Natural Setting and Town Origins
Click on the map for a
The verdant countryside of Newtown probably attracted
the interest of explorers from coastal settlements during
the mid-seventeenth century. The "Greate River",
as the Housatonic was then called, was a natural route
inland. Navigable by canoe to the Great Falls at New
Milford, where a trading post was established in 1671,
the river followed a winding course along the easterly
boundary of the present day town for thirteen miles.
An extensive network of trails interlaced the Town's
interior area and connected to the river at numerous
points. Moreover the native inhabitants, Pootatuck Indians
of the Mohican tribe, were generally friendly to the
newcomers and agreeable to conducting trade with them.
66 square mile territory between the original bounds of Stratford,
Fairfield, Danbury, New Milford and Woodbury was granted in
1708 by the General Court to (36) settlers from Stratford,
and designated "Newtowne".
Newtown is characterized by a diversity of terrain. A gently
contoured upland of modest ridges, fertile loamy soils, and
small stream valleys extends throughout the southwestern,
central and western sections of the Town. Rugged terrain,
as ledges with thinner soils, is found in the northern section
between Hawleyville and the Housatonic River, in the eastern
section near Sandy Hook and in the southeast between Botsford
and the Housatonic.
A number of high glacially created ridges are also prominent
in the landscape, notably Eden Hill, Taunton Hill and Great
Hill in the west, Mount Pleasant, the "Borough"
and Walnut Tree Hill in the center, and Botsford Hill and
Osborn Hill in the east. The total land and water area of
Newtown is 37,805 acres today.
The glacial period, which ended 10,000 years ago, affected
Newtown's terrain in several other ways: blocked drainage
created numerous wetlands and ponds, stream courses were redirected
to flow north and east, and extensive gravel deposits were
left in the central Pootatuck valley (see
glacial deposits map). (See also early
research on glaciers and drainage development in Greater Danbury).
Among the larger wetlands created were Flat Swamp, Pine Swamp,
the broad wetlands in Hawleyville and those along Deep Brook
and the North Branch Pootatuck, Taunton Pond and several smaller
ponds also owe their origins to the melting glacier of 10,000
With such varied terrain there are numerous small streams
in all sections. While most of the Town surface drains into
streams directly reaching the Housatonic, a small area in
the west central section drains to Limekiln Brook, a tributary
of the northward-flowing Still River. The extreme southwestern
section forms the headwaters area of the southward-flowing
Aspetuck River, a water supply stream tributary to the Saugatuck
River and one of several water
supply resources in Newtown.
OVERVIEW OF NEWTOWN, CT
The highest elevation in Newtown is about 830
feet atop Taunton Hill
near the Bethel Line. Then
the low point of about 100 feet on the
shore of Lake Zoar at the east end. See the full context for
Newtown's terrain on the regional
large territory, hilly topography, and extensive localities
of productive farming land inevitably created a rural town
of many local neighborhoods or districts. Each of these localities
has a distinctive character, and many survive today as well
defined neighborhoods; areas such as Hattertown, Dodgingtown,
Taunton, Hawleyville, Hanover, Sandy Hook, Berkshire, Botsford,
Palestine and Huntingtown.
While the land provided a solid base for agricultural prosperity,
its rugged character and limited stretches of stream suitable
for water power would preserve the Town's rural character
for much of its early life.
Beginnings to 1950
At the granting of Newtown's charter of 1708, the General
Court of the Colony appointed a committee to survey the
new township tract and to"...determine where ye Town
Platt shall be and lay out a suitable number of home lotts."
The site chosen for the village was on the crest of a gently
sloping ridge at the very center of the township.
In addition to a commanding elevation, the village site lays
in the midst of a fertile upland, with several streams nearby,
land well-suited for cultivation. It was also at an intersection
of Indian trails. These trails became the routes of very early
Town government was organized in 1711 and a treaty amicably
concluded with the local Indians in 1712-13. The first official
Town highway outside the center was laid out to the boundary
of Stratford (now Monroe) in 1715, following the old Indian
trail along what is now Main Street South. Other highways
were laid out shortly after to connect to the several fords
of the Housatonic, and to adjoining towns, most following
Mills were established by Town meeting vote and commissioned
to various citizens at an early date. By 1715, saw mills were
set up on Deep Brook, Halfway River and at the mouth of the
Pootatuck Brook, and a fulling mill on Deep Brook.
Population grew steadily as settlement moved into outlying
sections. Additional one room schoolhouses were built in the
North Center, Taunton, Zoar, Lands End and Palestine Districts
by 1750, and by the end of the eighteenth century there were
nineteen school districts throughout the Town.
Travel, mostly by horseback or ox cart, was difficult over
the primitive roads of the era which were little better than
rutted paths. Nonetheless the public road network continuously
expanded so that within fifty years Town "highways",
often on very wide rights-of-way to allow fording of streams
or getting around obstacles, reached every section of the
In 1733, a ferry was authorized to operate on the Housatonic
to connect to Woodbury (modern Southbury); this venture was
replaced in 1781 by a "pole bridge" near the present-day
Rochambeau (I-84) Bridge. Of
interest will be the 1973 report Navigation
of the Housatonic River in the 18th and 19th centuries.
The land was quickly settled. By the 1760's, or half a century
after the Town's beginnings, most of the primeval forest cover
had been reduced to scattered wood lots, and self sufficient
small farms dotted the landscape. A checkerboard pattern of
small fields, already stumped and being cleared of stones,
extended throughout every section of the community.
While travel remained difficult, Newtown was on one of four
east-west "Colonial Highways" established by Connecticut
in the mid-eighteenth century to provide links with sister
colonies. The route from Hartford to the Westchester-Hudson
Valley area in New York entered Newtown via the ferry from
Woodbury, passed through the village center and westward by
the road to Danbury.
The Revolutionary period saw the passing through of the French
General Rochambeau. There is much other colorful
history in Newtown as documented by the Newtown
the agricultural abundance of Newtown was beginning to create
a demand for better roads to tidewater ports from which produce
could be exported. In 1801, the Bridgeport and Newtown Turnpike
was chartered by the General Assembly and established a route
from Bridgeport to New Milford along what is now Main Street
and Currituck Road. Toll gates were located on Tollgate Hill
at the southern boundary of the Town and at the Brookfield
Shortly after, another turnpike, from Newtown to Norwalk,
was chartered which followed Sugar Street and Poverty Hollow
Road to Redding, Weston and Norwalk. A third turnpike, the
Monroe and Newtown, followed still later and connected the
village of Stepney to southern Brookfield via Hattertown Road.
The Town's population continued to increase, reaching 2,903
persons in 1800, despite the loss of about seven square miles
of territory in 1788 ceded to form part of the new Town of
In 1824 the Borough of Newtown (second oldest in the state)
was established. About 50 families resided in the village
at the time. Numerous small industries arose during the early
nineteenth century, the majority clustered along the lower
Pootatuck River where good water power was available.
In 1839 Charles Goodyear discovered the process for vulcanizing
rubber at a shop in the glen in Sandy Hook, which gave rise
to the American rubber industry and lead to the establishment
of a rubber factory in Rocky Glen. During this period prior
to the Civil War the S. Curtis & Sons Company began manufacturing
paperboard boxes at the mill pond in Berkshire, two miles
upriver on the Pootatuck, and the New York Belting and Packing
Company built large mills on the lower Pootatuck in Rocky
Many years later, the Fabric Fire Hose Company was established
in the largest of these mills, a direct outgrowth of the earlier
industries. Two of the handsome, multi-story brick mill buildings
remain standing today.
The growth of manufacturing and agricultural exports brought
renewed demands for better transportation to outside markets
during the 1830's in Newtown and other Housatonic Valley towns.
In 1836 the State chartered the Housatonic Railroad, Connecticut's first
long railroad line. Enthusiastically backed by investors in
Bridgeport, the line was planned to extend northward to Newtown
and thence via the Still River and Housatonic valleys to a
connection to Albany, then the eastern terminus of canal and
trade routes to growing western markets.
Construction progress was rapid and the first train passed
through Newtown in 1840, two years before completion of the
entire line. Depots were established at Cold Spring (Botsford),
Newtown (Borough), North Newtown, Hanover Springs and Hawleyville.
The Census of 1840 counted a total of 3,189 townspeople. Despite
prosperity, he Town had grown slowly in the (40) years since
1800, adding less than 10% to its population in contrast with
the preceding (26) years which saw an increase of over 30%.
Now all of the suitable farmland was in use and all available
waterpower had been tapped. Moreover, surplus population from
Newtown and other rural towns was flowing out to the burgeoning
new manufacturing centers in Bridgeport, Danbury, the Naugatuck
Valley and elsewhere, and to the rich farmlands of the west.
As Connecticut shifted from an agricultural to a manufacturing
economy, more rail lines were built to link the growing centers,
and several of these wound their way through the hills of
Newtown during the next several decades. The Derby and New
Haven Railroad completed a link through Stevenson and the
Halfway River Valley to the Housatonic line. The New York
and New England Railroad pushed a line eastward from Danbury
to Hawleyville, paralleling the Housatonic line for several
miles and thence running eastward to a depot at Sandy Hook
and a high truss and pier bridge over the Housatonic, on its
way to Waterbury.
The ill-fated Shepaug, Litchfield
and Northern Railroad (never completed for its
full route) reached Hawleyville from the center of Bethel
and followed a tortuous course along Pond Brook to a bridge
over the Housatonic and thence northward through the Shepaug
Valley along an equally winding route to Litchfield.
The presence of good rail connections and the growth of manufacturing
in Sandy Hook enabled Newtown to remain prosperous through
the Civil War era and succeeding decades. Sheep raising declined
but was replaced by profitable dairy farming. A modest growth
in dwellings, industrial shops and commercial buildings occurred
throughout the Sandy Hook-Rocky Glen area, at Berkshire and
near the rail depot on Church Hill Road, while the balance
of the town remained rural.
Although rural areas after 1850 began to lose population as
families migrated west and to growing urban centers, Newtown's
growth in commerce and manufacturing brought an offsetting
increase in Town population, which increased by 26% from 3,189
persons in 1840 to 4,013 persons in 1880.
In the post-Civil War era, railroads played an additional
role in Town growth. Visitors from the cities and growing
towns soon discovered the bucolic charm of Newtown's countryside
and became summer residents or boarding guests of farm families.
During the 1880's, two hotels on Main Street, Dick's Hotel
(at the present library site, later the "Newtown Inn")
and the Grand Central Hotel (near the crossroads, later the
"Parker House") did a flourishing business in summer
boarders. The "broad and neatly kept streets" of
the village and town's "commanding views in all directions",
as described by the railroad, did appeal to many who bought
old farmhouses and built cottages as summer and retirement
homes in the late 1880's, 1890's and early 1900's.
Records and maps of the late nineteenth century show that
an extensive network of gravel roads extended throughout the
entire Town and there were four rail passenger stations at Botsford, Newtown, Hawleyville and Sandy Hook.
Two toll bridges crossed the Housatonic River, at the Bennett's
Bridge and Zoar Bridge (Stevenson). Small villages existed
at Sandy Hook, Berkshire, Hattertown and Dodgingtown as well
as in the Borough. An estimated 90% of the town's area was
in farmland, with about 800 families living on farms.
1880 however, was the peak of the town's nineteenth century
development. While population and employment appear to have
remained stable in the Sandy Hook industrial hamlet, in common
with other rural towns of the area Newtown began to experience
a long period of decline in year-round population. This phenomenon
came about as farms were abandoned or sold to summer residents,
and country people moved away to jobs in growing towns or
From a high of over 4,000 residents in 1880, the town's population
dropped steadily for 50 years to a low point of 2,635 inhabitants
in 1930. The landscape gradually changed over this period
from mostly open agricultural land to about fifty percent
In 1920, the agricultural census counted 422 farms in Newtown,
representing an aggregate farm ownership of 27,743 acres (72.7%
of total Town area), although some of this acreage was unused
or wooded land. With the exception of an occasional summer
home or estate, such as "Castle Ronald" built on
Castle Hill in 1888, very little new building took place in
the four decades before 1920.
The automobile appeared on the unpaved roads of the Town in
the early 1900's but did not achieve widespread use until
after 1915. Telephone lines reached the community before World
War I and electric service was gradually extended throughout
rural areas during the 1920's and 1930's.
Shortly before 1920, the State of Connecticut, utilizing newly
appropriated federal highway funds, began construction of
a system of trunk line roads designed to reach every town
center and provide farm to market access. Among the earliest
of these trunk line roads were the east west Route 6 and Route
34 from Sandy Hook to New Haven, both constructed in the late
teens and early twenties.
Route 25 from Newtown Center south to Bridgeport was completed
shortly after, and by 1925 Newtown was no longer an isolated
community. Roads which later became Route 302 to Bethel and
Route 25 to Brookfield Center were improved within a decade.
Most Town roads, however, remained gravel or dirt roads until
Another development in the 1915-20 period was to have an impact
on the Town. Completion of the Connecticut Light &
Power hydroelectric dam at Stevenson impounded the waters
of the Housatonic to form Lake Zoar, a lake 500 to 1,500 feet
wide which wound along Newtown's easterly border for over
9 miles. Several colonies of seasonal cottages were developed
along the Newtown shore in the 1920's and '30's, including
Shady Rest, Pootatuck Park, Riverside and Cedarhurst.
The sudden accessibility of the Town from the several new
paved State roads brought a reversal of the population decline
after 1930. A table of census
population by decade for Newtown in this period
did Newtown'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 389 agricultural businesses
in Newtown occupying 60% of the Town's total area.
the effects of the Great Depression, new homes were built
at widely scattered locations in the 1930's and early 1940's
and many small roadside businesses began to operate along
main roads, especially along Route 25 south of the center
and Route 6.
Restaurants, gasoline stations, tourist cabins, craft and
produce stands and antique shops were among these ventures.
A number of new homes were built in the Borough, and a private
golf course was built near Route 25. The 1930's were also
an era of considerable civic progress and change. In 1932,
the Fairfield State Hospital (more recently "Fairfield
Hills"), an institution for mental patients, opened on
an 800-acre campus at the edge of the Borough. Facilities
included a large farm, a sewage treatment plant and a dozen
major buildings as well as staff housing.
Borough zoning regulations were enacted in 1933 to protect
the residential quality of Main Street and environs, made
possible by a special act of the State Legislature. By 1940,
the Town had regained the population lost since 1880, but
about two-thirds of the decade's 52% population gain was attributable
to the new state hospital.
Fortunately some of Newtown's scenic road character from this early
era has been formally preserved for the future.
Town growth ceased during the war years of the 1940's, but
resumed with a rush after 1945 as veterans returned to the
area and many young families opted to live "in the country".
Newtown's attractive countryside, huge reserve of vacant and
available land, and easy commute to nearby centers initiated
a boom in the construction of new dwellings.
Cottages in the lake Zoar communities were also being converted
to year round occupancy, and the return of traffic to state
roads brought renewed commercial growth along Route 25 south
of the center including restaurants, service trades, offices
and several small light industries.
In 1950, Newtown's population reached 7,448 persons, an increase
of 182% over the 1930 low point twenty years earlier. Excluding
the state hospital population, the Town population of 4,401
persons still represented a 67% gain in only 20 years.
The Town was still mostly rural, nonetheless. All the developed
land totaled about 2,835 acres (7.4% of Town area) and there
were still 175 farms in operation (utilizing 14,046 acres,
or 36.8% of Town land area). In a hopeful sign for the future
over 1,350 acres of land had already been set aside as open
space, primarily Rocky Glen State Park and the southerly section
of Paugusset State Forest. Most area outside the Borough and
away from the frontages of the state roads was as rural, tranquil
and undeveloped as it had been 100 years before.
1950 to 2000
At mid-century Newtown had one of the largest networks of
"unimproved" local dirt roads in Connecticut. In
1950 the Town began an aggressive program of surfacing and
reconstruction which would bring extensive areas of rural
terrain into easy accessibility within the next two decades.
At the same time the State began planning a limited-access
relocation of Route 6 (future Interstate 84) and constructed
the first segment from Route 34 south of Sandy Hook eastward
to a new bridge over the Housatonic River. Rail passenger
service had ceased before World War II and heavy intertown
traffic was becoming a problem in the Borough and in Sandy
Hook. Waves of suburbanization pressure were coming from the
Other significant developments were starting to change the
face of the Town as it entered the 1950's. A large retail
shopping center, the Town's first, was constructed on the
west side of Queen Street. Several new small industries entered
the Town; industrial products included pressure gauges and
wire brushes as well as plastic molded products, fire hose,
and paper boxes manufactured by older firms. A metal smelting
and refining plant, a wire coating operation, makers of copper
tubing, industrial machinery and other products soon joined
As construction activity escalated, extensive mining of sand
and gravel commenced in the Botsford section and at several
other locations. A well-defined commercial and industrial
corridor, with considerable nearby residential subdivision
activity, was emerging along Route 25 from the Borough to
the Monroe line.
overview of the extent of land development in Newtown, CT
near 1950, a review of 1947-53
USGS Topographic Maps for Newtown will
be of interest (sample above).
Facing an explosive growth rate, the Town undertook a major
school building program. The Hawley School on Church Hill
Road was doubled in size in 1949 to 20 classrooms. A new senior
high school of 23 classrooms was constructed in 1953, on a
newly acquired 35 acre site on Queen Street. Another elementary
school, of 18 rooms, was constructed in 1956 near Riverside
Road in Sandy Hook. In 1959, the new high school was enlarged
by an addition of 27 rooms and converted to a combined junior-senior
The future of the Town deeply concerned civic leaders. In
1953, a Town Development Committee explored the possible adoption
of zoning and planning, and the Newtown Planning Commission
was formally established in 1955. In July 1956, a consultant
was engaged and planning studies commenced, assisted by citizen
A Town referendum in June, 1957 approved the adoption of zoning
powers, establishing the Planning and Zoning Commission. Draft
zoning regulations for the Town outside the Borough were presented
within a year, and after stormy public hearings focused heavily
on the proposal to restrict commercial areas and uses, adopted
in August, 1958. The completed Town Plan of Development was
presented in October 1958 and adopted in April of 1959.
The Zoning Map, effective in June 1959, however remained controversial
and only after two close votes in Town referenda did zoning
finally survive. The Town Plan and Zoning Map provided for
medium density residential use (1 acre to one acre per family)
in the central, south-central, east-central and west-central
sections of the community, for carefully delineated light
industrial and commercial areas coordinated with transportation
corridors, for neighborhood centers, and for low density residential
use throughout the remainder of the Town. The Town Plan also
recommended future school sites, a traffic circulations system
and civic improvements.
Two other major developments occurred in the 1950's. Early
in the decade the Connecticut Light & Power Company began
construction of the Shepaug Dam, a new hydroelectric power
project on the Housatonic just above the headwaters of Lake
Zoar. The resultant Lake Lillinonah, created in 1955, left
a new three mile long shore front along Newtown's northeasterly
boundary, a major portion of which is now public land acquired
by the State as part of the Paugussett State Forest.
Later in the decade (1958-61) the State constructed the new
Interstate 84 expressway across the north central section
of Newtown, with full interchanges at Route 25 in Hawleyville,
at Church Hill Road in the Borough, and at Route 34 in Sandy
Hook. Planning was underway also (later canceled) for a new
Route 25 expressway southward.
The first Town recreational park, Dickenson Park, was established
in the 1950's on Elm Drive. The Newtown Forest Association
organized as a land trust, and various new civic groups formed.
The Town adopted a charter to streamline Town government in
1961, later (1974) creating a Town Legislative Council in
place of the traditional Board of Selectman and Town Meeting.
The first sewer study was completed in 1963 with several additional sewer
studies thereafter. The Town's second Plan of
Development, which reaffirmed many of the foundation land
use policies of the first Plan, was adopted in 1969.
Development was rapid over the two decades of the 1960's and
1970's. Residential building permits were being issued at
the rate of 100 to 160 per year as farms sold out and land
was subdivided in every section of the community. Commercial
development intensified, especially along Main Street South
(Route 25) and along Church Hill Road.
A number of new small, light industrial plants were attracted
to the several industrial "parks" along Route 25,
Commerce Drive off Church Hill, and along I-84 north of Church
Hill Road. Several new churches commenced construction during
this era, and a completely new Newtown High School was built
on a large site near Route 34 in Sandy Hook, opening in 1970.
A third elementary school was built on Cold Spring Road in
the south-central area, and the former high school converted
to "middle school" grades.
It had always been intuitive to shape Newtown'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.
the four basic categories above
displayed on a townwide map of Newtown.
of the four categories.
as the regional planning agency for Newtown was formed in
1968, the word "Housatonic" in its title having
its source in an old
the arrival of Connecticut's1973 wetlands protection law,
development potential in Newtown was significantly reduced
as the approximately 12% of municipal land area defined as
wetland was largely excluded from development.
Newtown's population had reached 19,107 persons, a 68% increase
in only two decades. The amount of developed land had also
increased dramatically, to over 10,000 acres (26.3% of the
proceeded at a more moderate pace in the 1980's, reflecting
the regional economic slowdown and rapidly escalating land
prices. Commercial growth continued, especially in the Borough
and south central areas, notably the construction of the large
Sand Hill Plaza shopping center on Route 25 between Botsford
and the Peck Lane light industrial area. Many of the newer
residential subdivisions were now in the two acre and three
acre residential zones where luxury class homes were being
constructed for an upscale market.
Changes were also occurring in the industrial sector. Old
industries in the Glen, such as fire hose manufacture and
plastic molding have ceased and been replaced with new research,
office and technology types of use. The former metal smelting
plant in Botsford has been replaced by a building supply service
business. Corporate office uses and biomedical research instruments
are among the newer uses present in the early 1990's.
With the continuing growth of the Town, the water company
which had long supplied the central Borough from Taunton Pond
finally abandoned that unprotected source and developed a
new and purer wellfield in the Pootatuck
Valley Aquifer. Water mains were extended southward
along Route 25 and eastward from the Borough to serve new
commercial areas. In the early 1990's, the Town undertook
a long delayed installation of sanitary sewers and a sewage
treatment plant to serve the central area.
The 1980's saw the construction of a fourth Town elementary
school, on Boggs Hill Road, and the acquisition by the Town
of a former commercial garage at the corner of Main and Sugar
Streets for expanded Town offices. The Fairfield Hills State
Hospital also closed at the end of the decade, shortly after
construction by the State of a new state prison facility at
the Route 34 side of the property over much local protest.
The future of the hospital facility itself and the former
farm were unresolved at the end of the decade. Several new
large site private institutions, including a retirement home
off Botsford Hill Road and an alcoholic rehabilitation facility
off Alberts Hill Road, were established during the period.
Town population in 1990 was 20,779 persons, a modest increase
of 8.8% over the ten years since 1980.
By the early 1990's, agriculture had declined to the extent
that only four or five farms remained, with less than 450
acres of land in active agricultural production, although
some pasture land was being used for horses and equestrian
activities. More than 30 small industrial firms could be counted,
and retail and service businesses, and professional offices,
were substantially concentrated in the Borough and south-central
areas. Gravel mining was greatly reduced in scope.
Newtown's zoning patterns on full regional map
Total developed land in Newtown had increased to nearly 12,000
acres, 31.4% of the Town area. The Town now had a decidedly
residential flavor along most local roads, although over 22,000
acres of land remained underdeveloped and nearly 4,000 acres
were permanently committed to green space.
In 2010 Newtown reached a population of 27,560. Despite
many changes, Newtown remains a pleasant rural-suburban,
civic-minded community, with a healthy concern for its future.
For a logical path for Newtown's
future land use to follow, the HVCEO Regional
Development Plan presents sound advice. In addition, Newtown's
Plan of Conservation and Development has much
of interest for those exploring this attractive town.