Charles A. Couch and Kathleen von Jena
In the early 1700s, Redding was home to an Indian village whose leader was named Chickens Warrups. In 1714, John Read, the first white man to settle in Redding (which was then part of Fairfield), claimed 500 acres to set up a homestead for his wife and children. Lonetown Manor, as Read’s home was called, soon became the center of a busy and populous farm settlement, and a number of mills and other enterprises associated with farmers’ needs soon took root.
Col. John Read
Although the elder John Read moved to Boston in 1722, his son, Col. John Read, took over administration of Lonetown Manor. In 1767, the Connecticut General Assembly incorporated the Town as Redding, which had less than 1,000 inhabitants.
Redding’s Business and the Railroad
In 1852, the Danbury and Norwalk Railroad line was completed through the west side of Town with depots at Georgetown, Topstone, and West Redding. By this time, farmland was left unplanted as floods increased and lower-priced western product came to eastern markets. New steam-powered factories were sprouting up along main rail lines. Redding’s small water-powered industries could no longer compete and gradually ceased operations. Only Georgetown’s Gilbert & Bennett, with access to the new railroad for coal and raw materials and for shipment of its finished wire goods, was able to survive. Despite a disastrous fire in 1874, Gilbert & Bennett rebuilt immediately with modern buildings and machinery. The company continued to prosper and expand, employing nearly 600 workers by the early 1900s. Consequently, Georgetown grew, adding new homes and streets, while the rest of Redding remained rural and pastoral. The Town’s population began to decline.
Home building in Redding slowed, but did not cease during the Great Depression years of the 1930s. About two dozen farms were still operating, although the land was now about 70% forest and woodland. With the close of World War II and the beginning of the great post-war housing boom, new house construction in Redding began at a vigorous pace. Now within easy commuting distance of job centers in Danbury, Bridgeport, and lower Fairfield County, Redding began to attract speculative developers. Its citizens realized a potential avalanche of development threatened the character of its Town. Following a public referendum, the Town’s first zoning regulations became effective in June 1950.
History of Redding Schools
In 1737, the people of the parish of Redding voted to have a public school with three districts, “the Ridge, the west side, and Lonetown.” One schoolmaster went from one to the other, teaching reading, writing, and arithmetic. By 1742, the parish voted for “three separate schools, each to be kept by a master.”
In 1878, a citizen of Redding funded the establishment of a public high school, the Hill Academy, in Redding Center. Ten one-room schoolhouses in strategic areas of Town served younger students in Redding, and the Town shared an 11th with Ridgefield. One of them, the Umpawaug School, built in 1789, still stands on Umpawaug Road near Route 53. Every November, the Redding Historical Society holds an open house at the Umpawaug School, which closed in 1931. One of its teachers, Luemm Ryder, approaching a century of living, lives just up the road from the school.
Early in the 1900s Gilbert & Bennett opened a public school for the Georgetown Recreation.
By 1931, the Town had closed all of its one-room schoolhouses and enlarged the Hill Academy to four classrooms to serve the eight elementary grades. The Hill Academy closed in 1948 when Redding Elementary School opened. Redding paid tuition to Danbury for its high school students to go to Danbury High School.
In 1959, the Town converted the Hill Academy to Town Hall.
Redding Elementary School
Redding Elementary School (tel. 203-938-2519), with eight classrooms, was completed in 1948. In 1957, a new wing doubled its capacity. The School serves grades K-4.
John Read Middle School
In the mid-1960s, the Town began planning for another school. John Read Middle School (tel. 203-938-2533) opened in 1966, housing students in grades 5 through 8. In 1980, the fifth grade moved to the Elementary School. As an echo baby boom caused the school population to grow, a new wing was added to the Middle School in 1999, and the fifth grade moved back.
Joel Barlow High School
In 1957, Redding and Easton referenda approved the formation of a regional school district, and a 35-acre site was purchased from a farm on Black Rock Turnpike for a high school designed to serve 650 students. Joel Barlow High School, originally serving grades 7 through 12, opened for classes in the fall of 1959. The school now serves grades 9 through 12.
In 1971, a major addition doubled the size of the building and increased its capacity to 1,000 students. In 1974, the Town purchased 78 more acres to build athletic fields. An addition and two portable classrooms were built in 1984, and the school was renovated in 1994. Further renovations and an expansion were completed in 2008 to bring the facilities into compliance with new educational standards, including requirements for science labs and new athletic fields and a population expected to increase to over 1000 students. In 2013, a renovation of the athletic stadium facility was approved by voters and completed in the spring of 2014. The project included new ADA compliant stands, lights and a turf field surface.
With the Post WWII era, a rush of new development became a reality. Several large tracts were subdivided into one-acre lots, new subdivision roads were built, and school population began to spiral upward. Responding to Town-wide demand, in 1953 the Zoning Commission enacted two-acre zoning for the entire Town outside Georgetown, which had, and still has, multiple-family, ½-acre, and one-acre zoning. Concern about the Town’s future persisted, and in 1956 a Town Meeting authorized the establishment of a Planning Commission. The Commission prepared regulations to control the layout of subdivisions, and these regulations were adopted in 1957.
Newcomers and Automobiles
During the 1890s, Redding was discovered by prominent summer visitors from New York City. Writers (including Mark Twain), artists, and business and professional people, who were enchanted by the Town’s tranquil beauty, established country estates. By 1910, Redding’s more adventurous and affluent residents were driving automobiles on the Town’s dirt roads.
A few years after Mark Twain came to Town, Redding’s first telephone exchange began operation. It was located in a private dwelling on Cross Highway and had a small group of subscribers.
In 1916, the State of Connecticut began to construct a network of highways to link population centers and provide farm-to-market access for the rural towns. By 1921, Routes 7 and 58 had become two-lane paved highways. Other roads followed in the 1920s and 1930s. By the mid-1930s, hard-surfaced roads reached every section of Town along with telephone and electric lines. The Town’s rural isolation passed into history.
A major controversy raged during the 1930s over Bridgeport Hydraulic’s plan to flood the Saugatuck valley for a large new reservoir. A reservoir would inundate the historic village of Valley Forge and much of Redding Glen. Opponents lost their appeals, and the Saugatuck Reservoir was completed in 1942.
Putnam Memorial Park
The high terrain of Redding, with views south to Long Island Sound and northward toward Danbury, assumed strategic importance during the Revolutionary War. In April 1777, the road over Redding Ridge and Sunset Hill was the invasion route used by British forces in their assault on Continental army provisions stored in Danbury. A year later, in 1778 and 1779, Putnam’s division of Washington’s army was in winter encampment at three key locations in Redding to protect the left flank of American forces then holding the Hudson Valley. Remains of the largest of these campsites are preserved on 35 acres of land donated by a Redding citizen in the 1880s. Putnam Memorial State Park contains a monument to the American troops and a colonial museum.
Redding has turned the corner from the 20th century to the 21st century and looks to our wealth of history to guide us in the new century. The Board of Selectmen funded An Historical and Archeological Assessment Survey of Redding by Stuart Reeve. Working with the Redding Historical Society, the Town has supported an ongoing project to produce a Town history book. The book will augment Charles Burr Todd’s The History of Redding, first published in 1880 and revised in 1905. Dan Cruson, a long-time teacher at Joel Barlow High School, published Images of Redding and Easton in 2000.