History of Ridgefield CT – A Connecticut City With A Diverse History
For such a peaceful place, Ridgefield has a complex history. Stretching back over 300 years, the History of Ridgefield CT, includes many notable names and events. The town has undergone a number of transformations over that time, producing the Ridgefield residents know and love today.
Ridgefield’s Founding and the Colonial Era
Ridgefield was established in 1708 when colonists from coastal Connecticut bought land from the Ramapo Native Americans. These early settlers farmed the rich land in the area and soon thereafter built a Congregational church, as mandated by Connecticut’s Fundamental Orders, a 1639 document that was North America’s first written constitution.
The original 24 settling families were joined by others later, but the pace of growth was relatively slow. In 1777, the Revolutionary War’s Battle of Ridgefield broke out between American and British troops, resulting in a minor victory for the Red Coats that heightened support for the revolutionary movement throughout Connecticut.
The American General in charge, David Wooster, died of wounds suffered in the fighting, and posthumously lent his name to the Wooster School in nearby Danbury. Another notable figure present at the battle was Benedict Arnold, still fighting for the colonists before infamously swapping allegiances a year later.
Growth, Decline, and Resurgence
After the Revolutionary War ended, the pace of development in Ridgefield quickened. A range of supporting craftspeople moved to town, culminating in the founding of a major carriage-building shop in the early part of the nineteenth century.
Ridgefield’s relatively secluded location, along with its distance from useful waterways, kept it from becoming a major hub of the Industrial Revolution. Instead, the town’s economic fortunes began to reverse, with many of its residents fleeing to places offering more opportunity.
So many people were attracted to the area, in fact, that a new railroad line was completed in 1870, making Ridgefield more accessible. This period included a flurry of building activity, as many expansive estates and mansions, some of which still dot the area, were constructed by wealthy summer residents.
The Modern Period
As a town whose economy had come to depend on leisure and wealth, Ridgefield felt the pain of the Great Depression particularly sharply. Many of the great mansions built only decades earlier were torn down, eventually being replaced by more practical homes aimed at families of lesser means.
One surviving mansion, Sunset Hall, was considered as a potential site for the headquarters of the newly-formed United Nations in 1946, although Ridgefield’s relatively remote location eventually spoke against it. After serving as a novitiate for Catholic priests for years, Sunset Hall was eventually sold in 2008.
Learning More About the History of Ridgefield
Located at 4 Sunset Lane, the Ridgefield Historical Society owns an extensive collection of documents relating to the History of Ridgefield CT, many of which are available online. Local author Jack Sanders has written a number of books about Ridgefield, CT town history and the town in general. He also maintains an enlightening list of famous Ridgefield residents and visitors, ranging from artists like playwright Eugene O’Neill and sculptor Frederick Remington to a number of major political figures. For those looking to go beyond this brief outline or thinking of relocating to Ridgfield CT, there are plenty of opportunities to discover more about Ridgefield’s fascinating history.