HISTORY OF LAND USE IN NEW FAIRFIELD, CT

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Natural Setting and Town Origins

New Fairfield Small Map
Click on the map for a larger view.

The lands comprising present day New Fairfield and Sherman were granted by the Connecticut General Court early in the eighteenth century to families from Fairfield. In 1724, a dozen citizens of Fairfield met with Squantz, Chief of the Schaghticoke Indians, and agreed on terms of purchase for this 32,000-acre tract, for the equivalent of 300 dollars.

A long and narrow triangular tract, approximately 6-miles wide at its base along the northern boundary of Danbury, the new grant extended northwesterly about 15-miles to an apex at the New York and Kent, Connecticut boundary intersection.

Originally two miles wider, the territory had been narrowed by cession from Connecticut to New York in a boundary accord of 1683. Due to its great length, the Town was divided roughly in half in 1802 when the northern portion separated to form the Town of Sherman.

The total land and water area of 16,038 acres now comprising New Fairfield are rugged, semi-mountainous terrain. Small areas of glacially created upland ridges are interspersed among lower mountains in various areas, especially in the southwestern section. These areas of better land attracted early settlement and remained agricultural until well into the twentieth century.

Dominating the eastern third of the Town is Lake Candlewood. This beautiful and much-indented lake, Connecticut's largest, was created in 1927-29 by the Connecticut Light and Power Company as a pumped storage reservoir for a hydroelectric plant on the Housatonic River in New Milford. The Lake, about 2,800-acres of which lie in New Fairfield, divides this portion of the Town into many bays, coves, islands and peninsulas.


Photo courtesy of Rick Gottschalk.

The principal "insular" land areas are Vaughn's Neck, a 2-mile long peninsula in northeastern New Fairfield, accessible by land only from Sherman and New Milford, a large peninsula east of Squantz Pond accessible by the causeway of Route 39, and Candlewood Isle, accessible only by private causeway. A fourth water separated peninsula, Candlewood Shores and Arrowhead Point, was transferred to the Town of Brookfield in 1961.

 

TOPOGRAPHIC OVERVIEW OF NEW FAIRIFELD, CT
The highest elevation in New Fairfield is about 1,210 feet at the extreme norwest
corner of the Town.
Then the low point is near 430 feet for frontage on
Candlewood Lake. See the full context for New Fairfield's
terrain on the regional topographic map.

More than half of Lake Candlewood's eighty mile shoreline lies in New Fairfield. Prior to construction of the Lake, the impoundment area was a sinuous valley drained northward by Wood Creek, originating in northern Danbury, and by Rocky River which flowed southward from Sherman and then north to the Housatonic at New Milford.

There are two other lakes of note. Ball Pond, a natural body of water, lies in the southwestern section of New Fairfield and is surrounded by small lot residential development. The northern half of Margerie Lake, a City of Danbury water supply reservoir, extends into south central New Fairfield.

See the map of watersheds and aquifers in New Fairfield, these aquifers related to glacial deposits (see also glacial deposits map). (See also early research on glaciers and drainage development in Greater Danbury).

A series of small streams drain the Town's upland areas. Ball Pond Brook and Short Woods Brook converge before discharging to Lake Candlewood, and Worden Brook in the north reaches the Lake directly. Gerow and Quaker Brooks join near the Patterson, New York line on their course westward to the Croton River in New York.

Central and northern New Fairfield is distinctly mountainous in character. There are a number of peaks well over 1,000 feet in elevation, including Beaver Bog Mountain, 1,178 feet, Pond Mountain, 1,200 feet, and several others of 1,200 feet.

Efforts to retain this special community character are on going by the New Fairfield Land Trust.

New Fairfield Development:
Beginnings to 1950

When the first settlers arrived in 1724, they found that much of their domain north of the first mile or two above the Danbury bounds was a rough mountain country of steep slopes, thin soils and bogs. The southerly and southwesterly part of the grant, although hilly, offered good arable soil for farming and was closer to the nearest settlement at Danbury. An added advantage was proximity to the confluence of Ball Pond and Short Woods Brooks, offering a potential mill site or sites.

Thus the heart of the first settlement was established in a small valley near the meeting of the brooks, about a mile north of the Danbury line. Paths, later roads, radiated out from this central settlement to outlying lands taken by settlers: west toward Ball Pond, north toward the Beaver Bog section, east toward good land beyond Wood Creek, and south along the ridge toward Danbury.

Scattered farms in areas of good soil prospered and the Town, which then included Sherman, reached a population of 1,573 in 1790. Small scale rural enterprises harnessed water power for saw and grist mills, and other trades developed. Population increased slowly but steadily until 1840. When the town was divided in 1802, there were an estimated 750 inhabitants in the south, or New Fairfield part; its 1840 population registered 956.

But the Town's capacity for growth was limited. By the mid nineteenth century all of the suitable land was under cultivation, the limited water power offered by the small streams had been tapped and the resources of wood for timber, fuel and charcoal were being rapidly depleted. Railroads being built at mid-century followed the valleys, bypassing hill towns like New Fairfield. Moreover, the superior farm lands of the west and job opportunities in growing towns were beginning to draw residents away.

At its mid-century peak of population, there were several saw and grist mills, two carriage and wagon factories, a grocery store and post office, a comb shop, a tannery, a blacksmith shop and three churches, one at New Fairfield Center, one at Beaver Bog and one at Ball Pond. Economic activity was centered around the area between the present center and the crossroads now known as "Candlewood Corners".

In common with other hill towns, New Fairfield's population declined steadily each decade for eighty years, reaching a low of 434 persons in 1930. A table of census population by decade for New Fairfield in this period is available.

All of the small shops and factories had passed from the scene by 1900, and marginal farmland had been gradually abandoned to encroaching forest so that by the 1920's, much of the Town was once again forested.

Following World War I, hard-surfaced roads began to reach into rural areas. By 1930 a two-lane State highway had been built through the Town from Danbury to Sherman. Route "136", now Route 37, passed through the center of New Fairfield where it intersected another State route leading eastward, Route "194", now Route 39, then improved only as far as the Saw Mill Road corner.

In the early twenties, two natural lakes about a half-mile apart became accessible by automobile. Putnam Lake, just across New Fairfield's western border in Patterson, New York, and Ball Pond in New Fairfield were attractive for seasonal cottages. Lakefront and intervening acreage between the two bodies of water was subdivided into small lots and many summer cottages were built during the 1920's and 1930's. By 1940, there were about 30 dwellings along the lakefront road which ringed Ball Pond, and two dozen others in close proximity, virtually all seasonal homes.

By the later twenties, the Connecticut Light and Power Company completed acquisition of the thousands of acres of land required for its hydroelectric reservoir in the Wood Creek - Rocky River valley. About 20 homes, several farms and a few seasonal cottages at the four natural ponds in the area, Neversink, Barses, Creek and Squantz, were displaced.

Land clearing and construction of dikes and dams began in 1927, and were completed by early 1928. Flooding of the valley commenced in February 1929, and by September of that year Candlewood Lake was completed with its water level near the "440 elevation" taking line.

The natural beauty of the mountain rimmed new lake, its great size and extensive shoreline, and its accessibility from various public roads launched an immediate real estate boom. Candlewood Knolls, on the lake's west shore off Route 39, was subdivided into lots for a vacation community complete with roads and a water system in 1929.

View from New Fairfield across Candlewood Lake looking
east towards Brookfield. Photo courtesy of Rick Gottschalk.

What did New Fairfield's neighborhoods look like in 1934? Check them out on this highly detailed aerial photograph. You will see a lot of farm land, for according to the U. Conn Dept. of Agriculture in 1935 there were 92 agricultural businesses in New Fairfield occupying 56% of the Town's total area.

By 1930, a private development corporation had acquired all of Candlewood Isle and began construction of a causeway, roads and a seasonal home community throughout the narrow two mile long island. In 1937 a zoning commission and zoning regulations were established by the Town.

Seasonal home communities continued to develop: Knollcrest, Bogus Hill, Joyceland and Hollywyle Park. In the 1940's development began on a large peninsula of former farmland on the east side of the Lake, now separated from the "mainland" of New Fairfield by a wide expanse of water.

Candlewood Shores and Arrowhead Point rapidly developed with more substantial homes following World War II. Because of the area's isolation from New Fairfield and accessibility from Brookfield, the two Towns agreed on a transfer of jurisdiction and the 333 acre peninsula was officially annexed by Brookfield in 1961.

The construction of summer homes and addition of seasonal residents, many of whom were from New York City and its suburbs, brought an aura of prosperity to the erstwhile rural town. Many of the more substantial lakefront dwellings became year round retirement homes. The Town's permanent population increased slowly through the 1930's and more rapidly during the late 1940's, reaching 1,236 persons in 1950.

Other changes had taken place between the two World Wars. Acquisition of forested mountain land in northern New Fairfield began by the State of Connecticut, and the Pootatuck State Forest exceeded 1,000-acres by the mid-1940's. Old farmhouses were remodeled and new homes built in scattered locations as New Fairfield's countryside became desirable for artists, writers and those whose work required only occasional trips to urban centers. At mid-century, New Fairfield was more a seasonal and rural residential retreat than the backwoods farming community it had been a few decades earlier.

New Fairfield Development:
1950 to 2000

The general prosperity of the postwar years, the attractiveness of Lake Candlewood residence, and the robust economic growth of New Fairfield's southern neighbor, Danbury, combined to produce rapid residential growth for the Town after World War II. Hundreds of formerly seasonal dwellings were converted for year-round occupancy and intensive subdivision began throughout the southern part of the Town. Population exploded during the 1950's to 3,355 persons, and during the 1960's to 6,991 persons, a 465% increase in only twenty years. 

Twenty years later, in 1990, the Town's population had increased to 12,911, or ten times its 1950 population at the beginning of the building boom. A large proportion of current residential development is in subdivisions adjoining Lake Candlewood and Ball Pond, and many of these areas are developed with lots of one-half acre or less. The majority of land in southern and central New Fairfield has now been subdivided, mostly in two acre and larger lots.

For an overview of the extent of land development in New Fairfield, CT near 1950, a review of 1946-55 USGS Topographic Maps for New Fairfieldwill be of interest (sample above).

More intensive one acre lot residential subdivisions, many developed in the 1950's and 1960's, are located in the southern part of the Town, east and west of the Margerie Reservoir, west of Route 39 in the Ball Pond vicinity, and east of Route 39 in the Squantz Pond vicinity.

It had always been intuitive to shape New Fairfield's development to natural features of the underlying landscape. These are "constraints on development" due to soil, slope and flood plain.

But as planning and zoning modernized, consideration of these limiting natural features became more formalized in local land use regulations, this trend due in part to newly available federal and state natural resource maps.

See the four basic categories above
displayed on a townwide map of New Fairfield.
Examine components of the four categories.

HVCEO as the regional planning agency for New Fairfield was formed in 1968, the word "Housatonic" in its title having its source in an old Indian name.

The year 1970 saw the first municipal sewer study and additional local and regional sewer studies thereafter.

Areas of near wilderness remain in the northwest, north central and northeast sections as a result of the extensive land holdings by Wesleyan University, Pootatuck State Forest and Squantz Pond State Park, and Connecticut Light and Power (Vaughn's Neck).

After the arrival of Connecticut's 1973 wetlands protection law, development potential in New Fairfield was significantly reduced as the approximately 8% of municipal land area defined as wetland was largely excluded from development.

A small commercial center has developed in recent years from the nucleus of the original Town center at the crossroads which is now the intersection of Routes 37 and 39. A shopping center, service businesses, restaurants, playhouse and post office all lie in close proximity to the Town Hall, library and fire house. A smaller commercial center, comprising offices, a marine service business and other uses is located at "Candlewood Corners" less than a mile eastward on Route 39.

Both of these small centers have evolved from the historic locations of early stores, mills and other enterprises. Commercial areas grew from 17 acres in 1950 to 52 acres in 1990. A small light industrial park was created in the 1980's on the north side of Saw Mill Road, restoring a historic industrial base lost since the nineteenth century; several small enterprises totaling 9-acres have been built there.

The Town's school complex, comprising a high school, junior high and elementary schools has been constructed adjacent to the original Consolidated School just west of the center on high ground north of Gillotti Road.

Zoning regulations, dating from the early postwar period, have designated most of the older subdivided area as Residential R-44 (one acre lots) and other area as R-88 (two acre lots). Provision has also been made for the two commercial centers and the small industrial park.

Scene at Town Hall. Photo courtesy of Rick Gottschalk.


Reflecting the dramatic growth of the Town, land in residential use increased from 1,156-acres in 1950 to 5,207-acres in 1990. Institutional uses, such as schools and other public buildings, increased to four times the 1950 area over the same period, not including the extensive Wesleyan tract in the northwest corner. There was a small gain in recreation land and committed open space, a large proportion of which is State park and forest land, from 1,192-acres to 1,365-acres.

See New Fairfield's zoning patterns on full regional map


New Fairfield's population reached 13,881 in 2010.

New Fairfield has succeeded in creating a pleasant residential character with views of spectacular scenery on all sides. Of interest is the New Fairfield Center Beautification Study. For a logical path for New Fairfield's future land use to follow, the HVCEO Regional Development Plan presents sound advice.

More on the future: the New Fairfield Plan of Conservation and Development is found by scrolling far down to "Planimetrics Report in PDF Files" at the New Fairfield Public Library web site.

 

 
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