Monday, March 12, 2018
D. Smith Gage:
Prosperous and Parsimonious
In the late 19th Century, everyone knew D. Smith Gage, a wealthy Ridgefield businessman. He owned, among other properties, the building at Main Street and Bailey Avenue that caught fire in December 1895, starting an inferno that destroyed much of the business center of Ridgefield.
Born in 1844, Gage began his career as a 17-year-old clerk at the Lewis H. Bailey’s “Old Hundred” store (now the Aldrich Museum offices). The store had been founded in 1785 by Lt. Joshua King, and for many years was the principal general store in town.
Known as what we would today call a workaholic, Gage never took a single day of vacation while clerking at the store from 1861 to 1876.
Gage bought the general store in 1880 and, four years later, moved the business to a new, larger building at Main and Bailey. After that burned down, he rebuilt and continued in business until selling to D. F. Bedient, who’d been his clerk. (The former Bedient building is now the home of Books on the Common and other businesses.)
Over the years he also served as treasurer of the Ridgefield Savings Bank (now Fairfield County Bank), a town assessor, and a member of the Masons.
By the 20th Century, Mr. Gage had gone from a $40-a-year clerk to one of the town’s wealthiest local businessmen, owning much real estate. His wealth was due to both hard work and wise investments. An 1899 biographical sketch of Gage said he had “attained more than the ordinary measure of success in life, and by close application to business and a steady adherence to sound principles of honesty and integrity has placed himself in the ranks of the prosperous merchants of this county.”
In addition, The Ridgefield Press once observed, “he was regarded by villagers as somewhat addicted to parsimony.” So it came as no surprise to many when, on a frigid February day in 1923, he received delivery of a large load of coal at his Prospect Street home, was handed the bill by the driver, and dropped dead on the spot.
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