Sunday, September 30, 2018


Books Set in Ridgefield
Here’s a collection of novels and non-fiction memoirs set in Ridgefield.  

Fiction
A Dying Fall by Hildegarde Dolson, Lippincott, 1973: The victim supposedly slips on a step in the Aldrich Museum sculpture garden, falls and is mortally impaled upon a sharp work of art. Dolson lived in Lewisboro.

Cast Down; A New England Haunting by Tracy Petry, My Mutt Publications, 2015. Story of a family that moves to “Bridgefield” and  a ghost connected with the lost village of Dudleyville.  

Divide by Two by Mildred Gilman (Wohlforth), Mercury, 1940: Novel of a child of “modern” divorced parents who tries with unusual results to arrange his life to his liking. Mrs. Wohlforth, one of the original “sob sister” newspaper reporters, lived on Rockwell Road for many years.

Don’t Raise the Bridge (Lower the River) by Max Wilk, MacMillan, 1960. A humorous novel about life in suburbia, airline pilots and a country inn (what is now Bernard’s). Wilk lived on Silver Spring Road when he wrote the book.

God’s Payday by Edgar C. Bross, G. W. Dillingham Company, 1898: A romantic drama, with scenes in Ridgefield — the main character pays a visit by train to escape the city and stays at the Keeler Tavern. Bross was editor of The Ridgefield Press from 1887 to 1899

Hometown Heroes by Susanna Hofmann McShea, St. Martin’s Press, 1990: The first in a series about a quartet  of senior citizen amateur detectives solving mysteries. See also Ladybug, Ladybug, and The Pumpkin-Shell Wife. 

Ladybug, Ladybug by Susanna Hofmann McShea, 1994: See Hometown Heroes.

Murmuring Ever by Lynn Wallrapp, Manor Books Gothic, 1975:  Tale of a family moving to a New England town, where they discover a terrifying legend that has haunted the town since the Revolutionary War. The teenage girl falls in love with the ghost of a soldier hanged 200 years earlier. The author grew up in Ridgefield  and wrote the book here.

My Brother Sam is Dead by Christopher Collier & James Lincoln Collier, Scholastic, 1974: A fictional account of teenagers in the Revolutionary War, set in Redding as well as Ridgefield; won Newbery award, Christopher was Connecticut state historian.

Murder and Blueberry Pie by Richard and Frances Lockridge, Lippincott, 1959: The scene of the title crime is the Keeler Tavern during Ridgefield’s 250th anniversary celebration. The Lockridges, who wrote the famous Mr. and Mrs. North series of mysteries and movies, lived in Lewisboro.

Please Omit Funeral by Hildegarde Dolson, Lippincott, 1975: Deals with the death of the author of a controversial book that has just been banned by the local (Ridgefield) school system. The novel was written during Ridgefield’s famous “book burning” era. 

The Hessian by Howard Fast, Morrow, 1972: A novel about a fictional incident involving German soldiers during the Revolutionary War in Ridgefield and Redding. Fast lived on Florida Hill Road.

The Pumpkin-Shell Wife by Susanna Hofmann McShea, 1992: See Hometown Heroes.

The Red Petticoat by Joan Palmer, Lothrop Lee & Shepard,1969. A fictional account of the “Red Petticoat” legend from the Battle of Ridgefield in 1777, aimed at teenagers. Palmer, a former AP journalist, lived in Lewisboro.

The Ridgefield Tavern: A Romance of Sarah Bishop by Dr. Maurice Enright, privately printed, 1908. Highly fictionalized story of hermitess Sarah Bishop of the cave.

To Spite Her Face by Hildegarde Dolson, Lippincott, 1971: One of the two murders in this mystery takes places in the Ridgefield Thrift Shop. 

Two Little Girls in Blue by Mary Higgins Clark, Simon and Schuster, 2006. A thriller set in Ridgefield about a mother’s search for her kidnapped child.

Non-fiction
A Private Battle by Cornelius Ryan and Kathryn Morgan Ryan, Simon & Schuster, 1979. Kathryn Morgan Ryan used her late husband’s secret accounts to tell the story of his four-year battle with cancer. Cornelius was the author of “The Longest Day” and two other acclaimed histories of World War II, and Kathryn was an editor and novelist who assisted him in his research. They lived on Old Branchville Road. 

Life Without George by Irene Kampen, 1961: A humorous autobiographical account of dealing with single life in Ridgefield after Kampen’s husband runs off with another woman. Book became the basis of Lucille Ball’s TV series, “The Lucy Show.” Kampden wrote other humorous autobiographical books while living in Ridgefield.

Lost in Place: Growing Up Absurd in Suburbia by Mark Salzman, Random House, 1995: Salzman, author of the book and movie, “Iron and Silk,” offers a light-hearted autobiographical look at his childhood and youth in Ridgefield.

Memories by Laura Curie Allee Shields, privately printed, 1940: An early activist for woman suffrage tells the story of her life, most of it lived on the corner of Main and Market Streets.

The Nearly Departed: Or, My Family and Other Foreigners by Brenda Cullerton, Little, Brown and Company, 2003: Humorous reminiscences about growing up in an unusual family  on lower St. Johns Road in the 1950s and 60s. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2018


Books About Ridgefield  
Here is an alphabetical list of more than two dozen, non-fiction books that have been published about Ridgefield, mostly from a historical point of view. 

Many of these titles are available at the Ridgefield Historical Society, including some out-of-print editions. Books on the Common has most in-print titles. Amazon can supply almost all of them. 

For used or reprint editions, check abe.com or amazon.com. Amazon offers many print-on-demand reprints of books that are considered “out of print.” Many of these titles are also available in electronic versions for Kindle, etc. — some older ones free of charge; try Googling the title. Some, like Rockwell’s history, can be read online.

About Ridgefield: 
What We Were - What We Are
A comprehensive, lavishly illustrated report on many facets of Ridgefield, including architecture, neighborhoods, history, landmarks, natural resources, cultural and religious centers, open spaces, cemeteries, and more; produced in 2002 by the Ridgefield Design Council, soft-cover, extensive index.

Account of the Battle of Ridgefield 
and Tryon’s Raid, An
First detailed history of the 1777 battle, published on the 150th  anniversary; by James R. Case, 56 pages, with map;  privately printed, 1927; later reprints were done.

Barbour Collection: Vol. 36
The Barbour Collection of Connecticut Town Records, Volume 36 in a statewide series, reproduces the valuable Barbour index to Ridgefield births, marriages and deaths from 1709 to 1850. 167 pages devoted to Ridgefield. A must for any serious Ridgefield researcher. Also includes Redding vitals.  Published in 2000 by Genealogical Publishing Company. 

Brief Historical Notice 
of the Town of Ridgefield, A
Published by the Village Improvement Society in 1906, this 60-page small-form book contains many photographs of the town, its houses, gardens and points of interest, all taken by Joseph Hartmann.  It includes a brief history of the town and of the society. Out of print, but available.

Farmers Against the Crown
Keith Marshall Jones wrote this comprehensive account of the Battle of Ridgefield during the Revolutionary War, revealing much new information and correcting many old mistakes in previous accounts. “This telling will remain the standard account of the battle for a long, long time,” said Christopher Collier, former Connecticut state historian.162 pages, paperback, extensively illustrated. Published 2002. Out of print.

Farms of Farmingville, The
While Keith Marshall Jones calls this book "a two-century history of 23 Ridgefield, Connecticut farmhouses and the people who gave them life," it is really a history of a good part of the town. He has extensively researched a section on Ridgefield that contains a significant cross-section of the community from the 1700s into the 20th Century, and  gives a picture of what life here was like during that period. Published 2001. Hardcover. 509 pages, indexed. Many maps, house plans, photos. Available at Ridgefield Historical Society.

Five Village Walks
Self-guided tours of Ridgefield village history, with more than 50 pictures from the past, by Jack Sanders. 56 pages, indexed, map. Last updated in 2008. $5 price benefits Ridgefield Historical Society.  

Glimpses of Ridgefield
An unnumbered, album-style book of dozens pictures of Ridgefield from the 1890s by a pioneering woman photographer in Connecticut, Marie H. Kendall. Copies rarely appear on the market. Published in 1900.

Hidden History of Ridgefield
A look at Ridgefield’s often unheralded people, places and things,  a sort of sequel to Ridgefield Chronicles, relating little-known pieces of what make Ridgefield a remarkable place in which to live, work, visit—or write history; by Jack Sanders. 160 pages. Dozens of pictures and maps.  Published in 2015 by The History Press.

Historical Sketch of Ridgefield, An
While small of size and only 48 pages, this well-done paperbound book, published around 1920, contains a history of the town and a description of what it was like a century ago, made all the more remarkable by the fact that it was written by Allen Nevins, who went on to win two Pulitzer Prizes for history writing. Published by The Elms Inn.  Out of print. 

History of Ridgefield
George L. Rockwell's 583-page classic has been long out of print, but copies become available. Particularly strong on 19th and early 20th Century history, and containing many early birth, marriage and death records. The book has many photos taken by Joseph Hartmann. Cloth and leather editions were printed. Also, in the 1980s, a reprinted edition was published. Out of print.

History of Ridgefield, Connecticut, The
In 1878, the Rev. Daniel Teller of the First Congregational Church published this 251-page book, the first comprehensive history of the town. While much of the content is covered in later histories, the engravings of various Ridgefield buildings and scenes, all based on very early photographs, are both wonderful and valuable. Not indexed. Published in cloth and leather versions. Out of print.

Images of America: Ridgefield
127 pages of finely reproduced pictures of Ridgefield past, published in 1999. People, houses, businesses, scenes of town life, etc. from 1890s to 1950s, produced by Ridgefield Archives Committee, now the Ridgefield Historical Society. Arcadia Publishing. 

Impact: The Historical Account 
of the Italian Immigrants of Ridgefield, CT:  
Extensive history of Italian community of Ridgefield, with many biographies, photos, and interviews; by Aldo Biagiotti; 345 pages, indexed; privately printed, 1990.

Notable Ridgefielders
An 88-page, tabloid-newspaper-sized collection of brief biographies of more than 400 people who made news in Ridgefield during the 20th Century, published by The Ridgefield Press on its 125th anniversary. Also contains extensive timeline. Illustrated, indexed. Published in 2000. Available from The Ridgefield Press, 16 Bailey Avenue.

Proprietors of Ridgefield, The
Glenna M. Welsh's history tells of the early settlement of the town, with particular focus on those who lived on Main Street. Not indexed. Many illustrations. Published in 1976 in paper and cloth editions, the clothbound version is still available at the Keeler Tavern or from the Ridgefield Historical Society.

Recollections of A Lifetime
This is the two-volume autobiography of Samuel G. Goodrich, who wrote more than 100 books, mostly for young people, under the name of Peter Parley. The first 300 or so pages are devoted to his growing up in Ridgefield in the late 1700s and early 1800s and provide a fascinating and rare look at life in the town two centuries ago. Published in 1856 by Miller, Orton and Mulligan. 1,100+ pages, many illustrations, indexed. Used copies available but often damaged and expensive; available in reprint — some reprint publishers will sell only volume one, containing the Ridgefield information, but no index, which is in volume two (note that an abridged edition was also published in 1800s; this should be avoided by anyone wanting his complete account of Ridgefield). 

Remember the Ladies: 
Notable Women of Ridgefield
Profiles of 14 noteworthy women in Ridgefield’s history; also covers organizations they founded or led; 100 pages, illustrated, published by Ridgefield Historical Society, 2008.

Ridgefield 1900-1950
More than 215 views of what Ridgefield looked like during the first half of the 20th Century. Postcard images of homes, estates, inns, street scenes, stores, churches, and more. Over 20,000 words of accompanying history and lore about the locales pictured, by Jack Sanders. 126 pages, bibliography and index.  Arcadia Publishing, 2003. 
 
Ridgefield at 300
Lavishly illustrated, coffee-table book about the town’s celebration of its 300th birthday in 2008, produced by Ridgefield Magazine.  

Ridgefield Chronicles
Offers glimpses into aspects of Ridgefield’s history including interesting people, the things they accomplished, and the way they lived, as well as the town’s varied geography and place names,  by Jack Sanders. More than 60 pictures. 160 pages.The History Press, 2014.

Ridgefield, Conn. 1708-1908 
Bi-Centennial Celebration
Collection of history, recollections, speeches, and photographs in connection with the town’s 200th birthday celebration. 96 pages, hardbound. Published by the Bi-Centennial Committee, 1908. Out of print.

Ridgefield in Review
Published in 1958, the most modern complete history of the town, with many illustrations, old maps, and military records; written by Smithsonian Institution historian Silvio A. Bedini. 396 pages, indexed. Out of print.

St. Stephen's Church, 

Its History for 250 Years 1725 to 1975
Written by Robert S. Haight, this book tells the story of the church and its place in the community. 220 pages, indexed and illustrated, published 1975. A supplement by Dirk Bollenback, Saint Stephen's Church Reaches the Millennium, 114 pages, indexed and illustrated, covers 1975 to 2000. Sold by the church, 351 Main Street.

We Gather Together… Making the Good News Happen: 1712-2012
This is an extensively illustrated survey history of the First Congregational Church, by its then pastor, the Rev. Charles Hambrick-Stowe. 68 pages. 2011.

Where is Ridgefield Heading?
This 26-page, large format booklet was published in 1950 by the League of Women Voters and suggested possibilities for Ridgefield’s dealing with future growth, including bypasses for the village, and complete reconstruction of commercial blocks in the village.

Wicked Ridgefield
A historical assortment of bad guys and bad times including thievery, bigotry, murders, missing persons, arson, book-banning, and other assorted man-made misery. “This look at the darker side of Ridgefield history points out some heroes, offers some lessons, and provides even a little humor,” says author Jack Sanders in introduction.  160 pages, many pictures, indexed. The History Press, 2016.

Saturday, September 22, 2018


Dirk Bollenback: 
Saintly Inspiration
Some teachers are respected. Others are beloved.  Dirk Bollenback was both.
A history teacher for 38 years, Bollenback chaired the Social Studies Department at Ridgefield High School, fought local “book burners” in the 1970’s, and inspired countless students.
He was also a singer, leader, and historian at St. Stephen’s Church.
A native of Evanston, Ill., Dirk Floyd Bollenback was born in 1931, graduated from the Deerfield Academy and received a bachelor’s degree in 1953 from Wesleyan University (where, for a
year, he was a member of the Pre-Ministerial Club). He earned a master’s degree from the School of Advanced International Studies at John Hopkins and then served in the U.S. Army as a research analyst and instructor in the Army’s Psychological Warfare School at Fort Bragg, N.C. After the Army, he earned a second master’s at Wesleyan University.
With his wife Beverly, he moved  to Ridgefield  in 1958 when he took a job as a social studies teacher at the high school. He soon became department chair, a post he held for 32 years, a period of tremendous growth in the town. The Class of 1959, his first graduating class at the “old” high school on East Ridge, had only 60 students; just over dozen years later, more than 400 were graduating from the “new” school on North Salem Road.
Over the years he revamped and improved the Social Studies Department’s courses with such success that in 1991, he earned a John F. Kennedy Library Teacher Award for “developing creative and effective curriculum and demonstrating instructional excellence.”
In the 1970s, Bollenback was at the center of the book-banning controversies that involved the high school’s Social Studies and English Departments and some of their book selections, including Eldridge Cleaver’s “Soul on Ice” and Mike Royko’s “Boss.” — both of which some school board members and parents wanted removed from elective courses as inappropriate for high school seniors. In the end both books were retained, but not without bitter confrontations that resulted in national media coverage.
“We were under a lot of pressure,” he told The Ridgefield Press a quarter century later. “It was the hardest time I went through in Ridgefield. It all got very personal and I remember being called a Communist at one meeting. In retrospect it was really farcical; I’m a very conservative guy.”
He was, in fact, a member of the Republican Town Committee for four years.
Over the years countless students sang his praises as an inspiring teacher. 
“Mr. Bollenback was simply the best among that group of exemplary career educators,” said Dave Jenny, Class of 1968. “I will always cherish the climactic conclusion to his lecture about Hitler’s manipulation of the German people into World War II. He stepped from chair to desk-top, stood and sang just the first stanza of ‘Deutschland, Deutschland Über Alles’ as the Nazis had done over and over to hijack the national anthem and the German nation. It was dramatic but yet natural, seemingly unstaged and therefore totally effective. He gave us goosebumps. He made us feel what the German people must have felt.”
Patrick Wahl, another student in the 1960s, recalled a quotation from a Bollenback essay in the high school’s Chieftain newspaper. “Your life can matter, if you care to make it, if you care,” Bollenback had written. “I kept that essay on my wall, well into the 1980’s, until it became a part of me,” Wahl said. “Dirk Bollenback taught us to become citizens of the republic, for democracy is not a spectator sport.”
The senior class in 1961 dedicated its yearbook to Bollenback, citing “his fairness in dealings with his students; his sympathy and helpfulness with their problems; his honesty and sincerity in his teaching.”
Before retiring in 1996, Bollenback was pushing for a curriculum that focused on citizenship and civility. “Kids today are bombarded with so many different messages from so many different directions that I don’t know how they become civil,” he said in the 2000s.
He won many honors throughout his career. In 1963-64 he was a John Hay Fellow at the Chicago University and won an outstanding teacher award from Tufts University. The League of Women Voters honored him in 1996 for service to school and community and, in 2013, he was the first teacher to receive the Ridgefield Old Timers Association’s annual Distinguished Educator award. 
In the community, Bollenback volunteered as a patient’s representative at Danbury Hospital and for more than 25 years sang in the choir of St. Stephen’s Church, where he was a member of the vestry and served in other posts.
He was also the church’s historian, which sparked a “second career” as a writer. To mark St. Stephens’ 275th birthday in 2000, he spent nearly three years researching and writing a book that picked up where Robert Haight’s 1975 history had stopped.
“He has done a marvelous job of incorporating the history of the parish with the national events that were unfolding,”  Rector Richard Gilchrist said at the time.
Bollenback died in 2017 at the age of 86. His wife, Beverly, who had been active in the Ridgefield Visiting Nurse Association and had been president of its predecessor District Nursing Association, had died in 2004. Artist/illustrator Jean McPherson, who became his partner in 2009, died in 2016.
Teachers should instill values by example, not by preaching, Bollenback once said. “We don’t overtly teach values. We have to set an example, be people for [students] to look up to.” 
For Stephan Cheney, who graduated in 1970, “Dirk was, by far my favorite teacher. I think I was taught more in his class than any of my high school classes.” 
Cheney said in a 2012 remembrance that Bollenback was better than any other high school teacher or college professor he’d ever had.
“If I had the authority to canonize,” he said, “Dirk Bollenback would be my first.”

Wednesday, September 19, 2018


Robert Vaughn:  
More Than A Solo
Not many Hollywood stars could be properly addressed as “Dr.” But Robert Vaughn, the actor and one-time political activist, was also a scholar whose Ph.D. thesis was so good, it became a book.
When “Only Victims: A Study of Show Business Blacklisting,”  was published in 1972, Kirkus Reviews called it “the most complete and intelligent treatment of the virulent practice of blacklisting now available.”
Nearly a half century later, it is still in print and regularly assigned to law students. 
To most people, of course,  Robert Vaughn was Napoleon Solo of the TV series, “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.,” or the cowardly fop in “The Magnificent Seven” or the heavy drinking friend in “The Young Philadelphians.” Over his long career, he was in more than 100 movies, starred in several TV series, appeared as a guest star hundreds of times in countless television programs, and performed on the stage.
Born in New York in 1932, Robert Francis Vaughn was the son of a radio-actor father and a stage-actress mother. He majored in journalism at the University of Minnesota where, in 1951, he won an acting contest, and decided to move to Los Angeles to pursue that career.
He made his TV debut in 1955 in the series, “Medic,” and his first starring role on the big screen was in Roger Corman’s “Teenage Caveman” in 1958. But it was his Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor for “The Young Philadephians” that really launched his career.
However, acting wasn’t his only interest, and he became active in the Democratic Party in California, eventually heading the Democratic State Central Committee’s speakers bureau.
Vaughn campaigned for John F. Kennedy (who was assassinated on Vaughn’s 31st birthday). He later became a friend of Robert Kennedy and his family, and seriously considered running for office himself until Bobby Kennedy was also killed.
“I lost heart for the battle,” he said later.
He did not lose interest in activism, however. A former Army infantry drill sergeant, Vaughn was the first major member of the film industry to speak out against the Vietnam War. He endured considerable criticism for his opinions, especially early on, but before he was finished, he had delivered more than 1,000 anti-war speeches. 
He never really lost an interest in politics, either. Though already famous as an actor (he was Photoplay’s Actor of the Year in 1965), he assumed the role of journalist in covering the 1972 Democratic National Convention for radio KABC in Los Angeles. In the 1990s, Vaughn was doing stints in New York City as a radio talk show host where he showed a keen ability at debating politics.
Perhaps not coincidentally, Vaughn won an Emmy in 1977 for his portrayal of a shifty H.R. Haldeman-type character in “Washington: Behind Closed Doors,” a fictionalized mini-series about the Nixon administration.
He and his wife, Linda, a former actress who has been an activist against child abuse, moved to the historic Sunset Hall mansion on Old West Mountain Road in 1982. In the mid-1990s, they sold the place and moved to a new home on Salem View Drive in Ridgebury where he worked on his autobiography, “A Fortunate Life,”  published in 2008, while continuing to appear on TV and in films. 
Vaughn would often be seen around town, doing his own shopping at Ridgefield Hardware or Stop & Shop, having a bite to eat at Nina’s, or attending his son’s Little League games. He drove several classic cars, including a silver Rolls Royce and a red Lincoln Continental.
He made his last film appearance in “Gold Star,” about a daughter’s leaving her life in the city to care for her dying father, portrayed by Vaughn. He delivered a mostly silent performance — he himself was dying of leukemia. Said a Hollywood Reporter reviewer: “It’s Vaughn, still looking dashing despite his obvious frailty, who gives the film its emotional core. In the deeply moving final scene, in which Carmine and Vicki sit quietly together on a beach, his plaintive eyes speak far more powerfully than any amount of dialogue.”
“Gold Star” was released Nov. 10, 2017, just one year after Vaughn had died at the age of 83.
Vaughn’s friendship with Bobby Kennedy led to a strange case of coincidence. On June 6, 1968, the day Robert Kennedy died, Vaughn appeared on the Dick Cavett Show to talk about Kennedy. Vaughn was clearly shaken as he discussed his friend with the popular TV interviewer.
Fourteen years later, Vaughn bought Sunset Hall.
Fifty years later, Cavett bought the same house.
Probably neither man had even heard of Ridgefield, much less Sunset Hall, when the 1968 interview took place.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018


Good Times In the Old Times
Few today remember the Mary Rebekah Lodge, the female version of the Pilgrim Lodge of Odd Fellows. A sorority of community-minded women. the Rebekahs sponsored special events like card parties, plays and rummage sales to raise money for local organizations, such as the Red Cross and Girl Scouts, as well as old folks homes for their own members.
Officially, the Daughters of Rebekah, as the national organization is called, aimed to “live peaceably, do good unto all, as we have opportunity, and especially to obey the Golden Rule: Whatsoever ye would that others should do unto you, do ye even so unto them.” 
Mary Rebekah Lodge was established here in 1905 as Rebekah Lodge No. 51, but since so many of the members were named Mary, they decided to personalize the lodge’s name.
Although they had many social events throughout the year, the Halloween Masquerade was the big annual shindig for the Rebekahs. 
What’s interesting about this piece of ephemera, which may have been an admission ticket, is that it includes an old-fashioned dance card on the back. There, partners could sign up to dance with a fair damsel, in this case, by the type of dance available.
How many know what a “lancers” or a “Paul Jones” is? Or a “schottische” for that matter.  It’d be tough to find a place to dance those today — except maybe the lancers.
The Rebekah masquerades took place in the Masonic Hall, still standing just south of the town hall, until the 1920s when the Odd Fellows built their own hall on Main Street — now occupied by the Toy Chest. In 1956 they sold that place and moved to an old carriage house on King Lane.
The Rebekahs disappeared in Ridgefield about 25 years ago  because of dwindling membership. The Odd Fellows, founded here in 1847, lasted till about 2006 when they sold Pilgrim Hall on King Lane to the Methodist Church, which has turned part of the building into a chapel.


Monday, September 17, 2018


West Lane Inn, ca. 1912
First off, let’s clear up possible confusion. Today’s West Lane Inn is not yesterday’s West Lane Inn. The original hostelry of that name, shown here, is right across the road from today’s inn and looks much the same today as it does in these two postcard views — with one big exception: The main staircase is now in the center of the porch instead of at the northeastern corner, as shown here. 
After its stint as an inn, the building was converted to apartments and was known as the Bluebird Apartments for many years — most of that time, it was owned by the Bacchiochi family. Today, it is still an apartment building. 
Why do we have two essentially identical pictures here? Well, in fact, they are the same picture by an unknown photographer (possibly Joseph Hartmann). But they are different in two ways (aside from the coloration).
Can you spot the differences? 
[Look and compare before reading further!] 
If you look at the top of the stairway on the monochrome picture, you will see an urn planter with a large arrangement of flowers and perhaps ferns. If you look at the color picture, only the base of the urn is there; the pot and flowers have vanished from the image. Also, some kind of overhead fixture, maybe a light, was removed at the same time.
Why black out the planter? It may have been a mistake on the part of the company that produced the color card, the German printer Newvochrome. However, it may also have been deliberate, either because the postcard publisher found the planter awkward where it was shown or because coloring it would have been too difficult. Cards like this were based on black-and-white pictures that were hand-colored for the lithographic engraving process.
Or it may be that the inn had stopped placing the planter there and asked that it be removed from the postcard.
The other difference between the two cards was in how the photo technicians treated the trees. On the color card some of the leafing was removed to show more of the blue sky, possibly to give a brighter aspect to the picture.
The color card was definitely in existence in 1913 because there is a dated message on the back with that year. When the monochrome version was produced is unknown. It may have been manufactured during World War I when access to German printing had ceased.

Saturday, September 15, 2018


The Catoonah Street Triangle
As work continues on remodeling the front terrace of the Town Hall, we thought it would be fun to see what the view from there more than a century earlier looked like.
This picture, probably taken around 1900 and looking northwesterly, shows the intersection of Main Street (foreground) and Catoonah Street, running off to the left. The Town Hall would be at the  right, beyond the lens of the camera.
The remarkable feature of this picture is its clear depiction of a triangle that had existed at Main and Catoonah before the age of the automobile. Soon after this shot was taken, a watering trough was erected in the triangle and thereafter, the triangle began to disappear. At some point it was completely removed, along with the trough, apparently to deal with increasing traffic from the proliferating horseless carriages. 
Often in the case of main highways, triangles don’t fit in with officialdom’s idea of an ideal intersection. Main Street once had at least two other triangles that have vanished: At the intersection of Gilbert Street, and at the intersection of Branchville Road (Route 102). It is quite likely that the junction of Main Street and Danbury Road was also once a triangle.
The only Main Street triangles left are at West Lane and at the very southern end, where the road splits into Wilton Roads East and West. And the state has repeatedly tried to do away with the triangle holding the Cass Gilbert Fountain at West Lane.
This picture is from the cover of a 1924 brochure for a celebration of the 100th anniversary of the first Jesse Lee Methodist Episcopal Church building in Ridgefield. That structure is not the one shown here, but a smaller building that stood at the intersection of North Salem Road and North Street — now the Lounsbury section of the Ridgefield Cemetery (No images of that first church exist.
The Methodist church shown here was built in 1841 and expanded somewhat over the years. In the mid-20th Century, it grew too small and the parking too limited so the congregation decided to build a new church a quarter mile to the south. This building was razed in 1964 and replaced by the brick stores-and-offices building there today.
The rectory, however, was not torn down. Visible just beyond the church, but half hidden by the trees, it became a three-story collection of shops and offices at 409 Main Street that is still used today (long called the Hackert and Monti building for post-Methodist owners).


Monday, September 10, 2018


Cass Gilbert: 
A Most Remarkable Architect
In New York, his Woolworth Building — once the tallest building in the world — still graces the Manhattan skyline.  
In Washington, his Supreme Court building stands strong, despite battles over whom it houses. 
In Ridgefield, while it has too often fallen to the failings of drivers, his fountain has greeted visitors for more than a century.
Cass Gilbert, who bought the Keeler Tavern as his country home and gave us our fountain, was one of the most acclaimed architects of the 20th Century. He designed dozens of important buildings including the U.S. Custom House in New York, the state capitols of Minnesota, Arkansas
and West Virginia, the main libraries of St. Louis and Detroit, and parts of the campuses of the Universities of Texas and Minnesota.
A native of Zanesville, Ohio, Gilbert was born in 1859, and named for Lewis Cass, a U.S. senator from Michigan who served in the cabinets of Presidents Jackson and Buchanan, and was a distant relative of his surveyor father. 
Gilbert quit studies at Macalester College and at the age of 17 went to work for an architect in St. Paul, Minn., then spent 1878 studying at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. After some time in Europe, he joined the prestigious New York firm of McKim, Mead, and White — White being the famous Stanford White, shot and killed by a jealous husband in 1906. 
By 1882 Gilbert had set up his own architectural business in St. Paul, Minn., with James Knox Taylor, a fellow student from MIT. They turned out many local houses, churches and commercial buildings as well as the Minnesota State Capitol. 
In 1880, while still in New York, he met his future wife, Julia Finch, a finishing school student. She was 18; he, 21. But it was not until 1886 when Julia was vacationing at Lake Minnetonka in Minnesota that they again met and struck up what became a serious relationship. He was living in St. Paul with his mother and she in Milwaukee with her parents, and most of their courting took place via the U.S. mail. They were married in 1887.
In 1899, Gilbert won a competition to design the U.S. Custom House in lower Manhattan — with a little help from his by-now former partner, James Taylor, who had become a federal Treasury Department design official; Taylor cast the deciding vote in Gilbert’s favor. Virtually an unknown on the national scene, Gilbert won out over many well-known firms and soon gained a wider reputation and many jobs in New York City, to which he moved in 1900. 
Among his New York City projects over the years were a tall neo-Gothic building at 90 West Street (heavily damaged on 9/11); the U.S. Courthouse at Foley Square; the New York Life Building; and many train stations on the Harlem branch of what is now Metro North.
In 1913, his most famous project, the Woolworth Building, opened in Manhattan. At 790 feet, it was the tallest building in the world at the time. One contemporary observer — a minister — called it Gilbert’s “Cathedral of Commerce.” 
With many more words and much more poetry, Paul Goldberger, the architectural critic of The New York Times, described it in 1981 as “one of the great icons of 20th Century architecture. It has a mix of delicacy and strength that is almost Mozartian, a sense of light, graceful detail applied to a firm and self-assured structure that no later building has ever quite equalled….It was pure, graceful composition — the serene ordering of well-proportioned parts.”
Although the Woolworth Building was one of Gilbert’s most famous accomplishments, he was not the first choice to design it. Frank W. Woolworth, owner of the huge chain of “dime stores,” first approached McKim, Mead, and White, where Gilbert had earlier worked. Among the staff architects there was Harris Hunnewell Murdock of Spring Valley Road in Ridgefield. Murdock later revealed that Woolworth had called on the telephone to ask the firm about designing his new headquarters.  After Woolworth hung up, one of the firm’s partners told his secretary to give a polite brush-off to the “five-and-dime man.”
While some of his buildings were among the tallest of their time, Gilbert grew pessimistic about the future of skyscrapers, revealing in 1931 that he was uncertain that form of architecture was “here to stay,” The Ridgefield Press reported at the time. In fact, he didn’t seem happy about the tall, light-hogging buildings he’d done.
 “When I see the long shadows cast even at noon on a winter’s day,” he said, “I sometimes
wonder if the light and air their occupants enjoy compensate for the sunlight their neighbors lose.”
Among Gilbert’s less lofty Connecticut projects were the New Haven train station, New Haven (Ives Memorial) Library and the Waterbury City Hall. 
And, of course, a little fountain in Ridgefield.
Cass and Julia Gilbert came to Ridgefield in 1907, buying what had been the Ressiguie's Hotel, earlier known as the Keeler Tavern. (The Press in 1907 indicated Julia was a descendant of Timothy Keeler, the 18th Century innkeeper, but we have been unable to find evidence of that.)
The Gilberts called their home the Cannonball House because of the cannonball — actually, a defused grenade — lodged in one of the beams on the north side of the building; it was fired from a British cannon during the Battle of Ridgefield in 1777 and can be seen by visitors today.
Gilbert immediately set about enlarging the building by adding a wing to the rear that included a dining room and then-modern kitchen, with additional rooms upstairs. Around 1915, he built the formal, brick-walled gardens and Garden House, now used for many weddings and special events. But he avoided changing the lines and historic features of the old tavern building itself.
His best known work in Ridgefield, however, is the fountain that he donated to the community in 1916 at the intersection of Main Street and West Lane. When it was installed, the
intersection looked much different from today’s heavily trafficked junction — it was a simple triangle that included a tree, and the fountain itself was much lower, with its base almost flush with the ground. The fountain was made of Italian marble — the same material used on his U.S. Supreme Court building.
The fountain was not only a welcoming symbol for people arriving from the west or south, it had a practical purpose. The lower, ground-level bowl served as a watering trough for horses that had just made long climbs to reach Ridgefield; the fountain is some 800 feet above sea level.
After being hit by many automobiles over the ensuing century, including a Hummer driven by a drunk in 2003 that shattered much of the structure, the fountain has been raised a couple feet and surrounded by planters designed to absorb the shock of a crash. A truck that hit the fountain in 2018 did hardly any damage, thanks to these precautions. 
The landmark has also survived numerous attempts by the State of Connecticut to move it elsewhere so that a more traffic-friendly intersection could be created. Ridgefielders, of course, have fought each and every move-the-fountain proposal, refusing to sacrifice a landmark that sits in a prominent location at the main southern entrances to the village.
Cass Gilbert died in 1934 while on one of his frequent trips to England. There he was held in
such high esteem that he had been elected to the Royal Academy of Arts, the only American since John Singer Sargent, the painter, to be so honored. (Gilbert had earlier been president of the National Academy of Design for eight years and was appointed to the Council of Fine Arts by Presidents Roosevelt, Taft and Wilson.) 
The London Times wrote after he died, “The list of his most important buildings would only be long enough to prove him the most remarkable architect of his generation in America.”
Since his death, more than a dozen books have been written about Cass Gilbert and his work. 
Only a year after he died, his architect son Cass Gilbert Jr. of Wilton (he designed what’s now the Ridgefield Playhouse) created a brick building at 152 Main Street as a museum to hold his father’s sketches, drawings, paintings, and papers. Located just north of the Gilberts’ Keeler Tavern home and part of the original Keeler Tavern lot, the Cass Gilbert Memorial was dedicated in October 1937 in a ceremony at which Gov. Wilbur Cross spoke.
“I am proud...to have known him, for he was one of the highest ranking architects of the country,” Governor Cross said. “He was a man who could see beauty in the tall building. You cannot prize too highly Cass Gilbert.”
However, the memorial building turned out to be too small to house the large collection of Gilbert material, which was eventually turned over to the Smithsonian Institution, Library of Congress, Minnesota Historical Society, and other archives. The memorial building was sold as a residence and eventually became the home and dental offices of Dr. Robert Mead.
Quite appropriately, Bob Mead turned into an expert at repairing Cass Gilbert’s auto-
damaged fountain, and often was called upon to do so — using, also appropriately enough, dental epoxy. Dr. Mead even had copies of the fountain’s spouting turtles made so they could be replaced after periodically being stolen by vandals.
Dr. Mead died in 2015 and a year later, his family sold the homestead to the Keeler Tavern Museum, which now uses the building for its offices. Thus, two properties that were one in the 1700s and 1800s were back together again.
Cass Gilbert and many members of his family are buried in a large plot at Fairlawn Cemetery. Oddly enough, only a few dozen feet away is the grave of Ralph Thomas Walker (1889–1973),  designer of dozens of famous skyscrapers whom The New York Times called the “architect of the century.”
Thus, in a small rural cemetery on North Salem Road, containing about 625 graves,  the remains of two of the 20th Century’s greatest city architects rest in peace, each beneath relatively modest stones.



Monday, September 03, 2018


Dr. Maurice Enright: 
A Better Doctor Than Writer
Ridgefield has figured into the subject or the setting of dozens of books over the last two centuries. Many are well-done, be they history or fiction, but one book stands out as just plain awful. Its author was a beloved physician.
Maurice Enright was born in Ridgefield in 1862, son of Irish immigrant farming parents who lived on Ramapoo Road opposite Casey Lane. James and Jane Enright must have been an inspiring mother and father, for many of their children became successful in the worlds of business and health.
One daughter, Helen, became a leading nurse in New York City and, late in her career, became the first nurse ever employed by what’s now the Ridgefield Visiting Nurse Association.
Maurice Enright grew up in town, attending its one-room schoolhouses, and was then tutored in classical studies by Father Thaddeus P. Walsh, pastor of St. Mary’s Parish. That education was enough to gain him admission to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of New York, the first medical school in the United States and now part of Columbia University.
Dr. Enright established a practice in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he also served on the staffs of St. Catharine’s Hospital and the Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged. He was a sanitary inspector for the Brooklyn Board of Health for eight years.
“Dr. Enright is progressive as a physician and as a citizen, and takes a deep interest in everything that pertains to the growth and welfare of Brooklyn, giving his support to every movement which in his judgment is calculated to advance the interests of its people,” said the “A History of Long Island” by Peter Ross, published in 1902.
On his death in 1926, The New York Times called him “a well-known Brooklyn physician and author.”
He was certainly well-known as a doctor in Brooklyn, but one might question his fame as an author.
His only known book was a novel, “The Ridgefield Tavern: A Romance of Sarah Bishop (Hermitess),” published in 1908 in both hardcover and paperback editions.
Set in the late 1700s the novel describes Sarah Bishop as the daughter of the keeper of the local inn which Enright calls the Ridgefield Tavern but illustrates it with a picture of Keeler Tavern. (History — or perhaps legend — says the real hermitess Sarah Bishop was a farmer’s daughter from
Long Island who was ravaged by a British soldier during the Revolution. She had no early connection with Ridgefield or the tavern before she began her many years of living in a small cave on West Mountain.)
In Dr. Enright’s story Sarah falls in love with an American patriot. He is wounded in battle and Sarah marries him on his deathbed — she is a widow 36 hours after she becomes a bride. After his death she retires to a cave on West Mountain for the rest of her life.
“The Ridgefield Tavern” was apparently not well-received by critics. The only review we could find devoted two sentences to it, and they were devastating: “In ‘The Ridgefield Tavern,’” wrote The New York Sun on June 27, 1908, “Dr. Maurice Enright betrays only elementary perceptions of the art of fiction. The bits of historical information included in his story are interesting; the rest of it is well nigh unreadable.”
That’s pretty rough. But then, the novel offers such lively action passages as: “When the colonel was wounded he was partly facing his men and the bullet passing obliquely through the soft parts of his back, shattered the dorsal vertebrae and either a fragment of bone or the bullet is pressing upon the spinal marrow, causing paralysis below that point.”
As for romantic writing: “That there was a mutual attraction between them could be observed by the lingering gaze of the Colonel in letting his eyes rest for a moment longer than usual in evident admiration, while a slight suffusion mounting from cheek to forehead, and a dropping of eyelids, a slight embarrassment indicating that deeper feeling which follows attraction.”
If you don’t mind Dr. Enright’s style, print-on-demand copies of his book are available on Amazon for from $10 to $50. An original hardbound is being advertised for $975!