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History of Main Street in Georgetown, Connecticut  

Included in this Georgetown Early Roadways History section is information I have gathered from articles by Wilbur F. Thompson, and several oral history projects of my own. More information will be added as I find it.

Please let me know if there are more areas you'd like me to explore or if you have further information. Contact bcolley@snet.net or phone me at 860-364-7475.

Main Street, Georgetown

The history of Main Street Georgetown as a businsess district dates back to about 1900 but the history of Main Street as a roadway dates to the 1680's! Main Street was a part of the "Great Road from Norwalk to Danbury" which was similar in function to what Route 7 is today. Below is the history as I know it:

The Inland Postal/Stage Coach Route

The postal system of the Mid-1700's was not nearly as extensive as it is now. There were only about 60 post offices in the Colonies in 1765, almost all of which were on the coasts or not more than 60 miles inland. Ben Franklin said in 1766 "...The posts only go along the sea coasts; they do not, except in a few instances, go back into the country..."

*The modern day Post Road that runs along the coast of Connecticut follows a route similar to the colonial postal road.*

Once mail reached a point on the "coastal" Post Road close to its destination it would be sent inland by a post rider, or it would wait for someone who was traveling in the direction of the addressee to pick it up and carry it the rest of the way inland. This latter method was a common practice, and became an easy way for journeymen, businessmen, traders and travelers of every type to earn small amounts of money in the towns they passed through. In towns where there was no post office- a tavern, inn or store received the local mail. And thus the stage coaches and the roads they rode over served an important role in early American transportation and communication.

Inland roads in the colonial period were poor, colonist did not have modern conveniences such as bulldozers and excavators to clear pathways for their travels. Trees and bushes were cut back with hand-tools and oxen teams were harnessed to remove stumps and boulders in order to widen the existing footpaths. Yet even roadways that were wide enough to accommodate wagons were not always passable as rocks, rain, sleet and/or snow created hazardous road conditions. It is for this reason that in early colonial times the use of horse and wagon was more common in village or city settings while in rural locations teams of oxen (which were stronger) were used to pull wagons over the treacherous terrain.

By the late 1700's turnpike companies were formed with the intent to improve these rural roads and maintain them (for a fee, of course). In our area, the Norwalk and Danbury Turnpike Company was incorporated in 1795 to repair the "Great Road from Norwalk to Danbury" which ran through Georgetown and Redding (references to this road date back to the mid-1680's). One of the toll gates for this road was located on what we now know as Main Street in Georgetown. This information having been related to future generations via Georgetown historian Wilbur F. Thompson:

"North of the Nichols home (corner of Old Mill Road and Route 57) was the toll gate across the road, and Uncle David Nichols collected tolls. This was a heavy timber gate that blocked the highway. After the tolls were paid, the gate was opened and the team passed through. Near the gate was a milestone erected in 1786 by the orders of Benjamin Franklin, who was Postmaster General at this time. This was the post road from New York City to Hartford. There is one of these milestones still standing near Miss Sarah Coley's home (Route 107 across from Blueberry Hill) on the road north of Georgetown…"

12 Miles to Norwalk 1786

The second milestone Wilbur writes of is on the corner of Goodsell Hill and modern day Route 107 in Redding. This milestone, which still exists, was associated with Darling's Tavern which served as a way-station for weary travelers and for many years was the place where fresh horses were put on the stages (it was the halfway point-12 miles from Norwalk and 12 miles from Danbury).

The Danbury and Norwalk stage coach made daily trips across this turnpike; the fare from Danbury to Norwalk was $1 and from Georgetown was 50 cents. The stage left Danbury at 2 a.m. and arrived in Norwalk in time for the passengers to take a boat to New York the same morning. *It is believed that tavern-owner, Benjamin Darling, ran a stage coach business associated with the Danbury and Norwalk Stage.

For many years, this section of Georgetown served as Redding's Post Office with mail being delivered to *Boston Corners and then ridden up to Redding Center on horseback by a Post Rider. Billy Comstock was Georgetown's first postmaster, appointed in 1810; Joseph Darling was postmaster from 1823 to 1844.

*It became known as Boston Corners because it was located in the "Boston" section of Redding.*

In addition to stages and postal carriers, great canvas-topped freight wagons, slow moving ox carts, and horsemen (as this was the principal method of travel in the time period), all utilized this turnpike.

The coming of the railroad to the area in 1852 closed the stage, postal and freight routes through Redding almost immediately. Within a month the post office had been relocated to the railroad depot on Old Mill Road in the Wilton section of Georgetown and all stage coach companies either moved out of the area or shifted their focus to transporting passengers from Branchville Station to the town of Ridgefield.

Georgetown 1852-1900

While businesses along the turnpike in the Boston District closed down, businesses along the Norwalk River and the Railroad opened up. From this period forward, Georgetown grew into the village we know today. Initially, Old Mill Road housed a majority of these businesses. The reason behind this was simple, the railroad depot and the Gilbert and Bennett factories were located down there, but as Gilbert and Bennett innovated and expanded so did the village of Georgetown.

The Gilbert and Bennett Company purchased the land, pond and mill of rights that would become the "upper factories" in 1848. They started small - operating a saw mill, sieve factory and glue factory on this property through the 1860's and were planning further expansion as the company entered the 1870's. Then disaster struck, a fire ripped through the upper factories on May 11, 1874, consuming a majority of the buildings…most of which were not insured. This would have been a devastating blow for most companies but Gilbert and Bennett was different, in just 19 days they had the catastrophe under control. Two decisions were made that saved the company and ultimately shifted Georgetown's nucleus from Old Mill Road to North Main Street. One of those decisions was to incorporate as a joint stock company, the other was to lobby the Danbury and Norwalk Railroad to run a spur-line into the mill. Incorporating as a joint stock company gave them the capital they needed to rebuild and equip the buildings they had lost and add new ones. The spur line enabled the company to ship and receive material more efficiently, and reduce the manpower required in the process.

The newly incorporated company went into the field with a vigor, which within a few years multiplied their sales and output many times over. The growing company, aided by the convenience of the railroad, attracted many immigrants and by the early 1900's Georgetown had grown into quite a *diverse community.

* 5 churches in 1 square mile is very diverse! *

Main Street (changes from a residential to a commercial street)

To serve the needs of these people more and more "service" businesses began to arrive in the area and most of them either leased or purchased real estate on Main Street; Stores and markets were especially attracted to this stretch of road: Connery's Store and Perry's Meat & Fish Market were two of the earliest and most popular but they had plenty of competition. A&P, Georgetown Market, Kearn's Store, L. Sabilia's Groceries, First National Stores, Hammelscamp's Meat Market all called Main Street home at one time or another between 1900 and 1950.

Other businesses that were located on Main Street during this time period were: Patsy LoPresti's Shoe Repair, Sabilia's Liquor Store, Tankus's Clothing Store, Benny's Italian Restaurant and Bar, Rocco's Pizza, Forgarty's Georgetown Restaurant, Nick Santenella's Barber Shop, Don Sansevieri's Barber Shop (Barbershop had a pool room and 2 pool tables), Sanfilipo's Barber Shop, J.C. Driscoll's Insurance & Real Estate, Steve's Bakery, Georgetown Electric, William Henry Colley's Blacksmith shop, Wallace Williams' Jewelry Store with Western Union on 2nd floor, Stocking's Dry Goods, Georgetown Drugs, G&B Liquor, Connery's Hardware, Building Supplies and Lumber (later DeLuca Bros. and Sloper Lumber).

Main Street was aptly named as it was the "main route" through Georgetown for travelers heading north to Redding. Prior to the completion of Route 107 in 1955, traffic from Wilton traveled up Old Mill Road; traffic from Weston came via Route 57/Georgetown Road as it does today, but was referred to as Route 53. (View Map)

Route 107

Route 107 greatly impacted both Main Street and Georgetown. It torn the village apart…literally, reconfiguring not only the flow of traffic but the streets themselves. Prior to the construction project, Church Street and Smith Street extended south toward Old Mill Road. (View Close-up Map)

In the above map, the houses that are grayed out were removed to make way for Route 107, Smith Street was cut short and the Berger and Anderson houses became a part of Church Street South. It almost goes without saying that this was a heartbreaking experience for the families involved.

The most damaging impact the Route 107 project had on the area was likely unforeseen by its engineers yet Mother Nature in her infinite wisdom did not hesitate to take advantage of it and quickly. To clear the elevation and railroad tracks between Smith Street to Main Street a bridge was built to cover that span. In constructing the roads that would rise up to meet this bridge, the flow of the Norwalk River and the landscape that surrounded it were completely altered. What was once flat land was built up into hills, in the process the Norwalk River and the tributaries that once flowed freely into it were redirected into culverts and pipes designed to drain through these newly configured hillsides. Georgetown's Main Street had been converted from a valley into a basin.

Notice how flat it use to be in Georgetown
(The Stone Church is in the center of this photo, circa 1900)

During the October floods of 1955 these new roadside hills trapped the flood waters that flowed into Main Street and their drains could not handle the volume of water. The water came from a number of sources:

  • From Perry's Pond, Gilbert and Bennett Brook and rain waters flowing off Gilbert's Hill (Meadow Ridge).
  • From Vidmark's Pond on Covenant Lane and rain waters flowing off Highland Avenue.
  • From the Norwalk River.

Sheila Fogarty Johnson noted the impact of the new overpass in her recollection of the flood several years ago:

"The normally tiny brook on the western side of Main Street, which had risen and receded all summer, was up and over its banks. Because of the construction of the new overpass, the water had nowhere to go."

With nowhere to go the water continued to rise, several reports claim it rose to 18 feet on Main Street.

The flood damage was extensive, The Wilton Bulletin reported the following:

"The new Calso Building, which housed Sansevieri's new Barber Shop, J.C. Driscoll's Insurance and Real Estate suffered heavy damage. Steve's Bakery was considered a complete loss. Bonsignore's Market was also a total loss. The Local Shoemaker Patsy LoPresti, Georgetown Electric, Sabilia's Liquor store, Georgetown Restaurant, Benny's Restaurant, Perry's Market all ruined."

*Sansevieri's new Barber Shop opened just 3 weeks prior to the flood, J.C. Driscoll's Insurance and Real Estate opened 1 week prior to the flood, Steve's Bakery opened 2 weeks prior to the flood. *

Many Main Street merchants decided not to return. For those that did return the clean-up lasted at least a month as basements had to be pumped, buildings had to be scrubbed and disinfected, floors refinished, goods re-ordered and stacked. And yet despite all efforts, some flood damage just wouldn't go away:

"For years, when it was damp, the buildings in town smelled of kerosene, which had soaked into the boards." -Sheila Fogarty Johnson

Main Street 1960 - Present

Coming soon.

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