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Branchville, CT's History Page:
The History of Branchville, Branchville's Mining Industries, The Branchville Mica Mine and more!

Quick Link: Pictures of Branchville ; DeBenigno's Store ; Branchville in the News

What the corner of Route 7 and Route 102 used to look like.
Ancona's Market celebrates 87 years of memories

From "Branchville's Birth" by Jack Sanders December 30, 1986.

Branchville, first applied in 1870 to the southeast corner of town(Ridgefield), was named for the "branch" rail line from the Danbury and Norwalk Railroad to Ridgefield Village. The first recorded use of the term appears in an 1870 deed for four acres "lying in the town of Ridgefield at Branchville."

It was the very same year that the branch line was built, suggesting that the railroad rather than neighborhood residents had invented the name to distinguish the station from the new one at Ridgefield center. Previously, the station at Branchville had been known as Ridgefield Station.

Passenger service on the branch line was available into town until 1925; freight service lasted until 1964. Most of the trackbed, complete with gravel but missing its rails, is today the path of the Northeast Utilities high voltage line. Some of the other sections along southern Florida Road have been sold to adjoining landowners.

To the Indians, the southeast corner of town was known as Wheer Cock. Later it was called Copps Corner. When the railroad line from Norwalk to Danbury was completed in 1852, the neighborhood was at first called Beers Station or Ridgefield Station, after the stop there.

While this area had been mostly farmland and a mill or two, the coming of the railroad sparking the development of a booming, albeit small-scale, industrial community. It included mills, stores, a hotel, a machinery factory, a noted mineral quarry, a post office, and a school (the schoolhouse, still standing on Old Branchville Road, has in recent years been used by the Jaycees as a meeting hall).

Branchville had its own school district at own school district at least since the middle 19th Century-it was known as the "Ridgefield Station District" before it was called Branchville. Its schoolhouse was used until around 1927 when children started being "bused" to Garden School on Bailey Avenue in the village. A new Branchville School opened in 1969 on lower Florida Road, remained in use until 1983 when it was closed due to declining enrollments.

An 1893 atlas labels this territory as "Plattsville," which is undoubtedly a mapmaker's error. The U.S. Geological Survey map uses "Branchville Hill" for the ridge along Old Branchville Road at Bruschi Lane.

A map prepared for the town assessors in 1934 labels as Branchville Hill road what we today call Nod Hill Road. This suggest that the ridge traversed by this road was at some time called Branchville Hill, a more likely possibility than the Branchville Hill situation cited above.

Railroads Influence on Branchville/Georgetown area
By Brent M. Colley

By the mid-to-late 1870's, The D&N was competing against several other companies including the New York, New Haven & Hartford and the Housatonic Railroad. The D&N sought an advantage in freight traffic by building a rail and ferry connection on Long Island Sound at Wilson's Point in South Norwalk in 1882. That extension of the transportation system allowed for an excellent intermodal connection between steamships and freight cars ready to move goods inland or ship raw materials like ice, quarried stone, and wire products to the ports of New York City.

The Wilson Point extension proved to be very profitable for the D&N and made the D&N Railroad an attractive business partner for other rail lines including the Housatonic Railroad and the New York, New Haven & Hartford. The extension proved to be even more profitable for the businesses located on the D&N rail line. The timing could not have been better for the Gilbert & Bennett Manufacturing Co., they had recently incorporated as a joint stock company to overcome their losses via a fire that destroyed their upper factories and now as a result of the RR expansion had direct access to worldwide ports, not to mention a spur line running directly into their warehouses. Branchville businesses profited as well…the discoveries at Fillow's Mine attracted businesses and geologists from far and wide to create a local mining industry that would continue into the 1940's. The Union Porcelain Works of Greenpoint, New York was the first to arrive in 1880 to mine for quartz and feldspar and as a result of the RR expansion had instant access to a booming freight line. Ridgefield Granite Works, that we'll discuss below, had been in business since the initial RR line was laid and now had access to larger markets as well.

And as we all know the success of businesses, creates jobs and attracts employees…employees have families, families have needs and therefore with the next wave came the businesses that "service" these needs. In almost "textbook" fashion the towns of Branchville and Georgetown flourished with the introduction and improvements of the D&N railroad.

Ridgefield/Branchville Station in the 1850's

The Branchville Mine & The Mining History of Branchville:
by Brent M. Colley (Mining Document if you missed the Mining Tour in May)

Abijiha N. Fillow's Branchville Mica Mine was by-far the "magnetic force" that attracted mining companies and geologists to the area. However, as the map above shows 20 years prior to the discoveries at Fillow's mine, Philo Bates' Ridgefield Granite Works was operating out of the station area. In land records regarding properties on Mountain Rd., Philo W. Bates is listed in 1875 as owning land "East" of 32 Mountain Rd. and in 1890 as conveying a 20 acre parcel to Abijiha Fillow at 34 Mountain Rd. which would place at least a portion of his mining areas on Mountain Rd. and in the areas of the Scott Preserve/Rock Lot.

Little is known about the Ridgefield Granite Works aside from the 1856 Clark's Map reference and land records of properties owned by Philo W. Bates but it is presumed that it was a successful business given the span of time it operated in the area. Also appearing on the 1856 station map as a business is Walter Bates, mason and builder, which very likely involved a joint-venture with the Granite Works.

The "World Famous" Branchville Mica mine lies in the town of Redding on Mountain Road, 550 ft. N.E. of the Branchville railroad station.

The first excavation in the Branchville Mine was made about 1876 by Abijiha N. Fillow, then owner of the property. Fillow was mining for mica. The mica recovered was then considered of inferior quality, and operations ceased sometime before the spring of 1878. At that time, George J. Brush and Edward S. Dana, both of Yale University, became so enthused about the new minerals at Branchville that they engaged Fillow to excavate the deposit with funds furnished by Yale.

The results of these excavations gained the mine worldwide fame as (9) rare minerals (eight were discovered for the first time in the history of science) were mined at this unique location:

(A) Lithiophilite, maganese-iron phosphate, its name indicates its lithium content.
(B) Natrophilite, sodium-manganese phosphate, its name indicates a high sodium content.
(C) Dickinsonite, hydrated acid phosphate of sodium and manganese. Named in honor of Rev. Dickinson, formerly of Redding, CT.
(D) Fillowite, a hydrated acid phosphate of sodium, manganese, iron and calcium. Named in honor of A.N. Fillow of Branchville, CT
(E) Fairfieldite, a hydrated phosphate of calcium. Named in honor of Fairfield, CT
(F) Eosphorite, a hydrated basis phosphate of aluminum with iron and manganese. Named from the Greek in allusion to its pink color.
(G) Reddingite, hydrated phosphate of manganese and iron. Named in honor of Redding township.
(H) Tripoidite, basis phosphate of manganese and iron. Named in allusion to its resemblance to triplite in physical character and composition.

Information regarding these minerals appeared in scientific journals from 1878 to 1890 launching Brush and Dana's careers and one would hope- Fillow's real estate property value.

The World Famous Branchville Mica Mine Today (2006)

In 1880 the Union Porcelain Works of Greenpoint, New York, bought the property from Fillow and operated it for feldspar and quartz until 1891. The principal use for feldspar was in the ceramic industry. Other uses included enameling for metal, glazes, and abrasives in soaps. At this time the mine was renamed "The Smith Mine". Fillow stayed on as supervisor of mining operations but resigned one year later. As a stipulation in the sale, all unused minerals were to be placed at the disposal of Brush and Dana.

Next the Bridgeport Wood Finishing Company of Bridgeport & later New Milford, Connecticut, operated for quartz and feldspar at the mine as well as other locations in the Branchville area from 1891 to 1917. These "other" areas included Mountain Rd., Pine Mountain Rd. and parts of the land we now refer to as the Scott Preserve/Rock Lot. Deeds indicate Jesse Fillow leased a 3-acre triangular piece to the BWFC at 32 Mountain Rd. in 1911, BWFC transferred it to Gininone Di Giavanni in 1914. BWFC also leased a 4-acre tract from John Barrett in 1911 at 34 Mountain Rd. for "the purpose of searching for quartz or silica; of conducting mining and quarrying operations and of recovering from here any quartz or silica…" Details also note "BWFC has the right to renew this agreement on the same terms and conditions for a further period of 10 years upon written notice..." the mining operation called for the removal of 100 gross tons of quartz or silica. More specifically "if 100 gross tons of quartz or silica are not mined or quarried, as now contemplated by said parties within any year during the continuance of this agreement…then these presents and everything contained therein shall cease and be forever null and void."

In 1906, historian Charles Burr Todd wrote: "There is a large frame building standing just across the track from the quarry on the line of the branch road leading to Ridgefield. This building...has been erected and furnished with powerful and costly machinery for the purpose of crushing the quartz, or, more properly, oxide of silicon, found in the neighboring hills..."

"Silex" was the trade name for quartz sand, a form of silica BWFC used extensively in making paste wood fillers; it is chemically inert, does not absorb moisture or shrink and can be stained to match any finish. Unfortunately for its workers it was also extremely damaging to the lungs. BWFC was in business from 1876 to 1917 when it was purchased by DuPont.

In addition to Bridgeport Wood Finishing Co. the properties in and around the mine were leased to several other individuals and companies in this time frame. For example, a June of 1897 lease between BWFC and William Haaker for 65 acres of land in Redding and Ridgefield, provided BWFC the right to mine for quartz and feldspar, and specifically stated that Haaker only had the right to quarry granite. In 1907 Haaker leased the same parcel to Traylor Manufacturing and Mining Co. of New Jersey for the purpose of mining quartz and feldspar for a period of 5 years. In 1914, Anna Haaker leased the same parcel to Monarch Mining Co, formerly Traylor Manufacturing and Mining Company. Traylor Manufacturing and Mining Company incorporated in 1907 with capital stock of $20,000 and one year later would increase that stock to $50,000 and change their name to Monarch Mining Company.

J. Frank Schairer located 31 different minerals at the mine in 1926. It was part of his research work on "The Minerals of Connecticut." He collected the data while he was at Yale.

From September 1943 to November 1944, Fred and Joseph Burrone and Carlo Rusconi, all of North Branford, Connecticut, operated the mine for mica, and the Sandy Ridge Mica and Mining Company, Inc., 927 15th Street N. W., Washington, D. C., worked the mine in November and December 1944. Also in 1944, detailed studies of the geology were made as part of the strategic-minerals investigations of the United States Geological Survey.

Sheet and scrap were the two types of mica mined. Sheet mica was used primarily for insulating electrical equipment. Specifically it was used in spark plugs, lamp sockets, radio apparatus, fuse boxes, heating devices and telephones.

Scrap mica was used for roofing, wallpaper, paints, for filler in rubber such as automobile tires, and lubricants. The demand for sheet mica during World War II induced operators to work the long dormant mine in 1943 and 1944.

After1944 the mine was sporadically operated until 1954.

The last attempt to reopen the mine was made in 1979 by geologist, Michael DeLuca but his request was turned down by the zoning commission.

About Mica:

The word "mica" is thought to be derived from the Latin word micare, meaning to shine, in reference to the brilliant appearance of this mineral (especially when in small scales).

Mica is found abundantly throughout Asia, Africa, as well as North and South America. Until the 19th century, mica was quite rare and expensive as a result of the limited supply in Europe. However, its price dramatically dropped when large reserves were found and mined in Africa and South America after the early 19th century.

Mica has a high dielectric strength and excellent chemical stability, making it a favored material for manufacturing capacitors for radio frequency applications. It has also been used as an insulator in high voltage electrical equipment.

Specific varieties of mica include:

  • Biotite
  • Muscovite
  • Lepidolite
  • Phlogopite

Mica is a general term for a large group of minerals, hydrous silicates of aluminum and potassium, often containing magnesium, ferrous iron, ferric iron, sodium, and lithium and more rarely containing barium, chromium, and fluorine. All crystallize in the monoclinic system, but mica is most commonly found in the form of scales and sheets. All the micas have an excellent basal cleavage, splitting into very thin, elastic laminae. Some varieties are transparent; resistance to heat is high.

Commercially, the most important micas are muscovite (potassium mica) and phlogopite (magnesium mica).

Muscovite, the commoner variety, is usually colorless, but it may be red, yellow, green, brown, or gray, with a vitreous to pearly luster. It occurs in granites, syenites, mica schists, and gneisses, but is most common in pegmatite dikes. It is widely distributed.

Phlogopite varies in color from yellow to brown, some specimens having a coppery tint and others being greenish. It occurs in crystalline limestones, dolomites, and serpentines in Canada, New York, New Jersey, and Finland.

Mica mining, because of the necessity of keeping the crystals intact, is a delicate operation; drills and blasting powder must be used carefully, if at all. The mined crystals are first “cobbed,” i.e., roughly trimmed of rock and cut, then split with a hammer into plates, and further split into sheets with a knife.

Sheet mica is used as an insulating material and as a resonant diaphragm in certain acoustical devices.

Scrap and ground mica is used in wallpaper, fancy paint, ornamental tile, roofing, lubricating oil, and Christmas-tree snow.

Ground mica is sometimes pressed into sheets (micanite) that can be used as sheet mica.

Most of the sheet mica used in the United States is imported, chiefly from India and also from Brazil. Synthetic mica was produced in the United States after intensive government-sponsored research began in 1946.

About Granite

Granite is the name used for a variety of light-colored, coarse-grained igneous rocks. Orthoclase (potassium) feldspar is typically the most abundant mineral in granite and significant amounts of quartz and plagioclase feldspar are generally present as well. Minor minerals include muscovite mica, biotite mica, hornblende and others.

The coarse grain size of granite indicates a slow rate of cooling that occurred below the earth's surface. The insulating effect of the surrounding rock caused the magma to crystallize very slowly. The slow cooling allowed the mineral grains adequate time to grow to a large size.

Because it crystallizes "at depth" Granite exposed at the surface indicates a location where deep erosion has taken place.

Granite is a very strong, durable stone and is used in a variety of ways. Its attractive appearance makes it useful as an architectural stone. It is also widely used in monuments, grave markers, stair treads, counter tops, window sills, street curbing and other dimension stone uses.

Granite is also used in the form of crushed stone or aggregate. Granite aggregate is mainly used for road construction and maintenance, however there are many other uses which include concrete, landscaping stone and paving. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that granite accounts for about 16% of the United States crushed stone production, behind limestone and dolomite.

What Created The Mining Scars Found on Granite Rocks in and around Branchville?

Hand drilling was the method used by quarry miners to extract granite blocks from the landscape. Hand drilling helps remove rock three ways: (1) A rock may be split into chunks of manageable size by steel drilled into a natural seam; (2) If the steel in the seam does not split the rock by itself, the hole may be fitted with the wedge and feathers. The wedge is driven between the feathers with a hammer until the rock breaks; (3) Finally a hole may be used to prepare a rock for blasting. In general, the larger the rocks, the more likely you will use explosives to move them. Although hand drilling was slow work, it was a safe and simple way to chisel out granite blocks and/or prepare the rocks for blasting.

Old drill holes are now filled with moss (middle of photo along crack)

The driller drives the steel by methodical hammering and turning. When the hammer strikes the head of the steel, the bit is forced against the rock. After each blow of the hammer, the driller turns the steel slightly and strikes it again. With each blow the bit chips small amounts of rock that collect in the hole as "drilling dust." The driller removes the dust by adding water to the hole, which creates a mud that sticks to the sides of the steel. To clear the mud, the driller removes the steel and raps it against the rock. The procedure is continued until the hole is deep enough; longer steel is substituted as the hole lengthens.

Lone drill hole with another one started to the left of it.

The steel is manipulated with one hand while the other hand hammers (single jacking), or the steel is manipulated by two hands while another person hammers (double jacking).

Ambidexterity was very helpful for the single jack driller because he could work longer by shifting the hammer from one hand to the other to distribute the work. In double jacking one or two drillers hit a drilling steel with large sledge hammers while a holder turned the steel slightly after each blow. As the hole deepened, the holder substituted longer steels in a way that did not interrupt the driller's disciplined rhythm.

Random Notes on Branchville

Sherman Beers was paid $600 for the right to cross land by the DNRR 1850. Not bad, most others received from $1 to $100. Beers family major land owners in Ridgefield/Branchville area. 252 acres at one time.

Ridgefield or Beers Station originally. Branchline run in 1869-70 resulted in name change. A train ran up to Branchville several days (Feb. 22, 1852) before first official train from Norwalk to Danbury ran on March 1, 1852.

Before Branchline people were transported to Ridgefield in horse and buggy. Branch closed to passengers 1925 (cars, highway improvements), freight 1964, never electrified. Walking trail now. NU utility lines.

Old names for Branchville's location: Wheer Cock, Copps Corner (John Copp, original surveyor of Ridgefield 1707-08) Beer's Station, Ridgefield Station.

Comical story relayed by Jack Sanders…Branchvillers tried to pull a "switch-a-roo" on Ridgefield. Signs were created and posted naming Branchville as Ridgefield and the actual town of Ridgefield as "West Ridgefield" This did not go over big and lasted a very short time.

West Branchville Road, is actually Eastern most point of Ridgefield. At one time Main Street. The name is puzzling to say the least.

Notable Individuals:

Julian Alden Weir. Old Beers Farm. 250+ paintings in Branchville. National Historic Site. Founding member of 10 American painters. Property retreat for famous artists of the time period. House enlarged by famous architect Stanford White.

John Ames Mitchell, Life Magazine, Life's Fresh Air Camp. City children came for summer get aways. Later Hidden Valley, Branchville School Location.

Branchville to Topstone Stretch

Couch's cut. The Section between Branchville and Topstone was a very difficult stretch for railworkers. There was quite a bit of rock to get through and dynamite was about 18 yrs from being invented. Pick axes and black powder were likely used. Thomas Couch was a partner in the 19th Century iron foundry at the north corner of Florida Hill Road and Route 7. Couch's cut comes from his name.

The foundry, which received pig iron from Norwalk and turned it into agricultural tools, sleigh shoes, stoves, and all kinds of metal parts. The foundry, which operated in the middle and late 19th Century, was on the site of an old grist and saw mill . The grist mill had been erected around 1737 by Peter Burr and had gone through many owners over the years: One was a Thomas Couch and his wife, Sara, who owned it from 1783 to 1818. Along with his partner, Ebenezer Burr Sanford, Thomas N. Couch, possibly the elder Couches' son or grandson, acquired the grist and saw mills around 1831.

When the foundry was established is not known. There is tradition that during the Civil War Couch and Sanford configured a cannon and fired it whenever good news came back from the battlefield.

Ridgefield's Surveyor: John Copp (1673-1751)
Colonial Jack of All Trades
by Silvio A. Bedini

In reading about colonial American surveyors, it is apparent that few if any were professionally trained. For the most part they were self-taught and pursued other community activities in addition to surveying, generally a common trade ranging from farming to shoemaking. An exception was John Copp of Boston, who fulfilled numerous civic responsibilities not only in one community, but in two, as well as in his state. Born in 1673, he was the son of David Copp, one of William Copp’s nine children and a cordwainer like his father. William Copp had emigrated from England. David expanded the cordwainer business, was the ruling elder of the First Church, clerk of the market, and sealer of leather. He was a surveyor and adviser to the Boston selectmen on various matters including laying of bounds for highways and property listings in the town. David also “was designated by the selectmen to cooperate with the constable in the suppression of excessive drinking and disorders in private houses and licensed places of entertainment.” He was a highly esteemed citizen and bearer at funerals of the old elite of old Boston, and among his friends was the Reverend Cottom Mather.

Established in Many Professions

His son John Copp moved to Connecticut while in his twenties, and in 1698 he married the widow Mary Jagger Phelps of Stamford. Apparently, not long thereafter he was widowed, then married again three years later to another widow. There were no children from either marriage.

During the next few years Copp apparently established himself as a schoolteacher in Stamford with success, for his name next appeared in Norwalk in 1701 when a town meeting voted to hire him as schoolmaster “in case he can be obtained.” The meeting left the salary open to negotiation of “reasonable termes” but specified that part of the payment in the amount of 1 pound 55 should come from a tuition charged to the “schollers” (pupils) with the payment divided equally among them. Copp accepted the position and taught both day and evening classes.

In addition to schoolteacher, Copp was also the local medical doctor. In 1705 he “obtained the recommendation of the selectmen of Norwalk and applied for a license to practise medicine.” He was granted a license, and in 1710 or 1711 he was appointed a surgeon with a Connecticut regiment which was to march to Port Royal in Canada to engage the French in battle. At a meeting of the Governor’s Council in New Haven held on July 24, 1711, it was ordered that a letter be dispatched to Copp “desiring him to attend and go as Doctor in the expedition against Canada, which letter was drawn and sent accordingly.” Copp was to be paid six pounds a month for his service out of the Colony treasury “and that he shall have a suit of the regimental cloaths, gratis.” If and where and when Copp received medical training is not known.

Copp had been trained in surveying by his father, and probably had accompanied him on some of his field work, and from time to time engaged in surveying when called upon. When as early as 1697 Norwalk residents began to become interested in land to the north of their community which was owned by Indians, Copp frequently was called upon to survey for members of the community. The land was high and rocky, but the soil was fertile and there were more than sixty miles of streams that could serve future mills. In 1706 and again two years later, he was asked with others to survey land in the region, but various difficulties arose and the expeditions resulted in failure.

The First Purchase

Finally, working alone in the summer of 1708, Copp managed to draw up boundaries for a tract of land of 20,000 acres, roughly in the southern half of the present town of Ridgefield. He reported back to the Norwalk residents that “we went up to view said tract of land and upon our diligent endeavour for a discovery, we find it to be accomodated with upland considerably good and for quantity sufficient for thirty families, and as for meadow land it surpasses both in quantity as well as in quality what is common to be found in larger plantations.” In September, Copp and two others from Norwalk representing the first 26 settlers of new community to be named “Ridgfield” (later changed to “Ridgefield”) paid the Indians £100 sterling for what was called “the first purchase” of which there were to be seven more. The purchase having been made, the General Assembly in session at Hartford in May 1709 appointed Major Peter Burr of Fairfield, John Copp of Norwalk, and Josiah Starr of Danbury, to serve as a committee to make a survey of the tract of land and to lay it out for a town plat, and to make return to the General Assembly at New Haven in the following October “of their doings therein, and of their opinion how many inhabitants the said tract of land may admit and contain.” After this was done, a grant was made by the General Assembly in session at New Haven on October 13, 1709.

Copp was elected recorder or town clerk of the first town meeting in 1709 and of which his notes of the meeting survive. Although for a short time in 1714 Copp held title to property in the new community, he did not hold title to property in the town. In 1714 he had some land deeded to him which he turned over to another several months later; it appears that he was acting merely as a trustee.

During the first several years of Ridgfield’s settlement, Copp apparently lived with one pioneer family or another for periods ranging from days to months at a time while he helped to lay out the town and its main street. It was to be six rods wide, and to run north and south along the eastern declivity of the ridge. On either side of the street, home lots of two-and-one-half acres were laid out, and in the rear of these, additional lots of five acres, making a total of seven-and- one-half acres. Subsequent divisions were made of the plough land, meadow land, and bogs.

Haphazard Schooling

Copp also served as the town’s physician, and as its first schoolmaster, instructing the children in a small meeting house near the center of the town. Schooling appears to have been somewhat haphazard because Copp also had responsibilities in Norwalk during this period, and it was not until 1721 that the subject of education was mentioned in the town records. Ridgfield’s first town meetings were probably held in Norwalk until the settlement became more permanent and populated. Copp was also the town clerk for Norwalk from 1708 to 1740. It is likely that Copp’s records of Ridgfield town meetings were compiled in Norwalk, his last entry made in 1713, when he was succeeded as both recorder and schoolmaster by the Reverend Thomas Hauley, the town’s first minister.

The settlement of Ridgfield was but one of Copp’s endeavors, for during the same period he was extremely active in the civic and ecclesiastical life of Norwalk and of Fairfield County as well. In 1706, 1716, and 1718-19 he was elected state representative from Norwalk to the Connecticut General Assembly. In 1711 he was appointed county surveyor and at the governor’s request he assisted with a 1716 survey to determine the boundary between Connecticut and New York State. In 1719 he was engaged in clearing up confusion over the boundaries of the community of Norwalk. In 1726 he was appointed to a town committee to present grievances to county officials. Copp also surveyed the town of Bradford, New York.

Copp was no less active in Norwalk’s ecclesiastical affairs. He was a deacon in Norwalk’s First Congregational Church, and the town records note that in 1723 he was granted a position of importance, “the second pue [sic] from the pulpitt.” His wife was placed “in the third pue on the women’s side.” During the mid 1720s, Copp served on several church committees that attempted to settle a dispute between the minister and his parishioners, who were then most of the townspeople. The dispute became so heated that in 1726 it was voted at the town meeting to discontinue payment to the minister of his salary. Copp’s name appeared on the records of Ridgfield in 1739, noting that he had come to town to attend the installation of the new Congregational minister, Jonathan Ingersoll, who came to replace Thomas Hauley, who had died the year before.

In his will drawn up in 1749, Copp freed his two slaves, Jack and Sarah, and provided them with support. Copp died on May 16, 1751, at the age of seventy-eight. There are few suitable memorials to John Copp in either community in which he lived and worked. Copps Mountain, a name first used in the town deed of 1721, was given to a ridge in the northern part of Ridgefield. Along the southern end of this ridge is “Settler’s Rock,” campsite of the scouting party that set out to survey Ridgefield in 1708 before the first purchase was made from the Indians. Of later date, occurring in deeds from 1748, is Copps Old Line referring to the border between Danbury and Ridgefield, also Copps Corner in the Branchville section referring to the boundaries of Ridgefield, Redding and Wilton at the corner of Mountain Rd. and Peaceable St.

Silvio Bedini was an Historian Emeritus with the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., and a Contributing Editor for the magazine.

Branchville Making News: Ancona's Market:

2007: Ancona's Market celebrates 87 years of memories

2006: Fruits of their labor: Third generation keeps family business thriving
By BOB CHUVALA | Fairfield County Business Journal

It may not seem very old when put alongside Ridgefield’s 300-year history, but at 86 years and now in its third generation, Ancona’s Market is the town’s oldest family-run business.

Actually, that’s quite an accomplishment because only 30 percent of family businesses make it to the second generation, said Priscilla Cale, director of the Family Business Program at the University of Connecticut in Storrs. UConn recently gave Ancona’s Market a Family Business of the Year award for not only surviving, but thriving over the past eight-plus decades.

“My father started in business about 1920 just 1,000 feet from where we are now,” said 62-year-old John Ancona who, with his 73-year-old brother, Joseph, are second-generation owners of the market in Ridgefield’s Branchville section. But like many families, exact dates and details can be fuzzy. “1920 is the date we’re using,” Ancona said of the founding.

The senior Ancona immigrated here from Sicily with his father and brothers shortly after the turn of the last century, working in the local Gilbert & Bennett wire in World War I.

“When he came back he put enough money together to start a small business,” Ancona said -- a general store of sorts, with a soda fountain, dry goods, groceries, even a gasoline pump outside.

Ancona and his three brothers and one sister lived over the store as their father expanded his grocery business and holdings and opened a liquor store.

In 1949 their father constructed a brick building to house a hardware store; the building survives (The Video Cinema; H&R Block), the business doesn’t. The grocery business moved into the building in 1960.

The elder Ancona died in 1958, and the family business passed to oldest sons Joseph, then 24, and Nano, then 26. For the next several decades, the second generation operated the grocery and liquor stores. “Nano ran the liquor business and Joseph and I concentrate on the grocery business,” Ancona said.

Flexibility and innovation

In 1980, both businesses moved into a new 24,000-square-foot building the Anconas built on Branchville Road property adjacent to the brick building that faces Route 7. Since then, “we put in some additional space, bumping out a bakery in 1983 or 1984, and putting on another addition in 1987,” Ancona said. Today, the store is about 30,000 square feet, half the size of a contemporary supermarket like Stop&Shop.

The late Nano’s wife, Carol, and son, Mitchell, own and run the liquor business, while “Joe and I each have a child working in the business,” he said. Actually, he said, “they’re not children any more.” His daughter, Gina, is 30; Joe’s son, JR, “is 43 or so.”

What caught UConn’s attention, however, is not the family history, but how the family tailored the business to meet changing times and tastes. The annual UConn award has five criteria, Cale said -- success, positive family and business linkage, multigenerational family involvement, contribution to the community and industry, and innovative business practices and strategies. “

A lot of family businesses sometimes find it hard to separate themselves from what they’ve done in the past,” Cale said. But the Anconas “separated themselves from what was not working,” she said. “The hardware store wasn’t working, so they closed that.” And successful family businesses exploit their competitive advantage of flexibility. The Anconas “listen to their customers and read the market, and they do that extremely well.” The family added a bakery and a kitchen, for example, “before anyone else did.”

Back in 1978 Ancona’s added a kitchen and started selling fried chicken and baked ziti, Ancona said. “Not too many other grocery stores did that then,” he said. The cooked meal offerings continued to expand to include roast turkey and prime rib, “all the side dishes” and, six months ago, pizza. “We make our own dough.”

The prepared meals menu continues to grow to meet demand. “Everybody’s on the go these days, and time is very valuable to people,” Ancona said. “Our prepared meals are as good or better than they can make at home, and that’s what they opt for.” “

That’s the kind of innovation we look for,” Cale said.

Succession planning

The Anconas have one more advantage in that they recognize something else about family businesses.

“Some family businesses see succession planning as a transaction,” Cale said. “It’s not. It’s a process and it takes a long time to do. It’s very difficult to transfer the knowledge about how a business should be run.”

Some family businesses don’t survive to subsequent generations because of market conditions and the economy, others because they don’t have a competitive advantage, she said. But most fail to survive because of a lack of planning, “particularly succession planning.” And failure for family business to go on to the second generation is the norm. “

In Connecticut there are about 90,000 family businesses,” Cale said. “About 60 percent of all jobs are created by family business, but only 30 percent of the businesses make it to the second generation.” Assuming a family business lasts one generation or about 30 years, “only 20 percent of the jobs will survive the transition in those 30 years.”

That’s one of the things that makes Ancona’s Market so remarkable -- its survival into the third generation as a thriving, growing business with about 60 employees, half of them full time. “To be that long lasting is definitely a generational thing,” Ancona said. “We’re the second and third generations in house now, and that’s encouraging.”

Read more great Fairfield County business stories at: http://www.fairfieldcbj.com

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