Tuesday, October 30, 2018



Ephemera
 Among the 14,000 or 15,000 tons of trash Ridgefielders send to the transfer station each year may be a few pounds of valuables.
Mostly they are just pieces of paper, but they are also the stuff of the adage, “one man's junk is another man’s treasure.”
They wouldn’t fetch big prices, these treasures; they are valued for something more than money.
They are the ephemera of a community, found among the left-behinds of people who have died, the no-longer-wanteds of people who are moving away, or the spring cleanings of people “tired of all that junk in the attic.”
Ephemera is a funny word whose etymology explains why these pieces of history are so often doomed. It’s from the Greek, meaning “short-lived.”
“Broadly speaking,” says one authority on ephemera, “the word ... is used to denote the transient, everyday items of paper (mostly printed) that are manufactured specifically to use and throw away.”
The Ridgefield Press, for instance, would be ephemera. You read it, you toss it. However, it is a history of the town so steps have been taken to preserve its pages. However, so much else ephemeral but interesting about a community like Ridgefield is truly short-lived.
One of my favorite examples of unusual ephemera is a stained, mouse-chewed scrap of paper found in the attic of our 18th Century house soon after we moved in 45 years ago. It is a page of a pupil’s writing notebook from about 1850. 
On the page was a handwriting lesson of a boy named David Olmstead, who had lived in the house. Over and over, sentences were repeated to practice script so neat it would put to shame 90% of today’s adults.
At the bottom of one page was what remained of his signature, “David Olmsted Book, age 12.” 
A remarkable feature of this practice session was that at one point David was writing his name, over and over, following an example that his teacher had apparently written down. Midway through the exercise, David changes the spelling from Olmsted to Olmstead — from the old way the name was spelled to the more modern version — and then he returns to Olmsted. Had the teacher mistakenly written his name the old way and he had obediently copied the teacher’s version, slipping once because his own family used the new version?
Even without this oddity of aberration, the scrap was interesting in itself. Here was a piece of a child’s life in the middle 1800s. It became all the more interesting when research revealed that David  died only five years later, at the age of 17. He was probably the victim of one of those ailments that today are cured with a few pills but a century and a half ago, killed you.
We framed the scraps of David Olmstead’s writing paper. It’s hanging on a wall of the house he was growing up in when the likes of James K. Polk, Zachary Taylor and Millard Fillmore were President.
No doubt, David didn’t think much of this piece of paper when he was alive. It was just a homework assignment. Perhaps after he died his parents stashed it in the attic as a little thing to remember him by.
To us, however, it is a touch with the past, a visible sign that there was life — even death — occurring in our home long before even our own great grandparents were around.
I would love to have a photograph of what people who lived in our house looked like long ago. No doubt, pictures once existed. And no doubt, they were thrown away by people who thought they were worthless.
I would love to see a century-old picture of the road on which we live. Undoubtedly, many were taken. They, too, are probably gone.
I would love to read letters, written about the neighborhood by people who lived next door or down the street 100 or 200 years ago. But who saves letters that long?
These would all be glimpses of history — close-to-home history. They’d help us understand our predecessors in a more personal, more close-to-the-heart way.
Fortunately, a group of Ridgefielders has recognized that much that is valuable historically was being tossed when it should be saved —  for historians, for genealogists, for anyone who values the past.
The Ridgefield Historical Society is not only collecting but cataloguing ephemera and other historical materials dealing with Ridgefield.
So don’t toss old or “oldish” photos of town, letters your Ridgefield grandmother wrote, diaries, or even pamphlets or local advertising brochures from “the old days.” Offer them to the society.  Your junk may well be truly junk; but some could be treasures for the future. Let the society archivists decide.
And speaking of letters, many Ridgefielders will soon receive one from the Ridgefield Historical Society, seeking a donation to help support the society’s work. Please read its message and, if you can, chip in toward this wonderful organization’s efforts to not only preserve the past, but teach the present about our fine old town and its rich history.

Sunday, October 28, 2018


Rev. William Rainsford: 
An Amazing Divine
The Rev. Dr. William S. Rainsford was an amazing man of many contrasts. 
One of his closest friends was among richest men in America, yet he spent much of his life fighting for and ministering to the poor. 
Despite fragile health and at least two nervous breakdowns, he virtually single-handedly turned a shrinking, debt-ridden Manhattan church into one of the largest and most successful parishes in New York City. 
A man who spent most of his life in cities, he sought rejuvenation hunting big game in Africa, California and western Canada, and counted fellow hunters Teddy Roosevelt and Winston Churchill among his friends. 
Many people — including editors of The New York Times — considered him a Ridgefielder, but while he often worshipped here, he never quite lived here — though he came about as close as one could get.
William Stephen Rainsford was born in 1850 in Dublin, Ireland, where his father, an Episcopal minister, was chaplain at a hospital for the blind. As a boy, he wasn’t much of a student, admitting later that “I was dull and stupid at Latin and Greek, and very shy.”
Nonetheless, he graduated from Cambridge University. While still a student there,  he became ill and took a leave from his studies, during which he became interested in the London slums and spent time working among the poor. After graduating from university, Rainsford organized a group of 800 people from the London tenements and led them on a journey to western Canada to find new and more promising lives for themselves.
While in Canada, he was introduced to hunting, especially for big game. He shot buffalo, caribou and other large animals, and the sport became a lifelong interest. In his later years he wound up advising world leaders on the best hunting locations, writing a book on African hunting, and heading a museum expedition to find rare specimens.
Rainsford returned to England where he became an Episcopal minister and continued to address the needs of the poor, especially in the East Anglian city of Norwich. He suffered throughout his life with depression and at one point during his four years in Norwich, he considered resigning as a minister.
However, in the 1870s, an opportunity arose to fill a temporary post in New York City and he wound up preaching and leading missions in several places in the United States and Canada, gaining a reputation as an outspoken, caring preacher. 
In 1882, word of his talents reached the vestry of St. George’s Church at Stuyvesant Square on the lower east side of Manhattan. Once one of the wealthier parishes in New York City, St. George’s was seriously in debt, having lost many members as area neighborhoods became more populated with poor immigrants — mostly Germans — living in tenements. “Parishioners were moving uptown and transferring their allegiance to more fashionable and conveniently located churches,” The New York Times reported.
Rainsford was invited to be interviewed for the position of rector. After a meeting with the vestry, he was offered the job. He agreed, but only if the vestry accepted three provisions.
“You must make the church free,” he said. No more charging rents for pews.
In addition, the vestry must “discharge all committees except the vestry, so as to leave me with entirely free hands.”
Finally, he said,  “Give me $10,000 a year for three years to use in parish work as I see fit, without asking anybody’s consent.” $10,000 in 1882 was the equivalent of about $275,000 today.
Jaws dropped. The vestrymen looked at one another. Suddenly, one of them spoke. 
“Done!” said J. Pierpont Morgan.
Rainsford and J.P. Morgan, the wealthy financier whom one historian called “the greatest American banker,” wound up being lifelong friends and it was Morgan who would bring the minister to the edge of Ridgefield.
When Rainsford took over, St. George’s was $35,000 in debt. In the first month of his leadership, seven of the 14 families still left in the parish departed — probably in reaction to his liberal views. 
When he retired 25 years later, St. George’s had a membership of more than 4,000 people, and a sizable endowment.
“Under his vigorous direction, the church rapidly widened its work,” The Times said in 1933. “Clubs, schools, athletic rooms, camps on the shore and in the mountains, sanitariums, classes for mothers, missions and other activities came into being.” He set up soup kitchens, established schools to teach trades, addressed problems of teenage boys and girls, and ran weekly musical and literary programs with an admission charge of five cents. He was trying to deal with the needs of everyone —young and old, rich and poor, male and female — in his neighborhood.
Even services changed.  “The choir was enlarged and removed from its high gallery, and congregational singing introduced,” said a  profile of Rainsford in a Cleveland newspaper.  
And he continued to speak out about issues few Episcopal clergy were addressing. “In the pulpit he dared to talk of things which were not considered sermon material,” The Times said. “He mentioned such subjects as birth control, and talked in no uncertain terms of the city’s vice problem.”
In an 1886 article in The Churchman, an Anglican journal still published today, Rainsford said “the tendency of modern Protestantism, inside as well as outside the Protestant Episcopal Church, is to build up our church life too distinctly on social lines: The mission chapel for the poor, the beautiful avenue church for the rich and well-to do...We don’t want a church for rich men as such, nor yet poor as poor, but churches that by practice as well as precept, tell the community around them that the house of God is the house of man.”
Perhaps it was his desire for a less lavish “avenue church” that led the parish in 1889 to have the tall, showy spires removed from the church’s two towers.
In 1894, a time when other white Episcopal churches in the city flatly banned black people, Rainsford proposed hiring Henry Thacker Burleigh, a black singer, as soloist. When it came to a decision by the vestry, J.P. Morgan cast the tie-breaking vote in Burleigh’s favor. The singer went on to serve as the church’s soloist for 52 years during which time he became nationally recognized as a composer of many songs and pieces of classical music. (While a scholarship student at the prestigious National Conservatory of Music in New York, Burleigh had earned money there as a janitor and was overheard by Antonin Dvorak singing Negro spirituals as he worked. Dvorak befriended him and used themes from songs Burleigh sang for him in composing his Ninth Symphony, “From the New World.”)
Despite being an Episcopal minister in banker Morgan’s parish, “he attracted wide attention by his outspoken criticism of the lavish entertainment furnished at a society ball when there was much suffering among the city’s poor.” He called for the ball’s cancellation.
In 1900 he shocked many Christians by declaring: “There is no terrible judgment ahead, no physically burning in hell. That judgment is a process here and now. The Kingdom of God is a spiritual kingdom existing in men’s hearts.”
And if that wasn’t bad enough, he stirred controversy with his colorful language. In a 1901 address to a Philadelphia trade organization, he criticized charges that Christian missionaries in China were responsible for the insurrection and other problems happening there and declared, “It’s all damned rot!” The D-word then was nearly tantamount to the F-word today. And many religious leaders, said the Philadelphia Inquirer, “do not approve of New York divine’s vigorous language.” (In a talk in Ridgefield later in his life,  he is reported to have uttered a “God damn.”)  
During his quarter century at St. George’s, Rainsford gained a national reputation as both a speaker and writer. And when in 1904, he suddenly took a leave of absence and set sail for Europe for an “indefinite rest,” newspapers around the country carried the story. “Dr. Rainsford made no announcement of his going, and it was greatly against his will that he decided to obey the orders of his physicians,” said The Idaho Statesman, which then quoted the minister’s physician as saying, “Dr. Rainsford is troubled with gout and rheumatism due to overwork.” Others reported he’d had a nervous breakdown, the second in his career.
Rainsford never returned to his position as rector of St. George’s Parish. In 1906, in a letter from Cairo, Egypt, he resigned. Six years later he also asked to be relieved of his ministerial position in the Episcopal Church.
Dr. Rainsford went through a lengthy recuperation that involved rest, travel, and his favorite pastime, big game hunting. In 1912 he headed an American Museum of Natural History expedition in search of black rhinoceros specimens in remote regions of East Africa. He advised — and is said to have hunted with — President Theodore Roosevelt; Rainsford’s book on hunting in Africa, “Land of the Lion,” was in Roosevelt’s personal library at Sagamore Hill. 
He continued to be in demand as a speaker, and his opinions remained controversial. In one of his last public appearances,  a 1925 lecture at Town Hall in New York, he maintained that young people could not accept the ‘old religion.’ “Banish the supernatural,” he declared. “I believe in the Lord Jesus as a man, a real man. I believe he was born of the love of a good man and a good woman, as God intended all of us to be born. I believe he lived as men lived, that he died as men die, only in unparalleled torture.”
After Rainsford retired in 1906, J.P. Morgan asked him what he planned to do. Rainsford indicated he’d like to find a place in “the country,” but feared he could not afford the cost. No problem, said Morgan, who as a gift to his friend built him a retirement home on Route 35 in South Salem, N.Y., right on the Ridgefield town line. 
It was no ordinary house. The 22-room stone-and-timber mansion on a hill overlooking the Hudson Valley was designed by the highly respected architect, Grosvenor Atterbury, and Morgan is said to have brought over more than 100 Japanese craftsmen to build the place.
The estate included a large “game house” where Rainsford could display souvenirs of his safaris, including mounted specimens. (This became a “field trip” destination for local pupils early in the 20th Century. “Ridgefield school children were thrilled to visit this great big exhibition hall when their time came, about fourth grade,” recalled Ridgefield Press publisher Karl S. Nash.)
The house was located on 32 acres that Rainsford called Savin Hill. Among his visitors there over the years were President Roosevelt and, of course, J.P. Morgan. He also eventually had a place in Camden, S.C., where he would spend winters.
Today, after a long period as a restaurant called Le Château, the Rainsford house has become a wedding and banquet center, also called Le Château.
While Savin Hill was in South Salem, it was forever being misplaced. When The Architectural Digest featured the house in 1919, the periodical said it was in Ridgefield, Conn. Even when Rainsford died in 1933 in a New York City hospital, The New York Times said he had entered the hospital a month earlier after breaking his wrist “in a fall at his home in Ridgefield, Conn.”
He was 83 years old at his death.
Rainsford had a more than passing interest in St. Stephen’s Church in Ridgefield. He often worshipped there, sometimes preached there, and contributed money to its coffers. He also occasionally offered his opinions on its management. In 1924, he wrote the vestry, recommending that it seek a more varied membership instead of just  rich old men. “In my judgment — and I have had perhaps somewhat unusual opportunity for gaining experience — vestries in our church are too frequently drawn from one class,” he said. “Why not try to get some stirring, God-fearing young man on the Saint Stephen’s Vestry.” 
“The vestry took no action on his suggestion,” said St. Stephen’s historian Robert S. Haight, “and it was not until almost thirty years later that the self-perpetuation of Saint Stephen’s vestries was successfully challenged.”
Rainsford had another interest in St. Stephen’s: His son, architect W. Kerr Rainsford, designed the church building, completed in 1915. Kerr Rainsford also designed the War Memorial at the head of Branchville Road. 

Saturday, October 27, 2018


The Old Bissell Building, 1997
Here’s a scene that looks remarkably the same today as when the picture was taken in the summer of 1997, except for two big things, one obvious and one not so obvious.
Not so obvious is the fact that the Bissell Building in the background is not the same “Bissell Building” that’s there today. This one burned to the ground in the spring of 2005, but was replaced by a virtually identical structure. They look alike but aren’t the same.
Today’s storefronts belong to Interiors and Designs by Ursula, where Bissell Pharmacy was, and the Village Tavern, where Gail’s Station House was. (After the fire Bissell’s moved a half block east to the old Toy Caboose building on Governor Street while Gail’s never reopened.)
What’s really visually different is the sidewalk seating for the restaurant. Back then, Gail’s Station House provided two, maybe three little tables on the sidewalk out front. Gail’s was the only restaurant in town with sidewalk seating 20 years ago!
Today, there’s the equivalent of a whole dining room sitting outside the Village Tavern, complete with huge planters. It looks as if close to 40 people could dine on the 2018 sidewalk.
What’s more, every single restaurant on Main Street today has — in season — outdoor seating on the sidewalk.
Also different are the trees at the extreme right. Then they were little more than saplings, part of a recent renewal of Main Street that included those fancy lantern-like lights. Some of those young trees died in the heat of the 2005 fire, but one survived and is as tall as the new “Bissell Building” today.


Thursday, October 25, 2018


Service Station A La 1920s
What was perhaps Ridgefield’s first full-service gasoline station was located at 31 Danbury Road where Ridgefield Mobil is today.
These photos from the 1920s show the Socony station when it was owned by John M. Moser, whose house was at 55 Danbury Road, still standing across from where Dunkin Donuts is today. That’s probably Moser in the doorway of the garage office, with a cigar in his mouth.
The picture of the office has a couple of interesting features: A sign in the window at the left says “Cigarettes and Cigars” are for sale and another sign just to the left of the building reports,  “Rest Rooms Inside.” It’s hard to imagine how restrooms could fit into that little (albeit elegant) shack. 
One entertaining feature of the office picture: If you look at the extreme right, you will see an arm and a hand, and just a tiny bit of the face of a man who was obviously waving at the camera, but didn’t quite fit into the picture.
The second photo focuses on the service area, with the office at the very left edge of the
image. Back in the 1920s, automobiles were not serviced in indoor bays but outdoors, over pits. The chains, pipe-fencing and boards shown here were designed to keep people from accidentally falling into the pit.
In that same picture, you’ll notice at the left a wooden case of what look like quart bottles of soda or beer. That was Mobiloil Arctic motor oil, a product then packaged in bottles instead of cans.  
A hardly visible sign on the pump indicates that fuel was 20 cents a gallon back then.
Socony (Standard Oil Company of New York) eventually became today’s Mobil, so Ridgefield Mobil can make the rare claim of selling the same company’s gasoline in the same location for nearly a century. 
Other product brands seen on signs here like Fisk Tires, United States Tires, and Weed Chains have long gone.
In 1931, Moser sold the operation  to Warner Keeler, Charles Elliott and Francis Brown, whose initials formed the new business’s name, KEB. They built a larger building on the site.
Keeler had worked for Moser. He left KEB in 1945. Brown died in 1955, leaving Charlie Elliott the sole owner of KEB until 1971 when he sold the station (but continued to operate his refuse-collection business). From 1971 on, it’s been Ridgefield Mobil.


Wednesday, October 24, 2018


Cheap Gas?
This odd picture was in a group of shots of Branchville, taken in 1962 on the occasion of the Ridgefield Saving Bank’s opening a branch office on Route 7, some of which   appeared in recent posts.
This view show a sign at Riverside Motors Gulf Station at 32 Ethan Allen Highway, operated by the well-known Tarquinio “Turk” Pambianchi (1920-95), now the home of Precision Brakeworks.
While Riverside sold Gulf gasoline, Precision Brakeworks — using essentially the same building — does not sell gas.
The sign notes that Gulftane was 30.9 cents a gallon. While that seems ridiculously low compared with  today’s prices, 30.9 cents in 1962 was the equivalent of $2.55 in today’s money.
What’s more, Gulftane was what was called “subregular” gas, a grade below regular that is no longer generally available. (Regular Gulf gas was called “Good Gulf,” above which there was Gulf No-Nox premium, and Gulf Super Unleaded or Gulfcrest.)
Incidentally, the original Gulf Oil Company disappeared in 1985 when it merged with Standard Oil of California to become Chevron. However, the brand name, Gulf, is still licensed to a variety of automobile products including gasolines, made by other companies. 
At the right edge of the picture is a house at 33 Ethan Allen Highway that is today offices, apartments and a little variety store called NJ Condiment. It was owned by Peter Mugavero, who eventually had his barber shop on the ground floor. Peter is now retired and living in Florida.
Peter’s parents, Jerry and Mary Mugavero, lived in a house just beyond the unreadable sign in the distance.  According to grandson Peter Mugavero, a member of the “Old Ridgefield” group, their house is still standing and still painted the same gray color; it’s used for offices of American Irrigation Systems.
The trees in the distance to the left have been largely replaced by a commercial building housing a Dunkin Donuts, Soccer & Rugby Imports, and a Fred Astaire Dance Studio.

Monday, October 22, 2018


Dr. John Norman: 
Professor, Poet And Secret Agent
Dr. John Norman was as comfortable writing poetry as he was working for the OSS. In his long life, he associated with secret agents and a Nobel Prize-winning author, loved and probed propaganda, taught at many universities, wrote books, and took part in the workings of Ridgefield government.
A native of Syracuse, N.Y., John Norman was born in 1912. He did his undergraduate work at Syracuse University, earned his doctorate at Clark University in Worcester, Mass., and began teaching in colleges. 
Early in his career, Norman became a noted expert on fascism and several of his articles drew the attention of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the predecessor of the Central Intelligence Agency, which recruited him during World War II. 
There he served as a field representative, debriefing refugees from Nazi Germany and others who had fled fascism in Europe before and during the war. Among the people he interviewed were Thomas Mann, the Nobel Prize-winning novelist; Don Luigi Sturzo, the founder of Italy’s Christian Democratic Party; and Lion Feuchtwanger, the German Jewish writer — whose escape from the Nazis was engineered by another Ridgefielder, Varian Fry (q.v.). What information refugees reported to him was turned over to the State Department, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and intelligence officers.
“They were walking encyclopedias on names, dates, places, and politics of their respective countries,”  Norman said about the refugees years afterward.
He later worked as section chief of the Italian Desk of the State Department’s Office of
Intelligence Research, and was a historian on Sino-Soviet affairs for the State Department. He also served with the American delegation to the United Nations Conference in San Francisco in 1945 that led to the founding of the UN.
He subsequently became one of the first professors to create and teach a college course in U.S. intelligence and espionage, and a number of his students went on to work for the CIA.
Over the years,  Norman taught history, political science and government at Syracuse, Carnegie Institute of Technology, Chatham College, Fairfield University, and finally at Pace University in Pleasantville, retiring in 1987. He was included in the Outstanding Educators of America in the 1970s.
A public lecturer and author of many articles including contributions to the Encyclopedia Britannica, American Encyclopedia and to the Funk and Wagnalls Encyclopedia Yearbooks,  Norman wrote two books, “Edward Gibbon Wakefield, A Political Reappraisal” (1963) and “Labor and Politics in Libya and Arab Africa” (1965). 
In 1954, his essays on the rise of fascism in Italy before World War II led to a knighthood from the government of Italy with the Order of Al Merito Della Repubblica. 
He was a voracious reader of publications from around the world, even propaganda. “Propaganda lets you know what that country wants you to believe, and that’s important,” he told Ridgefield Republicans in 1980.
  An expert at interviewing, Norman served as a fact-finder for the Connecticut Board of Mediation and Arbitration for 12 years; Gov. William A. O’Neill commended him in 1984 for his “record of integrity and professionalism.”
He and his wife Mary Lynott met at Chatham College in Pittsburgh, Pa., when he was the chairman of the political science department and she was a student. They were married for more than 50 years. The couple moved to Ridgefield in 1968 where he became active in the Democratic Party,
serving on the Democratic Town Committee many years and working on the campaigns of a number of candidates.
Norman frequently spoke on national and international government and politics before local clubs and organizations, often wrote letters to The Press on local and national political and education issues, and spoke out at town meetings.
 He also wrote many poems that appeared in Arcadia Poetry Anthology, Our World’s Most Treasured Poems, and the National Library of Poetry. “Life Lines,” a collection of his work, came out in 1997 on the occasion of his 85th birthday. 
After his retirement from Pace in 1987, the Normans traveled to many places in the world that had been subjects of his classes, including the sites of Homer’s Odyssey in Greece. (In the 1960s, he had written the script for a movie entitled “Brother Anne,” which was filmed in Greece.) They also traveled to Mexico to pursue a mutual interest in the Mayan and Aztec civilizations. 
He died in 2002 at the age of 89 and is buried in St. Mary’s Cemetery.
John Norman shared many of his often light-hearted poems with the readers of The Ridgefield Press. Here’s one he wrote for a pre-Christmas issue in 1985, called “Gifts for Santa”:
Dear Santa Claus, you always give
And never get. How can we live
In wait each year when we all know
Your gifts are more than we should owe?
It's time we showed appreciation
For all your Christmas recreation.
It’s now our turn to try to guess
Your needs and wants, Oh, more or less.
 
Let’s see if we can get a belt
That fits; or buy a cap that’s felt;
A tie that matches; underwear
To cover what’s so big and bare;
A book about your losing weight;
A watch to keep from being late;
A larger sack to carry more —
Oh no, your back’s already sore!
In short, let’s see your features glow
As we all laugh, ‘Hoho, Hoho!’
From this, do we indeed believe:
’Tis better to give than to receive?

Thursday, October 18, 2018


Col. Philip Burr Bradley: 
A Post-Revolutionary Pillar
The commanding presence of  Philip Burr Bradley frightened a young “Peter Parley” two centuries ago. And while Samuel G. Goodrich was far from the only one who cowered in the presence of the prominent Ridgefield leader,  Colonel Bradley was nonetheless a pillar of the community when the community, state and nation needed pillars.
 Bradley, who had commanded the Fifth Connecticut Regiment during the Revolutionary War, was one of two former military officers who led Ridgefield in the early years of the nation. He was a super-conservative Federalist while his neighbor down the street, General Joshua King, was more democratic in his outlook on people and government (and who is profiled elsewhere on Old Ridgefield).
Both owned a lot of property and both commanded respect, but Bradley was often feared as well as respected while King was more warm and friendly to all.
Philip Burr Bradley was born in 1738 in nearby Fairfield to an old and wealthy Connecticut family. Vice President Aaron Burr was a first cousin, and an another cousin was married to Tapping Reeve, founder in 1784 of the Litchfield Law School, one of the first law schools in the nation.
He graduated from Yale in 1758 and a year later, moved to Ridgefield where he soon gained prominence, acquiring properties throughout town, including farms. 
King George III made him a justice of the peace in 1770, a job rather more important then than now and equivalent to being a county judge. While he considered himself a loyal subject of the king well into the 1770s, clashes both political and military between England and the colonies led to his becoming a leader of the revolutionaries.
John Jay signed his commission as a colonel in the Continental Army. He eventually took command of the Fifth Connecticut Regiment — whose members included many Ridgefielders. He saw action at the Battles of Germantown, Monmouth, and Stony Point and was among the troops who wintered at Valley Forge. He also fought under General Benedict Arnold at the Battle of Ridgefield — virtually in front of his homestead on Main Street.
During the war he frequently corresponded with General George Washington about official business. “Washington and Bradley were reported to have been friends,” Smithsonian historian Silvio Bedini reported. A family tradition maintained that Washington visited Bradley at his Ridgefield home, located in what is now Ballard Park. “Bradley descendants for many generations preserved a chair, a china bowl and a pitcher, which were said to have been used by Washington during his visit,” Bedini said.
Whether or not they were friends has not been proven, but “it’s is a matter of record that Bradley had the highest esteem for his commander-in-chief, and that Washington valued Bradley’s services in the war,” Bedini adds.
An indication of the respect Washington had for Bradley occurred during the war when Bradley fell ill in the Hudson Palisades of eastern Bergen County, New Jersey. His wife, Ruth Smith Bradley, traveled to his bedside and spent six weeks nursing him back to health. When it was time for her to return to Ridgefield, General Washington assigned three men to escort her on the journey home.
After the war President Washington named Bradley Connecticut’s first marshal,  which at that time made him the top federal law enforcement official in the state. President John Adams renewed the appointment during his administration. When he resigned the post in 1801, Bradley wrote President Thomas Jefferson that “the state of my health is such at present as prevents me from paying the necessary attention to the duties of the office.”
On the home front, Bradley held positions of importance. He was elected a selectman three times in 1767 to 1769, and served as a Ridgefield representative to the colonial Legislature from 1769 to 1776, when he entered the military. He resumed service as a state representative for all but one
year from 1780 until 1791, a critical period when the new “State of Connecticut” was being organized, and when its young government was dealing with heavy war debts.
In 1788, he was one of the delegates to sign Connecticut’s ratification of the U.S. Constitution. 
Another  sign of his local importance was shown in 1786 after it was discovered that Lt. Ebenezer Olmstead, who had also served under him in the Connecticut Fifth, had misappropriated a large amount of state tax money he had collected on behalf of the town. Olmstead was arrested and Bradley headed a committee to auction off the Olmstead’s Main Street homestead. However, when earned only 120 pounds, far less than what was owed to the state,  Col. Bradley was dispatched to Hartford to see if Ridgefield’s state tax debt could be forgiven. The state was insistent, however; the war had been costly and it badly needed money. The town wound up going into debt to pay off the missing taxes; Ridgefield was so poor and desperate that, in 1792, it voted to sell its set of “books containing the laws of ye United States.”
At a boy Samuel G. Goodrich — “Peter Parley” in many of the more than 100 books he produced in the 19th Century —  knew Bradley. The Colonel would be seen in the Congregational Church, where Goodrich’s father was minister, and he would sometimes visit the Goodrich home on High Ridge.
“He was the leading citizen of the place, in station, wealth, education, and power of intellect,” Goodrich recalled in 1856.  “He was a tall, gaunt, sallow man, a little bent at the period of my recollection….
“I perfectly recollect his appearance at church, and the impression he made upon me. He was bald, and wore a black silk cap, drawn down close over his eyes. These were like jet, not twinkling, but steady and intense, appearing very awful from the dark caverns in which they were set. I hardly dared to look at him, and if perchance his slow but searching gaze fell upon me, I started as if something had wounded me.”
Bradley’s gambrel-roofed house, probably somewhat similar in appearance to the Hauley House at Main and Branchville Road, stood in what is now Ballard Park.  
“This was of ample dimensions, and had a grave, antique air, the effect of which was enhanced by a row of wide-arching elms, lining the street. It stood on a slight elevation, and somewhat withdrawn from the road; the fence in front was high and close; the doors and windows were always shut, even in summer. 
“I know not why, but this place had a sort of awfulness about it: It seemed to have a spirit and a voice, which whispered to the passer-by, ‘Go thy way: This is the abode of one above and beyond thee!’ ”
While Bradley had a “cold” and “distant” air about him, Goodrich said, “He was, I believe, an honorable man. He was a member of the church; he was steady in his worship, and never missed the sacrament. He was a man of education, and held high offices.”
Bradley was “the most distinguished citizen of the place, and naturally enough imagined that such a position carried with it, not the shadow, but the substance of power. He seldom took an open part in the affairs of the town, but when he did, he felt that his word should be law. He deemed even a nod of his head to be imperative; people were bound to consult his very looks, and scenting his trail, should follow in his footsteps. 
“Like most proud men of despotic temper, he sometimes condescended to bring about his ends by puppets and wire pullers. Affecting to disdain all meddling, he really contrived openly or covertly to govern the church and the town. 
“When parties in politics arose, he was of course a federalist; though ostentatiously standing aloof from, the tarnish of caucuses, he still managed to fill most of the offices by his seen or unseen dictation.”
He was as conservative as they came. “Such a man,” Goodrich said, “could little appreciate the real spirit of democracy, now rising like a spring-tide over Connecticut. Believing in the ‘Good old way,’ he sincerely felt that innovation was synonymous with ruin. Thinking all virtue and all wisdom to be centered in the few, he believed all folly and mischief to be in the many. The passage of power from the former to the latter, he regarded with unaffected horror. The sanctity of the church, the stability of the law, the sacredness of home, life, and property, all seemed to him put at hazard if committed to the rabble, or what to him was equivalent, that dreaded thing—democracy.”
However, Goodrich observed, gradually “the leaven of democracy affected more and more the general mass. Federalism held itself haughtily aloof from the lower classes, while democracy tendered to them the gratifying signals of fraternity. Federalism really and sincerely distrusted the capacity of the people to govern themselves, except through the guidance and authority of the superior classes; democracy believed, or pretended to believe, in the people, and its works were according to its real or seeming faith.”
Though Goodrich’s descriptions seemed to convey a dislike of Bradley, he in fact appreciated
Bradley’s importance in the early years of the nation when strong leadership was needed. “However old-fashioned it may seem,” he said in the 1850s, “I still look back upon those stiff federalists, sitting in their pews like so many judges in Israel — rigid in their principles, hard, but honest, in their opinions — with a certain degree of respect. 
“Perhaps, too, they were not altogether wrong, though the battle has gone against them. If, at the outset of our government, which was launched at the very period when the French Revolution was agitating the world with its turbulent waves, the suffrage had been universal, probably we should have gone to destruction. Federalism, no doubt, locked the wheels of the car of state, and thus stayed and regulated its progress, till the steep was passed, and we were upon the safe and level plain. Theoretically wrong, according to present ideas, federalism was useful and necessary in its day. It is to be regretted that its spirit of patriotism is not imitated by all modern partisans.”
Bradley died in 1821, three years after Connecticut adopted its new Constitution that favored democratic principles over federalism; it extended the right to vote to virtually all white males, not just landowners, disestablished the Congregational Church as the official state church; strengthened the power of the people in running government, and established 21 protected individual rights for all. 
No longer were the “standing order” — the wealthy, male elites like Colonel Bradley — in control of the government.

Friday, October 05, 2018


Stephen Jenks: 
Prolific Psalmodist
Few people today realize it, but Ridgefield has been the home of some of the nation’s leaders in producing sacred music in the 19th Century. They ranged from the prolific hymn writer, Fanny Crosby, and the composer Hubert P. Main, who scored many of Fanny’s hymns, to the publishers Lucius Horatio Biglow and Sylvester Main, who printed hundreds of thousands of books of hymns.  
But the town’s earliest artist in sacred music was Stephen Jenks, a composer who came here in the late 1700s and married a Ridgefield native. During his lifetime Jenks composed the music for more than 200 hymns and songs, and compiled a dozen books of both sacred and secular music. He has been called “among the most prolific psalmodists of his day.”
One of his composition was even named “Ridgefield.”
Stephen Jenks was born in 1772 in Glocester, R.I., and grew up in Ellington, a small town in central Connecticut. As a young man, he was stirred by a love of music and began moving from community to community in Connecticut, teaching psalmody — hymn singing — while composing his own music and collecting the music of others he met. 
By the late 1790s, he was in Ridgefield where he may have taught singing, possibly at one of the three churches in town. Since he had married Hannah Dauchy, he may have been associated with St. Stephen’s —  she was a daughter of Philip and Mary Dauchy and granddaughter of Captain Vivus Dauchy, a French Huguenot who was a pillar of the Episcopal Church here.
Ridgefield records indicate Jenks never owned land in town, nor did Hannah. If he were farming, as some histories have suggested, it was probably on the land of his in-laws.
While in Ridgefield Jenks was very active composing, collecting and publishing music. In
1799, he produced the first of his collections of compositions, “The New-England Harmonist.” It contained “concise and easy rules of music, together with a number of tunes adapted to public worship, most of which were never before published,” according to Jenks himself. 
The book included 21 songs, 17 of which he had composed himself to the words of others. Because a hymn could have several different scores for singing the words, the music was often given a name of its own. Each of Jenks’s compositions is named, and one is called “Ridgefield.”  
      Another tune written in Ridgefield and appearing in his “The New-England Harmonist” was composed on the death of George Washington. “Mount Vernon,” which was probably performed in Ridgefield, uses words attributed to Theodore Dwight, journalist brother of Yale president Timothy Dwight.  “This tune, with this text, is still sung in the Southern U.S., and now, around the world,” reports Warren Steel, retired professor of music at the University of Mississippi and probably the foremost expert on Jenks and his work.
A year after “The New-England Harmonist,” his second collection, “The Musical Harmonist,” offered 35 songs, only 13 of which employed his own music. He went on to publish eight more books of sacred music through 1818.
Not all of Jenks’s work was solemn and churchly. In 1806, he published “The Jovial Songster,” which he described as “containing a variety of patriotic and humorous songs.” In it he put many Old World verses to music.
Despite his appreciation for things “jovial,” Jenks’s life was punctuated with problems. His
new wife, Hannah Jenks, died in August 1800, possibly in childbirth. She was 27 years old and is buried at Titicus Cemetery off North Salem Road in a large section devoted to members of the prominent Dauchy family. Hannah’s gravestone describes her as the daughter of Philip and Mary Dauchy, but does not even mention Stephen. Town hall records of her death, however, identify her as “wife of Stephen Jencks,” who was a “teacher of psalmody.” 
There is no record of their having had any surviving children together.
Only eight months later, Jenks married Rachel Travis, a Westchester County woman. Genealogical and local history records identify Rachel as a daughter of Lt. Jacob Travis, a prominent tavern keeper from nearby Pound Ridge, N.Y., who lost his left arm at the Battle of Ridgefield during the Revolution.
Jenks in 1801 was hired as the teacher of the new Singing School in the village of South Salem, N.Y., bordering Ridgefield and the place where he and Rachel were married that year. Singing schools were popular in New England and especially in the South in the 18th and early 19th Centuries. They almost solely taught religious music, mostly traditional hymns. South Salem’s was popular enough to last at least 20 more years under other teachers.
In 1803, he was living in Pound Ridge, perhaps with the family of his wife. There he published his fourth book of music, “The American Compiler.”
     However, his marriage soon turned sour. At the top of the front page of the “Republican Farmer,” a Danbury newspaper, on May 21, 1806, appeared an advertisement: “Whereas my wife Rachel has behaved herself in a scandalous and unbecoming manner, this is to forbid all persons trusting or harbouring her on my account, as I will pay no debts of her contracting after this date.” It was signed Stephen Jenks.
      What happened to Rachel after this is unknown, but presumably, there was a divorce. Professor Steel notes that Jacob Travis’s will, written in 1804 and proved in 1809, mentions his daughter Rachel, “bequeathing to her or to her heirs 75 dollars, perhaps implying that she had children.” Another author has suggested Jenks had two young children by 1805, and another source indicated he “became so impoverished as not to be able to provide for his two sons and that they ‘passed into the custody of friends, and, at manhood, knew not even the whereabouts of their father,’ ” Professor Steel reports. It is also possible the children stayed with their mother, Rachel.
Just a couple inches below the newspaper announcement about his wife was another, dealing with his latest book, “The Delights of Harmony; or, Norfolk Compiler.”
From Westchester County, Jenks moved around southeastern New York and Connecticut, spending time in New Canaan, New Haven, Hartford, and in the Hudson Valley and producing more collections of his own and others music.
“Jenks was a prolific exponent of the American music idiom developed by Daniel Read and other Connecticut composers during the late 18th Century,” said Professor Steel. “Virtually unknown in the cities of the American seaboard, he flourished in the hinterland of New England and New York, where he taught singing schools and cultivated a network of pupils and fellow teachers, whose compositions he published.”
Around 1810 he married his third wife, Abigail Ross, a native of Stafford in northern Connecticut. She was about 22 years old, he 38. Their marriage was more successful than his previous unions, and together they had two sons and four daughters. 
Jenks periodically fell on hard times. His financial condition had always been tenuous, relying on small-town teaching jobs and the sales of his song books for income. Many of his books involved signing up subscribers who would promise to buy copies. 
However, when the books appeared, not all the subscribers apparently always showed up. In an 1806 advertisement in the Danbury “Republican Farmer,” Jenks and Norwalk merchant Hezekiah
Whitlock announced: “Subscribers for ‘The Delights of Harmony; or, Norfolk Compiler,’ are required to call on Hezekiah Whitlock, or either of the subscribers and received their books. Those who neglect to pay for them by the 1st of June next, may expect cost.” That is, a bill-collector may start dunning them.
By 1818, however, creditors were after Jenks and taking serious legal action. At that point he and his young family were living back Glocester, R.I., the place of his birth. Deputy Sheriff John Guild posted notice in several newspapers that more than 1,000 copies of “music books, published last winter by Stephen Jenks,” had been confiscated and would be sold at  public auction Jan. 4, 1819. 
A month later the State of Rhode Island was publishing notices that “Stephen Jenks, musician, of Glocester,” had petitioned to be allowed the benefit of  “an act for the relief of insolvent debtors.” In other words, he wanted to declare bankruptcy.
One historian says that he “became associated with someone who betrayed his trust and took the proceeds of sale to the extent that Jenks became discouraged, and so abandoned publishing…” Professor Steel suspects Jenks’s printer may have demanded payment for books, money Jenks didn’t have.
Glocester was near Providence, and the area had a sizable Jenks clan — including some named Stephen Jenks (also spelled Jencks), one of whom, a blacksmith, was also going bankrupt around then. Another Stephen Jenks had operated cotton mills and a munitions factory, and had also run into financial problems. The musician Stephen may have returned there because he was low on money and could find support from family members. 
By 1829, however, he apparently decided it was time for a major change. He and the family moved to the Western Reserve, a large tract of land given to Connecticut in the 1600s by King Charles II and settled largely by people from the Nutmeg State. It is now northern Ohio. Jenks and his family set up a farm in Thompson, northeast of Cleveland. 
There, besides farming, Jenks continued to compose and apparently also focused his musical
attention on making drums and tambourines. In the late 1840s he compiled a manuscript of 102 of his compositions — more than 80 of which had been written while living in Thompson. They were never published. In an odd coincidence, this manuscript was acquired after Jenks’s death by Hubert Platt Main, the Ridgefield native and hymn composer of the 19th and early 20th Century, who was also a collector of sacred music. Born in 1839, Main never knew Jenks personally. He eventually gave the manuscript to the Newberry Library in Chicago, which holds it in is vast collection. 
Jenks died in 1856 at the age of 84. Abigail died six years later.
“Stephen Jenks’s sacred tunebooks and his many published compositions establish him as an important figure in American sacred music of the early 19th Century,” Professor Steel said. “His large manuscript tunebook shows that he continued to compose as late as 1850 and that he grappled with the changing styles of nineteenth-century hymnody. His compositions reveal the stylistic growth of a composer, trained in the eighteenth century, who attempted over many years to assimilate new developments.”