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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 Chippendales.

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 cities.

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 also available.

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 various materials.

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.
 

SOURCES:

  • Town of Ridgefield Website: http://www.ridgefieldct.org/content/42/64/default.aspx (Accessed 7/24/07)
  • City-Data.com (Statistics): http://www.city-data.com/city/Ridgefield-Connecticut.html (Accessed 7/24/07)
  • 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: http://www.ridgefield.org/go.asp?go=!SiteStationAF&x=TPLGen&TPL=Frameset_RPS.htm (Accessed 7/24/07)
  • Stonehenge Inn and Restaurant: http://www.stonehengeinn-ct.com/ (Accessed 7/24/07)
  • The writer's experience living in Ridgefield.

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