 at the age of 75.
Winthrop’s wife was Frances Ney Winthrop, a graduate of the Chicago School of Ballet, who was a dancer in several Broadway shows. They included the 1920 and 1921 versions of the revue, “George White’s Scandals,” with music by George Gershwin, as well as William B. Friedlander’s “Frivolities of 1920.” She died in 1982 at the age of 84 and is buried alongside her husband at Fairlawn Cemetery.


Monday, January 23, 2017

Samuel Chotzinoff: 
Music over the Air
Arturo Toscanini, one of the leading conductors of the 20th Century, liked Ridgefield – and his friend Samuel Chotzinoff – enough to give concerts here in 1947 and 1949 to benefit the the Ridgefield Library (on whose board Chotzinoff served for 10 years) and the Ridgefield Boys Club. 
Chotzinoff, who lived on Spring Valley Road from 1935 to 1955 and was known as “Shotzi” in the music world, was music director of NBC and persuaded Toscanini  to lead the NBC Symphony Orchestra in the days when high culture was a part of commercial radio and television network fare.
As founder of the NBC Opera Company, Chotzinoff commissioned Gian Carlo Menotti to write television’s first opera, the now-famous “Amahl and the Night Visitors.”  Menotti and Toscanini often visited Chotzinoff’s Ridgefield home. 
Besides being an executive, Chotzinoff was, in the words of The New York Times, a music critic, a pianist, a novelist, a playwright, a raconteur, a wit, and an urbane and gentle man.”
Born in Czarist Russia around 1889, Samuel Chotzinoff (pronounced “SHOTzinoff) began studying piano when he was 10 years old. He came to America when he was 17, attended City College of New York, and continued piano studies. At 20, he was “ghosting” as piano player when his big break came.
The Times tells it this way: “He was playing a behind-the-scenes piano in a play called ‘Concert,’ while on stage the actor Leo Dietrichstein ran his fingers gracefully over a dummy piano. The scene had been rehearsed so minutely that the audience and the critics thought the actor was really giving a brilliant recital.
“One night Mr. Chotzinoff was either detained by traffic or kept home by illness — the story is told both ways —  and a substitute pianist was rushed in. Coordination was so lacking that Mr. Dietrichstein was still pounding the dummy piano when the music stopped backstage. The secret was out and the critics discovered Mr. Chotzinoff.”
Violinist Efrem Zimbalist Sr., who was to become a noted conductor (and father of Jr., the noted actor), heard about the incident, met with and hired Chotzinoff as his accompanist. Both were 21 at the time, and they toured widely together.
Chotzinoff subsequently became accompanist for another famous violinist, Jascha Heifetz, and wound up marrying Heifetz’s sister, Pauline, in 1925. 
At the time Chotzinoff was music critic for The New York World; later wrote for The New York Post. Famous for his honesty, he once criticized Heifetz’s performance of Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata. “He was sore as the devil,” Chotzinoff later told an interviewer. “But I told Jascha that I can only review his concerts as his critic and not as his brother-in-law.”
In the 1930s, Chotzinoff also taught at the Curtis Institute of Music.
In 1936, David Sarnoff, head of RCA, asked him to visit the semi-retired Toscanini in Italy to persuade the maestro to take over the NBC Symphony Orchestra. “Many persons considered Mr. Chotzinoff’s task about as hopeless as persuading Toscanini to play a jazz trombone,” The Times said. “But Mr. Chotzinoff did it.” And the two became fast friends.
Chotzinoff served as a music consult to NBC during the 30s and early 40s, and became music director in 1948. In 1951, he also became producer of NBC’s televised operas.
Chotzinoff also wrote a novel, “Eroica,” about Beethoven, co-authored two plays, and wrote a biography of Toscanini as well as an autobiography, “The Lost Paradise.”  
He also founded the Chatham Square Music School, which in 1960 merged with the Mannes College of Music, now part of The New School.
His daughter Anne Chotzinoff (1930-2002) married conductor Herbert Grossman. She wrote several books and translated many operas and lieder. Her daughter, Lisa Grossman Thomas, is a musician and writer. 
Chotzinoff died in 1964 at the age of 74.
Known for his sense of humor, Samuel Chotzinoff loved a good practical joke. He once hosted a party for Toscanini at which a woman, who was one of his wife’s relatives, dressed as a waitress and donned a blonde wig. 
“When she came in to serve coffee, she astounded the maestro by sitting on his lap,” The Times reported.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Debs Myers: 
Puckish Persuader
In his obituary, The New York Times called Debs Myers “a puckish former newspaperman who became an adviser to nationally prominent political figures.” It added that he was also “a chain smoker of cheap cigars, whose rumpled suits never seemed to fit his football-shaped body.”
Perhaps it’s no wonder Myers tried his hardest to stay out of the limelight. But he had another explanation.
“In government,” he said, “most of the so-called hidden persuaders would do better to remain hidden.”
As an adviser to New York City mayor Robert F. Wagner,  U.S. Senator Robert F. Kennedy, and presidential candidate Adlai E. Stevenson, he believed that, “in a political campaign, the most important thing is the ability to turn lemons into lemonade — to make a potentially damaging issue work for you, not against you.”
Born in 1911 in Kansas, Eugene Victor Debs Myers was named for the Socialist leader who ran for president five times and who was friend of his father. He maintained that he dropped out of school after junior high and at the age of 15, went to work in the sports department of The Wichita Eagle, later becoming its city editor and then Oklahoma bureau chief for United Press International.
During World War II, he served briefly in the regular Army — “I may have been the most inept soldier in the Army,” he said. “It was the about-face that did me in. I had lost a lot of weight and my pants kept falling off.” 
Instead of sending him to fight, the Army transferred him to the staff of “Yank,” the Army’s magazine, where he wrote many feature stories. He later edited a book, “Yank: The G.I. Story of the War.”
After his discharge he became managing editor of Newsweek and was soon working for Adlai Stevenson, writing many of his campaign speeches. After Stevenson’s second unsuccessful run for president, Myers quipped: “I will never again work for a candidate who is short and plays tennis.”
He was more successful with Bobby Kennedy, masterminding many aspects of the campaign that got him elected U.S. senator from New York. 
In the 1960s, he served as Robert Wagner’s executive secretary, heading what The Times called the mayor’s “personal brain trust.” He was credited with helping keep Wagner popular with the people of New York City.
After leaving the political world in the mid-1960s, Myers founded a public relations firm called Infoplan International, based in New York. 
He and his wife, Nellie, lived on Fulling Mill Lane from 1967 to 1969 when they moved to Bethel. He died there two years later of cancer; he was only 59.
In City Hall Park in Manhattan, within view of the window of the office where he worked under Wagner, a monument to Debs Myers stands next to a dogwood tree, also placed there in his honor. The monument bears one of Myers’ most often quoted observations: “Do the right thing, and nine times out of 10, it turns out to be the right thing politically.”

The monument, near the park’s famous fountain, is directly across Broadway from the Woolworth Building, the skyscraper designed by Cass Gilbert of Ridgefield. 

Friday, January 20, 2017

S.D. Keeler: 
The Major Merchant
If he were around today, S.D. Keeler might have become a modern Sam Walton. Or at least a Carl Bennett.
Walton founded Walmart, Bennett started Caldor (remember Caldor?), and Keeler at one time had three retail stores in various parts of town plus other retail operations. The Ridgefield Press observed in 1950, “His business enterprises began with a small grocery stand in the village and mushroomed into perhaps the biggest single business of its character in the town’s history.”
During one year early in the 20th Century, his local enterprises had a gross income of more than a half million dollars — close to $15 million today. 
Not bad for a merchant in a small town of around 3,100 people.
Samuel Dauchy Keeler was born in Ridgefield in 1852, and grew up in town. He was known as S.D. while Samuel Keeler, a prominent attorney, was often referred to as “Lawyer Sam” — not to his face — to avoid confusion between the two.
His career began in 1884 when he opened a small grocery stand in the village. It grew into the first up-to-date market in town, open nightly till 9 and until 11 Saturdays. 
The store was located in the space today occupied by Deborah Ann’s Sweet Shoppe. In the sidewalk out front, he had embedded into the concrete his initials, S.D.K., in brass letters that were around two by two feet in surface size — one set facing each direction. They may  still be there today, covered over by today’s brick surface.
In the 1890s, the store was selling not only groceries, but a wide variety of  “general
merchandise” that included cement, drain tile, bricks, paint, lime, and other building materials.
In 1901, Keeler built the first cold-storage warehouse in town – a predecessor of the modern freezer. Outside the village he eventually owned the Titicus Store at North Salem and Mapleshade Roads, and the Corner Store by the Fountain.
“Expressing admiration for Mr. Keeler’s aggressive business tactics,” one businessman once “declared that his delivery system was so good that he would even take a yeast cake over the dirt roads to a home up on West Mountain if anyone were bold enough to ask,”  The Press reported in 1950. 
One of Keeler’s big sources of income was his grain and feed elevator on lower Bailey Avenue, much of which still stands. Town Historian Richard E. Venus described its operation in a 1983 “Dick’s Dispatch” column in The Ridgefield Press.
“At one time when farming played an important role in the daily life of Ridgefield, farmers brought in their wheat, oats, rye, corn, and barley. These grains were taken up in the elevator to the top floor where they were processed and mixed.
“Different ingredients were required in the diets prepared for horses, cows, sheep, hogs and
chickens. The proper amount of each of the grains for the diet of each of the farm animals was mixed and placed in large bins on the top floor. From each bin, a chute was extended to the ground floor. Through these shoots the mixed feed would filter to be bagged and sold back to the farmers who had previously sold some of the ingredients to Mr. Keeler.
“This whole operation was of great importance to Ridgefield’s economy and provided employment for a number of people.”
By 1921, Keeler had sold all his businesses. His village market was went to Walter Stewart Company of New Canaan, but soon became Perry’s Market and then Gristedes. (The building was purchased in 2000 by the Rabin family of next-door Ridgefield Hardware.) 
Samuel D. Keeler died at his Branchville Road home in 1926 at the age of 73. Strangely, The Press at that time gave him only a terse, three-paragraph obituary, on an inside page. Typically, such a prominent person would have been on the front page, with a much longer tribute. 

Around that time the newspaper was owned by Lawyer Sam. One wonders whether there was some sort of animosity between Ridgefield’s two prominent Samuel Keelers. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

John W. Smith: 
The Orchid Man
The many estates that were established around the turn of the 20th Century brought   hundreds of workers to Ridgefield — maids, cooks, butlers, chauffeurs, farmers,  groundskeepers, gardeners, and others. Many found Ridgefield to their liking, wound up settling here and became strong participants in the community.
One of those was Jack Smith, an estate superintendent who was among the best gardeners and also among the most active contributors to his town. His orchids won many national awards and Smith himself was involved in several national horticultural organizations.
A native of England, John W. Smith was born in 1883 in Harrogate. He came to this country in 1910 to work as a gardener at Upagenstit, the West Lane estate of Frederic E. Lewis. After a stint aboard a destroyer in the U.S. Navy during World War I, he returned to Upagenstit and became its superintendent.
It was at the Lewis estate that Smith developed an interest in orchids. Mr. and Mrs. Lewis’s vast greenhouses provided plenty of space for experimenting with a variety of species, and his specialty became the cymbidium. 
Town Historian Richard E. Venus said the Upagenstit greenhouses “would match the conservatory in New York’s Botanical Gardens.” He reported that “it was said that John W. Smith…was the one who discovered the secret of growing orchids in this country. Jack isolated the orchid
plants in a corner of the greenhouse where the humidity was high. Then, instead of just applying water directly to the plants, he sprayed the water into the air around the plants and let them soak it up….That fine greenhouse produced some of the most beautiful orchids ever grown.”
Smith’s orchids won many awards at the National Flower Show in New York. He was especially known for a variety called Cymbidium Lewis. 
As Smith’s reputation became national, he was asked to judge flower shows all over the United States. He was named to the Hortus Committee of the 1939 New York World’s Fair, helping supervise the planting of flower beds on the fair’s grounds. 
He was president of the Ridgefield Horticultural Society, then a sizable and active organization, as well as a member of the New York Horticultural Society and the National Orchid Society.
When the Lewis estate was sold to Ely Culbertson (profiled in Who Was Who), Smith moved his orchids to Pinchbeck’s Nurseries for a while until he built a special greenhouse at his Barry Avenue home to house them. 
He became superintendent for the estate of Wadsworth R. Lewis, Frederic’s son, on Great Hill Road (later the home of Henry and Clare Boothe Luce).
Smith was involved in the political and civic side of Ridgefield life. In 1947 and 1949, he ran for first selectman on the Republican ticket, but lost to his friend, Harry E. Hull, a Democrat. He did win a seat on the Board of Selectmen from 1949 to 1951. 
He was a member of the School Building Committee that built the 1939 addition to the old high school on East Ridge — an addition that included the auditorium that is now the Ridgefield Playhouse. He was an original member of the Park Commission, now the Parks and Recreation Commission, serving for 16 years. 
When the town bought the Ridgefield Community Center just after World War II, Smith spearheaded the drive for public support and he personally supervised the remodeling of the Lounsbury house. He later became president of the Community Center.
He was also active in the Rotary Club, the Masons, and the First Congregational Church where, at the alleys in the church’s clubhouse, he enjoyed bowling with the locals.
He died in 1959 at the age of 75.



Monday, January 16, 2017

The Steele Family: 
Early Black Ridgefielders 
Although a few black slaves and freemen had lived in Ridgefield in the 18th and early 19th Centuries,  the first home-owning black family to settle here may have been the Steeles of Farmingville.
According to research done by Keith Jones for his book, “The Farms of Farmingville,” in 1865 Isaac Hart Steele of North Salem, N.Y., paid $300 to William Lee for a small, already antique house on two acres along what is now Limekiln Road. Located  just south of Poplar Road, the house still stands today.
Jones says there were indications the Steele family may have been living there as early as 1859. That is when his daughter, Mary E. Steele, was born to his first wife, Sarah A. Steele. Sarah died in 1862 at the age of 32, and by 1865 when the the house purchase took place, Isaac was married to Catherine “Katie” Pines Steele.
Isaac Hart Steele’s home sat on two acres of limestone ledge, making it unsuitable for farming, Jones said. To earn an income, Steele worked on neighboring farms, including that of Azariah Smith. Apparently his abilities at farming gained a reputation for excellence because Steele was hired to oversee the fields on Gov. George E. Lounsbury’s large farm, The Hickories. 
His wife,  Katie, may have worked as a member of the household staff at The Hickories, Jone said. Her step-daughter, Mary, may also have worked for the governor; when she died in 1933, her occupation was listed as “servant” in the town’s death records.
Mary E. Steele was born in 1859, possibly in the Limekiln Road house, and attended school in the old Farmingville Schoolhouse near the site of today’s Farmingville School.
She told an interviewer in the 1920s  that her ancestors had lived in the North Salem area since the 1700s, and recalled hearing her great-grandmother tell of attending a gathering in North Salem during the Revolution when General Washington and General Lafayette and their staffs stopped for refreshments on their way to Hartford. Aunt Sibby Sickle had also been present when the French Army under General Rochambeau passed through North Salem and Ridgebury. 
Town Historian Richard E. Venus knew Mary Steele in her later years. She was “a nice little old lady that everyone thought the world of,” he recalled in 1983. “She was a very pleasant and cultured person.
“Mary did a lot of walking and always dressed in a black dress with large white collar and a black straw hat with a white band. If she happened to be going by at meal time, she was always invited in to eat with the family.”
Venus said Mary Steele “told wonderful stories. She was a great storyteller and a most interesting person to listen to.”
The Steele family belonged to St. Stephen’s Church.
Katie Steele died in 1889. Three years later, Isaac Hart Steele sold the Farmingville property for $712, more than twice what he paid, and bought a place on Danbury Road near where Adam Broderick is now. He lived there for a while, eventually returning to North Salem, where he died in 1921 at the age of 87. 
Mary remained in Ridgefield, living in an apartment over a store on Main Street, a little north of where Books on the Common is now. In January 1932, she was asleep when a fire broke out in a nearby apartment. She was rescued by firefighters. 
She died nearly two years later, in December 1933, at the age of 75.
Mary, along with father Isaac, mother Sarah and step-mother Katie, are buried with other members of the Steele family in the historic June Cemetery on June Road in North Salem.
The old Steele homestead on Limekiln Road included a barn, now converted into a house, that stands only a couple of feet from the edge of the road’s pavement  — perhaps closer to a road than any house in town. Keith Jones reported that he was told by a former owner that a mid-1980s town road crew worker was “reluctant to enter the building, reciting local tradition that the attic was haunted by the ghost of an old, white-haired man who could be seen hovering behind [the] gable window. 

“Perhaps, the attic ghost — if there really is one — is the heart-broken spirit of Hart Steele in search of his wife, Catherine, both of whom barely scratched a living from this small, limestone infested property,” Keith Jones wrote.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Charles Wade Walker: 
Happy, Musical & Armed
Music was Charles Wade Walker’s first love and primary profession, but this prominent, many-faceted Ridgefielder also ran a magical Main Street store that entertained a generation of kids and adults. So Walker doesn’t seem quite like the kind of fellow who’d be a pistol-packing leader of a posse, and perhaps he should not have been.
Born in 1880, the Albany, N.Y., native came here in 1910 after having been an organist in several New York City churches. Over the years he was music supervisor for the schools, a tenor in the Ridgefield Male Quartet, organist and choirmaster at the Jesse Lee Methodist Church, a piano tuner, conductor of the St. Cecile Choral Society, and a trumpet player in the Ridgefield Band.
For many years he operated Walker’s Happy Shop on Main Street, a popular newspaper and novelty store. The sign in the front said, “Toys to make the kiddies happy, sweets to make the ladies happy, and smokes to make the men happy.” 
In 1917, when he installed a soda fountain, he put up a window shade with the sign, “Meet me here at the fountain.”
Walker was also a justice of the peace and town constable, long before Ridgefield had its own formal police department. It was, perhaps,  a job for which the musician and merchant was not always well suited, as evidenced by the story told by Town Historian Richard E. Venus in a 1987 “Dick’s Dispatch” column in The Ridgefield Press. 
It was in mid-winter one evening in the 1930s when Irene Zwierlein heard a noise in the
basement of her Barry Avenue home. Her husband, Joe, was attending a meeting in town, and she was alone in the house. “She opened the kitchen door that led to the basement and there, in the darkness, was the outline of a man,” wrote Venus. “The man hurled a rubber boot at Irene and then fled out the back door of the basement.
“Irene quickly recovered and soon had the police, in the person of Charles Wade Walker, on the scene. Word spread quickly through the neighborhood and soon a posse of neighbors was organized. It was led by a very nervous, part-time policeman.
“The trail of the intruder was easy to follow as there was a light, freshly fallen snow….The tracks led north through the fields to Ramapoo Road and an old hay barn that had a ground floor basement. The barn was part of Irving Conklin’s dairy farm and while the upper part of the barn was used to store hay, the basement sheltered a dozen young heifers that Irving used to winter there.
“The basement doors were always left open, in order that the herd of heifers would have easy access to the tiny pond where they got their water. The tracks of the culprit led directly to the open barn door.
“At this point, a decision had to be made: Do you barge into the barn or do you wait for the quarry to come out? Perhaps this is a good time to explain that the officer carried a gun, but, as he said later, he was terrified at the thought of ever having to use it. In fact, he said that he had never used it, even in practice.
“By now the posse had grown to a considerable size and they wanted some action. The man had managed to enter the barn without disturbing the heifers and they remained quietly in their shelter.
“However, at the approach of this small army, led by Charles Wade, a distinct rumble could be heard. Just as they reached the door, the herd, probably encouraged by the man, stampeded out the barn. Several people were knocked flat, including the officer, whose gun went off harmlessly into the air.
“The heifers raced across the open field, with the perpetrator keeping pace in their midst. He sure could run and with all the tracks made by the crowd, it was impossible to follow him.
“Several people thought they knew who he was, but positive identification could not be made and he got away scot-free.”
Walker may not have like toting a gun, but he was probably more knowledgeable than most about the law; before he came Ridgefield, he had studied law in New York City. His knowledge was put to use as a prosecutor in the town Justice Court. He was also a village traffic officer from 1938 to 1951,  and a volunteer fireman. And if that wasn’t enough, he belonged to the Masons, Odd Fellows, Lions, and the Grange — and contributed poetry to The Press.

He continued to live in Ridgefield until about a year before his death in a Hartford nursing home in 1961 on the eve of his 81st birthday.

Friday, January 13, 2017

D. Crosby Baxter: 
The Little Acorn
D. Crosby Baxter was a jack of many trades, but the one he may have been least adept at has had the most lasting effect on Ridgefield. In 1875, Baxter founded the town’s only newspaper. 
He admitted that he wasn’t very good at newspapering, but he knew Ridgefield needed a newspaper. So in the basement of his home on Main Street on Jan. 13, 1875, he started “Baxter’s

Monthly.” Within two months, the journal was a weekly named The Ridgefield Press.
Baxter was, as his obituary said in 1923,  “a unique character whose individuality stood apart from others.”
 Darius Crosby Baxter was born in Somers, N.Y.,  in 1842, and moved to Ridge´Čüeld with his parents when he was 11. He started out as a shoemaker, but turned to storekeeping for a livelihood after he lost his left hand in a blasting accident. 
In 1865, Baxter married  Flora E. Farvor of Washington, Conn. They lived for a while on West Lane, later on Catoonah Street, and then in a house he bought on Main Street just north of the building where Planet Pizza is. 
It was perhaps because of his dealings with fellow local merchants that Baxter realized a need for businesses to get their messages out. In 1875 at the age of 32, with no experience in either printing or journalism, he founded Baxter’s Monthly to do just that. He bought a printing press and began work in his basement. 
In the early days the paper was full of ads for local businesses but carried little “news.” Issues contained a few local social news items, usually reported in a light-hearted vein, as well as jokes, stories and poems.
An example of Baxter’s sense of humor appears on the third page of the first issue, under the headline, “Found”: “On the side walk, in front of the town house [hall], a piece of thin steel about too (sic) inches long, said to belonged (sic) to a ladies wardrobe and supposed to have been broken by making too low a bow to our curly-haired country clerk; the same can be had by calling at this office and paying for this ad.”
News items were often terse. In his “About Town” column one week in 1875, Baxter reported: “Warm. Potato bugs.” 
“The succinct quality of some of the writing may have been occasioned by the fact that every letter of type had to be picked up by hand, and Baxter had not been trained as a printer,” said Karl Nash in a history of The Press. And, of course, he had only one hand to work with.
Subscriptions were initially 75 cents a year, but once the paper went weekly, rose to $1.25 — about $27 in today’s money. That’s a lot, and apparently Baxter had trouble getting enough subscribers for a while. In 1877, he printed a notice saying he’d take produce to pay for a subscription “if the party has no cash.”
Incidentally, the first subscriber was William W. Seymour, great-great grandfather of future publisher Karl Nash and great-great-great grandfather of the next publisher, Thomas B. Nash. (In more small-town connections, Karl Nash’s first wife was Dorothy Baxter, granddaughter of D. Crosby, and Karl’s sister, Elizabeth, longtime treasurer of The Press, was married to Frank Baxter, D. Crosby’s grandson.)
Twenty five years after he founded the paper, Baxter reflected on the early days. “The first paper was printed on a Kelsey press made at Meriden, Conn.,” he wrote in 1900. “It was just large enough to print one page at a time; in fact, I did not have type to print only one page at a time. 
“Hon. R. J. Walsh of Greenwich, Conn., was a great friend of the little paper from the start, and done a great deal for it. We used to be up late at night after many had gone to their slumber, thinking what we could fill up the paper with, as we did not know anything about paper work.”
He said it “took all our spare time (a month) to get the paper out on time, for I did not know anything about setting type and sometimes I would make a mistake and have to set it all over again.”
He got help with the editorial content from folks like Hubert Main, the hymn composer (also profiled in Who Was Who), who would write humorous pieces; Dr. W.S. Todd, a local physician; and Henry Mead, a Main Street businessman.
Baxter’s motto for the paper was “Tall oaks from little acorns grow.” “It took hard work to have it grow,” Baxter said. “I got discouraged a lot of times, but I made up my mind it should grow to be a large tree, and it has, to a large and healthy tree. Many spoke discouraging words of the little sheet, but others encouraged me to keep it growing for perhaps if I had not started the little paper, Ridgefield would never had had a paper.”
His motto remained in place through the 20th Century, and when the Nash brothers, Karl and John, bought the operation in 1937, they named their company Acorn Press. The newspaper, now part of the multimedia, 12-newspaper Hersam Acorn Network, still has an image of an acorn in the nameplate at the top of the front page.
Five years after he began, Baxter moved the operations to the Masonic Hall. (The building next to town hall burned down in the great first of 1895 — but The Press did not miss that week’s issue, which carried extensive coverage of the blaze. A new Masonic Hall was quickly built, and The Press resumed work there, remaining until 1938 when the Nash brothers moved it to its present location in an old automobile garage on Bailey Avenue.
By the time Baxter sold the operation in 1880 to Charles W. Lee, The Press was running eight broadsheet pages. Only two of those pages were local news and advertising, however; the rest was “boilerplate” news, features and ads that had been prepared by a company in New York City.
Baxter next opened what was to be the town’s first livery stable. There he sold and rented horses, and performed taxi services, such as bringing people from and taking them to the train station on Prospect Street. Twenty five years later, the town had three livery stables.
After that, he ran a country market, called the Lakeview Store, on North Salem Road in the Scotland district. Around 1920, when he was in his late 70s, failing health forced him to retire. He died in 1923 at the age of 80.

“Mr. Baxter was gifted with good business senses and a sense of humor,” said his obituary, tersely adding, “He had many terse sayings.”

Wednesday, January 11, 2017


Carleton A. Scofield: 
A Good Investment
Around 1925, a young man, fresh out of high school, went to work for The Ridgefield Press. Carleton Scofield assisted editor David W. Workman with writing news and setting the printing type by hand. Pretty soon, Scofield was doing much of the weekly’s work, especially when Workman was out fighting forest fires in his capacity of state fire warden or policing the town when he was on duty as a local constable.
The value of the energetic young Scofield was not lost on Samuel Keeler, then owner and publisher of The Press. Karl S. Nash, who would later own the paper, said Keeler saw Scofield “as good protection for his investment in the printing and publishing business.”
Scofield, however, had his eye on a better opportunity and applied for a teller’s job at the Ridgefield Savings Bank. Keeler, a bank director, did not want to lose a good printer and journalist, and opposed the hiring. “We can run the bank without him,” he confided in an associate.  “I’m not sure I can make a profit at the Press without him.”
The bank’s directors overruled Keeler, Scofield was hired, and eventually he became the eighth president of the institution, now the sizable Fairfield County Bank.
He also became one of Ridgefield’s most active and involved citizens.
A native of Ridgefield, Carleton Avery Scofield was born in 1905 and graduated from Hamilton High School on Bailey Avenue in 1925. After four years at the Press, Scofield began his banking career. He studied at the American Institute of Banking, at the Graduate School of Banking at Rutgers, and at Columbia. He began as a teller in 1930, the year the Art Deco bank on Main Street was built. He was named an incorporator in 1933, a director in 1942, secretary and treasurer in 1946, and president in 1955 — a position he held until his retirement in 1972. He was chairman of the bank’s board until 1981.
He was also active in regional and national banking affairs, serving as an officer of the Mechanics Bank Association of America and president for four years of the Savings Bank Guarantee Fund of Connecticut, a predecessor of the FDIC.
Scofield was a prominent public official. In 1926 at the age of 21, he was first elected a justice of the peace, an office that then wielded some power in Connecticut. People who were arrested by constables, state police, or fish and game wardens were tried before a justice of the peace in the town hall. The arresting officers decided which justice to bring their case to, and some justices were more popular than others. Scofield was among the popular ones and got a good deal of the business, Nash reported.
When the state established the trial court system in 1941, Scofield was named a trial justice, presiding over Ridgefield’s court in town hall.  He held that post until 1961 when the local trial courts were merged into the circuit court system. However, he did quit briefly in 1960 when he became enraged over the fact that 10 boys who’d been “engaged in a gang fight at Lake Mamanasco” and two other boys caught stealing auto parts all got off in Town Court on legal technicalities. He called it a “circus-like treatment of justice,” but he soon returned to the job.
For 11 years, Scofield served on the Police Commission, including periods as its chairman. He was treasurer of the Connecticut Police Commissioners Association, a director of the Connecticut Public Expenditures Council and a member of Governor Thomas Meskill’s task force on housing.
Locally, he was a president of the Lions Club, secretary of the Ridgefield Library, treasurer of Ridgefield’s Salvation Army unit, an incorporator of the Boys Club, treasurer of the Fairfield County YMCA, and active in other organizations, including an antique car group. In 1930, he was a leader of one of Ridgefield’s first Boy Scout troops.
During the 1950s and 60s, he dabbled in real estate development in town. A bit of his name lives today in Scodon Drive, a road at the 57-lot Scodon development that he and savings bank lawyer Joseph H. Donnelly subdivided in 1958.
Banking was not only a business but a hobby. Scofield and his second wife, Irma, were widely known for their extensive collection of mechanical and cast-iron toy banks. By 1970, he had more than 250 mechanical models and 600 “still” banks — many were exhibited in the Ridgefield Savings Bank’s several offices. Some dated back to the 1700s.

Scofield died in 1983 at his retirement home in Florida. He was 78. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Lt. Thomas Carnegie:

Victim of Vietnam
Lt. Thomas Carnegie died while trying to help a fellow soldier.

He came to Ridgefield in 1965 when his parents moved to Silver Spring Lane. He had worked part-time at the Grand Union on Main Street while on summer vacation from college.
Carnegie was attending Belknap College in New Hampshire when, in June of 1967, he decided to enlist in the Army and was sent to Officers Candidate School at Fort Sill, Okla. There he was commissioned a second lieutenant.
After further training, he was sent to Vietnam, arriving Jan. 6, 1968. Four days later he was assigned as a forward observer in the 40th Field Artillery Regiment, fighting in Long Binh near the Cambodian border.
Carnegie, Lt. Thomas.jpgBy April, Carnegie had been promoted to first lieutenant and was a unit commander. On April 18, he was involved in a small-arms fight with the Viet Cong when he was shot and killed.
He was 22 years old.
“The letter from Tom’s commanding officer said he died without pain, for which I was grateful,” said his mother, Barbara, a few weeks later. “Tommy had gone to aid his wounded radioman when he was killed. It makes a little more sense, doesn’t it, to die trying to help a fellow human being.”
Later that year, when the Army awarded Carnegie a posthumous Bronze Star, it gave more details on what happened while the lieutenant was serving as a forward observer on a search and destroy operation in Bin Hoa province.
“As Lt. Carnegie moved forward with his radio telephone operator to adjust artillery fire, an exploding rocket severely wounded the radio operator. Disregarding his own safety, Lt. Carnegie moved to the aid of the injured man and after administering first aid, began moving him to a secure area. After moving the wounded man a few meters, Lt. Carnegie was mortally wounded by enemy rocket fire.”
The Army added, “His unselfish regard for his wounded radio operator enabled the man to be successfully evacuated.”
Lt. Carnegie was also awarded the Purple Heart and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. He is also listed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington.
In 2007, 40 years after he graduated from OCS, six of his classmates gathered at Fort Sill and raised a toast to Thomas Carnegie. “Be assured, you are remembered, Tom,” said Capt. Dennis Montgomery.

Monday, January 09, 2017

Ebenezer W. Keeler: 
A Remarkable Man
Beyond having a rather remarkable beard, Ebenezer W. Keeler was a rather remarkable 19th Century man —  an admired farmer, an avid reader, a town leader, and a builder who worked on major mansions and led construction of a landmark church.
A descendant of one of Ridgefield’s founding families, Ebenezer Wood Keeler was born in 1840 on the family farm along Branchville Road, land that had belonged to Keelers for four generations. 
He was educated at the Rev. Dr. David Short’s private school on Main Street where he became “a great reader,” according to a contemporary biography. His love of reading led him, along with other community leaders, to serve on an 1871 committee that put together the first public library in Ridgefield. His wife, Emma, was also active in the project, and helped care for the first collection of 2,500 books.
Like his ancestors, Keeler was a farmer and he was quite good at it. “Ebenezer Keeler approached the operation of his farm with the same tenacity of his forebears and he could make that farm work where others just could not make it go,” said town historian Dick Venus. (Today’s Twin Ridge development is part of the old Keeler farm.)
But Eben Keeler pursued other vocations as well. He was a surveyor and did much  surveying work in the south part of town. Perhaps more noteworthy, he was involved in the construction of several mansions, at least one of which still stands today: The house of book publisher E.P. Dutton on High Ridge. He worked on Casagmo, the mansion that once stood at the northern end of Main Street. During his building heyday, he employed crews of 20 to 30 men.
A member of the First Congregational Church, Keeler put his knowledge of construction to work there, serving as chairman of the building committee that in 1888 erected the current stone church at the corner of Main Street and West Lane.
He was also a public official. In 1865, he was elected a state representative from Ridgefield;  at 24, he was the youngest member of the House. He then became the town’s chief executive. However, election wasn’t always easy. Venus tells it this way:
“Eben was elected first selectman of Ridgefield back in the days when it was necessary to elect
a board of selectmen each and every year. He won in 1877, in 1878 and again in 1879. After losing in 1880, he came back to win in 1882, in 1883, and in 1884. He lost again in 1885 but came right back and was returned to office in 1886 and 1887. Once again he lost in 1888 and by so doing, missed the ‘pleasure’ of serving the town during the great blizzard that year. However, Eben stormed back to win in 1889, and again in 1890, truly a remarkable man.”

Keeler died in 1900 at the age of 59. His wife, who died in 1934, was the daughter of Dr. Archibald Y. Paddock, a noted New York City dentist who committed suicide in 1889 after accidentally shooting her brother, Harry.

Friday, January 06, 2017

Jack B. Ward: 
A Caring Citizen
The front-page headline in the Aug. 6, 1998, told the story: “Jack B. Ward, dead at 82, used fortune to aid others.” 
The son of a leader in the baking industry, Ward gave away millions to Danbury Hospital, the Visiting Nurse Association, the Ridgefield Fire Department, Jesse Lee Memorial United Methodist Church, and many other organizations and individuals over four decades. 
 “All he ever wanted to do was to help people,”  said his longtime companion and business partner, Olaf Olsen. 
Born in 1916, Jack Boyd Ward grew up on the family’s 800-acre farm in New Rochelle, N.Y. He was a grandson of Robert Boyd Ward, who founded the Ward Baking Company, later Continental Baking, whose most famous products included Twinkies and Tip Top Bread. In the early 20th Century, Ward was the largest baking company in America.
Ward’s father, William Breining Ward, became president of the company and was only 44 years old when he died of a heart attack in 1929 — son Jack was 13 at the time.
Jack Ward served as a flight instructor in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II. He was married and divorced, and had a daughter.
Introduced to the town through visits to dine at Tode’s Inn at Ridgefield and The Elms Inn, Ward moved to town in 1957, buying a spread on Peaceable Street and Golf Lane that was once the Ridgefield Golf Club. The estate had been created in the late 1930s by C. Chandler Ross, a noted portrait painter, and was later owned by Lyle B. Torrey. The 19-room Georgian Colonial house sat on
54 acres, most of which have since been subdivided.
Most of his 40 years here were spent at Ward Acres Farm where he and Olsen raised hunter and hackney horses, and maintained a museum of antique carriages that eventually included more than 50 vehicles. Up to 45 horses were stabled at Ward Acres in its heyday, and many were champions – one of his horses sold for $4.5 million. 
He had loved show horses since he was a small child. At the age of 6, he participating in his first show, riding a Welsh pony in Madison Square Garden. “Two ponies were in the class,” he told an interviewer in 1990. “The other pony was black with a little girl on it. They asked us to trot and canter. I was bouncing along, having a wonderful time. The blue ribbon, that’s first, went to the other pony. My ribbon was red and I was delighted. I happened to love red. I didn’t care if it was first or second.”
He and Olsen had a pond at Golf Lane and Lewis Drive where Olsen especially maintained a collection of exotic waterfowl, including black swans from Australia. “That was quite an attraction, and many people would come up there and look,” Ward said.
 His parents influenced his desire to give. “My family has always been interested in philanthropy in a very quiet way,” he said in 1982. “My father had many large memorials that he made for his parents. One was Ward Manor, an old folks home up in New York State. Another was a place for poor little mountain children down in Baxter, Tenn., and another was for farm boys in
Kentucky. So I really grew up with this interest in giving money, not necessarily just for the poor but for the underprivileged and the sick and the old.”
Perhaps the fact that his father died so young led Ward to focus much of his generosity on health care.  Almost as soon as he arrived here, he bought the town a new, modern ambulance. He equipped the Districting Nursing Association with its first car and fixed up its headquarters on Catoonah Street. 
In 1968, he contributed $150,000 ($1 million in today’s money) toward the cost of a new coronary intensive care unit at Danbury Hospital. Later the same year, having heard that cancer patients were having to travel to New Haven or New York for radiation treatment, he donated $100,000 ($690,000) for a cobalt unit to the Danbury Hospital, where he also served as a director and a trustee.
“In the early days when the Danbury Hospital development fund was just getting started, Jack played an enormous role,” said Frank Kelly, former president of the hospital. “The whole region owes him a tremendous debt of gratitude.”
Among his many smaller gifts was $5,000 ($36,000) to expand and fix up the old Titicus School for its use as the American Legion Hall.
Ward was a member of Jesse Lee Memorial United Methodist Church where he made a many donations in memory of his mother, Ethel Haney Ward, who had lived with him at Ward Acres until her death in 1965. These included the altar, stained glass windows, and bells. He helped plan the church’s move from an old building in the center of town to the new brick church at the head of Branchville Road. 

Many of Jack Ward’s contributions to people and organizations, including the town, were private and unpublicized, noted Sue Manning, who was first selectman when Ward died. “He was a good citizen,” she added. “He was a caring citizen.”