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In the latter part of 1776, the commissioners of the Continental army chose Danbury for a place of deposit for military stores. A large quantity having been collected, New York Governor Tryon, with a detachment of 2,000 men, sailed to Compo Point in Fairfield, and proceeded directly to Danbury, to destroy the Continental stores. There were a small number of Continental troops from the town as the enemy approached. The enemy entered the town on Saturday the 26th of April, 1777, at about three o'clock in the afternoon. The enemy, fearful that their retreat might be cut off, rallied early in the morning of the 27th, set fire to several stores and buildings, and immediately marched out of town.
"Nineteen dwelling houses, the meeting house of the New Danbury society, and twenty-two stores and barns, with all their contents were consumed. The quantity of continental stores which were consumed cannot now be accurately ascertained: accounts vary considerably. From the best information which can be obtained, there were about 3,000 barrels of pork, more than 1,000 barrels of flour, several hundred barrels of beef, 1,600 tents, 2,000 bushels of grain, besides many other valuable articles, such as rum, rice, army carriages, etc."
Colonel Cook appears to have been in the command at Danbury, at the time it was burnt. Receiving some notice of the landing or approach of the enemy, he immediately dispatched a messenger by the name of Lamber Lockwood, with a letter to Gen. Silliman, informing him that there was no ammunition in the place, and requesting orders. The messenger, before he was aware of it, came up with the British troops in the vicinity of Redding church, about 8 miles below Danbury; he attempted to flee, but was fired upon, wounded, and taken prisoner.
Three of four men in or near Capt. Starr's house, which was situated on the west side of the street, about 40 rods above the present court house, had the temerity to fire upon their bodies into the house, and set it on fire. The present Episcopal church was filled up to the galleries with barrels of pork and flour; these were rolled out into the street by the enemy and burnt. It is said that it was over one's shoes in the street near by, with pork fat, after the conflagration.
Major General Wooster, who was mortally wounded at Ridgefield, in an action with the enemy after they had left Danbury, was brought to Danbury, where he expired.
EXPEDITION OF WOOSTER - TURNING POINT OF WAR
Ridgebury Road Scene of Ambush of British
There is an essentially important fact about General David Wooster and the battle and fire of Danbury which every historian has overlooked in the various school text books. This is that the turning point of the great war in which our forefathers won their liberty was at Danbury.
Tradition says that the British were stationed on their war ships in Long Island Sound. Proceeding from the direction of New York they sailed to Compo Beach in the town of Westport in 1777 and proceeded through Bethel to Danbury which they thoroughly ransacked and burned. News of the landing of the British fleet reached General Wooster at New Haven. He immediately set out for Danbury in pursuit of General Tryon, the commander of the British forces. He marched as far as Bethel where he camped for the night. In the meantime Tryon had destroyed the stores in Danbury and after the burning of the town started back for Compo by way of the present site of the Wooster School. British forces were pursued by Wooster along the Ridgebury Road.
The British were soon on their way after having utterly destroyed another beautiful New England town and went on toward Ridgefield. On this back road the British were waylaid by Wooster and completely routed.
The New England Colonies took heart and banded together to such an extent that they were able to defeat the British at every point. From this stage, the armies under Howe were defeated and then came the point in the war where the colonists took the upper hand and were finally victorious.
Everyone has heard of Paul Revere's ride through the night to alert a sleeping countryside of the coming of the British troops. Less well known is an equally heroic ride, undertaken in 1777 by a 16-year-old farm girl.
Sybil Ludington was the eldest of Colonel Henry and Abigail Ludington's 12 children. They lived in Fredericksburg, New York (now called Ludingtonville), where her father, a veteran of the French and Indian war, was a gristmill owner and commander of the area militia.
On the night of April 26, 1777, the Ludington family was getting ready for bed when they were startled by a hard knock on the door. It was a messenger from Danbury, Connecticut, who had come to request the aid of the Fredericksburg militia. Two thousand British troops had attacked that Connecticut town; the Continental Army's depot of munitions and food there was destroyed and much of the town was left in flames.
Obviously, Colonel Ludington could not personally both supervise the muster of his troops and ride to alert them. Sybil volunteered to make the ride in his place.
Authorities vary on the length of her ride; some say it was 20, some say 40, miles. In any case, it was raining hard. But as Sybil urged her bay horse, Star, onward, she could see the sky light up from the glow of the flaming town. "The British are burning Danbury--muster at Ludington's!" she shouted at the farmhouses of the militiamen. When, soaked from the rain and exhausted, she returned home, most of the 400 soldiers were ready to march.
After the Battle of Ridgefield, as the resulting skirmish was later known, Sybil was congratulated for her heroism by friends and neighbors--and by General George Washington.
Because of the hatting industry, Danbury built many dams and reservoirs to provide the water needed to make hats. The first water system was the Kohanza Reservoir, built in 1860. It provided clean, clear water to Danbury. It held 40 million gallons of water.
The Kohanza Reservoir froze on January 31, 1869. This frozen river of water traveled down to Danbury and caused major damage to many homes and farms. In only a half an hour, eleven people died and homes, bridges, and factories were destroyed. The big blocks of ice uprooted trees and moved big boulders.
People described the noise of the frozen ice as sounding like a rumbling train moving over the tracks. The bridges on Main, North, and White streets were destroyed. Many other bridges were damaged. The Kohanza Disaster caused over $100,000 worth of damage to properties and homes--more than $2.2 million in 2023 dollars.
In August and October of 1955, Danbury was hit by Hurricanes Connie and Diane and deluged with rain. So much rain, that the Still River and many small streams flooded. A large part of the downtown area was destroyed by all the water.
Downtown Danbury was declared a disaster area, so the federal government sent money to rebuild the city. The plan called for many changes to Danbury so that the city would not flood again. They built a concrete channel for the Still River to flow through.
Many roads, buildings, and homes were destroyed during the floods of 1955.
Today parts of downtown Danbury look very different than it did before the 1955 flood. The Still River stills flows through downtown Danbury, but much of it is hidden underground.
From the beginning, the Danbury story has been one of population growth. Early on, immigrants came from Ireland and Germany. Later, from Italy, Sweden, and Hungary. Many came to Danbury because they had family members already here and it was easy to find work in the hatting industry or one of its adjacent businesses.
By 1910, most of the people living in Danbury came from other countries. Families came from Poland, the Slovak nations, Lebanon, Syria, Portugal, and Brazil.
Today more than 85,000 people call Danbury home.
There are more than 40 languages spoken by students in Danbury's schools!
According to local folklore, a Danbury resident named Zadoc Benedict, plugged a hole in his shoe with some fur and discovered that friction and sweat had transformed it into felt. Applying his Yankee ingenuity, Benedict used his bedpost to mold and shape the felt into hats. Sometime around 1780, he opened a shop on Main Street and his initial output was a mere three hats per day.
Whatever the truth behind this story, hatting developed in Danbury partly because of a ready supply of natural resources, most notably water, and by 1800, Danbury was producing more hats than any place else in the United States. By 1887, the 30 factories that had had sprung up in the city were manufacturing five million hats a year. "The Hat Capital of the World," as it was called, was indisputably living by the words of its motto: "Danbury Crowns Them All."
Costly labor disputes and financial reversals resulted in many factories ceasing operations or moving elsewhere. By 1923, only six hat manufacturers were left in Danbury. Changing fashions contributed to the ongoing decline in the hatting industry. By 1965, Stetson Co. stopped operations at the Mallory Back Shop.
Today, the hatting industry has vanished from "The Hat Capital of The World," but its impact upon the entire region is captured in the John Dodd Hat Shop at The Danbury Museum & Historical Society.
Open to the public on Friday and Saturday for 12:30 tours, the Hat Shop is included in the four historic buildings on our campus. The exhibit features a film that documents the processes used in hat production, samples of Danbury-made hats, photographs, as well as tools and materials related to the industry.
The Great Danbury State Fair
Originally an agricultural fair begun in 1821 and held at irregular intervals, it had evolved into a permanent event by 1869 when Rundle and White, hat manufacturers, organized an association to buy property for a Danbury Pleasure Park. This same year the Danbury Farmers & Manufacturers Society was formed and made arrangements to use the grounds of the park for a fair which opened in October with a record-setting 900 entries.
Later the Society purchased 100 acres of the park grounds. Admission was 25 cents for adults and 15 cents for children. Back then the Farmers' Tent offered everything from leaf tobacco and 12 types of pears to home-brewed wines made of wild cherry, elderberry, and raspberry for the lucky judges to sample, while the Manufacturing Section included everything from hats, boots, and saddles to carriages, wagons, churns, and stoves.
As its fame and popularity spread, the Danbury Fair attracted huge audiences; the locals coming by streetcars and automobiles; those farther away traveling by special trains. As many as "157 coaches of passengers" were brought in during the 1901 Fair Week.
What really made the fair the extravaganza that it became was the entrepreneurship of John W. Leahy. With his "unerring sense of great showmanship, what was once a dirt-pathed exposition of farmwares was transformed [into] a virtual city of paved expanses, modern exhibit buildings and midway attractions." Year after year, wearing his magnificent ringmaster's uniform, John Leahy led the daily Grand Parade. The harness races of earlier years were replaced by midget car races which in turn were replaced by stock car races.
Marian and her husband, Orpheus "King" Fisher, made their home at Marianna Farm in Danbury for many years.
Marian Anderson was born in Philadelphia on February 27, 1897 with the gift of music and the curse of racism. She used her magnificent contralto voice to enrich American culture and her strength of character to overcome the blight of prejudice. Although her early musical training was sporadic because her family lacked resources, a scholarship enabled her to study abroad under distinguished teachers.
When Arturo Toscanini heard her perform at the Salzburg festival in 1935, the maestro was so impressed that he said to her: "A voice like yours is heard only once in a hundred years." After gaining international prominence, she returned to America to give 70 recitals during 1938. When she was denied the opportunity to perform in Constitution Hall in 1939, she triumphed over adversity to sing before a crowd of 75,000 at the Lincoln Memorial. Not until 1955 did Marian Anderson--by then, 58 years old--break the color barrier at the Metropolitan Opera house.
Shortly before her career ended a decade later, she sang at the presidential inauguration of John F. Kennedy. As an African-American who overcame adversity to achieve renown, Marian Anderson embodied the civil rights movement. However, this aspect of her life should not overshadow her stature as a performer. Musical experts, noting the uniqueness of her vocal qualities, have acclaimed her to be one of the greatest contraltos of the Twentieth century. She developed a wide repertoire ranging from the spirituals of her black culture to the songs of Bach and Brahms to the folk music of Scandinavia. [Mermelstein, David. "Two Marian Andersons, Both of Them Real." New York Times, 23 Feb. 1997.]
Known for his independence from musical fads and his flair for experimentation, Charles Edward Ives was truly a native son of Danbury. His father George, who had served as a Civil War band leader, was Charles' most influential teacher and had engaged himself in various musical experiments. Thus it was that Charles interwove fragments from traditional patriotic marches and hymns with the unconventional techniques acquired from his father; unfortunately, Danbury residents and Americans in general were not receptive. When several of his orchestral works premiered in New York, Los Angeles, and Boston during the 1930s, the audiences were openly hostile.
The bulk of Charles Ives's music was composed during the years between 1896 and 1916. During that time span, he graduated from Yale (1898), formed a very successful insurance company with Julian Myrick (1907), and married Harmony Twitchell (1910). It was not until well after he stopped composing that a changing public revised its assessment of his music. Finally, in 1947 Charles Ives was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for the Third Symphony he had written forty years earlier. By then a wealthy man due to success in his insurance business, he gave away the $500 prize money.
When he was a boy, he disliked being called a piano player by his peers. When much ado was made about his music and he was asked what he liked to play, he would retort: "Shortstop!" He also rowed and played tennis and football.
"(Harmony) was never in doubt that Charles Ives was a genius, and so he was never in doubt." — a friend of the family.
"The piano drew Mr. Ives like a magnet. He couldn't sit still for long, and it seemed like he couldn't keep away from (it)."—Christine Loring, secretary for Charles Ives.
"My things were done mostly in the twenty years or so between 1896 and 1916. In 1917 the war came and I did practically nothing in music. I did not seem to feel like it. We were busy at the office at this time with the extra Red Cross and Liberty Loan drives and all the problems that the war brought…"
Charles Ives constructed his "shanty" on top of a mountain in the Ridgebury section of Ridgefield, Connecticut in 1903. Perhaps the panorama available from this spot inspired Ives to begin his "Universe Symphony". He envisioned two orchestras playing across from each other on mountaintops overlooking a valley. "If only I could have done it. It's all there—the mountains and the field," he said.
The Fourth of July had been forgotten in a safe until Julian Myrick (Charles Ives' business partner) asked Ives if he wanted it thrown away. "Why, Mike! God that's the best thing I've written!"
"Mrs. Ives never once said, or suggested, or looked or thought there must be something wrong with me—a thing implied, if not expressed by almost everybody else, including members of the family. She never once said: 'Now why don't you be good and write something nice the way they like it.' Never. She urged me on my way to be myself and gave me her confidence that no one else since Father had given me."—Charles Edward Ives
Rose Wilder Lane was an author, journalist, world traveler and Libertarian spokeswoman. Born in 1886, she did many things differently than other women of her time. She wore short dresses, cut her hair, and spoke her mind.
Rose was born on December 5, 1886 in a cabin near DeSmet, Dakota Territory (later South Dakota) where her parents, Almanzo and Laura Wilder tried to make a living from farming. Her mother, Laura Ingalls Wilder, was the author of the Little House series of books that told the story of her family’s adventures.
Rose Wilder Lane moved to Danbury in 1938 and bought a home on King Street. She shared her experiences remodeling the house in her articles for Woman’s Day Magazine in 1939, 1942, and 1960. (Photograph of Rose Wilder Lane ca 1905-1910 from Herbert Hoover Presidential Library & Museum.)