HISTORY OF LAND USE IN NEW MILFORD, CT

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Natural Setting and Town Origins

New Milford
Click on the map for a larger view.

When the collision of continental landmasses which created the Western Highlands of Connecticut was occurring 250 to 500 million years ago, a belt of lime-rich ocean floor was thrust up among the primeval mountains. Eons later, the softer limestone had eroded into the deep, mile-wide valley which now stretches some 30 miles from northern Ridgefield thru New Milford to New Preston.

Flowing directly across this ancient limestone trench from northwest to southeast, cutting through highland gorges on each side, is the Housatonic River at central New Milford.

Here the Housatonic intercepts the northward flowing Still River which drains the southerly two-thirds of the limestone valley and the southward flowing East and West Aspetuck Rivers which drain the northerly one-third of the limestone valley. This pattern helped form the significant water supply resources in New Milford today.

 

TOPOGRAPHIC OVERVIEW OF NEW MILFORD, CT
The highest elevation in New Milford is about 1,281 feet atop Bear Hill in the north-
eastern corner of the Town. Then the low point of just under 200 feet is on the
shore of Lake Lillinonah at the south end near Bridgewater. See the full context
for Bridgewater's terrain on the regional topographic map.

For the early colonists along the southwest Connecticut coast the Housatonic River was a natural route inland to the fertile soils of this limestone valley. Sometime before 1671, a trading post was built 25 miles above tidewater, at Goodyear's Island just below New Milford's Great Falls of the Housatonic.

These falls were a favorite fishing ground of the native inhabitants whose fort and village of "Weantinock" sat on a bluff about two miles north of the falls at present day Fort Hill. As early as 1670, the Connecticut General Court had authorized several proprietors to purchase land on both sides of the Housatonic at Weantinock, and a deed was signed with four of the Weantinock sachems at Stratford in April, 1671. Settlement was not organized until 1706, however, when twelve new proprietors met at New Milford to buy out the original grant and lay out a "town plat".

The site chosen for the new settlement was on a low terrace near the east bank of the Housatonic, between the confluences of the Still and Aspetuck Rivers, at the middle of the fertile valley and at the virtual center of the ninety square mile grant. The Town site was also directly across the river from the natives' river meadow planting ground (still called "Indian Field") and their Weantinock village. A new agreement had been concluded with the tribe's leading sachem, Waramaug, in 1705 which continued for many decades of peaceful coexistence between the two villages on opposite banks of the river.

The 1706 grant, totaling about 92 square miles, extended from the bounds of Danbury on the south to Kent on the north, and encompassed most of present-day Bridgewater, about half of Brookfield and part of Washington. With a total land and water area of 40,768 acres (63.7 square miles), New Milford still remains the largest municipality in area in the state.

The Town's terrain is diverse, but predominantly hilly to mountainous. Two features which extend through the length of the town are the central limestone valley and the Housatonic River.

The Housatonic, originally called the "Great River" in early deeds, originates in the mountains of northwestern Massachusetts above Pittsfield and enters northwest New Milford about two miles above Gaylordsville where it forms the border with Sherman.

Flowing southeasterly through a mostly steep-sided narrow chasm, in about eight miles it reaches the wide limestone plain at New Milford center and curves gently to the east side of the valley where it becomes the headwaters of Lake Lillinonah, a Connecticut Light and Power hydroelectric impoundment.

At about 11 miles the river again enters a narrow steep-sided chasm, long known as "Lovers Leap", just above the now-submerged site of the Great Falls and Goodyear's Island. The lower three river miles in New Milford are the calm waters of Lake Lillinonah, generally 400 to 800 feet wide, and the final two miles mark the town's boundary with Bridgewater. Of interest will be the 1973 report Navigation of the Housatonic River in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Lake Candlewood, also a Connecticut Light and Power hydroelectric impoundment, is another major feature. New Milford Bay, the 5 mile-long northeastern arm of the lake, is the narrow flooded valley of the Rocky River. Averaging 500 to 2,500 feet in breadth this portion of the lake and its hilly shoreline extend from the town's southwest corner to just west of the center, above the Rocky River power station on the south bank of the Housatonic.

West of Lake Candlewood and the Housatonic River high ridges extend along the border of Sherman, the principal ridge lines consisting of Green Pond Mountain, Candlewood Mountain, Stillson Hill, Barnes Hill and Boardman Mountain.

The north central area is a region of high hills and mountains, separated by the twin forks of the upper limestone valley, and drained respectively by the West Aspetuck and East Aspetuck Rivers. There are also several lesser streams, including Womenshenuk Brook and Merryall Brook. Principal peaks in this area are Long Mountain, Rock Cobble Hill, Mt. Tom, Peet Hill, Iron Hill and Bear Hill, all with elevations rising above 1,000 feet. By contrast, the elevation of the Housatonic at Gaylordsville is about 250 feet and at the headwaters of Lake Lillinonah, just south of the center, about 200 feet.

High ridges also dominate the eastern side of New Milford. Here however, the terrain is less mountainous and the hills more gently rounded, typical of glacial till uplands. The principal hilltop areas are Second Hill, Mine Hill and the "Chestnut Lands" ridge. Several small streams which flow to the valley from this highland area are Great, Cross and Town Farm Brooks. Four small water reservoirs, no longer in use, are located on the latter two brooks.

The rich, alluvial and limestone-based soils of the Still River valley and the East and West Aspetuck valleys created a long period of agricultural prosperity for the Town. Good soils have also been farmed for long periods in the valley at Gaylordsville, on Stillson Hill, throughout the Merryall area, on Town and Second Hills, and in the Chestnut Lands area.

Submerged under a large glacial lake at the end of the last ice age, about 15,000 years ago, the Still River valley and central area include a number of gravel terraces at various elevations. These significant aquifers are productive groundwater sources for Town and private wells, and have been mined for sand and gravel in several locations (see glacial deposits map).

(See also early research on glaciers and drainage development in Greater Danbury). The blend of hills, valleys, streams and lakes creates many scenic vistas throughout New Milford.

New Milford Development:
Beginnings To 1950

 

Settlement began about 1708 as the proprietors arrived to claim their home lots on the "town plat", located at the south end of Aspetuck Hill where Main Street presently lies. In common with other Connecticut frontier settlements of the period, the plat created a wide common street and surrounding village of home lots, clustered for defense and mutual assistance.

By 1714, fourteen of the sixteen home lots were occupied by cabins and about two dozen families had settled in the central area. A cartway or path led westward from the town street to the river's edge and northward a mile to the rapids, then the common fording place of the Housatonic (later to become Bennett Street and Boardman Road). Another path led southeast to several outlying dwellings (present-day Grove Street).

As the frontier receded into the northwestern towns of Connecticut, settlement gradually spread from the center to outlying sections. By 1717, a saw and grist mill was in operation on the Still River at present-day Lanesville. In 1719, a meeting house was started in the center although not completed for another 12 years. In 1725, an early proprietor acquired several thousand-acres in the northwest area of the Town and initiated settlement of the Gaylordsville section where another ford of the Housatonic River was available.

It is likely that the choice lands of the Still River valley and those just north of the village were settled and under cultivation by the end of the first quarter of the century. Settlement reached the better farm lands in such outlying areas as Merryall, the "Chestnut Lands", and the "Neck" (modern Bridgewater) during the 1730's and 1740's.

Transportation between settled areas was difficult. Many years passed before the primitive paths connecting the outlying settlements -- many originating as Indian trails -- became recognizable roads. Several of the earliest paths, later roads, led north and south along the riverbank from the village to fording places on the Housatonic, and also northeasterly through the East Aspetuck Valley, southeasterly toward present-day Bridgewater and southward through the Still River Valley.

A major obstacle, however, the fording of the Housatonic, was overcome at an early date. In 1737, the Town constructed the first bridge over the inland Housatonic, i.e. north of tidewater at Derby. This long covered wooden structure, which stood near the present bridge on Bridge Street, served until carried away by flood in 1802. When the General Court subsequently authorized several east-west "colony highways" to be improved, one was laid out from Hartford to Litchfield to Poughkeepsie via the New Milford long covered bridge, and this route eventually became a major commerce and stage road.

At mid-century the Town was filling up rapidly as farms were cleared and homesteads were established in every section, propelled by a high birth rate and growing shortage of land in the older towns. By 1774, there were 2,776 inhabitants in the Town, which still included territory now the north half of Brookfield and most of Bridgewater.

The New Milford Historical Society & Museum is the guardian of the Town's early resources, and the Gaylordsville Historical Society covering the northwestern portion of the municipality also has much of historical interest.

By the early 1800's, all but the steepest land had been brought under cultivation or pasture. Small water-powered mills harnessed most of the mid-size streams and enterprising farmers practiced dozens of trades for economic gain, such as blacksmith, cooper, fuller, hatter, joiner, miller, shoemaker, tanner, tavern keeper, wheelwright and others. The upper limestone valley along the East Aspetuck River contained a belt of marble ideal for building stone and in 1800 quarrying and sawing of this stone into slabs for export began in Marbledale, the part of New Milford ceded to the new Town of Washington a few years earlier.

By 1830, there were 15 marble quarries and 20 mills producing and shipping marble all over the country, located along a three-mile stretch of the East Aspetuck at the New Milford-Washington line. Iron ore had also been discovered in the nearby hills, and New Milford's available limestone, used as flux in the smelting process, and water-power led to the establishment of an iron industry.

The earliest iron works were at the Halfway Falls on the Still River (in present-day Brookfield) and later foundries were established at New Preston, at present-day Lanesville, and two in the Lower Merryall section. A paper mill which manufactured paper from straw also operated on the East Aspetuck south of Northville.

The rich soils of the river valleys led to a bountiful agricultural production by the close of the eighteenth century, and resulted in agitation for improved roads to tidewater. Many turnpike companies were being chartered by the General Assembly, and several of these secured rights in New Milford and vicinity. These built and operated the Bridgeport and New Milford Turnpike, New Preston Turnpike, Sherman Turnpike and Long Meadow Turnpike.

Also reconstructed as a toll bridge was the long covered bridge at New Milford center and before 1810, a new long-span covered bridge was built over the Housatonic at Gaylordsville. By mid-century additional toll roads and bridges had been built across the Housatonic at Southville (now Lower Bridgewater), the Brookfield town line (Old Bridge Road), Great Falls (Lanesville) and Boardman Bridge.

Despite the loss in 1788 of some 5,400-acres of settled land to form the new Town of Brookfield, New Milford's population increased to 3,221 in 1800, making it then the most populous Town of the present-day region.

As small industries and commerce continued to expand, Town population continued to grow over the next five decades. In 1819, when the Town's population was about 3, 800 persons, the Gazetteer of Connecticut and Rhode Island described New Milford as a "flourishing post-town" with three bridges across the Housatonic and "numerous sites for mills". It noted that the village contained 60 houses, a post office, several mercantile stores and mechanics' shops.

With the now-thriving iron industry of the upper Housatonic valley and inland farmers and manufacturers clamoring for better access to tidewater ports, the Connecticut Legislature in 1836 chartered the Housatonic Railroad. With major financial backing from investors in Bridgeport, the line was routed from Bridgeport north to Newtown, along the Still River valley to New Milford where it would cross the Housatonic, and thence northward along the river valley to east-west rail connections under construction in Massachusetts. Construction reached New Milford center in 1840.

The Housatonic line became one of the first to ship fresh milk to New York City and briefly prospered in hauling products of the valley's stone and iron industries to tidewater. But by the later 1840's and early 1850's, many of the limestone quarries began to close and the iron industry was in decline. Other rail lines succeeded in constructing more direct links to New York, Albany, Springfield and Boston, depriving towns along the Housatonic line of their hoped-for "main line" status.

New Milford's population, stable for a decade prior to arrival of the railroad, increased during the 1840's to a peak in 1850 of 4,508 persons. At this period, the 1850's, the Town was settled to its agricultural limit and there was scarcely an area of arable land not in use for pasture or crops.

Hillsides and mountains had also been intensively cut over for timber, firewood and charcoal needed first by industry and later by the railroad, giving the countryside an opened appearance in every section. Tobacco growing began on a large scale on the alluvial soils of the Still River valley, and within a few years there were five growers producing more than 9,000 cases of tobacco annually, valued at $500,000 to $600,000 a year.

Dairy products and other cash crops also prospered on the better soils, but steep and eroded hillsides began to be abandoned and population in the back country commenced a gradual decline as some residents sought better livelihoods on western farms or in the growing towns. Bridgewater separated from New Milford in 1856 to form an independent town; with this loss and the beginning of rural decline population receded to 3,535 in 1860.

With two passenger and two freight trains arriving daily, the Town continued a modest commercial and industrial growth during the 1850's. Streets in the central village were lined with homes and other buildings along Main, Elm, Bennett, Railroad, Bank, Bridge and upper Grove Streets.

Most of the small enterprises of the time were located on the various streams and utilized waterpower. A large agricultural fairground, with exhibition building and "Half Mile Trotting Park" was situated on Fort Hill just across the river from the village.

Over the next several decades, many of the small water powered industries ceased, snuffed out in competition from new steam-powered factories in the growing cities, and rural population continued to decline as worn-out hill farms were abandoned. However agriculture, now principally tobacco growing and dairy farming, continued to thrive in the fertile river valleys and plateau

New Milford Town Hall. Photo courtesy of Rick Gottschalk.

Rural population loss was offset by growth of the village, which by 1890 had more than doubled in size since 1850, adding new residential streets south, east and north. A town hall had been constructed in 1875 and a swampy portion of Main Street filled to create the village green. Two large button factories, a number of warehouses and business blocks had also been constructed in the central area. Fine examples of transportation improvements of this era that remain with us today are the Boardman's Bridge and the Lovers Leap Bridge.

The Town's population in 1890 registered 3,917 persons, virtually unchanged from 1880. The principal industries that year were the growing and packing of tobacco, dairy farming, and the manufacture of lime, fur hats, vegetable ivory buttons, pottery, machinery, silica paints, carbonized pipe, bricks and building stone.

Because of location on the valley rail line and at the center of a productive agricultural area, the Town at this time had developed into a considerable trading center, shipping out its agricultural and other products and purveying all types of merchandise from groceries and dry goods to building materials, grain and farm implements to the surrounding area.

In the 1890's, also, the attractive scenery of the adjacent countryside was beginning to draw summer visitors who arrived by rail to board at such hostelries as the Merwinsville Hotel at Gaylordsville, the Weantinaug Hotel overlooking the village, and at various guest houses. Attractions of the Town to lure visitors were described as beautiful scenery, excellent roads for carriage driving, healthful climate, lakes for fishing and boating, concerts, tennis, bowling and billiards. Thousands of visitors arrived each autumn, also, for the annual agricultural fair at the fairgrounds on Fort Hill.

Despite a devastating Downtown fire in 1902, commercial prosperity continued into the early 1900's as the manufacture of hats, upholstery and furniture replaced older dying industries such as button making and stone cutting. Tobacco and dairy farming continued to prosper even as the upland rural population continued to decline. 

Population increased during the 1890 to 1910 period to over 5,000 persons, with most of the growth in and close to the village where much of the economic activity was located. A table of census population by decade for New Milford in this period is available. 

However, significant changes were beginning in the years just prior to and following World War I. Abandoned farms in the hills were acquired and transformed into summer homes. The Canterbury School, a private preparatory school, was founded in 1915 on a hilltop just north of the village. A hydroelectric generating plant had been built on the Housatonic River between Gaylordsville and Bull's Bridge in 1903 and within a decade electric and telephone lines were being strung throughout the community.

In 1921, New Milford Hospital opened with ten beds in a Victorian mansion on Whittlesey Avenue, moving to a still larger house on its present site three years later. Automobiles appeared on the gravel roads of the community with increasing frequency.

The decade 1910 to 1920 was a period of booming growth in the larger industrial centers and New Milford, in common with other small towns of the area, experienced a small population exodus as economic activity shifted elsewhere. Population declined to 4,781 in 1920 and remained "flat" through the twenties, registering 4,700 persons at the beginning of the Great Depression in 1930.

By the 1920's, virtually all of the nineteenth century industries and small shops had passed out of existence, except for lime manufacture at the kiln near Boardman Bridge. Industries which had replaced them were tobacco packing, the manufacture of hats, upholstery, lounges and chairs, the production of gold and silver plated ware and the bleaching and dyeing of fabrics, mostly concentrated in the center.

Agriculture, principally tobacco and dairy products, continued as a mainstay of the Town's economy, although farmland in the hills was shrinking and the landscape was assuming a more forested character.

Shortly after 1916, utilizing newly available federal funds, the State of Connecticut began construction of a trunk-line system of state highways. Route 7 was completed through the Town as a paved two-lane road by 1920, and Routes 25 (now 67 and 202) and 37 were completed a few years later. The construction of these roads, as well as several State-aid roads (designated Routes 129, 130 and 134) and gradual surfacing and reconstruction of Town roads suddenly released the rural districts of New Milford from their relative isolation and brought car and truck traffic to the village where several of the routes intersected.

In 1926, The Connecticut Light and Power Company commenced construction of its Rocky River hydroelectric project. The pumped storage generating station, the first large one created in the United States, was built on the south bank of the Housatonic near the confluence of Rocky River.

Acquisition of thousands of acres of rural land comprising the Rocky River valley in southwestern New Milford and four other towns was complete by 1928, and in February of that year flooding of the valley commenced behind an earthen dam 950 feet in length. The new Candlewood Lake covered 5,420-acres, of which about 800-acres were in the narrow northeastern arm now known as New Milford Bay.

Several dwelling sites and the remains of several nineteenth century mill sites which comprised the "Jerusalem" section were inundated but the Town gained a magnificent twelve-mile shoreline and land for a waterfront recreation facility, now Lynn Deming Park. Real estate speculation and summer cottage development began before 1930 at Birch Groves and several other locations along the east shore where town roads provided access.

What did New Milford's neighborhoods look like in 1934? Check them out on this highly detailed aerial photograph.

Despite the depression of the 1930's, traffic increased along the main roads and small roadside commercial arose, especially along Route 7 south of the center. These small, random uses were typically highway-oriented, such as refreshment stands, filling stations, produce stands, guest homes and antique shops. A 1935 statewide guide for tourists describes the scenery of New Milford at that time.

Although tobacco growing declined due to changing market conditions, dairy and produce farming remained strong in the valleys and some upland areas. Relatively little growth occurred in the village, as new homes were built during this decade at scattered locations along the newly improved roads in the southern section of the Town, many of them near the east shore of Lake Candlewood. Town population increased by 18% to 5,559 persons in 1940.

Fortunately some of New Milford's scenic road character from this early era has been thoughtfully preserved for the future.

Daily passenger and freight service were still provided on the "Berkshire Division" of the NY, NH & H Railroad line through New Milford although automobile and truck traffic were steadily eroding rail business. The beauty of the New Milford countryside had also been "discovered" by city residents and old homes and acreage were being acquired for recreational camps, summer homes and retirement residences.

Route 7, now a wide-shouldered two-lane concrete road, had become the major access to the Town as well as a south-to-north artery, and more substantial commercial uses such as restaurants, tourist cabins and service businesses were beginning to develop along its frontage.

At the beginning of the forties the Town attracted a new industry, the Nestle Company, which constructed a modern food products plant on Boardman Road, just north of the village along the banks of the Housatonic River and the rail line. The Town was actively seeking new economic growth as agriculture weakened and residential growth continued.

Wartime scarcities and booming defense industries elsewhere kept Town population in check until the later 1940's and the coming of postwar prosperity. As mid-century arrived, the Town's principal industries remained agriculture, the manufacture of food products, dyeing and bleaching of textiles, furniture and leather goods manufacture, and two hydroelectric plants. Population was rising again and stood at nearly 5,800 persons in the 1950 Census.

New Milford Development:
1950 to 2000

Most of the developed land was concentrated around the central village, along Route 7 south of the village, along Route 25 (now Route 202) between the village and Northville, and in five lake front communities along the east shore of Lake Candlewood. Almost 39,000-acres (about 94%) of the Town's area was farm, fallow land, forest and water body.

Early in the 1950's, The Connecticut Light & Power Company began work on its long-planned Shepaug hydroelectric dam, located downstream on the Housatonic to utilize the controlled discharges from the Rocky River hydroelectric station for additional power generation. The new impoundment, Lake Lillinonah, extended upriver to the center of New Milford, and inundated about 100-acres of land in the Great Falls and Lovers' Leap section when completed in 1954-55. Forty six-acres of State and Town parkland were set aside at three locations along the new lakefront.

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

At the same time the Scovill Manufacturing Co. of Waterbury, later Century Brass Products, acquired a large tract on Aspetuck Avenue just north of the railroad and the Housatonic River and constructed a massive plant for manufacture of copper and brass tubing. A few years later, in 1958, Kimberly-Clark Corporation purchased a farm on Pickett District Road, between Route 7 and the Housatonic River, and constructed an extensive paper products plant employing over 1,000 persons.

Both of these industries initially used rail transportation for raw materials and products. Several smaller industrial plants were also built along Route 7 during this period. Major commercial uses soon followed in the half mile wide corridor of Route 7, including two commercial landfills, an auto junkyard, sand and gravel mining operations, motor vehicle sales yards, gasoline stations, commercial yards, motels, restaurants and numerous other businesses.

By 1980, land in commercial use had more than tripled to approximately 400 acres, and land in use for industry had increased to 395 acres, over four times the industrial area of 1950.

Paralleling the commercial and industrial boom of the 1950's and 1960's was a tremendous surge in subdivision activity and new home construction. Farms and other large tracts in central and southern sections of the Town were rapidly developed as New Milford's relatively lower land prices attracted young postwar families linked to employment in the expanding metropolitan areas to the south.

Town population jumped by 43% in the fifties, registering over 8,300 persons in 1960, and exploded by another 75% in the sixties, reaching 14,601 persons in 1970.

By the 1960's, farms were selling out throughout the Town as land values escalated, and subdivisions were created throughout extensive southwestern, central and eastern sections.

Along with the booming growth came numerous problems. Traffic intensified along Route 7 south of the center, septic problems erupted in some of the smaller-lot subdivisions and the Town was obliged to undertake a major school construction program ultimately creating a new high school and four new lower-grade schools. Commercial landfills increased in size and village sewage treatment became inadequate. Residential apartment construction and spreading commercial sprawl were altering the character of the community.

The Town had established a planning commission in the late 1950's and adopted a Town plan in 1959, but repeated efforts to establish zoning regulations failed throughout the 1960's as four successive referenda defeated the proposal. As waste disposal, traffic and other problems continued to mount, zoning was finally adopted on the fifth try in 1970.

 

The basic framework of zones implemented in 1971 closely reflected the land use pattern which had already developed, but large undeveloped areas of the Town were zoned for single-family residential at forty, sixty and eighty thousand square-feet lot requirements (for 1, 1 and 2-acre average lots), based on natural limitations of the terrain.

A broad band of land for commercial and industrial use was designated through the Still River valley and northward to Boardman Bridge, encompassing most of the nonresidential uses in the Route 7 corridor. Smaller strip zones for existing business uses were established along Route 202 from the village business center to Northville. In general, the new zoning map closely reflected the updated Town Plan adopted in 1971-72.

In 1967 and 1968, under State pollution abatement orders, the Town prepared sewer plans for a new regional sewage treatment plant and greatly extended sewer service areas. The new sewered areas were planned to reach northeasterly along Route 25 (now Rt. 202) through the Park Lane section, southerly along Route 7 to the Brookfield line and westerly to the densely developed shoreline neighborhoods along Lake Candlewood.

It had always been intuitive to shape New Milford'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 Milford.
Examine components of the four categories.

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

By the mid-1970's, however, the regional sewer plan was dead and New Milford adjusted its plans to upgrade treatment at the existing sewage plant site and to scale down development potential in the lower Route 7 corridor. At this time it also became apparent that the State's plans to construct a Route 7 expressway to the center of New Milford would not be realized in the foreseeable future, thereby restraining some of the development pressure on the corridor. Rail Service had ceased in 1971.

After the arrival of Connecticut's 1973 wetlands protection law, development potential in New Milford was significantly reduced as the approximately 11% of municipal land area defined as wetland was largely excluded from development.

Water supply remained an acute problem. By the early 1970's, there were nine small water companies serving scattered dense subdivisions from community wells, with the New Milford Water Company serving the central village from its four small reservoirs and well at Fort Hill. A program of replacing undersize mains in the village was undertaken by the water company and the Town began a long legal struggle to limit and eventually close the large commercial landfill.

By 1980, in only three decades developed land in the town had increased to over 3 times its 1950 area. More than 5,000 dwelling units had been constructed and Town population reached 19,420 persons. About 4,100-acres of land had been consumed for residential development and another 900-acres for new non-residential uses during this period.

Development continued at a rapid though gradually declining pace through the 1980's, influenced by stronger Town land use regulations, the closing of the Century Brass mill on Aspetuck Avenue, and the beginning of a recession in the regional economy.

Among new land use controls adopted during this decade were site plan review requirements for business and industrial uses, mandatory special permits for multiple residences, special design districts for shopping centers and other major projects, planned residential districts, a "Town Landmark District" for historic preservation, and special zones to protect floodplains and the margins of the Housatonic River.

Despite a slowing of the rate of growth in the 1980's, over 2,000 acres of land were developed in this decade, bringing the total of developed and permanently committed land to approximately 10,700 acres, 26% of the Town's total land and water area and over 4 times the developed area of 1950. During the eighties, land in residential use increased by about 1,750 acres, in commercial and industrial use by 120 acres, and in other forms of development by 165 acres. Town population in 1990 stood at 23,629 persons and there were 7,350 dwelling units of which about 15% were apartments or condominiums.

See New Milford's zoning patterns on larger regional map  |  See full map

 

Commercial uses, no longer confined primarily to the central village in 1990, were intensely developed along Route 7 from Lanesville to the center with less intensive ribbons southward along Route 7 to the Brookfield line, northward on Route 7 to Boardman Bridge and northeasterly to the vicinity of Northville.

Two large retail shopping centers had been built in the central area of Route 7, with smaller retail and office centers along Route 7, in Park Lane and at Gaylordsville. Nearly 500 acres of land were in intensive commercial use in 1990.

Two major industries, Nestle and Kimberly-Clark, as well as two old closed plants and more than a dozen small new industrial establishments comprised the Town's 423-acres of industrial use, all located close to the center or along Routes 7 and 202.

The principal products of the Town's industries in 1990 were processed foods, paper products, precision instruments, computers, electrical and electronic components, apparel, publications and two hydroelectric plants. Non-agricultural employment in 1990 in the Town totaled 9,260 jobs.

 

Agriculture, the Town's leading industry in the first half of the century, had contracted by 1990 to 2,700 acres of land employing less than 1% of the resident workforce. Farmland was still in active production at widely scattered locations in the Still River Valley, the Chestnut Lands section in Merryall and several other localities. Most of the nearly 23,000 acres of vacant land which remained in 1990 was forested, and the majority of this rural land lay in the northern section of the Town and along its highland western and eastern borders.

The population of New Milford reached 28,142 in 2010. In its fourth century, New Milford is a community of growing sophistication, a leading component of what is becoming "The Greater Danbury-New Milford Area" and not just another suburb of Danbury.

For a logical path for New Milford's future land use to follow, the HVCEO Regional Development Plan presents sound advice.

 
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