The official website of the Town of Ridgefield, Connecticut has the following
to say about this lovely hamlet in the northern part of Fairfield County:
"The little town that time forgot," is an appropriate description of
Ridgefield, a town that still closely attempts to hold onto its colonial
heritage. Ridgefield was established in 1709, encompassing Branchville,
Titicus, & Ridgebury.
As late as the 1960s it felt as though you were taking a step back in
time when you entered Ridgefield. Turning left onto the historic Main
Street, at the historic horse trough, traveling among the large elm and oak
trees, it was apparent as you drove past the Colonial houses that this was
not just another community. You had entered a town that was still unique, in
spite of its proximity to the hustle and bustle of New York City. The town
population of 22,000 stabilized in 1972.
The first paragraph has a peculiar phrase: "...a town that still closely
attempts to hold onto its colonial heritage." Closely attempts? How
apropos. There is little here that has to do with Colonial heritage, in a real
sense, but for a number of buildings on the National Register of Historic
Places, and the fact that the "Battle of Ridgefield" took place here during the
Revolutionary War. In fact, Benedict Arnold was one of the heroes of the
Battle of Ridgefield, in an ironic twist, and he is so honored with a plaque
located on a stone wall on the town's Main Street. Behind the fence is a '70s
modern condominium complex named after the gigantic mansion that once stood in
the center of the property the complex is built upon.
Now let's look at the next paragraph. If "it felt as though you were taking a step back in time when you entered Ridgefield" as
late as the 1960s, what happened thereafter? Well, We'll go there now.
If one is employed in New York City, has achieved a modicum of success and
desires to acquire a residence with a proper address, perhaps in
the name of corporate advancement or merely in the name of striving to acquire
the material things that scream "I've arrived!" the first thing to do (in
Connecticut) is to start looking at Fairfield County's "Gold Coast." The
waterline that stretches from Greenwich, Connecticut all the way to
Southport, Connecticut is chock full of lovely homes going in the mid-7
figures... okay, catch your breath, and pick your jaw back up off the table.
Yes, mid-7 figures. So you say that a view of the Long Island Sound is out?
Okay, let's work inland to the lovely town of New Canaan, Connecticut. Can't
put a Land Rover and 2 Benzes in the garage? You're out of
luck. Because beside the fact that a New Canaan residence is going to set you
back at the very least three-quarters of a million dollars, you're going to have
to wear and drive the trappings of "Old Money." If you want any sort of a social
life you'll have to have attended an Ivy League school, perhaps be married to
a DAR, and have gobs and gobs of money.
Letterman bought his way into New Canaan until he
thumbed his nose at this bastion of Polo, Horses, Mansions and Single-Malt Scotch
served in Baccarat glasses, and moved to a ranch out west.
Ridgefield: A Good B-List Choice
So what to do if you're nouveau riche? I mean, these days you can
find some lovely homes in Westport but you'll still feel
out of place. After all, Westport's between the urban sprawl of Norwalk and
Bridgeport. Well, look no more. You've found Ridgefield: the town of choice for
those with plenty of money but no listing yet in The Social Register.
It was, in fact, in the late 1950s and early 1960s that found developers
buying up farmland, bulldozing 250-year-old stone walls and erecting three- and
four-bedroom homes on speculation. Well, you know how the saying goes, "build
it and they will come!" An interesting demographic of airline pilots, IBM
employees, and corporate types snapped up these homes for the then-exorbitant
price of $25-30 thousand dollars. These "instant neighborhoods" had lovely names
like "Twixt Hills" and "Ridgebury Estates." Elementary schools popped up all
over to handle the sudden influx of young families.
An interesting aside; the town was also populated with scientists who worked
for Escambia chemical corporation and other scientific types. One of them had
the financial wherewithal and engineering acumen to actually build a lead-lined
basement in his home (anticipating the onslaught of Russian atomic weapons),
which exists to this day. I wonder how his kids turned out.
The Real History of Ridgefield
Ridgefield In Review, a book by Silvio Bedini, whose family inhabited
the town since the mid-17th century, tells the true story of the chasm between
the upper and lower classes in Ridgefield. The book's out of print, perhaps
because it was penned in 1958, perhaps because it exposes a story that the
Ridgefield Historical Society would rather sweep under the rug. The wealthy in
New York City who wanted to get away from the heat of the city in the summer
time discovered the Colonial charm of Ridgefield, and its convenient railroad
spur. An orgy of mansion-building ensued. For this, at one time there were well
in excess of a thousand Italian stonemasons in the town, along with their
families. They earned a good living putting up the residences of the wealthy and
privileged, and their offspring started many of the town's oldest businesses. To
this day, Italian names are common among realtors, lawyers, developers, and
myriad other businesses.
Among the primarily New York- and Stamford-bound
businessmen who settled in Ridgefield, there were also old-time residents of the
town, the descendants of the stonemasons and other workmen who erected the fine
homes. Artists also were attracted to the ridges and valleys, filled with
wildflowers and meandering stone walls. Several celebrities, eschewing the
commute to popular Litchfield-county destinations, built homes here. Antiques
dealers were the next to come, lining the main artery (U.S. Route 7) up and down
with shops offering a range of second-hand goods ranging from curios to
In 1964, Larry Aldrich opened a now-world-class museum of modern art in one
of the mansions lining Main Street (Connecticut Route 35). Just up the street,
the meticulously restored Keeler Tavern museum and gardens is a delightful
historical landmark (a Revolutionary War cannonball is lodged to this day in an
outside wall). The Keeler Tavern Society was endowed with an incredibly peaceful
glass pavilion, on a reflecting pond amid formal gardens, located behind the
main house. A half a day can easily be spent at either one of these attractions.
The Ridgefield Playhouse is an off Broadway class venue offering live
theater, movies, an ambitious program of live music, and even top-shelf comedy.
The Ridgefield Symphonette, the town's orchestra, is well-known for its
delightful presentations of music that have been consistently critically
acclaimed for its 40 years in operation.
Want a bite? Ridgefield's the Place.
A gastronome's paradise, Ridgefield is home to the venerable Stonehenge
Restaurant and Inn. For nearly fifty years, this lovely haven tucked into the
woods right off of Route 7 has been enchanting diners with superb,
critically-acclaimed food and a distinctive ambience, facing its own pond. About
fifteen years ago, guest accommodations were built to complete the Stonehenge
"experience." The food and service are worth every penny. This restaurant
exceeds the standards of some of the finest to be found in America's largest
Competing with Stonehenge is the old "Inn at Ridgefield," now called
"Bernard's" with lovely cuisine, a jazz bar downstairs, and opulent guest
accommodations. On Ridgefield's Main Street, the venerable 70-year-old Elms Inn
was once very Italian-influenced, but now has moved on to a more eclectic array
of offerings from land and sea. A few guest rooms, not inexpensive, however, are
There seems to be a restaurant for every taste, and in fact, every day of the
month in Ridgefield. In spring, summer and fall there's even a "gourmet" hot dog
wagon ("Chez Leonard") where one's sausage can be had plain, or with Champagne and Caraway Seed
Sauerkraut. The intrepid owner has even made the pages of Gourmet Magazine.
Spagone Italian Restaurant is a lovely place with a gracious host and
delightful chef. They make one of the best veal picatta I've ever had in my
life. Their wine list is absolutely superb, with many wonderful selections by
the glass. The food's consistently good but a bit pricey. Right over the New
York State border on Route 35 is Le Chateau, a spectacular French restaurant.
Given four stars by The New York Times since it opened about 30 years
ago, the place still fills up so reservations are in order. And bring your
American Express card. The prices (quite properly not indicated on the menus
handed to all but the person who made the reservation) will take one's breath
away. But so will the food, and the view. So, go there; big deal, you won't
breathe for awhile.
A $500,000 Residence with No Furniture
One of the peculiarities about Ridgefield is its penchant for attracting,
well, peculiar people. People whose fortunes have risen and fallen like the tides
seem to flock to Ridgefield. The old story about such folks is that they can
just barely make the mortgage on their half-million-dollar home and have sold
off all the luxury furnishings once contained therein to pay the bills. Movie
people, eccentric entrepreneurs, owners of risky start-ups with champagne tastes
and beer bottle pockets can move about the townsfolk as long as their clothes
have been bought at the right merchants and they drive the requisite
conveyances, manufactured in Germany or Great Britain.
The family-owned businesses which once purveyed hardware, appliances, and
apparel to Ridgefield's discriminating long-time residents have been replaced
with the likes of Home Depot, The Gap, Talbot's, and other chains. No longer can
one go to Brunetti's market to buy prime steaks, cut to order. Brunetti's even
delivered. But that's gone. An upscale coffee shop now occupies the lovely old
building with the tin ceilings. Gourmet foods can be purchased at any of the
town's three cheese shops, and the upscale supermarket, The Whole Foods Market.
Factoid: at one time Ridgefield boasted more liquor stores per capita than any
other town in Connecticut. Again, larger chains have replaced the fine wine
stores and small package stores of old.
Developments have sprouted of late offering residences in the
million-and-a-half dollar range. These homes, on a mere acre of land, stand on
barren lawns with minimal landscaping, waiting for the growth of the saplings
which were installed to replace the stately Maples which were bulldozed to make
room for "progress," epitomize the concept of the "McMansion."
It's not at all surprising in Ridgefield to spot someone making a purchase
with a credit card, only to have the sales clerk softly say "I'm sorry, your
card's been declined. Have you another?" Then out come about twenty more and one
is finally found with enough remaining credit to complete the transaction. One
could say that, whether paid for or not, "he who has the most toys when he dies,
wins" is a motto for Ridgefield.
Well, You're In Good Company
Large- and small-screen actor Robert Vaughan is a resident. His distinction
among the locals is his inability to keep landscaping help on his enormous
lakefront estate on West Mountain Road. Acres of land and the man has confirmed
that he doesn't know how to use a gasoline-powered lawnmower. On a happier note,
one can find resident Harvey Fierstein ambling about town, laughing all the
way. A few network television personalities reside here; one of whom brought the
first DeLorean car to the town in the late '70s. In a town where cars mean
everything, that was a big deal. There are a lot of artists residing in
Ridgefield. It is not uncommon to drive along a country road and suddenly come
upon a restored barn or carriage house encircled with sculptures crafted from
Now, more about company. There are many cliques in Ridgefield. If you're a
"joiner," and you're Jewish, you'll find that your mailbox is filled with
invitations to exclusive black-tie charity galas. However, the luncheon and
dinner parties (all catered affairs) given as mere entertainment or displays of
conspicuous consumption are pretty much off-limits. That's not to say that
Ridgefieldites are in any way anti-semitic. There's a temple, a very lovely one
at that; part of which was once a mansion owned by a book publishing magnate.
The conspicuous money in Ridgefield worships Christ, and have built
opulent houses of worship over the years, almost in competition for who worships
in the biggest and the best. The town's Jews know who they are and just don't
spend beyond their means, so they're pretty much out of the social loop.
There's also a large Catholic population and two Catholic churches, one on
either side of town. St. Mary's, a lovely old stone building, was built by the
stonemasons and their offspring (mentioned hereinabove). The quaint size just
couldn't accommodate all the Catholics who moved into town, so a spectacular
modern building was built in the northern end of Ridgefield, near Danbury,
Connecticut. It appeals to those who'd worship the Father, Son and the Holy
Ghost in air-conditioned comfort and aesthetic splendor.
Back to the parties. The parties are the stuff legends are made of. Suffice
it to say that before Martha Stewart's star began to shine on
TV and she was the priciest caterer in Fairfield County, she and her staff spent
plenty of time providing vintage Champagne, Caviar and other goodies to the
Ridgefield "in crowd." There's a Republican "in crowd," and a Democratic "in
crowd." The thing they have in common is money; and lots of it. The booze flows
freely; there are a number of watering holes where a cocktail's available at
11:30 in the morning. The gathering places of the businessmen who run the town,
as well as "the ladies who lunch" are fully licensed as well. Even the town's
only diner serves beer and wine.
This writer owned a cottage in Ridgefield between 1980 and 1986. It was a
place to get away from the gritty city, hang out with friends and breathe fresh
air. The doors to Ridgefield society opened quickly to me when they discovered
that I could get them on the "A-list" at one of New York City's most exclusive
night spots. Else they wouldn't have given a hoot. My experience with
Ridgefield's movers and shakers opened my eyes to a lifestyle that I'd only seen
in the movies: booze, booze and more booze. One infamous Ridgefield hostess
called me on a Tuesday morning and asked if I couldn't come over and see what
she'd "done" with her powder room. I couldn't have cared less about the
wallpaper or the Italian marble in her newly-decorated
powder room. Then the other shoe dropped. "Oh and be a dear and stop by the
grocery and pick up some tomato juice; we seem to be all out." Of course, on
arrival the Bloody Marys were flowing (they were actually more
like just vodka and tomato juice - who has time for pepper, salt or
Worcestershire sauce?) That day went from "eye openers" to lotsa wine at lunch,
to gin and tonics at someone else's house, and ended up at a restaurant. I
forgot how I got home. My car was in the driveway, safe and sound, but I'd
forgotten which restaurant or what we ate or who was there. But I digress.
Numbers Don't Lie
Now for the nitty-gritty. As of 2006, 23,643 souls inhabited Ridgefield;
females beating males by nearly two percentage points. Now for some "medians:"
you're 39.4 years old, have a household income of $117,900 (the median for the
State of Connecticut for the same period was $60,941); your home/condo cost
$722,500 (up from $439,000 in 2000) and you're 94.6% "White." 2,271 residents of
Ridgefield were "foreign born." And beware, with three registered sex offenders
in the town as of early 2007, there's an 8,044 to 1 chance that the person you
meet in the grocery store who chats you up has been convicted of doing something
nasty with a non-consenting person. Ridgefield High School made it to the list
of the nation's 1,000 best high schools in 2005. In 2006, 90% of graduates went
on to matriculate at a four-year college or university.
So there you have it. Ridgefield in a nutshell. I don't live there any more but the town I do live in in Connecticut bears a lot of similarity to Ridgefield. The people drive the same cars, wear the same clothes and drink the same booze. They just don't try so damned hard to be what they're not.
- Town of Ridgefield Website:
- City-Data.com (Statistics):
- Information for prospective Ridgefield homebuyers:
http://www.country-living.com/ridgefield.htm (Accessed 7/24/07)
- The Ridgefield Playhouse for the Performing Arts:
http://www.ridgefieldplayhouse.org/ (Accessed 7/24/07)
- The Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art:
http://www.aldrichart.org/index.html (Accessed 7/24/07)
- Ridgefield Chamber of Commerce:
http://www.ridgefieldchamber.org/ (Accessed 7/24/07)
- Ridgefield Public Schools:
- Stonehenge Inn and Restaurant:
- The writer's experience living in Ridgefield.