History

1

Ridgefield CT – A town rich in history

Ridgefield was established three centuries ago by farmers who had begun moving inland. They bought large tracts from the Ramapoo Indians and laid out the center of the community along the 800 feet above sea level ridge now traversed by Main Street.  For two centuries Ridgefield remained a quiet agricultural community — except during the American Revolution. The Battle of Ridgefield in April 1777 featured Benedict Arnold when he was still a patriot hero and saw General David Wooster mortally wounded as he led the rebels against the Redcoats. Both General George Washington and Count Rochambeau spent at least one night in town.

At left, Ridgefield issued a medal honoring Benedict Arnold, hero in the Battle of Ridgefield

2

Manufacturing and Commerce

In the early 1800s, some small industries began to appear in Ridgefield, mostly along the streams whose water could power mills. Wool cloth, felt hats, iron tools, and hard cider were among the products they made. Shirts and shoes were also produced here, too. In the lower village stood a factory called The Big Shop that produced elegant carriages that were sold throughout the eastern United States. On its top floor was a hall where the community had gatherings and dances, and where Hannibal Hamlin, vice president under President Lincoln, spoke to a packed audience.

At left, Lincoln’s vice president spoke here when it was a carriage factory and community hall

3

The Golden Age

By the late 19th Century, Ridgefield’s natural beauty — from its lofty vistas to its refreshingly clean air — prompted many wealthy New York  financial and industrial leaders to establish large country estates throughout the town, but especially on High Ridge, West Lane, and West Mountain. As the town grew, so did its need for labor. Ridgefield attracted many immigrants, first Irish and Germans and later Italians, who came here to build infrastructure like roads, sewers and water lines. They wound up settling in Ridgefield and by the mid 20th Century became leaders of the town.

At left, Altnacraig, a High Ridge mansion whose owner, president of the Chase Bank, convinced noted American sculptor Frederick Remington to move to Ridgefield

4

The Age of the Arts

With the New Yorkers soon came artists, writers, singers, and stars of stage and screen — all seeking the beauty of the country. Since the 1890s, Ridgefield has been a thriving arts community — home to five Pulitzer Prize winners, a Nobel Laureate, and two presidents of the National Academy of Design. They included playwright Eugene O’Neill, sculptor Frederick Remington, Impressionist artist J. Alden Weir, actor Robert Vaughn, and author/illustrator Maurice Sendak.   Today, Ridgefield is still home to many artists, writers, and performers, as well as many winners of Emmys and Oscars, and has a thriving arts community based around the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, The Ridgefield Playhouse, the Ridgefield Theater Barn, and the Ridgefield Guild of Artists.

At left, The Nobel-winning playwright lived and wrote here in the 1920s.

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