Ridgefield Place Names beginning with M
Entire contents copyrighted 2005 by Jack Sanders. Reproduction without permission is forbidden.
Madeline Drive, off Bennett’s Farm Road, is one of the more modern roads to be developed at the Ridgefield Lakes.
The road was one of a couple created in 1958 when Ridgefield Lakes Inc., headed by William L. Winthrop, subdivided 20 acres just north of Fox Hill Lake.
Madeline was the wife of John Tuite, a surveyor with Henrici Inc., which worked on the subdivision.
No road in Ridgefield is better known than Main Street. And that is as it should be, for it is the “main street” from which all important roads in the 18th and 19th Centuries emanated and which all modern state highways in town still join today.
Probably the oldest road in town built by the white man, Main Street was created around 1709, shortly after the lots on each side of it were laid out by the Proprietors and distributed to the first settlers in a lottery. The road stretched along the middle of three north-south ridges in what was then the geographical center of the land purchased from the Indians.
The road was not formally laid out until Dec. 26, 1721, when the town fathers defined it as “eight rodds weadth” (132 feet wide) from just south of Casagmo to around the Village Green at the head of Branchville Road. The road, however, extended south to the intersection of Wilton Roads East and West from the earliest times.
The Town Street
Through the years the road has had several names. The earliest was “the Town Street,” a name that was in use by at least 1712 and lasted well into the 19th Century. Often in the 19th Century, it was called Ridgefield Street (a term Teller uses in his 1878 history of the town). Around the turn of the century, it was commonly called the Village Street. It has also been called Kings Highway (q.v.)
Main Street as a term began to be used shortly after the turn of the 19th Century. It was certainly in use by 1818 when a couple of deeds refer to “Main Street” or, more commonly then, “the Main Street.”
S. G. Goodrich in 1855 calls it “the Main Street,” but by then, many references had dropped the “the,” as the word “main” rather than the meaning behind “main” dominated the name. Main Street had grown to become a name, rather than a description.
Over the centuries, little has changed in the path of Main Street. It used to split in two around the Village Green, but the road was cut through the green sometime after 1888 when the Congregational Church was removed, and before 1900. The north end of the road used to bypass Foote’s Hill and turn eastward into today’s Casagmo, then bear north and come out somewhere near Joe’s Corner.
The Main Street, which was paved in 1926, served all the important buildings of the community. The two oldest buildings in town – the Hauley House (1713) and the Indian Trading Post (ca. 1710) – still stand along the road. Until 1965, all but two of the town’s churches were on Main Street (the exceptions are St. Mary’s Church, which has always been on Catoonah Street, a short distance west of Main Street, and Ridgebury Congregational Church, which is on the “main street” of the old village of Ridgebury). Most of the community’s stores were along Main Street, except for a few neighborhood enterprises at such places as Limestone, Ridgebury, Scott’s Ridge, and Titicus. Factories, so dreaded today, and even a mill or two, were part of the face of Main Street in the 19th Century, particularly the first half.
The earliest commercial center on the street and in Ridgefield was probably situated around the intersection of West Lane. Here, there were stores, small factories, shops, and, of course, the Keeler Tavern, a community center of sorts that included for many years the post office and main stage stop. Gradually, for reasons unknown – except perhaps to be closer to the population center of the town – the commercial district moved north to its present location, leaving the southern two-thirds of the road to residences and churches.
Today the southern portion is the most attractive section of Main Street, cited so often by newcomers and visitors as one of the features of the town they like most. It is so valued by townspeople that it was placed in a historic district in 1965 and in the late 1970’s, on the National Register of Historic Places.
This section of Main Street also moved the admiration of Mr. Goodrich, the native son and author of the many 19th Century Peter Parley books. In 1855, on his return to town after a long absence, he wrote the following in a letter to his brother, Charles:
“At last we came into the main street. This is the same – yet not the same. All the distances seemed less than as I had marked them in my memory (as a child growing up on High Ridge a half century earlier). From the meeting-house to ‘Squire Keeler’s – which I thought to be a quarter of a mile – it is but thirty rods. At the same time the undulations seemed more frequent and abrupt. The old houses are mostly gone, and more sumptuous ones are in their place. A certain neatness and elegance have succeeded to the plain and primitive characteristics of other days.
“The street, on the whole, is one of the most beautiful I know of. It is more than a mile in length and a hundred and twenty feet in width, ornamented with two continuous lines of trees – elms, sycamores, and sugar-maples – save only here and there a brief interval. Some of these, in front of the more imposing houses, are truly majestic.
“The entire street is carpeted with a green sod, soft as velvet to the feet. The high-road runs in the middle, with a footwalk on either side. These passages are not paved, but are covered with gravel, and so neatly cut that they appear like pleasure-grounds. All is so bright and so tasteful that you might expect to see some imperative sign-board, warning you, on peril of the law, not to tread upon the grass. Yet, as I learned, all this embellishment flows spontaneously from the choice of the people, and not from police regulations.
“The general aspect of the street, however, let me observe, is not sumptuous, like Hartford and New Haven, or even Fairfield. There is still a certain quaintness and primness about the place. Here and there you see old respectable houses, showing the dim vestiges of ancient paint, while the contiguous gardens, groaning with rich fruits and vegetables, and the stately rows of elms in front, declare it to be taste, and not necessity, that thus cherishes the reverend hue of unsophisticated clapboards, and the venerable rust with which times baptizes unprotected shingles.
“There is a stillness about the town which lends favor to this characteristic of studied rusticity. There is no fast driving, no shouting, no railroad whistle – for you must remember that the station of the Danbury and Norwalk line is three miles off. Few people are to be seen in the streets, and those who do appear move with an air of leisure and tranquility. It would seem dull and almost melancholy, were it not that all around is so thrifty, so tidy, so really comfortable. Houses – white and brown – with green window-blinds, and embowered in lilacs and fruit-trees, and seen beneath the arches of wide-spreading American elms – the finest of the whole elm family – can never be otherwise than cheerful.”
Daniel W. Teller, Congregational minister and first historian of the town, wrote in 1878 that “Ridgefield Street, the only part of the town which makes any pretensions of being a village, is situated on the exact spot where, eightscore and 10 years ago, the first settlers located. Embowered in trees of a century’s growth, with walks and lawns well-kept, the first impression of every stranger is its home-like appearance.
“A quiet like that of the Sabbath rests upon it, and an atmosphere wholesome and moral everywhere pervades it. It is in every respect a fine specimen of an old New England town, where culture and refinement have long enough existed to stamp themselves upon the very faces as well as the hearts and homes of the people.”
No Fairer Scene
Thirty years later Mary Everest Rockwell wrote in a magazine article on the town’s 200th anniversary that “there is no fairer scene in fair Connecticut than Ridgefield’s Main Street, a mile or so of fine houses and velvety lawns, shaded by giant elms and maples. Cool, restful shadows, songs of birds, glimpses of sunny fields attract and charm the visitor, beguiling him into a fancy that this is some lovely old-world park rather than a thoroughfare of a New England village.”
In 1927, George L. Rockwell, another historian of the town, wrote, with a tendency toward exaggeration, that “the Main Street of Ridgefield is well-known throughout the nation. Our forefathers wisely laid out our street a generous width. Nature, aided by the art of man, has made this village street famous, with the arching trees and shaded lawns, its colonial dwellings and refined homes of modern times.”
Last, but not least, there’s the booklet published in 1935 by the Lions Club and The Press to sing the praises of Ridgefield to tourists and prospective homeowners during the Depression. It outstripped even Rockwell in heaping praise. Of Main Street, the anonymous author was entirely unrestrained:
“Main Street, prosaically named as it is, doubtless is the most beautiful public highway to be found anywhere in the United States. Wide and straight, lined with centuries old elms, with ample sidewalks on either side, set well back and with lovely grassy plots between, Main Street is always a joy to behold.”
Such was – and is – Ridgefield’s first and evidently most famous street.
MALLORY HILL ROAD
Mallory Hill Road, in the extreme southeast corner of town, runs in a loop from Wilridge Road to White Birches Road. It is part of the work of one of Ridgefield’s earliest large-scale subdividers, Joseph Leo Dioguardi.
Mr. Dioguardi began developing the neighborhood as early as 1914, creating small lots mostly of a quarter acre that people of modest means could buy for $10 down and an equally modest payment per month. He built some of the houses himself.
A native of Cowara, Italy, Mr. Dioguardi was born around 1890, son of Angelo and Annanthony Benignio Dioguardi, and started out here as a farmer.
Mallory Hill Road wasn’t built until the late 1940’s and was so called at least from 1949. The road was named for the Mallory family which had lived in those parts at least since the year 1800 when Nathan Mallory was reported in the Ridgefield land records as having property on the Ridgefield-Wilton line in this neighborhood.
At least one map (Hearne Brothers, ca. 1965) labels Shadow Lake as “Mallory Pond.” This small body of water is situated south of the eastern end of Shadow Lake Road.
For many years in the first half of the century, the pond was owned by Harry B. Mallory, who stocked it with game fish. Mallory’s manor house, on the north side of Shadow Lake Road, is now owned by Boehringer Ingelheim Ltd., which has used it to accommodate visiting executives.
Mr. Mallory, a member of the family that operated the Mallory Hat Company in Danbury and a founder of the Danbury Savings and Loan Association, was very much afraid of fire, and built his house to be virtually fireproof. Besides having stone walls and a slate roof, the building was equipped with sliding steel doors that automatically closed when unusually high heat was detected, thus confining a fire to one room.
Some reports indicate Mr. Mallory created the pond. It did not exist in 1909.
Mamanasco is a uniquely Ridgefield name that applies to a lake, a hill, a ridge, a mountain, and a road, and which for more than two and a half centuries has twisted the tongues of Ridgefielders who try to pronounce it. Even today, there are natives of the town who say, “Manamasco.”
There is disagreement over what this Indian word, sometimes modified in its form, means. Tradition and historians have held that it means “grassy pond,” certainly a possibility if one considers that Mamanasco Lake was probably a dying pond when the settlers arrived as will be discussed under “Mamanasco Lake.”
However, the source of this meaning may have been an erroneous interpretation of the phrasing of the deed in which the settlers bought their first piece of land from the Indians. In defining the bounds of the purchase, the deed says the line “extends to a place called Mamanasquag, where is a oak tree marked on ye north side of the outlet of water that comes out from a sort of grassy pond, which is known and called by said name…”
Note that the deed does not state flatly that Mamanasquag is the lake, but says only that it is a “place.” Quite possibly, it was the name for the whole area. “Quag” or “quog” or “ock” sounds at the end of our Indians’ words were locative, and essentially meant “place.”
Mamanasco is a name that John C. Huden, an expert on the languages of New England Indians, translates as “united outlets,” or “two sharing the same outlet.” In other words, there may have been two ponds (one grassy) where there is one today. Remember that the Bennett’s Ponds north of Bennett’s Farm Road were once one body of water, and that lakes Rippowam, Oreneca, and Oscaleta in Lewisboro were once one “Long Pond.” Often, old glacially formed lakes that are dying break up into more than one body of water as they become shallower.
Huden, incidentally, didn’t have the advantage of seeing the full, early version of the word. But the addition of the concept of “place” (from -quag or -quog) does not really seriously alter the meaning.
In fact, Mamanasco has at least 12 versions of spellings in the Ridgefield land records. Among the variations are:
Tough to say and to spell!
Mamanasco Hill is a very old name for the ridge to the northeast of Mamanasco Lake, a ridge that includes North Salem Road, upper Pond Road, Circle Drive, Hobby Drive, and Colonial Lane.
The name appears as early as 1717 when the town’s first official miller, Daniel Sherwood, received by deed from the Proprietors an acre of meadow “lying on ye west side of Titicus River, east of Mamanasco Hill.” The locality is further pinpointed in a 1722 deed in which Jonathan Abbott sold Alexander Resseguie an acre of meadow “lying near ye north end of Mamanasco Hill where ye Mill Brook runs into Titicus River.” (The Mill Brook is the outlet to Mamanasco Lake and meets the Titicus between Sherwood and Ridgebury Roads, a little west of Ledges Road.)
As a term, Mamanasco Hill was short-lived, disappearing from the land records by the 1720’s. Later, the name Mamanasco Ridge appeared briefly, but both terms were eventually replaced with Scott’s Ridge in the 1830’s.
MAMANASCO LAKE, POND
Mamanasco Lake, the town’s largest body of water, has long been an important Ridgefield resource, created by nature, enlarged by the pioneers, and now fighting off slowly succumbing to both natural and man-induced hazards.
The lake was probably more vital to residents before the 20th Century than it is today when it is largely decorative and recreational. To the Indians, who camped along the shore at its southern end, the lake provided food, shelter, and clothing in the fish it contained, the game it drew to its shores, and the waterfowl that landed on its surface. Many arrowheads and spearheads found along the shoreline have attested to the Indians’ interest in hunting in this area.
Mamanasco Lake was undoubtedly a good deal different in appearance around 1708 when the settlers first set eyes on it. If we are to accept the traditional meaning of “mamanasco,” it was in part at least a “grassy pond.” If we favor John Huden’s translation, “two sharing the same outlet,” we have an image of two separate ponds flowing into one stream and perhaps surrounded by swamp.
Either description is quite possible. For the Titicus River Valley was probably once the bottom of a long glacial lake that slowly died as the ice, its chief source of water, disappeared. Mamanasco Lake could be a small vestige of that lake and was probably getting smaller all the time. Hence, it was “grassy” or shallow, or was so shallow that it had separated into two smaller ponds.
Rockwell says that Mamanasco was created by beavers damming up the outlet. That, too, is a possible origin, although he must have relied on the tradition of many generations to come up with that story; there is nothing in the town records to suggest that Mamanasco was a beaver pond – and beavers were mentioned in connection with other bodies of water.
The settlers quickly saw in the Mamanasco basin an excellent place for a larger lake to store plenty of water for a grist mill, a necessary industry to supply the settlers with flour. So on Nov. 20, 1716, the Proprietors voted “yt (that) ye pond known and commonly called by ye name of Mamanasquogg Pond, with ye outlet thereof, shall be sequestered for ye use of such miller or millers successively as shall be agreed by ye said town, and Proprietors, so long as they shall make, maintain and keep in good rigg, a good sufficient grist mill there for ye use and benefit of ye town and Proprietors of Ridgefield…”
And on Jan. 26, 1717, the proprietors turned over the milling rights to Daniel Sherwood, who presumably built the first grist mill at the outlet shortly thereafter. Whether the town was dissatisfied with Sherwood, or he with the town, is unknown; but the first miller did not last long. By 1721, Samuel Saintjohn operated the place, then Nathan Whitney, then Joseph Keeler, Seaborn Burt, and a whole raft of people until the late 19th Century.
It is interesting to note that in 1779, the Proprietors, for a reason they did not clearly explain in the record, took the title to the mill away from the heirs of Seaborn Burt and sold it for 3,130 pounds to Benjamin Chapman of Salem (probably today’s North Salem). The Mamanasco Burts were noted Tories, and some headed off to British-held territory, such as Canada, during the Revolution. Some of these “deserting” loyalists had their land confiscated by the town and that’s probably what happened here (see Burt’s Pond).
In giving Chapman the title, the Proprietors used exactly the same words to demand that he keep the place in “good rig and order,” etc. They also set the exact same miller’s tolls that had been in effect in 1717: no more than two quarts out of each bushel of wheat or rye, three quarts out of each bushel of corn, and one quart out of each bushel of malt. Inflation seemed unheard of then.
In 1797, the Proprietors, a dying breed who held very little land by then, sold their last interest in the mill and pond for $50. By then whoever owned the mill owned the entire lake.
During the 18th and 19th Centuries, the pond was very often called Mamanasco Mill Pond, a term that indicates how the townspeople thought of it. It had several other names, too: Reed’s Mill Pond and Burt’s Mill Pond, both for men who operated the mill, and Birch Pond, from a mispronunciation of Burt’s Pond. Note that it was always called a “pond”; not until the 20th Century, when people evidently wanted to make more of it than the word “pond” suggested, was it called Mamanasco Lake. The term Burt’s Pond or the bastardized Birch survived until very late in this century among oldtimers.
The Mamanasco Mill, as it was called, remained operating in various forms almost until the 20th Century. The remains that can still be seen near the old outlet at the end of Pond Road have no connection with Sherwood’s original mill, which was probably torn down. One mill on the site burned down, and the one whose remains still exist was probably a mid-19th Century paper mill. Sometime, probably in the 20th Century, the outlet of the pond was moved from the site at the end of Pond Road to a spot a little northeasterly toward Craigmoor Road.
Like the Indians, early Ridgefielders apparently made considerable use of the lake for fishing. In fact, it seems they made too much use of it. Evidently in an effort to conserve the fish population, the Annual Town Meeting in 1844 voted “that no person shall be permitted to take fish from Mamanasco Pond for the period from one year from this date under penalty of four dollars for each offense, one half payable into the town treasury and the other half to the person who shall prosecute (read: “squeal on”) the same to effect.”
Today, Mamanasco Lake is pretty to look at and popular for boating, fishing, swimming and ice skating. One of two state-owned boat launches in town is here. But because of a wise ordinance that forbids the use of gasoline motorboats, power-crazed boat-owners avoid the place, leaving it safe for the boaters who favor wind, oar or paddle power over ear- and water-polluting motorboats.
The Eight Lakes Community Association and other neighborhood groups have private beaches along Mamanasco Lake, but the town, despite owning the beautiful Richardson Park a long piece of shoreline, has never seriously considered creating a public beach. It is said that the water is too shallow and weedy in the park’s most likely spots for a beach, although it is much deeper near the steep rocks, from which some more daring and foolhardy of our residents still jump.
Mamanasco also has its problems. With so much development along and above its western shore, pollutants from septic systems drain into the lake. These substances are chiefly nutrients that encourage the growth of plant life.
Aside from being unattractive to view and to swim through, the plant life can lead to the slow death of a lake. As the plants die each year, they sink, decay, gradually build up the bottom, and at the same time add to the nutrient content of the water, accelerating the growth of more plants and further raising the bottom. Over the years residents of the lake neighborhood through the Mamanasco Lake Improvement Fund have been fighting the plants with both chemicals and a weed-harvester, a boat that pulls up the weeds so they can be dumped on shore. They may succeed in putting off the lake’s death – just as the pioneers slowed the dying process by damming up the outlet and making the lake deeper. But it’s an expensive battle.
Even the dam has been a source of contention for some. Attorney Herbert V. Camp, a former state representative from Ridgefield, is the current owner of the dam. He maintains that the spillway at the dam is at the proper level. At least one homeowner across the lake disagreed, and unsuccessfully argued for years, sometimes in court, that the lake was too high and that it flooded his septic system.
An odd phenomenon that used to occur at Mamanasco until the 1920’s or so was the rising and sinking of small grass islands. One of these remains toward the south end of the lake, but it no longer sinks. The islands would surface in the spring, float around in the summer, and sink in the fall, apparently supported by gas build-ups from decaying matter underneath them.
The existing grassy island is a popular nesting spot for many birds of different species. Since there is no high and dry land that man or sizable beast could set foot on, they feel relatively secure. Another nearby island, consisting largely of rock, is a popular spot for visiting boaters.
Earlier in this century, the Peatt family operated a small resort on the northwestern shore of Mamanasco. The resort consisted of cabins, a beach, and a main lodge, where food was served and supplies could be purchased or boats rented. The restaurant and beach remained in operation until the early 1980’s, and the cabins are now long-term rentals or have been sold.
MAMANASCO LAKE PARK
Mamanasco Lake Park is the name of the 1957 subdivision on the southern end of the lake that includes Lisa Lane and Christopher Road. It was developed by James B. Franks (1922-1995).
In 1809, the Proprietors surveyed and laid out to David Scott nine acres “lying on Mammenasco Mountain, northerly from sd. Scott’s grist mill.”
Scott’s mill at this time was either the Mamanasco Mill or one eastward of it – he had interests in two mills. The “mountain” was probably the hill, about 650 feet above sea level, at Richardson Park, west of Ridgefield High School and at the northwestern end of the lake.
The term appears only this time in the land records.
When Jonah Foster sold Thomas Hyatt 36 poles of land in 1797, he described it as “east from Mamanasco Ridge.” This is probably the same locality as Mamanasco Hill, later Scott’s Ridge (q.v. both), the ridge crossed by North Salem Road in the lower Mamanasco Lake area.
An old road, Mamanasco Road existed before 1856 when it appears on the first detailed map of the town. Until early in this century, it was little more than a dirt path around the lake, providing access to its shores for fishing.
Development came to the road more than a half-century ago when William Peatt Sr. built his resort, consisting mostly of summer camps. The beach and recreation area were functioning until the early 1980’s. At around the same time Peatt arrived, the Helmuth Cottages were built there, also to serve as summer camps.
Later, in the early 1950’s, more land along the road was developed in connection with the huge Eight Lakes subdivision. Like the Ridgefield Lakes, this area was zoned “R-4” back in 1946, when zoning was adopted, allowing summer cottages to be built on 2,500 square foot lots. That’s 25 by 100 feet, or about one-20th of an acre.
According to the old zoning regulations, only summer camps could be built on lots that small; year-round houses erected in R-4 zones had to comply with the R-3 zone lot size – at least 7,500 square feet. However, many of the cottages were converted to year-round dwellings over the years, even though the lots were too small to properly support year-round septic systems, one reason why Mamanasco Lake has suffered from too many nutrients that encourage growth of vegetation that chokes the lake.
Farrar Lane, which runs between North Salem Road and Tackora Trail, was once considered the southern end of Mamanasco Road.
Lake Mamanassee is a peculiar variation of Mamanasco that appears on some official State of Connecticut highway maps, including those aimed at tourists. The spelling comes from a cartographer’s misreading or misunderstanding of the actual name, and perhaps confusion with the Dutch “zee,” for sea.
Some commercial mapmakers, such as Champion, have also copied the mistake.
Manor Road, which runs from West Lane to Lewis Drive, is the main road through the Ridgefield Manor Estates.
This was also the main driveway leading to Upagansitt, the mansion or “manor house” of F. E. Lewis, who had the drive built so well that it includes still-extant yellow brick gutters. (Mr. Lewis and his estate are discussed in more detail under Ridgefield Manor Estates.)
Created early in the century and developed for housing in the late 1950’s, Manor Road became a town highway in 1969.
According to Karl S. Nash (1908-1992), who grew up in Ridgefield in the early part of the 20th Century, the northern end of High Ridge Road (or Avenue) was called Maple Avenue in the early 1900’s.
The selectmen changed the name to do away with confusion over the use of two names for what amounts to the same road.
The road, like others that follow here, was named for the most common of our native trees.
Maple Grove, a picnicking spot in the early part of the 20th Century, was situated on the original Norran’s Ridge Road, a now-abandoned highway which ran from behind the Fox Hill Village condominiums eastward to Limekiln Road.
Mrs. Laura Whitehead of Nod Road, a resident for a half century, fondly recalled in the late 1970’s Sunday picnics there amid the maples. The property was part of the Outpost Nurseries holdings.
Mapleshade Road, whose bordering lands are home more to the dead than the living, runs from North Street to North Salem Road, along the north side of the Ridgefield Cemetery.
It is an old road, predating 1856, and was created either to provide convenient access to the plots at the rear – and oldest – part of the cemetery, or to provide a more convenient connection between lower North Salem Road and North Street, both ancient highways.
The name of the road probably came from the name of a section of the graveyard. Mapleshade Cemetery is the portion that is bordered by the intersection of North Street and Mapleshade Road, and was so called by at least 1889. It is a typical cemetery name.
Maplewood Road today is but a shadow of its former self.
Until Aug. 9, 1973, Maplewood was the name applied to what is now eastern Bennett’s Farm Road from Route 7 to near Great Hill Road. On that date, the selectmen, acting on a citizens’ petition, changed the name from Maplewood to Bennett’s Farm. The petitioners maintained that it was historically more accurate to apply the name, Bennett’s Farm Road, which already existed for another highway, to this road as well. That, however, is not the case.
The original 18th Century Bennett’s Farm Road in this area was what we now call Great Hill Road – it was the road from town to the Bennett’s Farm section (generally, the Ridgefield Lakes today). In Ridgefield, Maplewood Road was never considered the road to Bennett’s Farm, or Bennett’s Farm Road; in the Starrs Plain section of Danbury, however, it might have been considered that.
Actually, the east end of this road is fairly new, having been formally laid out in 1854, more than a century after people were calling the area Bennett’s Farm. In that year, Hanford Selleck deeded to the town land for a road “commencing at the west end of the barn that formerly belonged to Eli Griffin, northeasterly course to the Danbury line 60 rods long, two wide.” This section runs from the vicinity of the old Fox Hill Inn down the hill to Route 7 (then called the Danbury and Ridgefield Turnpike). It replaced Jagger Lane, a steep and difficult 18th Century road that ran southeasterly from the old Fox Hill Inn site (now owned by IBM) to Route 7, emerging just south of the Ridgefield Veterinary Hospital.
Danbury, which owns a short section of what we call Bennett’s Farm Road – from Route 7 westerly about 500 feet – continued to call it Maplewood Road for many years, despite Ridgefield’s having changed the name. There was talk of Danbury’s changing to Bennett’s Farm Road, but new maps are still coming out, showing it as Mapleshade.
Today, Maplewood Road is a name applied in Ridgefield only to the short path that runs southwesterly between Bennett’s Farm Road and Great Hill Road. This was the old western end of what had been called Maplewood Road.
Changing the name was probably for the better: it avoided confusion with Mapleshade Road.
Where Maplewood came from is unclear. Rockwell suggests that it originated from the name of Sturges Selleck’s 19th Century farm, later Col. Louis D. Conley’s Outpost Farm and later still, the Fox Hill Inn. Probably the main farm house is now the Burton place, one of the few remaining parcels in the area not owned by IBM.
However, the name may have had a more modern origin. The late Harold Iles of Redding, who lived at Outpost Farm from 1923 to 1928, recalled that the old Maplewood Inn stood on Route 7 at the foot of Maplewood Road – on the present site of a group of shops and a restaurant. Outbuildings still there were part of the inn, whose large main building burned some years ago. The inn may have taken its name from Selleck’s farm.
Back in the 1920’s Mr. Iles said, Holstein cows were a new breed hereabouts and Ira Vail, who had a large cattle breeding farm at Peach Lake, North Salem, used to drive his Holsteins across Ridgebury to the Maplewood Inn, where they would be sold or distributed to farms in this area.
One of the most frequently misspelled road names in town, Marcardon Avenue, for some reason, more often appears as Marcadon than in its correct version.
The name is a combination of the first three letters of the surnames of the three men who subdivided it: the late Francis D. Martin, jeweler and banker; the late Arthur J. Carnall, insurance man and realtor; and Joseph H. Donnelly, attorney, developer and former probate judge.
The three filed the subdivision in 1939. It consisted of 35 lots on Marcardon Avenue, Media Lane (now Soundview Road), Wilton Road East, and Creamery Lane.
Yet, despite the fact that the name has been around for 50 years, even the town’s street signs spell it incorrectly as Marcadon, cheating the late Mr. Carnall out of “equal status”!
Marie Lane, a short road at the Ridgefield Lakes, was named for Marie Tuite, daughter of John Tuite, a surveyor of the 1958 subdivision by Ridgefield Lakes Inc. Nearby is Madeline Drive, named for the surveyor’s wife.
In big cities, the name of Market Street (Avenue, Place, etc.) usually denoted the place where the open-air food businesses sold their wares. In Ridgefield, Market Street’s name had an origin that is more modest: a single small food store that specialized in meat.
Laura Curie Allee Shields lived for many years at the southern corner of Main and Market Streets. In her autobiography, Memories, published in 1940, she writes:
“Market Street was then (1906) just a lane that went through to East Ridge, and in winter was almost impassable with the mud. We implored our neighbor, Mrs. Ebenezer Keeler, to put her ashes in the road, and we did the same, and in the course of 25 years, we had quite a road.
“In May 1914, the town dignified the side lane, enough to call it ‘Market Street.’ Years before, Sereno Hurlbutt had a meat market and slaughter house where our garage now stands. Up to that time, it had been called ‘Hurlbutt Lane,’ which to my mind was very much more elegant, to say the least. But the town fathers insisted upon Market Street.”
Inelegant or not, Market Street was not a name that was picked out of the air in 1914. Maps of the village drawn in 1856, 1867 and 1893 all label the road “Market Street.” Hurlbutt Lane, which never appeared on a map, was probably an informal name.
David Hurlbutt established the market sometime before 1850; he and his wife, Julia, were living on Main Street by 1837 in what is now the District Nursing Association headquarters building (then much smaller) David Hurlbutt was, in 1849, involved in an ice house, which he owned nearby and leased to a group of villagers.
David died in 1858 after being gored in the head by the horn of a cow he was trying to butcher. By then, Sereno Stuart Hurlbutt, his son, had taken over the store and he continued operating it until just before his death in 1904. Sereno Hurlbutt was a prominent citizen, having served as tax collector for many years, as a constable, and in other offices. He was also involved in several business enterprises, such as the Rockwell Candlestick Factory on Catoonah Street.
Marshall Road, part of the Westmoreland subdivision (q.v.), runs off Peaceable Street to a dead end. Named by the Lincoln Development Company of Massachusetts, which filed the original subdivision plan, it was developed by Jerry Tuccio and became a town road in 1969.
The road was probably named for John Marshall (1755-1835), third chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. A native of Virginia and a graduate of New Jersey College (later Princeton), he was an officer in the Revolution, a diplomat, secretary of water, secretary of state, chief justice, and the author of several books, including a five-volume biography of George Washington.
As far as is known, he had no connection with Ridgefield. His predecessor as chief justice was Oliver Ellsworth of Connecticut, the only man from this state to serve on the court.
MARTIN’S CORNER (CURVE)
Martin’s Corner or Curve is an informal term for the sharp curve in North Salem Road, a little north of Mamanasco Road and Ridgefield High School. The curve was bordered on the west by the late Francis D. Martin’s farm, whence the name (see below).
The term was probably most frequently used by the police, who found it handy to identify the scene of many an auto accident.
Martin Park is probably Ridgefield’s most popular and – especially on a hot day in summer – populous park. It consists of 9.4 acres on the south end of Great Pond, and its name commemorates the man who developed and owned the park for many years and who, in 1970, gave it to the town.
Though born in West Park, N.Y., on Sept. 19, 1893, Francis D. Martin was probably more a Ridgefielder than almost any other resident. The son of J. S. Louis and Franceska Martin, who were of Swiss and German origin respectively, Mr. Martin came to Ridgefield at the age of three. His father was for 50 years superintendent of Gov. Phineas C. Lounsbury’s Main Street estate including what we now call the Community Center and his family lived in a house on the south side of Governor Street, where the Union Trust bank parking lot is now.
Mr. Martin attended school on Bailey Avenue “where there were no toilets and no running water, just a pail with a dipper from which everyone drank and no one got typhoid fever,” he once wrote.
He began working at the age of six, carrying mail to the Vinton School for girls on East Ridge (now the Ridgefield police station). By age 11, he was a lunch carrier as well and at 12, he began caddying at 15 cents a round. A year later, he got the job of night operator for the telephone company at $3.50 a week – five cents an hour – working from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. According to his own account, he would then go home, eat breakfast and catch the 7:35 train for Norwalk High School (Ridgefield didn’t have a high school then), where he was captain of the basketball and baseball teams. At basketball, he said, he was high scorer in the state in his final year on a team that had a 21-1 record and won the state championship. The same year, he reported, he pitched Norwalk High’s baseball squad to a 19-1 record, and had the highest batting average, .421.
Mr. Martin left high school to attend the Philadelphia College of Horology and Optics, completing the three-year program in nine months. He returned home in 1911 and, at the age of 17, opened Ridgefield’s first jewelry and optical store.
“For the first 23 years, I never failed being in my place of business later than 4:30 in the morning,” he wrote. “And we kept the stores in Ridgefield open every night in those days.”
The young businessman became active in the community. He was elected to the Official Board of the Methodist Church, was a scoutmaster of Ridgefield’s first Boy Scout troop in 1912, was a fund-raiser for the county YMCA, a state commissioner of opticians, a founder of the Promoter’s Club (forerunner of the Lions Club), a 27-year member of the Board of Finance, chairman of the Boys’ Club, first president of the Lions Club, and chairman of the Red Cross during World War II.
In his youth he also played regional baseball and basketball and, in 1916, pitched three no-hitters for the Woosters of Danbury. That September, he said, he tried out for the Chicago White Sox, was offered a full contract, but refused because he was about to be married to Doris Godfrey, his wife of more than 60 years.
In 1934, he was seriously injured in a skating accident, nearly dying from a fractured skull. While he was laid up, Mr. Martin decided to undertake “five projects to benefit Ridgefield and my fellow man.” He completed four.
“The Depression was on, and business was very bad at that time,” he wrote of his first plan. “Foremost in my thought was that in 30 years, wealth would be gone and Ridgefield needed some kind of industry, but no factories, as we are a beautiful residential community.”
So he began buying various properties near the village, particularly along Grove Street and Old Quarry Road. Some people thought he was crazy, he said. One teacher even told his son’s class, “Wise people buy high and dry land; foolish people along railroads, town dumps, and filter beds.”
Eventually, however, the land was zoned for light industry and, improved by Mr. Martin, became home to such companies as Schlumberger and Digitech. Because he wanted to encourage economic development, he said, he sold the piece to Schlumberger for only $1,000 an acre for 20 acres, and gave the firm another 10.
Mr. Martin’s second project was “to give Ridgefield its first modern store” and as a result, he said, he opened “the finest country jewelry store in America,” something he designed and arranged while he was still in bed recuperating. By the time he sold his business to Mrs. Helen Craig in 1950, he calculated that he had personally repaired 125,000 watches and 25,000 clocks.
His third project was the acquisition of many run-down properties around town. Several of these were on Main Street and included the Denton Block – shacks behind which he had torn down. He also bought the Gilbert Block and the Tudor-style buildings erected by Lucius H. Biglow and later called the Martin Block (and now sometimes the Pizza Block for Roma Pizzeria, whose operators have owned the building for many years).
In 1941 he bought the old Ridgefield Boys School on North Salem Road. “I purchased this with the sole purpose in my mind of keeping out of Ridgefield a very undesirable group of people who were after it,” he said without further explanation. Although he said he was not at first certain what he was going to do with the place, he eventually decided to make it his home and much of the building was razed to make it more home-sized. (The property was once among the sites considered for the world headquarters of the United Nations, now in Manhattan.)
Beginning in the early 1940’s and for many years, Mr. Martin headed the Branchville Fresh Air Camp, which handled some 100 children a year through the Herald Tribune Fresh Air Fund. The camp was on the site of today’s Branchville School building, used by the board of Education for its offices.
Around 1950, Mr. Martin purchased the 14 acres at the corner of Danbury and Copps Hill Roads “for the sole purpose that when Ridgefield (was) large enough, we would have a shopping center outside congested areas with parking room for over 1,000 cars.” The spot is now Copps Hill Plaza, which was not built until the early 1970’s.
Mr. Martin’s final project was his favorite. “While still in bed, I laid great plans to have an exceptionally fine swimming place for the people of Ridgefield – a place that would be absolutely clean, well-guarded by the police and lifeguards.”
Mr. Martin and others acquired the land. Volunteers created a beach in 1953. Fees high enough only to cover costs of operating the private park were charged.
When the Great Pond Holding Corporation deeded the property to the town in 1970, Mr. Martin had only two stipulations. “It is the wish of Francis D. Martin,” the deed says of one, “that this park be continuously self-supporting.” He did not want taxpayers who don’t use the beach to have to pay for it and thus, the town is obligated to charge fees for use of the park.
The only other stipulation was that “said premises will be known as Francis D. Martin Park.”
The Gilbert and Bennett Manufacturing Company in Georgetown long owned a portion of the park, including a section of the beach. The former wire mill, which is at this writing in 1990 proposed as the site of a housing, store and office community, controls the dam to the pond and, when it needed extra water for its manufacturing processes, could lower the pond, sending the water four miles down the Norwalk River to the company’s Factory Pond in Georgetown. Fortunately for swimmers, Gilbert and Bennett hardly ever did this.
Mr. Martin acquired a long-term lease on the Gilbert and Bennett property at the pond. While he owned the nearby park, Mr. Martin paid the taxes for Gilbert and Bennett on the leased land. An odd result of the town’s owning the park and holding the lease is that the Parks and Recreation Department has become responsible for those taxes. But instead of a town agency’s paying taxes to the town, the department each year asks the selectmen to abate the taxes and the selectmen graciously do so.
Once in Redding
If it were not for another odd set of circumstances back in the 18th Century, there would probably not be a Martin Park today. According to information uncovered in research for this history, the entire Great Pond was part of Redding after all of the Ridgefield settlers’ purchases had been made from the Indians.
However, in 1786, Redding residents who lived around Great Pond and near the intersection of Routes 7 and 35 petitioned the General Assembly to be made a part of Ridgefield. They felt it was easier for them to go to Ridgefield center for church and for Town Meetings than to Redding center. The legislature agreed and allowed Ridgefield to annex this land. Nobody then ever thought that the pond, then serving as water storage for a grist and saw mill, would one day become such a priceless recreational site.
Even in the late 1980’s and in 1990, studies are being done to preserve the purity of Great Pond, which is largely spring-fed. And, as always, there is considerable debate as to how the undeveloped land around the pond should be used.
Mr. Martin died in 1982 at the age of 88. In many conversations and interviews with this writer, he never revealed what his fifth project was.
Martin Road is a name applied to a short road serving a six-lot, 22 acre subdivision of part of Francis D. Martin’s Farview Farm.
The Planning and Zoning Commission, which approved the subdivision in June 1981, suggested the name to honor Mr. Martin, a community benefactor for many decades, as described under Martin Park.
Mary’s or Mary Lane is a short, dead-end road off Barry Avenue, named for Mary McManus, wife of Peter A. McManus, contractor and former Ridgefield state representative.
The McManuses owned the property which in 1951 they subdivided into seven lots of about one-half acre each, served by Mary’s Lane.
Among the McManuses children is James McManus, the town’s building inspector for many years, and the late Joseph McManus, longtime sheriff and constable here. Members of the family still live there today.
McDONALD’S MILL POND
McDonald’s Mill Pond, mentioned in a 1772 deed, is what we today call Miller’s Pond, the small body of water on the Norwalk River just west of Route 7 and north of Florida hill Road.
The name came from the fact that Daniel McDonald operated a grist mill that used the pond for water power and that was probably situated on the site of the present stone house, called Moongate. One of the town’s earliest mills, McDonald’s grist mill was, like the more famous Mamanasco Mill, controlled by the proprietors – the settling landowners. For when McDonald sold the mill to James Conklin in 1780, he mentioned that if Conklin failed to keep the mill “in good trim and order,” it would be forfeited to the proprietors, who in 1737 had given Peter Burr permission to build “a good and sufficient grist mill” there.
This mill, far from Mamanasco in the northwestern part of the town, probably served people from eastern Ridgefield including parts of the village and western Redding. As noted earlier, Florida Hill Road – the road from the village to the mill was frequently called “the Mill Road” in the 18th Century, and was once called Abbott’s Mill Road, when David Abbott operated the mill for about two years during the 1740’s.
Like so many other Ridgefielders after the war, Daniel McDonald moved westward. He was living in Watertown, N.Y., by 1792.
At least one map (Hearne, ca. 1965) shows McKeon Pond as the name of a small pond on the Daniel M. McKeons’ Arigideen Farm at the northeast corner of Old Stagecoach and Ridgebury Roads .
Mr. McKeon, who came here in 1938 and has sometimes been called “the squire of Ridgebury,” has one of the last operating farms in town (see Hussar’s Camp Place). He has been a longtime planning and zoning official while his wife, Louise, has been an active member of the Republican party and various civic organizations for many years.
The pond, used among other things for watering the McKeons’ cows, is a source of the Mopus Brook, which flows northward from the pond to the vicinity of the Ridgefield Golf Course, and then southerly to the Titicus River, whose waters feed the New York City water supply system. It is probably a very old pond, for the farming use of the property dates back into the mid-18th Century.
Ridgebury Road from Spring Valley Road intersection to north of Regan Road was called McLaury’s Hill in a 1955 Ridgefield Press article. Mr. and Mrs. John E. McLaury once had a house on the hill, just beyond the sharp curve.
The house formerly belonged to B. Sturges Selleck, a well-known Ridgefielder who lived into the 1920’s and who was the grandfather of Beverly S. Crofut, who died in early 1990. Mr. Crofut recalled that the hill had long ago been called Selleck’s Hill, for his grandfather.
Around 1928, the Selleck house was purchased by Ellis B. and Mary McLaury for their son, John E. McLaury. John and his wife lived there about 10 years, operating a chicken farm, and then moved to Bermuda.
Ellis and Mary McLaury in 1928 bought playwright Eugene O’Neill’s house on North Salem Road and also acquired other tracts in the area. (When the McLaurys bought the O’Neill place, they wanted to make sure what they were getting: they stipulated the purchase include “the electric lighting fixtures, the range, the furnace, the window shades, and window screens in the house.”
Mead Ridge is a development of 19 lots on the north side of South Salem Road, served by Mead Ridge Road and two spurs – Mead Ridge Drive and Lane.
The property was subdivided by Henri Engelbert, who in 1948 came from New York City to purchase a house and 49 acres from Eleanor C. Peil that had earlier been part of Reginald M. Lewis’s estate and farm (see Hopper’s Pond). For many years before Lewis – perhaps some 200 years – the property had been a Keeler family farm.
Mr. Engelbert subdivided the land in 1958. The development was named for his wife, Lydia Mead Englebert, who was descended from the old Ridgefield Mead family. Meads were living here as early as 1722 when Theophilus Mead of Norwalk bought two acres on North Salem Road. Israel Mead had land at Grassy Island in 1729.
Meads had generally lived on the western side of town, and in eastern Lewisboro, where there is a Mead Street today. Meads also lived in the neighborhood of Mead Ridge – in 1795, Jeremiah Mead bought a half-acre and a house on West Lane, near the schoolhouse.
Meadow Woods is a 1965 subdivision of 92 acres into 53 one-acre lots on Lounsbury and Ivy Hill Roads, and served by Standish Drive, Revere Lane, and Glenbrook Court.
The subdivision was developed by Harry Richmond and Bill Connors, both of Norwalk, who named the place for the combination of meadowland and woodland that made up the tract
Media Lane is an old name for the northern end of Soundview Road. It was so called in the 1939 subdivision of Marcardon Avenue by Francis D. Martin, Arthur J. Carnall, and Joseph H. Donnelly, that included lots on the east side of “Media Lane.”
The name, probably referring to the fact that the road was midway between Wilton Road West and Wilton Road East, was still being used as late as 1952 on some maps. By 1954, Soundview Road had taken over.
At some point after Mar, Car, and Don sold their property, it was renamed Media Manor and the new owners sought septic system permits for the houses they proposed to build. Dr. F. B. Woodford, the town health officer, and John J. McCarthy, the town’s first sanitarian, refused to issue the permits because the soil on the small lots would not, they felt, adequately handle the effluent, and could pollute the planned wells.
The owners sued the town for $750,000 and the case went to Superior Court in Bridgeport. It was the first case which Romeo G. Petroni, now a Superior Court judge, undertook after he was appointed the town attorney by his father-in-law, First Selectman Leo F. Carroll. After protracted questioning of witnesses pro and con (and a visit by the Superior Court judge to the scene of the action), the Media Manor plaintiffs made a deal to sell their property and withdrew their court case. Subsequently, septic tank permits were issued after arrangements were made to have town water piped into the development – eliminating the need for wells.
MEETING HOUSE YARD
The Meeting House Yard was a name for the village green that stood along Main Street at the head of Branchville Road. The term was used as early as 1721 and as late as 1823.
The green included part of the front lawn of today’s Jesse Lee Memorial United Methodist Church, and extended southward to include part of Patrick and Diane Crehan’s front lawn. Laid out in 1721, it served as the site of the Congregational Church until around 1888 when the new church was built, the old church moved and the green abandoned and absorbed into neighboring lawns.
The earliest church building was situated almost in the middle of Main Street which, at the time, may have been slightly east of its present location and which also ran around the green. The building was called a “meeting house” because that’s where people met for services. In the earliest years of Ridgefield, it also served as the town hall, where records were kept and Town Meetings took place.
During the Revolution, the militia practiced on the Meeting House Yard, which was probably also the site of other community activities, such as picnics, summertime lectures and prayer meetings, and fairs.
Although it is unfortunate that Ridgefield has lost its village green, it must be admitted that the green was not imposing, like those of Litchfield or New Milford. It was a rather small rectangle. As laid out, the yard measured 16 by 20 rods (330 by 264 feet) totalling just about two acres. Part of that probably included the highway ground which encircled the green or “church yard,” as George L. Rockwell recalled its being called.
Memory Lane, one of those cutesy and awful names that creep into a town’s geography, is a short private road off West lane. It serves a subdivision of about four acres into three lots, filed by Myrtle L. Englund (for her husband, Eugene) of Norwalk, in 1956. The land had formerly been part of the Elizabeth Swords Grant estate.
METITICUS (et al.)
Metiticus and variations of it are early and more accurate versions of the word, Titicus, a name for places that will be discussed in detail in a later column.
George L. Rockwell found that a 1609 map, “Westchester under the Indians,” gave the word as Mutighticoos. That’s a pretty hefty Indian word to handle and the settlers of Ridgefield took to simpler versions.
Among the earliest was Metiticus, as in “Metiticus Swamp” (1709), “Metititus Brook” (1716) and “Metiticus Hill” (also 1716). In a single proprietors’ grant in 1717, Town Clerk Thomas Hauley refers to property near “Titicus Mountain” and land along “Metiticus River.”
Other variations include “Matiticus Hill” (1716) “Metittecus River” (1750), and “Metitecus River” (1766). The word “Titicus” was always more common than “Metiticus” and by the Revolution, had completely taken over as the name for the brook, crossroads, hill, mountain, plain, ridge, river, road, school district, swamp, and village.
In 1794, Recompense Thomas sold Dorcas Andrews (wife of Jonathan Andrews) 40 acres in Ridgebury, including “the mansion house and barn” and bounded on the north by “Middle Pond.”
Based on boundary descriptions, the pond was probably situated near the present Ridgefield Golf Course or near the end of Canterbury Lane.
The name suggests that there were at least two other ponds on each side of this one, all probably for watering cows. All long ago dried up or became swampland.
Middle Ridge was the turn-of-the-century name for what we today call East Ridge. At that time, what we call Prospect Ridge was considered East Ridge.
A 1900 map of the then-proposed village sewer system labels today’s East Ridge Avenue as Middle Ridge Avenue, and Prospect Ridge Road as East Ridge Avenue.
Property maps filed with the town clerk in 1907 and in 1919 also use “Middle Ridge Avenue” for East Ridge. Even a 1959 map of Walter and Marion Hustis’s property on East Ridge Avenue says “Middle Ridge Avenue.”
Why and exactly when the names were changed has not been discovered. However, the terms “East Ridge” and “Middle Ridge” were not mentioned on the land records before 1875, so both names were relatively new ones around the turn of the century.
Midrocks Road, which runs between Bennett’s Farm and Limestone Roads – amid rocks – was built chiefly to serve a subdivision of 15 lots of one-third to two-thirds acre. Nicholas R. DiNapoli Sr. and Jr. obtained the subdivision in 1961.
The name appears to have been first suggested as early as 1959 when the Board of Selectmen minutes mention it, possibly a suggestion from Philip M. Merriam, who lived nearby on Limestone Road. Midrocks Road was accepted as a town highway in 1962.
Middlebrook Lane, a name that appears to be geographically descriptive, actually has nothing to do with a brook or the position of a road to a brook.
The name was given to a new road off Branchville Road – east of Bayberry Hill Road – by the developer, Ronald Hubbard, in 1979. The road serves nine or 10 lots.
Mr. Hubbard obtained the name by tracing the property’s ownership back to the mid-19th Century when, he found, it belonged to the Middlebrook family. The Middlebrook or Middlebrooks clan was mostly from northern Wilton, but in 1795, family members began buying land just across the line in the Nod Hill section of Ridgefield. Samuel, Jonathan, Somers, and William Middlebrook(s) were all early 19th Century landowners in this area.
When he was looking for names for this road, Mr. Hubbard approached this writer for suggestions. Among those offered was Wolfpit Lane, because near this road, the settlers had dug pits to trap and kill off the wolf population it feared would attack their livestock. The developer quickly rejected the name, fearing it would affect the sales of his houses. “It sounds too much like armpit,” he said.
The fact that the name did not seem to affect values in Wilton and Bethel, both of which have Wolfpit Roads, did not sway him.
A year or so later, Mr. Hubbard disappeared from town, reportedly for more western climes and owing hundreds of thousands of dollars. Middlebrook Road was left uncompleted, and the town had to step in and finish the work. The selectmen accepted the road in August 1982.
The Mill Brook was the old name for the stream which connects Mamanasco Lake to the Titicus River, flowing under North Salem Road near Sherwood Road.
The name, not commonly mentioned in the land records, first appears in a 1722 deed in which Jonathan Abbott sold Alexander Ressiguie an acre of meadow “lying near ye north end of Mamanasco Hill where ye Mill Brook runs into Titicus River.”
The stream, which is the outlet of the lake, was the immediate source of the power for the famous Mamanasco Mill; hence, the name. It is not an uncommon name, either: there are “mill brooks” in at least 37 towns in Connecticut.
MILL BROOK SWAMP
In a pre-1725 deed, the proprietors granted Lemuel Morehouse three acres “lying in ye Mill Brook Swamp,” situated between Sherwood and Ridgebury Roads, a little south of Ledges Road.
Mill Path was one of the earliest names for North Salem Road, and was so called because it led from the village to Mamanasco Mill, three miles out of town.
The name appears as early as 1722 when Samuel Saintjohn sold Theophilus Mead of Norwalk two acres “lying on ye west side of ye Mill Path, between ye saw “mill and Toilsome Path.” (The saw mill was at Titicus crossroads while Toilsome Path was up near Barrack Hill Road.)
Soon after, the road was more formally called “the Mill Road” or “the road to Mamanasco Mill.” North Salem Road is a fairly modern name.
Much of the Mill Plain section of Danbury was once within the bounds of Ridgefield, having been in the center of New Patent. Probably the first reference to the name in the Ridgefield land records occurs in a 1769 deed of Micajah Starr to Samuel Starr for 20 acres near a stream “that runs into ye Mill Plain Pond.”
Mill Plain Pond was what is today called Lake Kenosha (also spelled Kanosha or Kenosia). The pond or lake was undoubtedly created in the early to mid-1700s to store water power for a mill, but since the outlet of the pond was always in Danbury, we have no record of whose mill it was. The west half of the pond was in Ridgefield in the 18th and first half of the 19th Centuries.
In his History of Danbury (1895), James M. Bailey says that “Mill Plain…derived its name, according to tradition, from a mill that was a little east of the present Fair Grounds, which had so high a dam that it flooded the swamps by Mill Plain Pond. This sheet of water is now known as Lake Kenosia, and is quite a pleasure resort.
“The first house built in Mill Plain was erected probably about 1720, and belonged to Nathaniel Stevens…’Burchard’s Store’ at the western boundary of old-time Mill Plain, was its commercial centre, and had quite a wide reputation. It was one of the first to put shirts out for making, and the women would come from far and near for the work, taking in payment goods from the store.
“There were several shoe shops where, besides custom work, shoes were made for a firm in New Canaan. Most of the energy of the people was directed to farming.
“Lake Kenosia, now a popular summer resort for the people of Danbury and its vicinity, was known in the old days as Mill Plain Pond, and many of the older residents can remember boating upon the lake in moonlit evenings or enjoying picnics under the shade of the trees along its banks.
“In 1860, George Hallock, who saw a future for the lake as a pleasure resort, built the Kenosia Hotel, which was opened on August 16th of that year. The hotel was short-lived, as it was destroyed by fire on November 23rd of the same year. Soon after the opening of the house, its landlord, as an especial attraction, arranged ‘a race between the noted trotters Flora Temple and Widow McChree at Kenosia Trotting Park.’ ”
The brook flowing into the pond was called “Mill Plain River” in an 1825 Ridgefield deed. The first mention in the Ridgefield records of simply “Mill Plain” is found in an 1818 deed.
Eventually, Mill Plain became the name for a school district, and a post office operated there as early as 1831. Town Meetings in Ridgefield appointed highway surveyors (inspectors) for Mill Plain as late as 1845. It was around then that Mill Plain became absorbed entirely within Danbury’s territory.
An 1844 deed described a dam at the outlet of Mill Plain Pond, saying it is very near the “Sugar Hollow Turnpike Road.” The present-day Kenosha Avenue – running from Route 6 south to Backus Avenue near the Danbury airport and the fairgrounds mall – was once part of the Sugar Hollow Turnpike Road, which extended all the way to Wilton.
Oddly enough, the section of road through the Sugar Hollow was not part of this turnpike, but of the Danbury and Ridgefield Turnpike. Sugar Hollow Turnpike took over at each end of the Sugar Hollow.
The term Mill Pond was used to describe many ponds in Ridgefield, all obviously associated with mills.
Mamanasco Pond was often called simply “the Mill Pond,” for example. So were Upper and Lower Ponds near Titicus.
MILL RIVER HOLLOW
Mill River Hollow is the 15-lot subdivision off Cedar Lane, served by Deer Hill Drive. The 1955 development by Earl D. Etheridge was so called because it overlooks the headwaters of the Stamford Mill River, or Mill River, just to the west.
MILL RIVER POND
Mill River Pond was a name for the body of water that existed off the south side of South Salem Road and the western end of the above-mentioned Deer Hill Drive.
The pond was created in the 1940’s by the damming of the Stamford Mill River, though earlier ponds may have existed there for milling purposes.
The dam burst in the late 1970’s and despite various efforts to try to get it rebuilt, the cost and probably the insurance liabilities involved were too much for the owner, and the pond has turned into a meadow and is on its way to becoming a forest.
As noted earlier, Mill Road was an early name for North Salem Road because it led from the village to Mamanasco Mill. However, it was also a name for Florida Hill Road. For example, in 1744, when the selectmen laid out Florida Road, they said that it ended on the north at “ye Mill Road.” The Mill Road went from the village to a gristmill along the Norwalk River at the north corner of Florida Hill Road and Route 7.
This road was also called by the names of owners of the grist mill to which it led. For instance, when David Abbott owned the mill, it was called Abbott’s Mill Road (1745); when Daniel Cables had the mill, the path was called “the road that leads to Cables’ Mill.”
There was another “Mill Road.” In 1796, the proprietors laid out to Michael Warren 60 rods “on the south side of his farm at Limestone,” bounded on the south by “the Mill Road.” Warren owned what was later to become the Haviland farm, and the road was probably what we today call Haviland Road.
MILL VIEW TERRACE
Mill View Terrace is a short dead-end road off Nursery Road. Lewis J. Finch, who developed and named the road around 1963, said he selected the name because the property overlooks the site of what was once “a tremendous mill.”
The neighborhood has always been a popular spot for mills. It had, of course, the Norwalk River, but it also had the water storage capacity of Great Pond as well as another smaller pond along today’s Stonehenge Road.
As early as 1745, Richard Olmsted operated a grist mill in this area, probably at the corner of Stonehenge and Still Roads where an old stone dam still exists. Later, the Lobdell family and then the Smith family had the mill. In the 19th Century, the area was known as Taylor’s Corners because the Taylor family operated the mill.
There was also a saw mill and a fulling mill here. However, at the south end of the pond that still exists on the Stonehenge Inn property stood another grist mill. Thus, Mill View Terrace, which has views of no mills today, runs along land that once overlooked perhaps three or four different milling establishments.
Miller’s Pond’s, an ancient but man-made body of water, is situated on the west side of Route 7, just north of Florida Hill Road. Oddly enough, although this was a mill pond long used by millers (as described under McDonald’s Mill Pond), the name is not derived from that former use, but a former owner.
The pond is so called because it belonged from 1925 to 1970 to the late Nathaniel Miller, president of a newsprint firm. He lived in the house next to where Florida Hill Road crosses the Norwalk River, a home he called “Moongate” (q.v.), named for the circular, moonlike opening in the pond dam that allows the water to flow through. Miller died in 1974 in upstate Connecticut.
The pond was probably created around 1737 when Peter Burr built the grist mill on the site of Moongate.
During the mid-19th Century, the pond served an iron foundry, operated by Ebenezer Burr Sanford and Thomas N. Couch on the site of the old grist mill. This foundry, according to George L. Rockwell, was the only one existing between New Haven and the Hudson River. Here, “milling” of cog-wheels, shafts, gears, stoves, railroad car parts, and other iron devices was done as well as the smithing of plow shares, tools and sleigh shoes, and castings of all sorts of iron implements.
Today, the area above Miller’s Pond is proposed to form a part of the water-holding system of the Norwalk River Flood Control Project. In times of heavy rainfall, water is supposed to back up over a wide area for a half mile or so upstream to prevent its rushing too quickly downstream. An earthen dam is supposed to be erected just north of the pond. However, the project has been tied closely to the new Route 7 expressway, which would have through this area, and the flood control project was delayed many years, expecting a decision on the road. That came in the early 2000s, when the state decided not to build “Super 7.” Since then, the state has gradually been removing from its flood control lands buildings that had been leased to families and businesses.
Miller’s Ridge is a very early name that lasted nearly a century and a half, yet long ago disappeared.
The name first showed up in a 1717 deed from the proprietors to Joseph Crampton for 2 1/2 acres “lying on ye upper end of ye Miller’s Ridge.” Crampton also had land “near ye lower end of ye Miller’s Ridge and east of ye Brimstone Swamp,” which he sold to Timothy Keeler in 1718. Thereafter the name appears frequently in the land records until 1866 when the last known reference is found in a deed.
The north end of the ridge began around the intersection of Wilton Road East and Whipstick Road. The ridge extended southward along the east side of Wilton Road East until around Spectacle Lane where it met Spectacle Ridge.
The name originated from a very early mill that stood on the east branch of the Silvermine River (really just a brook here), a short distance below Whipstick Road and just east of Wilton Road East. Since the name existed by 1717, it had to have been one of the first mills in town.
The mill was probably a saw mill, and an important saw mill, too. At a proprietors meeting on Dec. 14, 1714 (probably in Norwalk), it was voted that Joseph Keeler, Ebenezer Smith, Matthew Saintjohn, and James Benedict and their associates “shall have liberty to build or erect a saw mill at Steep Brook or any other stream where it shall not prejudice the privileges and public interests of ye town.”
Steep Brook was a stream at the northern end of the village, running through today’s Casagmo, across Grove Street, and down into Great Swamp. It isn’t much more than a creek today and, although it was probably bigger in the early 1700s, Steep Brook apparently was found to have an insufficient supply of water – or no place to build a mill pond – because subsequent land records don’t mention a saw mill on Steep Brook or in this part of town.
So the group presumably looked elsewhere in the village and selected a stream below the south end of the “Town Ridge.” Here there was plenty of land for a mill pond, two small streams converging to supply water, and a location close to the center of town.
The location was important. The village was just being built by the new settlers; they needed plenty of lumber for their homes and they wanted convenient access to the saw mill. Plenty of handy trees were available on the very land that was being cleared for homesites and fields.
Thus, this was probably the town’s earliest mill – and its earliest industrial facility. It was also long-lived.
By 1749, the proprietors are recorded as giving Matthew Seamore (Seymour) and Matthew Benedict permission to build a mill on a stream near Ichabod Cole’s house – in this same neighborhood, and perhaps on the same site. Maybe the original mill had fallen into disrepair, had burned, or had been destroyed in a flood.
This mill site continued operating into the 19th Century – although it apparently went through periods when it was not used – and was still functioning in 1867. For many years in the last century, it was operated by members of the Benedict family – perhaps descendants of Matthew.
Today, all that is left is a wet meadow where the mill pond used to be, a long earth-covered stone dam stretching from Wilton Road East to Whipstick Road, and some remnants of a 19th Century mill.
Ten years ago, when I last inspected the site, an old iron mechanism that connected the water wheel to the milling machinery was still visible, lying in the stream just below the dam. Strewn around the site were stones from the foundation and sluice walls, some old barrel hoops (perhaps staves were made here), and iron “tires” from wheels whose wood long ago rotted away. Most metal articles probably date from the late 19th Century.
The dam, incidentally, is one of the longest around here, and part or all of it may have been built in 1717 or before. The structure is almost 600 feet long and was still in good condition in the early 1980s. Were it to be used today, however, a house and barn at the corner of Wilton Road East and Whipstick Road would wind up with wet feet.
Millstone Brook is an ancient and short-lived name, apparently for the upper Titicus River or one of its branches. At least, early references to it and its sister locality, Millstone Rocks, seem to place it along Saw Mill Hill Road or near there.
Millstone Brook is mentioned in the minutes of the Dec. 16, 1721 Annual Town Meeting in connection with a boundary description: “…and from James Wallis’s homelot to ye Millstone Brook is 20 rodds north and from said brook, all ye commonland between Benjamin Willson’s land and a lottment of said land sold to Timothy Canfield and down to Chesnut Ridge Brook.”
Millstone Rocks was undoubtedly connected with Millstone Brook, although the two places were never mentioned together in the land records.
However, a 1722 deed, in which Zedediah Canfield sold land to Timothy Canfield, says the eight acres “lyeth between ye Chesnut Ridge Brook and ye Millstone Rocks.”
In 1726, Timothy Canfield sold this property, also mentioning the proximity to the Millstone Rocks, the last time the locality appears in the land records.
It’s possible the name was derived from the practice of quarrying millstones from rock at this place. Cut from granite or sandstone in the shape of a wheel with a hole in the center for its axle, millstones were used to grind meal from corn, rye, wheat, and other grains. By this time there was a grist mill at Mamanasco Pond; it would have required millstones. There may also have been a grist mill at Titicus (along Saw Mill Hill Road) at this time, but the earliest mention we’ve noticed of a Titicus grist mill is 1751.
Mimosa and its roads – Mimosa Circle, Court, and Place – are the result of a 1966 subdivision of a North Street estate of the same name.
The estate was amassed around 1934 by Morris Simon, who bought a small old house and land from William Peatt Sr., enlarged the building considerably, landscaped the grounds, and added many improvements, such as a tennis courts and a bomb shelter. Mr. Simon was a wealthy man who had invented a method of extruding wire through diamonds, a device called a diamond wire die.
In 1946, Richard L. Blum bought the house and, in the early 1950s, Milton Biow acquired the place. Biow was an advertising executive credited with coming up with the idea of sending in box tops from cereals for premiums. He used the place mainly as a summer home.
Either he or Simon planted Mimosa trees on the property and called the estate Mimosa. The trees, native of warmer climates, did not survive long, but the name did.
When developer Jerry Tuccio bought the place in 1965 for subdivision, he at first wanted to call the main road into the development “Airline Circle” because so many airline pilots were buying his houses in the early 1960s.
The Planning and Zoning Commission rejected the name, feeling it wasn’t an appropriate name in Ridgefield, and Mimosa was used instead.
The Mimosa development consisted of 91 lots cut from 123 acres. The similarity of the road names has caused some problems. There has been concern that an ambulance, for example, might have difficulty finding a home if an emergency call comes in and the street designation – Circle, Court or Place – is slurred or otherwise unclear.
The chief ingredient in the plaster on the walls of many an old Ridgefield home may have come from Mine Hill, which appears to have been a major source of limestone – and hence, lime – in the town during the 18th and 19th Centuries.
The earliest mention of this name appears in a 1789 deed from Ebenezer Lobdell to Benjamin Smith for six acres “lying at Limestone near the Mine Hill so called.”
However, even earlier, this area had been known as the “Mine Lott” (see below). Earlier, it was probably “Limestone Hill,” a name first mentioned in 1717 (q.v.)
Based on various descriptions, the Mine Hill seems to have been a hill that, because of all the mining of it, has virtually disappeared. It was situated along Danbury Road, just north of Haviland and Limestone Roads, in the vicinity of the Limestone Shell service station (a name of wonderful, though accidental appropriateness since limestone is actually composed of the shells of ancient sea creatures, such as mollusks). Remnants of the limestone in the earth can be seen today in the white rocks still lying on the ground in what clearly is an excavated piece of ground along the west side of Danbury Road.
Additional evidence of a hill here is provided by the original route of Danbury Road which, in this area, still exists just east of the main highway, running off the western end of Haviland Road north to Danbury Road a little above the gas station. This road, now forming a long, wooded triangle, once ran around the hill. Later, after the hill had been mined down almost flat, the state put the straight section of Danbury Road through to avoid the curve-and-intersection combination that formerly existed.
The last person to work down the hill was the late Dominic Gaeta, who in the 1950’s bulldozed about five feet off the remaining mound in connection with erecting a small house there.
The term “Mine Hill” was last mentioned in an 1818 deed.
Another variation of Mine Hill is the “Mine Land,” first appearing in an 1847 deed when Jacob Dauchy sold Azariah Smith seven acres at Limestone, bounded by “the Mine Land, so called.” It was again mentioned in an 1852 deed.
Perhaps by this time, the hill had been almost completedly removed, making the former name, Mine Hill, obsolete or at least unrealistic.
The first mention of the limestone mining operation at Limestone District occurs in a 1753 deed in which the proprietors sell Ebenezer Lobdell 10 acres “north of Norren’s Boggs” and bounded on the east by “ye Mine Lott.”
Back in 1747, Lobdell had sold one-eighth shares in 3 1/2 acres “at ye Short Hills lying near Limestone…with all my right and title to one-eighth part of all ye mines and minerals lying on or within said tract.” That may have been when the mining began, at least on a formal and large scale. However, it should be noted that as early as 1712, deeds were referring to Limestone Hill in the same area. Obviously, the settlers knew about the wealth of the mineral from very early times.
By 1760, when Isaac Sherwood sold his eighth share in “ye Mine Lott” to Daniel Bradley for 20 shillings, other partners were John Lobdell, Ebenezer Lobdell, James Brown, Samuel Isaacs, James and Charles Monk. In 1796, Stephen Bradley, an heir of Daniel Bradley, sold a share, also for 20 shillings.
The Mine Lott continued to appear in the land records fairly frequently until 1830. In that year Sarah Warren sold Reed Haviland two acres “near and west of the house of said Haviland and known by the name of the Mine Lot or Ore Bed.”
This reference to Ore Bed recalls a circa 1717 deed from the proprietors to Henry Whitney for 8 1/2 acres “lying in a place called ye Ore Yard” with no further description. Perhaps limestone was mined here as early as that.
Minuteman Road, part of the Colonial Heights subdivision on West Mountain, extends from Oscaleta Road to Revere Drive. The road was accepted by the Town Meeting in 1970.
Colonial Heights, an 89-lot subdivision with road names of a “Revolutionary era” flavor, was developed by Lewis J. Finch and Paul Morganti, who selected the names. It was the first three-acre-lot subdivision ever developed here – ironically, the total acreage was 333 – and the largest ever subdivided using true three-acre lots. Most developments in three-acre zones have taken advantage of Planned Residential Development rules that allow lots smaller than three-acres, provided sizable chunks of open space are permanently preserved. Thus, while much of western and northwestern Ridgefield is zoned three-acre, few three-acre lots exist outside Colonial Heights.
Minuteman Road, of course, recalls the “Minutemen” of Revolutionary War fame. They had, however, no connection with Ridgefield; as far as is known, no Ridgefielders served with that group of local militia, based in Massachusetts. They were so-called because they were supposed to be ready to march on a minute’s notice.
The name sometimes appears erroneously in addresses as Minute Man Road.
Miry Brook in Ridgebury is the subject of a popular – but incorrect – legend about the origin of its name.
George L. Rockwell, in his History of Ridgefield (1927), mentions the legend in connection with the burning of Danbury on April 26, 1777. The British troops, having accomplished their aim of destroying colonial stores in Danbury, left that town for their ships at Long Island Sound, marching via western Danbury to Ridgebury.
“A portion of the troops,” says Rockwell, “passed out by way of South Street and the upper end of Mountainville Avenue, then over Hull’s Hill…At Miry Brook several patriots had removed the bridge from over the brook. It is said that the cannon of the British became mired, and the name of Miry Brook was given to this stream because of this incident.”
The incident of the mired cannon may have happened; that it gave rise to the stream’s name is a nice but untrue tale.
In 1741, 36 years before the cannon incident, Daniel Taylor Jr. of Danbury sold Joshua Barnum of Kent “my farm of land lying over ye Miery Brook, so called, nigh adjoining to ye west bounds of Danbury township and contained within ye bounds of Ridgefield New Pattent.”
Miry was not all that unusual a name for a stream; it means simply that the waterway was swampy. There is also a Miry Brook in Litchfield and in Morris.
However, there is an interesting theory as to how this brook did get its name. According to historian Imogene Hiereth of the Scott Fanton Museum in Danbury, both the Wildman and the Ambler families, who were early settlers of the Miry Brook area, came from a section of Bedford, N.Y., called Miry Brook. Thus, one or the other, or both, families may have brought their hometown name with them to Connecticut.
Although Miry Brook is more a Danbury than a Ridgefield name, the stream finds its origin in Ridgefield. It is not clear just which of several Ridgebury streams should be considered the source stream of Miry Brook. Perhaps it is the one that flows out of Shadow Lake, the only sizable body of water connected with Miry Brook’s upper watershed (although the pond is of 20th Century origin). Berthier’s map, used by the colonial military, shows four streams, all emanating from ponds, feeding the Miry Brook in Ridgebury in 1781.
At any rate, the streams may have all converged into the Miry Brook by the time it crosses into Danbury just south of George Washington Highway. Just before Miry Brook enters Danbury, the Wolf Pond Run or Brook, which flows north along the west side of Pine Mountain Road, joins it. In Danbury, Miry Brook proceeds eastward, flowing into the Still River northwest of the Danbury Fair Mall. Eventually, waters from the Miry Brook enter the Housatonic River near New Milford, and flow south into Long Island South at Stratford and Milford.
A section of Danbury picked up the name “Miry Brook” by the 1800s. This area, which was by the 1860s a school district of that name, extended from the Ridgefield east boundary at Ridgebury eastward to the present-day Route 7 and Wooster Heights, and included the present Danbury Fair Mall and the Danbury Airport. There is also the long Miry Brook Road, running from the Ridgefield line (the extension of George Washington Highway), around the airport to Route 7 at Wooster Heights.
Although this was a Danbury neighborhood and school district, a portion of Ridgefield may also have been called Miry Brook. For example, an 1830 deed mentions land “in Ridgefield at Miry Brook, so called.”
Moreover, on Beers’ 1867 map of Ridgefield, there is an unnamed school district, encompassing northeastern Ridgefield, including Pine Mountain Road, eastern George Washington Highway, and southern Briar Ridge Road. There were only five houses in this area at that time.
It was common practice for a town to create school districts in conjunction with neighboring communities when it would be easier for the children in one town to attend a district school in another town. In this case, the homes were all near the intersection of George Washington Highway, Briar Ridge, Pine Mountain, and Miry Brook Roads. Danbury’s Miry Brook Schoolhouse, near the present Wooster School, was less than a mile away from these homesteads. Ridgefield’s nearest school was the Ridgebury schoolhouse, at the intersection of Ridgebury and Old Stagecoach Roads, more than two miles away.
Thus, this fairly sizable section of Ridgefield, with only a handful of families living in it, was probably called Miry Brook because of its association with the Danbury schoolhouse as well as its being traversed by the Miry Brook.
According to Connecticut Place Names, an 1885 Rand McNally atlas lists Mixville as a community in Ridgefield. Through 1885, the land records make no mention of such a place. The map was probably in error.
A 1958 subdivision map, filed by James B. Franks, shows a short road off lower Florida Hill Road – near Route 7 – and labels it Moongate Trail. The road was part of a nine-lot subdivision, never developed, of land around Miller’s Pond.
The name comes from the nearby house, next to a Norwalk River dam with a circular, moonlike outlet. The house was first called Moongate by Nathaniel Miller, who built it on the foundation of an old mill (see Miller’s Pond and Abbott’s Mill Road).
The name appears in the Board of Selectmen minutes as early as 1959 for a road in this area.
Mopus is one of the interesting old names, dating back to the town’s founding, that fortunately have survived until today. Unfortunately, it’s origin hasn’t.
The word, identifying several places in the northwestern part of town, appears in many versions, including Mopoos, Mopoas, Mopo’s, Mopoes, Mopoo, Mopo, Mopoo’s, and Mopose. The spelling, Mopus, is fairly modern, first appearing around 1841. Thereafter, it became the preferred form in land record transactions.
Although no one knows for certain what the name’s origin is, speculation is that Mopus recalls an American Indian who inhabited the area west of Spring Valley Road, including sections of eastern North Salem, N.Y. In his book, The Place Names of Westchester County, N.Y., Richard M. Lederer Jr. says Mopus Brook “was probably named after an Indian whose name sounded something like that.”
The variety of spellings indicates that his actual name may have been Mopo or Mopoo; the “s” at the end may have been possessive, as in Mopo’s or Mopoo’s, both of which show up in land records. Mopus, the modern spelling, may thus be a corruption, as Aspen is of the Indian word, Asproom.
None of the several deeds from the Indians to the first settlers mentions someone named “Mopo.” However, among the signers of these deeds were a “Sam Moses,” a “Mokens,” “Old Mosos,” “Young Mosos,” and “Tom Mosos.” It is possible that one or more of these names was transcribed on the deeds incorrectly and that one of the signers was Mopo or Mopoo. Or that the place should be called Mosos or Mokens!
Although the word was rarely used without another word, such as brook or ridge, Mopus was a place name of its own. An 1802 deed refers to a meadow “at a place called Mopo’s.” In 1842, a deed describes land “lying at Mopus, a place so called.”
Besides a brook, bridge, swamp, road, and ridge, Mopus has lent its name to an unlikely subject. The writer once had a cat which was among a litter called Eenie, Meenie, Minie, and Moe. Moe did not seem an attractive name by itself, and soon Moe-Puss evolved, which was conveniently converted to Mopus.
MOPUS BRIDGE, ROAD
Neither Mopus Bridge nor Mopus Bridge Road are very significant places today. Yet they are both old, interesting and probably once more important than they are today.
Mopus Bridge was first mentioned in 1849 when Lelah Bates of Bedford, N.Y., gave Lewis and Betsy June the right to cross land owned by the Bates “near the Mopus Bridge.” However, the bridge certainly existed long before the name appeared.
In 1841, town officials mentioned an “old Mopus Road” in changing the route of the highway. The old road may be what we now call Wheeler Road. Present-day Mopus Bridge Road extends from Ridgebury and Spring Valley Roads westward to New York State.
It is believed that Mopus Bridge Road is a very early highway that existed at least by the time of the Revolution when General George Washington passed through the town and stayed at Ridgebury center. Some think that Washington and his entourage came across Mopus Bridge Road on the 1780 journey.
One reason for this belief is the fact that a Washington-commissioned map of the area (Erskine-DeWitt map 43-D, ca. 1779) seems to show Mopus Bridge Road as the best route from Salem Center to Ridgebury center. This same route is also shown on a 1770s map, “drawn by Abraham Close of Salem,” as part of the main road from “Upper Salem” (North Salem) to Danbury, while North Salem Road is shown as the main road southward to Norwalk.
In fact, there is reason to suspect that Mopus Bridge Road predated the building of the western end of North Salem Road. The two run parallel to each other and Mopus Bridge generally runs over flatter land – typical of many early road layouts. If such was the case, the earliest road to Salem Center would have taken riders from modern North Salem Road over Sherwood Road to Ledges Road, over a piece of Ridgebury Road, across Mopus Bridge Road and onto North Salem’s Wallace Road.
The swampiness of the Mopus Bridge Road probably soon encouraged the creation of North Salem Road, the higher and drier road to the south.
Mopus Brook is the little stream that runs under – needless to say – Mopus Bridge. It was mentioned as early as 1721 in the “Third Purchase” from the native Indians, a deed that describes a boundary “crossing the end of a plain ridge of land over Mopoos Brook.”
The brook has two branches. The eastern one rises in McKeon’s Pond near the northern corner of Ridgebury and Old Stagecoach Roads, then proceeds northerly through Chestnut Hill Estates to a swamp west of the Ridgefield Golf Course. It then runs south along Spring Valley Road a short distance, and veers westward to connect to the main stream.
The west branch rises from a small pond and a swamp near Finch Road (the North Salem, N.Y., extension of our Chestnut Hill Road) and flows south to meet the east branch. The Mopus Brook then connects with the Titicus River in a swamp a short distance south of Mopus Bridge.
A short way west of the brook and the bridge is the home of Paul Hampden, who moved there in 1910 at the age of three when his father, the late and noted Shakespearian actor, Walter Hampden, bought a farmhouse there.
Mr. Hampden, noted for his sense of humor when he served two decades ago on the Planning and Zoning Commission and now in his poems and essays to The Press, offered the following origin of “Mopus Brook” nearly 15 years ago:
“Mopus Brook, K.C.B., K.B.E., and one-time viceroy of India, fell into disgrace. The circumstances are obscure, so well did Whitehall hush them up, or as Charles James Fox put it, covered its tracks. Even the palace was kept in the dark. At all events, Brook was banished to this continent, and when the colonies rebelled, he raised a troop of horse.
“It is uncertain which side he was on at the beginning, but this band, known as Brook’s Bullies, struck terror into the heart of every housewife for miles around. Not a meat pie was safe. Due to the presence among his followers of some Hessians, who had deserted when their quartermaster tried to pay them off with wooden Maria Theresa dollars, these raiders were sometimes known as the Kuche Kommando.
“Brook was an awesome figure of a man, four foot six in his stocking feet and as wide as he was tall. His strength was prodigious. He was known to have lifted a pretzel above his head and snap it between thumb and forefinger.
“Of course, he was a dandy and a ladies man. Lafayette called him mon petit galant. When he finally defected to the American side, Washington refused to make him a colonel because, as he said, since officers had to provide their own uniforms, he would strip the colonies of all the gold braid, lace and sash ribbon, and there would be none left for others.
“It is known that he marched with DeLauzun, and on a hot afternoon paused at a little rivulet to bathe his feet. From that day to this, that stream has been known as Mopus’ Brook.”
Mr. Hampden added by way of a footnote: “All this is just the tip of the iceberg, as if were. I am sure that if Jack pursues his researches diligently, he will uncover more legendary lore concerning this little-known figure. He could begin by consulting me, preferably with Bob Scala standing by to minister to our comfort.” Mr. Scala was operator of The Elms Inn, whose tap room was no doubt in Mr. Hampden’s mind as he wrote of Brook.
The “Second Purchase” of Ridgefield land from the Indians in 1713 mentions a boundary crossing the “lower end of Mopoos Ridge.”
Most of this ridge is in North Salem today, but before 1731 was part of Ridgefield. The ridge runs from western Mopus Bridge Road northwesterly for about a mile and a half to a short distance north of Finch Road in North Salem.
Some 1730 deeds for land in what is now North Salem refer to property on “West Mopoo” and “on Mopo.” This may have been Mopus Ridge and perhaps even the home of Mopo, the Indian, if he existed (see “Mopus”).
The Mopus Swamp or Mopus Boggs is the wetland north of Chestnut Hill Road and west of Chestnut Hill Estates and the Ridgefield Golf Course.
The place is mentioned before 1750 as “Mopo’s Bog or Boggs” and in 1787 as “Mopoo’s Swamp.”
Morganti Court is a 900-foot road, created as part of a June 1983 subdivision of 22.6 acres off the east side of Wilton Road West, near the Wilton town line.
Six lots of 1.6 to 2 acres were formed, while 15 acres toward the east end of the property was set aside as permanent open space. This preserve is a ravine that includes a portion of the Great Rocks, whose ancient name is preserved in the name of the road just to the south, Great Rocks Place.
This land had long been in the Morganti family, and was subdivided by John Morganti and Sons, a longtime contracting firm in Ridgefield.
Attorney Paul McNamara, who represented Morganti in seeking the subdivision, said John S. Morganti himself used excavate from the backlands of this property years ago. Reportedly, clay for surfacing tennis courts came from here. Mr. Morganti also personally planted a row of maples, 25 to 30 feet apart, that still stands off the easterly side of Wilton Road West, behind some of the houses.
A 15-year-old from Italy who spoke hardly a word of English when he arrived in America, Giovanni Silvio Morganti fathered a multimillion dollar company and a family that have both been major forces in the shaping of Ridgefield in the 20th Century.
Mr. Morganti got off the boat from Genoa on the morning of April 17, 1903, with about $50 in his pocket. He took a train from New York to Ridgefield and that afternoon, was hard at work on the construction of the new sewer lines in the village.
After some jobs in New Haven and then two years at the Ridgefield Electric Company’s powerhouse alongside the old railroad tracks on Ivy Hill Road, Mr. Morganti worked for contractors on building houses, including some of the High Ridge mansions – Altnacraig among them.
In 1907, he decided to return to Italy to visit his parents for Christmas, only to be pressed into service by the Italian army and sent to Italian Somaliland to help build a railroad. There, he contracted malaria and was sent back to Italy, spending 83 days in a hospital.
Two years after his impressment into the Italian Army, Mr. Morganti decided it was time to go “home.” With the help of three friends, two of them Ridgefielders, he snuck across the border into France and eventually returned to America in February 1910.
Four years later, he started his own contracting firm, which grew to be among the 400 largest in the nation and employed many Ridgefielders over the decades. It has erected buildings throughout the eastern United States, and in the Middle East. Among Morganti’s projects in town were the East Ridge Middle School, Yankee Ridge shopping center, and Ridgefield Commerce Park. Morganti built Wilton High School, much of Danbury Hospital, and many other schools, hospitals, and public buildings in the Northeast.
John Morganti and Sons built and/or paved many of the roads in Ridgefield, and did some small-scale subdivisions. But large industrial and public buildings have been the specialty of the firm.
Though he was reluctant to remain in the Italian Army, Mr. Morganti had no qualms about joining the United States forces in World War I. He served in the Marne and Argonne campaigns in France with the 77th Infantry, fought in a half dozen major battles, and was wounded in the forehead.
Mr. Morganti remained active in his company until the early 1960s when his son, Paul J. Morganti, took over as president. Paul Morganti has been well known in town, serving in the 1950s and early 60s as a selectman, and then again in the 1990s in the same position. John’s other sons, John, Joseph, and Robert, have also been well-known in the community.
The company was sold in 1988, but has maintained the name of Morganti Inc. In 1993, the firm announced it was moving its headquarters from Ridgefield to Danbury.
John Morganti and his wife, the former Elizabeth Eramo, marked their 47th wedding anniversary in January 1965, three months before John’s death. He died on April 17, just 62 years and two days after he arrived in Ridgefield, an eager teenager from Italy.
“The Mountain” is a term appearing in many old deeds, and was frequently used in the same way as one would say land “near the pond” or “on the Branch.”
However, in the 18th Century, the Mountain was more often than not used in connection with just one mountain: Asproom or Ridgebury Mountain. It was frequently so called from the 1740s into the 1790s.
Later, the Mountain is also sometimes used in reference to West Mountain.
According to Connecticut Place Names, a compilation of some 25,000 localities in the state, Mountain Lake was a term used for a body of water in Scotland District.
The book cites as its source a quotation from Rockwell’s History of Ridgefield – “The area around Mountain Lake northwesterly of the village…” – and says it’s on page 426. No such reference appears on page 426 or, as far as we have found, anywhere else in Rockwell.
However, one of the lakes associated with the old Port of Missing Men resort property (see Port Road) was a pond in North Salem, N.Y., across the Ridgefield line from Scotland District, that may have been known as Mountain Lake. In fact, today the County of Westchester runs a summer camp, called Mountain Lakes Camp, located off the west side of Hawley Road in mountainous woods of West Mountain. The Ridgefield portion of the old resort land was developed as Eight Lakes Estates (q.v.) – one of the eight lakes may have been Mountain Lake in New York.
MOUNTAIN RAVINE ROAD
Mountain Ravine Road was a name applied to a road that was within a proposed portion of the Lakeland Hills and Hemlock Hills developments in Ridgebury.
According to a map of the subdivision, “Ravine Road” or “Mountain Ravine Road” went off the end of Skytop Road, paralleled North Shore Drive, and then veered northward through Hemlock Hills Refuge to Ned’s Mountain Road, opposite Bogus Road.
This whole road still exists as a dirt path, and was the original route of Bogus Road, which dates from the 18th Century.
Neither the southern part of Otto Lippolt’s Hemlock Hills nor the northern part of Harold Goldsmith’s Lakeland Hills ever got further than lots on paper, and now both properties are town-owned open space. So Mountain Ravine Road was never developed, and the name has all but disappeared.
Mountaintop Road, a dead-end lane, shows up on a 1959 subdivision map of the northern section of Hemlock Hills. It was supposed to run off Bear Mountain Road, but was never developed by Otto H. Lippolt.
MOUNTAIN VIEW AVENUE
Mountain View Avenue, which runs between Hillsdale Avenue and Danbury Road, is part of the 1910 subdivision called Mountain View Park (see below).
MOUNTAIN VIEW PARK
Mountain View Park is a subdivision of 19.4 acres into 75-by-250 foot lots, first mapped in 1910. It was not until a new subdivision plan was filed in 1927 that the names of Mountain View Park and of the three roads – Island Hill Avenue, Hillsdale “Street” and Mountain View Avenue – appear.
The land was a hayfield when Conrad Rocklein, a town barber and native of Germany, acquired the property for a subdivision he felt would serve many of the immigrant Italian and German families that had been coming to town from 1900 onward and were becoming prosperous enough to acquire houses of their own. He named the development for its views of Titicus Mountain to the west and Copps Mountain to the north – views somewhat obscured today by trees that have been planted and have matured since Mr. Rocklein’s day.
Mountain Road is a very common name that has been applied to at least three roads in Ridgefield:
Probably the earliest Mountain Road was today’s Barry Avenue. The name was first recorded in an 1856 deed, and was appearing as late as 1910 on a map of property of David Childlow and John Light. It was the road from the village to the closest “mountain,” i.e., West Mountain.
Another 19th Century Mountain Road was an old highway that led from Route 7 over the Pine Mountain ridge to Pine Mountain Road. It was mentioned in an 1854 deed as “the Mountain Road leading to Buttonwood Swamp” (which was north of Bennett’s Pond). The term was used as late as 1940 in a deed.
The still-existing Mountain Road at the Ridgefield Lakes runs around Rainbow or Wataba Lake, from Bennett’s Farm Road to Shady Lane. According to a 1958 map of Ridgefield, drawn by Henrici Associates and commissioned by the town, the western section of Mountain Road is the southern end of an “old highway” which connects with Pine Mountain Road and leads to Miry Brook. This upper section of “old highway” was probably never more than an access to wood lots, for it does not show up on either of the two major mid-19th Century maps of the town (dated 1856 and 1867). Nor is it mentioned as a route of the British troops on the way from Miry Brook to Ridgefield and the Battle of Ridgefield, although that trail seems shorter than the Bogus Road route the troops are said to have taken. A glance at a topographical map explains why it was never a popular highway – elevations range from 580 feet above sea level to nearly 800 feet in many rocky ridges.
Fortunately, two of the three applications of Mountain Road have fallen out of use. Unfortunately, two nearby Mountain Roads exist in neighboring towns – one in the Redding section of Georgetown and one in the Wilton section of Georgetown. Some years ago, someone placed a classified advertisement for a big tag sale in The Ridgefield Press, The Redding Pilot and The Wilton Bulletin, saying the sale was on Mountain Road but neglecting to include the town. Tag sale fans were driving around three towns, trying to find the correct Mountain Road.
Mulberry Street is a fairly new name for an old highway that existed at least by 1856 and probably much earlier. Until it got its present name, Mulberry Street was probably considered simply a part of Saw Mill Hill Road, connecting the Titicus area with West Mountain.
The name is applied to the portion of the road between Pin Pack Road and Ramapoo Road. When it first came into use has not been discovered. The term existed by 1946 when it was shown on the town’s first zoning map; in fact, that map uses Mulberry Street as a name for today’s Saw Mill Hill Road as well.
Interviewed in the 1970s, old-timers recalled mulberry trees in this area. The red mulberry, a tree that reaches 30 to 60 feet in height, bears red berries that are considered quite delicious by both humans and a wide variety of wildlife.
The name itself is common in towns and cities of the Northeast, and even contributed to the title of Dr. Seuss’s first book, “And To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street.”
In a 1721 deed, the proprietors granted Benjamin Wilson 17 1/2 acres “lying on ye west of ye Mundle.”
The proprietors’ meaning or whether the word has been correctly transcribed is unknown. An old word, mundle, means a “stirring stick,” seemingly an unlikely description for a locality – unless it were somehow shaped like such a stick.
Some Ridgefielders informally called the intersection of Chestnut Hill and Spring Valley Roads “Murdock’s Corners,” recalled Josephine Murdock Donaldson of Allendale, N.J., in a 1970s letter. Her family had lived in what is now author-illustrator Maurice Sendak’s house on Chestnut Hill Road from 1918 to 1964, and Mrs. Donaldson and her sister still owned land in the neighborhood in the 1970s.
Joseph Smith, postman in that neighborhood in the 1930s, coined the term because the Murdock mailbox was situated at the intersection, the end of the line for the mail route in those days. The house is several hundred feet to the west on Chestnut Hill Road.
Mrs. Donaldson still had a piece of mail from the 1930s, addressed: “H. H. Murdock, Murdock’s Corners, Ridgefield, Conn.,” which was delivered to that box.
Connecticut Place Names reports that a Rand McNally map of 1885 labels a portion of Ridgebury as “Myra Brook.” This is undoubtedly either a typographical or a transcription error for Miry Brook (q.v.).