Friday, May 31, 2019

William H. Casey: 
Civic Businessman
For half of the 20th Century, Bill Casey was a leader in  the business, civic and social life of  Ridgefield. A soft-spoken man who often wore a smile, Casey founded a company that still bears his name and is still led by his family 70 years later.
Born in Manhattan in 1917,  William Henry Casey grew up on Long Island and graduated from Lehigh University, where he was president of the Class of 1939. The same year he graduated, he married Valerie Dyer, a New York City native who was raised in Montreal, Canada. They were wed at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
Casey worked for several oil companies before deciding to start his own business. In 1947 they moved to Ridgefield, living at first in the Bluebird Apartments on West Lane.
He began a fuel oil business in 1949  (just three years after native sons Frank and Fred Montanari started the town’s other still-thriving family-owned oil business, Montanari Fuel).
Four years later the Casey family moved to an 18th Century Main Street homestead that has
served as their house but also their office for nearly 70 years. Over those years Casey Fuel has expanded with the acquisition of the heating oil businesses of Ridgefield Supply, Outpost Supply and Venus Oil, added a propane service, and rebranded itself as Casey Energy. The company was led by his son, Michael, starting in 1976, and today is in the hands of grandson, Shane.
 In 1961, Bill Casey opened a real estate end of the business and was long active in the realty community, serving in 1967 as president of the Ridgefield Board of Realtors. In the early 1960s,  Casey also owned an Esso gasoline station and paint store on Danbury Road, now the quarters of Marty Motors.
 Casey was always active in the civic and community life of Ridgefield. A longtime member of the Board of Finance, he also served on the Board of Tax Review.  In 1971 he tossed his hat in the ring for the job of first selectman, but then bowed out in favor of Joseph J. McLinden, who won the job.
He was chairman of the Republican Town Committee, and worked on dozens of campaigns over the years. He served as a director of the Community Center and a trustee of Danbury Hospital. 
And he held the distinction of being the longest, continuous, still-resident member of the Ridgefield Lions Club. Casey joined the club on Nov. 1, 1948, and had served as the club president a few years later. All presidents had a special project to accomplish and his in the early 1950s was something that seemed more out of the inner city than suburbs: Building showers on the front lawn of the Community Center for the town’s children. 
“This was before air conditioning and since there was no place to swim then, we put in 10 showers,” he told a 1996 gathering honoring his 50th anniversary with the Lions. “The kids were there on all the hot summer days.” 
Soon after he and other Lions helped Francis D. Martin create Great Pond’s swimming beach — today’s Martin Park.
An avid golfer, Casey was one of the longest-term members of the Silver Spring Country
Club. There, he was a founder of the infamous Poison Ivy League, a group of local golfers that included such prominent businessmen and attorneys as Judge John E. Dowling, Alex Santini, Judge Joseph H. Donnelly, Edward Hyde, and Judge Reed F. Shields.
He was also interested in his family’s Irish roots — both his and Valerie’s ancestors came from Ireland. In 1997, 18 members of the Casey clan — representing four generations —  traveled together to Ireland for a 10-day trip that included visits to many ancestral sites of both the Casey and Dyer families.  
Bill Casey died in 2002 at his home on Main Street at the age of 84. He left behind one of a handful of Ridgefield businesses that have involved multiple generations of a family and that survive and thrive today. Others besides Montanari Fuel include Ridgefield Supply, Ridgefield Hardware, Neumann Real Estate, and Ancona’s Wines and Liquors.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Sgt. Jacob Nash: 
Murdered By Redcoats
Memorial Day is a most fitting time to remember a Ridgefielder whose murder by the British during the Revolutionary War has been largely forgotten.  Sgt. Jacob Nash was killed in 1779 while trying to defend Norwalk, the home of his ancestors and where some of his descendants later settled. He wasn’t just shot, he was stabbed to death — while his hands were tied.
Though at least eight Ridgefield soldiers died during the war, Nash may be the only one confirmed to have been killed in a battle.
As is the case with so many colonial residents, relatively little is known about Jacob Nash. He was born here in 1751, a son of Abraham and Rhoda Keeler Nash, farmers who had come from Norwalk with the early settlers. He grew up in town, married Freelove Keeler of Ridgefield in 1771 and a year later, they had a son, Jacob Jr. Freelove (the name projected the idea of freely giving the virtue of love) died in 1775, possibly in childbirth.  About two years later, Jacob married Phebe Kellogg of Norwalk.
Some sources say Jacob and his family moved with other members of the Nash clan to Ballston, N.Y., but returned to this area around the beginning of the Revolution because they feared attacks by American Indians allied with the British.
After the war broke out, Jacob joined the Continental Army. By January 1776 he was a corporal.
In July 1779, he was on furlough, visiting his family in Ridgefield, when news arrived that Major General William Tryon and about 2,600 British troops were attacking and burning coastal towns, including Norwalk. Nash joined a company of local militia, led by Capt. David Olmsted, and headed for Norwalk. There on July 11, he was fighting the invaders during the “Battle of the Rocks,” the largest of several engagements collectively called the Battle of Norwalk, when he was captured and executed by the enemy.
General Samuel H. Parsons, who commanded Continental forces during the Battle of Norwalk, told General George Washington that Nash “was found dead with his Hands bound together & pierced with Bayonets, no Shot having ever entered any Part of his Body.” Another account says his body had seven stab wounds.
Jacob Nash was 28 years old.
It is unclear why the British would have killed a captive that way, but a number of deaths by bayonetting were reported during the war. Lambert Latham, a 13-year-old black soldier fighting at Battle of Groton in 1781, died after being stabbed 33 times by British troops. 
Tryon’s attack was devastating — General Washington described Norwalk as “destroyed.” The British burned 80 houses, two churches, 87 barns, 17 shops, and four mills. Oddly enough, casualties were few; some accounts say Nash was the only American killed in the battle. Another report said he and one other died. 
British casualties, however, were higher and, in a touch of irony 50 years after the war ended, Daniel Kellogg Nash, a grandson of Jacob Nash, was digging on his farm in the Flax Hill section of Norwalk when he uncovered the skeletons of three British soldiers. They had been killed in the same battle in which his grandfather had fought and died.
Jacob Nash’s death in the Revolution might have been almost completely forgotten, were it not for Norwalk historians Ed and Madeleine Eckert, who uncovered and researched his story about 25 years ago. And in 2005, the Drum Hill Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) placed a special marker at the Titicus Cemetery grave of Jacob Nash, the only Revolutionary veteran’s grave in Ridgefield so honored.
Of the hundreds of Ridgefielders who served in the Revolution, Nash appears to be the only one known to have been killed in combat. Two others died in British-held prisons, one froze to death at Valley Forge, another succumbed to an illness, and four died of unstated causes during their service.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Alice Rockwell Lynch: 
The Life of A White House Party
Alice Lynch was about as steeped in Ridgefield as one could be. Her ancestors founded the town, many of their descendants became its leaders through more than two centuries, and her father wrote the huge “History of Ridgefield.” Yet while she may have been “old Ridgefield,” Alice Lynch was no “old fogey.”
Texas Governor John Connally could have told you that. So could have Pat Nixon, the president’s wife.
Alice Patricia Rockwell Lynch was born here on April 24, 1918, a daughter of George L. and Ann Ryan Rockwell. Her father was a diplomat, a longtime Ridgefield postmaster, a town official,  and the author of “History of Ridgefield,”  the 583-page compilation of his many years of research into the town and its people, published in 1927. 
Her mother was a sister of the father of Patricia Nixon, wife of President Richard M. Nixon.
Alice Rockwell grew up on East Ridge in the family homestead. There, Pat Ryan used to visit as a teenager. 
“Pat got a job with the Sisters of Charity Veterans Hospital in New York and spent weekends and vacations here in Ridgefield for two or three years,” Mrs. Lynch recalled in a 1968 interview. Her cousin loved to walk, especially in the rain, and one of her favorite places was Great Swamp, Lynch said.
Decades later, when she was the First Lady, Pat Nixon invited Mrs. Lynch to the White House to attend a party featuring Johnny Cash, the country singer. 
Lynch, whose typical attire was a flannel shirt and jeans, happened to mention to her garbage man that she had nothing to wear to such an elegant gathering.
 The trash collector replied that his wife had just picked up a gold lamé dress at a tag sale.
 The dress fit, Mrs. Lynch wore it to the White House, and she had no qualms about letting people, like Governor Connally, next to whom she sat, know that her gown was provided by her trash collector. Word reached a reporter, and a light-hearted story mentioning the first lady’s cousin’s wearing a dress from her garbage man hit the wire services, appearing in newspapers around the world.
But it wasn’t just the dress that the guests noticed. According to a Washington Post writer in April 1970, she gave Johnny Cash competition at the concert. “She was almost as much fun to watch as the entertainment,”  Post columnist Maxine Cheshire said 
“Senator John L. McClellan of Arkansas was so amused at her excitement that he turned sideways in his seat so that he wouldn’t miss any of her antics. She applauded, cheered, conducted and jumped up out of her chair ecstatically every time Cash broke into one of her favorites,” Cheshire wrote. “Everyone assumed that she must be one of Cash’s relatives or in-laws. Instead she was Pat Nixon’s cousin, Alice Lynch, of Ridgefield, Conn.”
The columnist continued, “Reporters who followed her as she hoisted her long skirt and did a kind of sailor’s hornpipe through the state rooms were completely enchanted with her down-to-earth good spirits.” 
“She works, she added cheerfully, as ‘a maid in a dog kennel,’” Cheshire said.
“We got clippings from Thailand, Japan and Australia,” recalled Dr. Alice P. Carolan, Mrs. Lynch’s daughter. “It never bothered her, things like that.” 
Alice Lynch graduated from Ridgefield High School in 1935 and went to work as the executive secretary for the editor of Field and Stream magazine. “It was perfect for her, with her love of the outdoors and animals,” said Dr. Carolan.
She remained at Field and Stream until 1942 when she married Richard J. Lynch Jr., a fellow Ridgefielder, who was about to go off to the war. Mr. Lynch, who died in 1971, had later worked at Kellogg and Theiss, the auto dealership, and at Bedient’s Hardware.
Mrs. Lynch had a lifelong interest in antiques and had operated Alice Lynch Antiques for 40 years before retiring in 1988. She sold at shows throughout the Northeast, specializing in early American primitives, Shaker furniture, and decoys.
In Ridgefield, Mrs. Lynch was well known for her work on behalf of animals. She was one of the most active and vociferous proponents of a new and modern dog pound and spent countless hours
as a volunteer at the shelter, walking impounded dogs and taking care of the building — hence, “a maid in a dog kennel.” 
She was also involved in many fundraisers to support the shelter.
Mrs. Lynch also worked for people in need, and for a long time was active in St. Mary’s Parish drives to collect clothing for the poor in Appalachia.
For many years she lived on St. Johns Road. Around 1983 she sold her home and moved to Bethlehem to be closer to family members.
 She died in 2001 at the age of 82.
“She knew everyone in town and was very friendly,” said her daughter. “She was always volunteering to help others.”
That volunteering began at a very early age. One day in 1923,  oil millionaire and family friend Frank I. Beers lined up the five Rockwell children — including Alice — in their East Ridge home and asked, “Which one of you thinks enough of me to do me the favor of putting flowers on my mother’s grave on Memorial Day?”  A Ridgefield native who then lived in California and Pennsylvania, Beers made his fortune oil wildcatting.
The four sisters and one brother looked at him in silence until, a few moments later, five-year-old Alice  — whom Beers called “Electricity” because she was so lively and eager — said, “I do.”
Beers looked at Alice and said, “You’re a good girl, Electricity. I won’t forget you.”
Almost every year for the rest of her life, Electricity put flowers on Frank Beers’ mother’s grave in Ridgefield Cemetery. After Beers died in 1942, his grave was also decorated.
And, indeed, Beers did not forget Electricity. At his bequest in 1942, Alice Lynch received, for the rest of her life, half the annual income from a trust fund today worth more than a quarter million dollars.

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