Brookfield Museum and Historical Society
An Extended Learning and Research Center
165 Whisconier Road, P.O. Box 5231, Brookfield, CT 06804
The following musings of the Forensic Historian were “lifted” from the archives of ancient
Historical Society newsletters.
The Museum has aerial pictures of the “Holiday Bowling Alley” in the region of the Super 7 by-pass that was taken in 1966. It was my understanding that Frank Bacon, a local well driller and perhaps the premier bowler of that time got so incensed that it was to be destroyed that he built his own bowling alley on his property near the four corners; now known as Brookfield Lanes. The Museum has a picture of a barn where the bowling alley sits today.
In an article from the Danbury News-Times reported that in 1956 the Brookfield Board of Education said “no more.” “We do not have enough class rooms to support the Children from New Fairfield who were then living in the Brookfield Shores and Kellogg Street area. In 1961, Brookfield elected to annex that entire area to settle the problem. If you try to research older land records of that area, they probably exist in New Fairfield. Ironically, the Connecticut State Register’s yearly statistics did not reflect any increase in Brookfield’s landmass due to the annexation until 1986.
Into the mid-1960’s we still had Paid Constables and one of them was Louie Bloomberg. Each Sunday morning he was the traffic cop in the Center as the various churches let out. He was known as “Louie the Rent-a-Cop.” This was before traffic lights in the Center, but you know, I was there, and he worked very efficiently. There was no “road rage” then and Louie was great.
Since a lot of growth occurred in Brookfield in the 1960’s, (population went from 1,345 in 1960 to 9,300 by 1970) someone asked when did Zoning become law in Brookfield to control land use. The Brookfield Land Use Department says that it began on June 15,1960.
Board member Stu Terrill tells us that in the World War II era there was a First-Alert Air Raid Watch Tower on the east side of Whisconier Road about where Fawn Ridge Drive is today.
Chip Brown, a Board Member, complains that our Museum does not have a map of the farms on Route 7 (Federal Road) in the 1900-1950 era. So now we are working on such a list, starting from the North end with Tobacco Farms, Turkey Farms, Pig Farms, Chicken Farms (like Hoffman’s Chicken Farm on Silvermine Road), and maybe just a plain old working farm. Look for a future article on this subject.
I can remember when we did not have a 911 emergency call number in Brookfield but boy, did we have an effective equivalent response system for that era. We had the Kati Beers Answering Service! That service covered all kinds of emergency requests. This old Historian seems to remember that it existed until circa 1970.
On October 10, 1979 we had an early “freak” snowstorm in our area. It snapped trees with leaves still on them. The temperature stood at 34 degrees, and I vividly remember it well on that Sunday morning thinking somebody was shooting outside, as the limbs snapped. It left 2 to 8 inches of snow in various areas of our area.
Thanks to the Calkin’s Family, we finally have a picture of a second Swinging Bridge Over Still River in the Iron Works District. It was directly behind the original Lenox Shear Factory, which was destroyed by fire in May of 1902. The first, better-known, swinging bridge was nearer the Four Corners (even until the late 1930’s), behind the Valentine Patch’s house.
We are trying to solve the mystery of the where-abouts of the Old Wildman House that sat until circa 1975 on the corner of Route 7 and Route 133 until sometime around 1975. It was located approximately where the Assembly of God Church property exists today. We have pictures of it, along with a barn, circa 1920, when the Frank Gurski Sr. Family lived there. Around 1850 it was the Wildman house and also known as the Pest House, because that is where people dying in 1830’s from the plaque were housed before their death and subsequent burial across the street on the hill of the Huckleberry Cemetery. For reasons unknown, in 1850, Judge Samuel Sherman decided to move all of the stones on those graves. The remains were never moved, just a shovel full of dirt .so to speak. They were moved to the upper part of Central Cemetery, where they exist today. Don Zeigler, whose parents lived in the Wildman house after 1920, only remembers, like most, that it was torn apart before the church was built.
In researching the Book, “Connecticut Firsts” by Wilson Fraude and Joan Friedland, I find that in 1971, Branson Sonic Power of Danbury introduced The First Thread Less Sewing Machine. It’s made to sew things like acrylic material in bedding and plastics in general. Brookfield’s Edward Obeda was the inventor and developer of the machine. He donated to the Museum the prototype machine plus patent material for the machine a year before his death in 2003.
In material donated to the Museum by Florence Bristol’s estate, were advertisements from New Milford’s 20th Century Movie Theater the weekend of December 7 & 8, 1941. Ironically being shown the very weekend of the Pearl Harbor disaster was the movie “International Squadron of Brave Birdmen Battling in the Blue”. It stared none other than a young Ronald Reagan who eventually became our 39th President forty years later in 1981.
Ray Waidelich remembers the site of the “Old Valentine Patch Hanging Bridge”, that today is behind his childhood residence, the yellow house in 2004 with “Sarah’s Closet” store. The bridge ran across Still River into what are the Tuck Electro Plating buildings. Here you can view 3 of the 4 old dams on the river and see the large granite wall where the old rail tracks ran prior to 1910. The bridge let people get to work at the Patch Shear Shop back until sometime in the 1930’s. Around 1900 this whole area in the Ironworks was a marvel of industrial development that died out by 1940 along with the railroad demise.
The Tobacco Farming Industry in Brookfield area died off early in 1900 when tobacco sales fell from $.35/lb to less than $.04. Sometime around 1909 the Dolomite Limestone Industry, that once produced 1,000 barrels per month in Brookfield, suddenly ended after running since 1740.
Ray Waidelich showed the old Forensic Historian exactly where the old Silver Mine Shaft came out on Silvermine Road. It’s the driveway hill directly behind Dade Behring on land that was once the famous Hoffman Chicken farm industry. There are some secondary old surface diggings still exposed on the opposite side of Silvermine Road. The mine was extinct well before 1940.
A July 28,1988 article in the Brookfield Journal showed pictures of the Mysterious “Zeller Tunnel” from the Zeller house on Alcox street and coming out near the railroad tracks. The article intimates it was probably built around 1790 when Merritt Hubbell built the old historic house, which still exists.
On behalf of Local Historical buffs, thanks must go out to the Brookfield Town Public Works crew for not disturbing the famous “Boundstone Marker” across and along the roadway from 120 Pocono Rd. when they took down the old tree directly beside it. It represents the actual central juncture point of the lands apportioned in 1788 from New Milford, Danbury and Newtown to form Brookfield. This Forensic Historian’s dream is that some day the State Historic Commission will finally acquiesce and give the Boundstone due historic and protective recognition.
The “Little York Bridge” is listed as a covered bridge that spans the Housatonic River and is located east of the Village (Southville). This obviously was in a era before the formation of Lake Lillinonah in1955. It might have been at the end of Old Riverford Road.
I have been told that “Hogan’s Alley" was along the Still River in the central part of Town. I think it was next to “Angels Swamp” off the northern end Pocono Road.
Wesley Kennan, First Selectman in 1963, announced that he would complete paving the last stretch of Silvermine Road so it could become a major artery across Still River from East to West from Brookfield Center.
The rare 1780 Federal-style brick house on Federal Rd. next to the Faith Church complex is on the Federal Register of Historic Places. This house was the subject house in Edna Ferber’s 1931 book “American Beauty” written about Brookfield. While Ms. Ferber was writing the book she was living across the street from St. Paul’s Church in the Reverend Carpenter home. Edna Ferber was a renowned and successful authoress, but one who was much despised in Brookfield as being a brash individual who even wrote scathing remarks about the foreign born local Population. Incidentally, in that era, they were mostly comprised of Poles, Czechs, Hungarians and Irish. Interesting enough, Ms. Ferber was reportedly the offspring of a Hungarian born Jewish storekeeper.
New Milford’s wedding and death records from 1780-1800 are a good source to learn of some names from that era. Among the men’s names were: Faithful Smith, Elnathan Peet, Jedediah Strong, Bildad Hine, Theophilius Coustoil, and Friend Northrop. Women’s names included: Valentine Lovely, Mehetable Blakeslee, Hepsibah, Tryphena Flagg, Diadama Taylor, Vashti Sherman, Amarilis Hollister, Thankful Knap, and Patience Northrop.
In late February 1964 the Planning and Zoning commission gave approval to the Brookfield Hospital Fund, Inc. to build a hospital on a 30 acre tract off Farview and Hillandale Roads on the former Sam Smith acreage. At that same meeting Attorney Francis Collins presented a petition signed by 55 residents requesting a change in zoning rules to allow up to two horses to be kept on lots of at least one and one-half aces of size. Bill Schappert crafted a classic Zoning ordinance that today defines rules on the number of farm-type animals that can be housed on a residential dwelling.
In June of 1966, the Courts decided against a suit initiated by a group called Pocono Heights Realty Company, attempting to prevent the associates of Greenridge Incorporated from obtaining a recreational zoning change on the former Donald Thomsen Farm property on Whisconier Hill. The zoning change would have allowed the Greenridge group to construct a $4.5 million dollar Professional Level 200 acre golf course, complete with a motel. The Pocono Heights group wanted to have the land purchased by the Town and by using grant money from the State and the Federal Government, build a much-needed new third Elementary School, Town Hall, and Post Office. Around this time Brookfield was going through its most dramatic era of growth, as illustrated that from a population of 1,345 in 1960 to a 1970 census figure of 9,300. During the delay from September 1964, when the suit was filed to June 1966, when the suit was dismissed, the Greenridge Group not wanting their collateral to be tied up started the 250 houses now on the site identified as Greenridge.
Some believe that Baldy Gruet’s Gas Station once on the corner of Route 7 and Station Road (Mobil Station today) charged 10 cents per gallon of gas in the 1920’s. Baldy’s wife Angie ran the station and once said that she sold more food and liquor than gas during the Prohibition era.
Mail delivery in Brookfield started in 1801, and included a 1944 aborted attempt by Virgil Geddes, then Postmaster, to run Brookfield’s own air mail flights.
The price of land in Brookfield has really escalated in the past 40 years. In 1966, the third Elementary School Site Committee recommended purchasing 20.6 acres of the Tobin property on the West Whisconier Road at the astounding price of $3,500 per acre, including mineral rights to a gold vein obviously lying below ground. Incidentally, the land upon which the Whisconier School was built was originally owned by a very famous Brookfield resident, Gene Sarazen. Mr.Sarazen was a nationally renowned golfer and first golf professional at our Sunset Hill golf course in the 1930’s.