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Redding Ridge, Connecticut (CT) History, Past and Present  

Submit your ideas or articles to bcolley@snet.net and please consider donating to the History of Redding so I can continue to provide updates to this web site.

Redding Ridge, Connecticut

Redding Ridge was once referred to by its residents as Chestnut Ridge. Redding Ridge was an Episcopalian settled district of Redding, though some Congregationalists lived here too. The Christ Church Parish, Episcopal was established officially in 1732, for many years prior to 1732 this area was a stop on the "Circuit" of Episcopalian missionaries preaching the Anglican or Church of England ideals.

It's important to understand that the Episcopal Society of Redding suffered greatly in the Revolutionary War, but unlike many Episcopal Society's in New England they were able to endure their hardships and persevere. Episcopal Society's suffered because of their tie to the Church of England and thus the Crown of England which marked them as Loyalists or Tories by the Rebels or Patriots fighting for independence. *Redding Ridge's Patriots and Loyalists were immortalized by James and Christopher Collier's novel my brother Sam is dead in 1974.

Redding Ridge was so important a community that the British made a special stop here on their march to Danbury to destroy the Patriot's provisions being stored there. Coming from Fairfield, through Easton, they stopped here for 1-2 hours, taking several Patriot prisoners and adding several Loyalists to their number.

The Ridge Community was transformed into somewhat of a industrial district in the 1800's with many mills and shops established in the Aspetuck River section. Water-power being the draw. Almost as quickly as these mills and shops appeared they failed and faded away leaving the workforce that supported them in poverty. The Poverty Hollow namesake is believed to have come from the conditions area inhabitants endured as the community entered the 1900's.

The 1900's brought more than a new century, it brought many changes too. The Ridge on the Black Rock Turnpike side was transformed into an educational paradise for children of the "well-to-do" thru the visions and efforts of Daniel Sanford. Daniel established the Redding Institute which later became known as the Sanford School in 1905. The grounds of the School were once a large farm owned by Thomas Ryan...I believe Onions were an important crop for Mr. Ryan, at least that's what I've been told. In the summer months the school served as the Ridgewold Inn. Another Inn known as the Ridge Inn existed on Black Rock Turnpike too.

In the Poverty Hollow end of Redding Ridge, a forward thinking gentleman named Noble Hoggson with a passion for architecture and the funds to fuel his passion, envisioned an upscale community development in the impoverished Aspectuck district. He renamed the area "Pleasant Valley" and with many of his influential friends and associates purchased a good number of properties in the Aspectuck Valley transforming them into grand estates. His timing was great, Redding became front page news all over the World when Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) arrived in 1908. Once relatively unknown, many artists, writers and others of wealth and influence became aware of its rural beauty and flocked here. Many of the impressive estates on Poverty Hollow Road in the present day are the work or influence of Mr. Hoggson, of course, the original homesteads of the Aspectuck valley were demolished or greatly altered to achieve Hoggson's visions.

To touch on another section of the Ridge, that should not be forgotten, the high ridge between Sunset Hill Road and Newtown Turnpike was known in Indian times as Wiantenuck and said to have been a popular native American hunting ground. To early settlers, Sunset Hill was known as Couch's Hill. Sunset Hill was the route to Danbury taken by British troops in 1777. Sunset Hill is best known for Huntington State Park, which was the estate of Archer & Anna Huntington. Anna was a gifted scupture and many of her works are proudly displayed in Redding today, of note: at the Huntington Park entrance, John Read Middle School, Redding Elementary School, Mark Twain Library, Putnum Park. Oh yeah, Archer Huntington. Archer Huntington was a lucky son-of-a-gun who inherited his step-father's vast railroad fortune.

The Huntington's will always be remembered for their 800 acre "gift" to Redding residents but it was a man named Commodore Luttgen who converted this beautiful land into a sylvan paradise, with lakes and miles of Victorian carriage drives. Luttgen, had bought the property from a gentleman known as Senator Peck, whose wife had been a Wells of Wells Fargo. (What with Pete Adams family of Adams Express and the Wellses, Redding was well represented in fast transportation & delivery.)

More on Huntington State Park

Spinning Wheel Inn/Restaurant History

Here is what I have on the Spinning Wheel:

Elaine Tottle of Baltimore, MD bought the property in 1925 from a Dr. Cohn who had occupied the home for approx 10 years. Dr. Cohn felt the traffic on Rt. 58 was too noisy for his taste. Cohn was responsible for restoring the house.

It is stated somewhere that "originally the property was deeded to Eli Sanford by the infamous Chicken Warrup." However, I don't have any Eli Sanford that far back or any mention of the deed from Chicken Warrup. There was an Ephraim Sanford in that time period who was a major land owner in that area (Sandfordtown) who had a son named Eli so that may be the Eli Sanford they mention but the deed from Warrups is likely false and added by someone looking to add some drama to the story.

It became known as the Bradley Burr homestead after he purchased it for $860. Burr was a successful in his time he drove the stagecoach to Norwalk, sold or traded merchandise there and appears to have been in the boot & shoe business as well.

Tottle found Redding thru her sister, Mrs. Aaron Frost who had a summer home here with her husband a partner of the firm Black, Starr and Frost (likely of NYC). She brought with her a vast collection of Southern recipes and three colored servants. She felt the traffic on Rt. 58 would help her fill up the small room she was fixing up for dining.

She was well-schooled at homemaking but had no business or restaurant experience prior to the opening on May 5th, 1925 a Saturday. 24 customers walked in, looked around and sat down to be served...this was a great many more than she had anticipated and they cleaned out the larder; so much so that Tottle had to scour the country-side to feed the Sunday guests. The diners must have been pleased, for more than 5,000 meals were served that first year and the Spinning Wheel was in business.

When Mrs. Tottle started, many friends pitched in to help her; among them Mrs. Morgan of the White Turkey, and her son William A. Tottle (who was originally employed at Roll Royce but the depression hit and he came home to help his mother, found he enjoyed working at the Spinning Wheel, and except for the time he spend in WWII worked there full-time).

During WWII the Spinning Wheel was closed for 4 years due to gasoline rationing. During that time Mrs. Tottle and her staff operated the Tide Mill Inn in Southport, CT.

In 1948 the main building was lost to fire, forcing the second closing of that decade. The loss was only partially covered by insurance and Mrs. Tottle was briefly disheartened. Then George Banks came to tell her he had found the timbers needed to rebuild in a couple of old Vermont barns. With this encouraging news she went ahead to construct a much more convenient building without losing any of the charm of the old house. Her less suitable Baltimore mahogany furniture was replaced with carefully chosen antiques from New England and New York State and the net result of the fire was a much improved establishment.

Three years later in 1951, the Tottles acquired land and buildings in Sarasota, Florida and opened a Southern Spinning Wheel. The Redding establishment opened the first Saturday in May and closed the Sunday after Thanksgiving, while the Sarasota Spinning Wheel opened on New Year's Day and closed right after Easter. Between seasons were the vacation times for the staff and nearly all the employees moved with the seasons.

The Tottles had very little trouble finding and keeping valued workers. Many local boys and girls helped raise money to pay for their college educations by working at the Spinning Wheel. Lloyd Burritt started as a car park and later became a steward. Donald Bergquist worked in all departments at one time or another on his way to a degree in business administration at Columbia.

Many of Tottle's recipes were never hoarded, she was happy to tell anyone who asked what was in the goodies and even wrote a cookbook at one time (that apparently didn't do very well or was poorly marketed and quickly went out of print). Tottle never expanded into Catering, she felt Catering was a different business which did not suit the community nor her set up. However, she did occasionally bake a wedding or birthday cake if asked to. Her Minniehaha cake was very popular with the locals.

The Spinning Wheel never had a liquor license under the Tottle's management. The Tottle's felt by not serving liquor they were attracting a different kind of patron, they said the restaurant may make more money serving drinks but the atmosphere just wouldn't be the same...Those who like a cocktail can have it at home and save money. Food was the product and great care was taken to purchase the finest food supplies. Meats came form Boston; Lobsters from Maine; Crabmeat from Chesapeake Bay; Poultry from a local farmer who never let's his chickens feet hit the ground.

The gift shop was opened in 1927 after Tottle was persuaded by patrons to do so. She was originally hesitant to open a shop feeling that she would be making guests feel importuned. Edith S. Hiss, an old friend from Baltimore managed the shop.

Recycling Center- How it was decided to place it in Hopewell Woods

Special Town Meeting: June 24, 1960:

Item 3: "To act upon a petition submitted by a group of voters that the Selectman be authorized to investigate and make recommendations for the creation and maintenance of a town dump."

Mr. Theodore Dachenhausen said he disliked seeing this being put in the Selectman's hands. He thought that the Planning Commission would designate some part of town which would be big enough for a dunp site. He said he felt the Selectman were being used as a means to an end, and once they selected a piece of property it would always be said "Samuelson and Company picked the site."

Mr. Richard Killgore asked to have a motion amended to have the word "incinerator" substituted for the words "town dump". This was seconded and a discussion followed. The amendment was voted on by voice vote and lost.

Report of the Planning Commission 1960:

Committee members have also made many field trips to possible town dump site, and held meetings and discussions covering possible Action Memos, town building code, sanitary code and problems of inspection.

Special Town Meeting, December 9, 1960:

Item 2: To hear the report of the Board of Selectmen in regard to their investigation of a site for a town dump.

At a special town meeting held on June 24, 1960, the Board of Selectmen was instructed to investigate possible sites for a town dump and to report back to the town in 90 days. This time was subsequently extended at another town meeting.

The following is the report and recommendations:

An effort has been made to find a site which would:

1. Have adequate capacity

2. Be acceptable from the health and sanitation point of view

3. Be located in a sparsely settled region and one not likely to increase in residential use.

4. Be available at a reasonable price.

After considering several possibilities, it was concluded that the site on Hopewell Road to the east of the existing privately-operated dump, would be satisfactory. This site was discussed with the Bridgeport Hydraulic Company, the Planning Commission, and its Consultant. Later, the Department of Parks and Forests of the State of Connecticut and the Sanitary Engineering Division of the Department of Health expressed interest in the site and presented their views.

The Bridgeport Hydraulic Company and the State agencies concerned stated they are familiar with the Hopewell Rd. site. The Selectmen have received a letter from the BHC stating that a dump on Hopewell Rd. would present a hazard to the Public Water Supply.

The Sanitary Engineering Division has stated that it would support the objections made by BHC. Because the site under consideration adjoins land dedicated as a State Park (Huntington State Park), the Commissioner of State Parks & Forests has stated a desire to be present at any Town Meeting held for the purpose of considering the Hopewell site.

As required by law, the Selectmen have asked the Planning Commission to report on the Hopewell site. That report was received and the Planning Commission does not approve of any site on Hopewell Road for an all-purpose Town Dump.

In view of the apparent difference of opinion between the Board of Selectmen and the Planning Commission, as to the proper site for a Town Dump, we specifically recommend that a Special Committee be raised consisting of the following:

The Board of Selectmen, the Chairman of the Zoning Commission, Chariman of the Zoning Board of Appeals, Chairman of the Planning Commission, and three (3) citizens in the Town, nominated and appointed from the floor, to further investigate any or all possible sites or locations that will meet the specifications contained in Items 1-4 of this report.

S. Harold Samuelson, Leslie G. Favreau, Louis J. Nazzaro
Town Selectmen

A discussion followed and Mr. Samuelson was asked to amplify the report of the Selectmen. He said that he and the other Selectmen plus different members of the Planning Commission looked over the Town at different places and came up with the Hopewell Rd. plan. They thought the plan was going to be satisfactory but now it seems that it is not so that is why the suggestion to form a committee has been brought up.

Mr. Alan Stackpole stated that the Planning Commission had been looking for a site for the town dump and said that they would support the Starrs Plain Road area site considered earlier by the town. He also said that the Planning Commission could not recommend a site more suitable than Starrs Plain Rd. and that the Planning Commission had sent a letter to the Selectmen stating that they do not approve of the Hopewell Rd. site and are against purchasing the property as the site of the town dump.

Mr. William Werfelman read a petition to the meeting and stated that all the residents signing it lived within one and three-quarters of a mile from the Starrs Plain Road area and 75% of them are within less than one-mile. Mr. Werfelman said that it will cost the town a great deal of money to purchase the Starrs Plain Rd. Site because the party that owns it said she does not want to to sell it to the Town, and it is going to be a long, legal battle to win.

Mr. Werfelman then asked the meeting to back the recommendation of the Selectmen to form a committee to further investigate the matter.

Mr. Thomas Lalley said that he operated an aerial photography business and would be glad to donate his services to the town if it would help in any way to locate the dump.

The discussion continued and Mr. Samuelson was asked how the dump would operate...would garbage be burned or buried? Mr. Samuelson said: "We are speaking of a land fill dump, and that garbage in regard to land fill, as I understand it myself, will be covered practically everyday with dirt or gravel of some sort of cheap fill."

Mrs. Whiting proposed that those three (3) citizens already mentioned to go on this committee be property owners, one from each section, West Redding, Redding Center and Redding Ridge. Approved by voice vote.

The following citizens were nominated and approved: Margaret Sullivan, William Werfelman, Raymond Beaudry.

Special Town Meeting, July 21, 1961:

Item 4: To receive and act upon the recommendation of the Dump site Committee.

Item 5: To authorize the Selectmen to acquire the land in Hopewell Woods containing 14 acres, owned by J. Harold Sanford and to establish and maintain a Sanitary Land Fill Dump on this site.

Mr. Werfelman said that the Committee looked at numerous sites throughout the Town and covered Redding from one side to the other, It finally narrowed down to two (2) sites:

1.The Starr Plains site (Picketts Ridge area)
2. The Hopewell Woods site (Redding Ridge area)

It was decided Hopewell Woods was the best location due to favorable engineering reports. BHC met with committee members and later stated it had no objections provided certain minor conditions were met. The engineering report and the layout proposal for the Dump Site was better than anticipated. They found there was enough fill available so that the Town would not have to purchase any fill for many years to come.

Mr. Werfelman approached the owner of the site at Hopewell Woods about the purchase of the site but was told that due to long-standing friendships with the residents of this area J. Harold Sanford (the owner) felt the Town should acquire the property by condemnation.

The committee estimated an amount of $25,000 for getting the site ready for operation. This included purchasing the property, the cost of a bulldozer, the cost of a fence, and the clearing of the site. Also estimated was a cost of $4,000 per year for upkeep and maintenance. This figure being based on the site being open 3 days a week.

Next Mr. Stuart Chase gave the report of the Planning Commission. He said that for over a year the commission had urged the purchase of the old gravel pit on Starrs Plain Rd. as a Town land-fill operation. They employed an engineer and found that the Starrs Plain site would make an adequate land-fill. However, he stated that in their brochure they noted "The Commission maintains an open-mind as to other practical land fill sites which the Study Committee may turn up."

The Planning Commission then made a thorough examination of the Hopewell Woods site with engineer Joseph Bennitt who was engaged by the Dump Site Committee. Mr. Chase then said it was declared unanimously at a meeting of the Planning Commission that they were in favor of the Hopewell Woods site.

Resolved the Town Land-Fill/Dump would be on Hopewell Rd.

Mr. Edward Butler spoke on behalf of Anna Huntington who is opposed to the site chosen mainly because it is situated immediately across the street from land she now owns, which is really the property of the State of Connecticut, and part of Huntington Park.

He also stated that the present dump site so-called, is not in any sense an area committed permanently to dumping purposes it is an area where one of the townspeople has dumped refuse for sometime and where he was permitted by Mrs. Huntington to continue to use that dump-site subject to an agreement to close it down and cover it over immediately on her request.

This request to close the private citizen's dump-site on Mrs. Huntington's property was voted by voice vote and approved.

Report of the Planning Commission 1961:

Sites for a town dump were investigated in conjunction with the Study Committee and the Selectman. The site on Hopewell Woods South was approved by the Commission, and subsequently adopted by town meeting as a sanitary land fill operation in July, 1961.

Bonner's School on Redding Ridge, Time Magazine Article 1938

Monday, Jul. 25, 1938 - Last week the headmaster of a private preparatory school made an astounding announcement: he was proud that next year his school's enrollment would be more than twice this year's; he was mortified that because of this increase the school would no longer be able to have more teachers than pupils, but would have only two teachers to every three boys.

The headmaster: Kenneth Bonner, 47. The school: Redding Ridge School, Redding Ridge, Conn. Enrollment, 1937-38: 5. Enrollment so far for next year: 12. Teachers, 1937-38: 6. Teachers next year: 8. Tuition: $1,400. Reason for the increased enrollment: a unique idea in preparatory education which proved highly successful in its first year of operation.

Headmaster Bonner based the Redding Ridge Plan on the conviction that only one thing can be done thoroughly at a time. Redding Ridge prepares boys for College Entrance Examination Board papers, and its courses are no departure. Novelty of the system lies in shuffling the courses so that a boy studies only one subject per year. In the first year (known as Second Form) pupils study geography —as related to literature, mathematics, world history, human relationships. Next year French is the major subject and Third Formers live in a separate house, speak only French, conduct all classes in French, master by year's end better than the equivalent of fourth year French conversation, composition, history, literature. (No other language is offered, on the grounds that it is better to learn one language well than to pick up a quickly forgotten smattering of several). Fourth Formers study the arts. Fifth Formers the sciences, Sixth Formers history and literature, closely correlated. Each successive year the subjects of previous years are applied to the new field of study.

Headmaster Bonner got his big idea during the War when, at high-pressure Plattsburg Officers Training Camp, he was polished as an officer in three months, simply by concentration. But militaristic regimentation is taboo at Redding Ridge. Boys are encouraged to swim, play tennis and golf, sports which they will enjoy later in life. (Mr. Bonner wryly admits he would have had trouble developing a football team with five boys.)

In defense of the Redding Ridge Plan, Headmaster Bonner says: "I am simply advocating that the system under which a boy is asked to do his work shall not be as irrational as a system which would require of an adult that he be a lawyer from nine to ten o'clock, a doctor from ten to eleven, a stock broker from eleven to twelve, and an author from twelve to one. It is my unalterable conviction that under such a system all but the rarest adult would be foredoomed to failure in all capacities, and do his best work in none."

Redding Ridge Stories from Redding Remembered-Oral History Project

Horse Thieves
Andrew Casey

Lawrence Banks was born in Redding during the early part of the century and has remained here ever since. Married, with children gone from home, he leads an active life and is a member of a Redding family that goes back seven generations. Banks related the following story in one of his interviews:

"John "Dido" Nickerson, Jr. of Redding was an engineer of the Shepaug Railroad line. He was born about 1880. Nickerson related the following story of horse thieves in Redding. When Nickerson was sixteen, and lived in Redding Center, he was 'sweet on' a young lady on Redding Ridge whose last name was Sanford."

"One night, Nickerson cut 'across lots' to a point where Wilson's Lane intersects with Cross Highway, near a steep hill. While crossing, he sighted a light in the valley near Little River. Nickerson then got down and hid behind a fence." People were shoeing horses, and he recognized a blacksmith-neighbor, one of a group of gentlemen horse thieves who were organized from Maryland to Massachusetts. They would ride through Redding at night and pick up horse that had been stolen for them. They had the horses' shoes changed and their coats and marking dyed. They would move the horses up river valleys and through little-used roads. The leaders of the horse thieves would eat and sleep at the homes of socially prominent families.

"Mr. Nickerson asked, 'Do you see this scar? I got that from the butt of a '45 because I had seen too much.' The following Sunday, Nickerson had no sooner gotten inside church with his mother, when someone came up to him and said, 'You have 24 hours to get out of town.' And that is when John "Dido" Nickerson, Jr. went on the railroad.

Nickerson would go on to become one of the New Haven Railroad's greatest engineers. Better known as Dido, he ran Yankee Clippers, one of the finest trains for a number of years, until he retired to Roxbury Connecticut. There is a photo of Nickerson standing in front of Engine No. 1573, Type 4-4-D Class C 15A, built in Rhode Island 1893.

Huntington Park
Tracy Birmingham, Nadia Tarlow

When Anna Hyatt Huntington died in 1973, she left us all a legacy in her magnificent sculptures. Many of our public buildings are enhanced by her bronze statues. But, she and her husband, Archer, left us another legacy in Huntington State Park, a park of 800 acres located in the northeast corner of Redding.

We talked with Henry Rasmussen, who was employed by Mrs. Huntington, in an effort to learn more about how the gift came about and the history of the land.

The estate originally belonged to the Luttgen family, and was later owned by the Sterret family. Archer Huntington bought the estate and named it Stanerigg. Archer was the son of Colis P. Huntington, a wealthy man who was a shipbuilder and the founder of the Chesapeake, the Ohio and the Union Pacific Railroads.

Before his death, Archer willed 800 acres of the original estate to the State of Connecticut. It was named Huntington State Park before his death in 1955.

During Mr. Rasmussen's employment with Mrs. Huntington, she often expressed her desire to have the park remain in its natural state for people to enjoy. Her wishes have resulted in a park that has been open to the public for 8 years. Few modifications have been made other than the bridge being restored. The park is used for walking, hiking, horseback riding, picnicing, fishing, cross-country skiiing, boating and nature study. The Department of Environmental Protection provides patrols at the park to see that Mrs. Huntington's wishes are fulfilled.

A Little outside of Redding Ridge but a good read that gives us some insight on the "frontier-like" living conditions in the late 1880's.

A Victorian Murder in the Newtown, Easton, Redding Frontier
By Daniel Cruson- Forwarded to me by Dennis Paget

A decade ago one of my students embarked on an independent study project that she ultimately could not complete, but which unexpectedly yielded a rare view into a seamy episode of Newtown's history. She lived in a converted barn in Redding, on Stepney Road, near where the Easton, Redding and Newtown boundaries meet. The story she wanted to investigate involved a young man named Rudolf Stauffer who had once lived in the house for which her converted house had been the barn. Stauffer supposedly died in jail for having murdered one of his neighbors.

By the end of the semester my student had uncovered three versions of the story, each of which differed from the others in significant details. As often happens in local history research, she had run into a dead end before she had been able to establish much certainty in the case behind the following facts: The murder had been committed and Stauffer had been convicted of the crime. He had been sent jail where he died some time shortly before June 21, 1913, which is the date on his headstone in the Redding Ridge cemetery. The only other points all agreed on were that he was a recent German immigrant who had a fiery temper. Even such essential facts as the date of the murder and the name of the victim remained a mystery.

A lucky break that led to a partial solution to this mystery came through a remarkable coincidence. One afternoon, more than a year after the project had ended, I found myself in pleasant conversation with a former Redding town clerk on matters of local history completely unrelated to murder. At one point, the topic of conversation turned to some old issues of the Danbury Evening News published in the 1880's that had come in to possession of Judge Hjarmal Anderson, a retired Redding probate judge. In those papers the judge had found an account of a local murder which had excited him and thus led him to talk about it to anyone who would listen. Although the second hand account of this murder was short on details, it reminded me of the Stauffer case; and so, two days later, I found myself sitting in Judge Anderson's living room with a newspaper article in my hand. It contained the first of several chapters of a story that remains both bizarre and remarkably modern in tone.

It turns out that Stauffer was not Stauffer but Stoffel. Apparently his family later changed the name, probably as a result of the scandal. Rudolf Stoffel was, in fact, a recent German immigrant, having come to this country in 1873. He settled in the Palestine district of Newtown where he lived for a couple years before moving to his permanent home in Redding, which still stands on the north side of Stepney Road, just west of the intersection with Park Avenue.

Besides doing some light farming, Stoffel was a charcoal burner, an occupation near bottom of the socioeconomic spectrum. It involved spending a couple of weeks in the woods cutting about four cords of wood and stacking them carefully in a large mound measuring roughly 10 to 12 feet high. This mound was then covered over with dirt, leaving a small air hole at the bottom where the wood was set afire. The pile would then smolder for the next week, while Stoffel lived next to it, watching to make sure that flames did not erupt and turn the wood to ash rather than the more lucrative charcoal. Once the charcoal was ready, it was packed into bushel baskets and carted to Bridgeport by wagons. There is was sold to factories as fuel for their steam engines. Charcoal burning involved a great deal of labor for very little remuneration.

Early in June of 1888, a violent argument arose between Stoffel and a moderately wealthy farmer named Andrew W. Peck who lived on the eastern end of Town's End Road, which at that time ran between Eden Hill Road in Newtown and Poverty Hollow Road in Redding. The argument concerned Stoffel's dog, who had been caught wandering into Peck's pastures and harassing his cattle. The argument ended with Peck threatening to kill the dog if he caught him in his pasture again. A couple of days later the dog was back and Peck carried out his threat. This was followed a few days later by another altercation that erupted when Stoffel trespassed into Peck's pasture in search of some calves that had strayed there by mistake. Peck immediately rushed over and grabbed Stoffel by the throat, where upon Stoffel threw Peck to the ground and proceeded to beat him savagely. The fracas ended when Peck's housekeeper appeared on the scene brandishing a revolver. Stoffel retreated but not without harboring an intense fury that would play an important role in the events of the next morning.

At 5:00 Friday morning, June 8, 1888, Peck arose and began his habitual pre-breakfast chores. As he opened his front door, a shotgun blast erupted from behind the stone wall that bounded Peck's front yard. According to the medical examiner who visited the scene of the crime that afternoon, Peck's body was "...Found in the doorway in a sitting position, the head against the open door. The right foot was inside the door and the left foot was outside with the hands lying on the thighs." An external examination of the body revealed that about 50 pieces of shot had struck Peck's body, mostly on the left side. Death was formally established as having been caused by a shotgun blast, the shot from which "...Produced a hemorrhage in the sac of the heart, completely filling the sac. One shot was also found in the stomach and two in the intestines.".

The shooting was reported by Jennie Alice Lockwood, Peck's housekeeper (or, as she later claimed, his wife). She had been in an adjoining room when she heard the shot and allegedly heard Peck cry out, "Alice, Alice, I am shot! Get up and go for help! Rudolf did it!".

When several neighbors told the authorities about the arguments between the two men, Stoffel became an immediate suspect and was subsequently arrested. Also linking Stoffel to the crime was a package of Yellow Jacket smoking tobacco found where the assailant had waited in ambush. This was determined to be the brand of tobacco that Stoffel frequently purchased at Henry Whitfield;s Redding Ridge market. A search of Stoffel's house produced another package of the same tobacco, and there was a hole in the left pocket of his coat through which the package of Yellow Jacket tobacco had apparently fallen at the crime scene. In addition, that same incriminating tobacco package bore black handprints of the type that could only have been made by the chronically dirty hands of a charcoal burner. Further incriminating the young German immigrant were fresh tracks leading from Peck's house and across the marsh to Stoffel's. According to the investigating officers, the tracks were identified by their shape and size as Stoffel's.

By Sunday night, Stoffel had been incarcerated in the "little lock up down below the Congregational Church". This building, which served as a town jail from 1876 until it burned shortly after 1905, was located at 8 West Street, where Paul Hart's house now stands. According to the testimony of John C. Gay, who was in charge of the jail at the time, the building was "...Built of wood, about 20 feet square, and standing one story high." It consisted of one large room with two cells in the back, or north side of the building. The walls consisted of "two thickness of matched pine boards with studding between them." Stoffel was securely locked into the eastern cell of with a large padlock.

By midnight, the officers guarding the structure grew weary and, convinced that Stoffel was safely locked away, left for the night. Stoffel immediately went to work hammering on the pine boards with a large eight by eight inch rock he had concealed in his clothes before being locked up. He succeeded in cracking through some of the pine boards, but not enough to escape. It was then that he put his skills as a charcoal burner to work. Using some matches he had somehow stolen from the main jail room while being processed, he set fire to the cracked boards, then smothered them with his mattress. By the time the officers returned the next morning, Stoffel had burned a hole through both the inner and outer partitions, large enough to crawl through. He was on the verge of doing so when the returning officers appeared and stopped him. The attempted escape did nothing to improve his subsequent defense efforts.

By Wednesday afternoon a preliminary trial was convened in the old town hall, which stood on the site of Edmond Town Hall in Newtown until 1929. Although the evidence was circumstantial, Justice Dayton concluded that it was sufficient for a trial. Stoffel was bound over to the Superior Court and transferred to a Bridgeport jail, which proved much more substantial than the Newtown facility.

Although he had been arrested and indicted, Stoffel was not the only suspect in this case. Early speculation was that Mary Peck, who claimed to be the divorced wife of Andrew Peck, may have been the murderess. She had a child whose father, she alleged, was Peck. She had a strong motive to get rid of Peck so that he child, should their marriage be proved valid, could inherit his estate estimated by the Probate Court at $6,620.83, a considerable sum in the 1880's. Mary Peck did not commit the murder, but she kept appearing in subsequent stories relating to the case so that by the end of Stoffel's trial, a much clearer picture of Andrew and Mary Peck emerged. The circumstances of their relationship makes a relatively mundane murder case truly bizarre.

Andrew Peck was born in Hattertown in 1834, but his father, who had three wives and was reputedly in constant trouble with women, was forced to move to Poultny, New York, because of an undisclosed "problem with a woman." He took his family, including Andrew, with him. It was there on December 9, 1855, that Andrew married Mary, only 16 at the time. Three years after the marriage, she became pregnant and bore a daughter, who later became Mrs. Metta Elizabeth Shuart. Even before the girl was born, however, Peck deserted his family and returned to Newtown. He and Mary were legally divorced in 1861. The notices of the impending divorce proceedings, however, were published in local newspapers; thus Mary, who was still in upstate New York, never saw them. Consequently, the court proceedings went against her by default, with Andrew gaining his divorce on the grounds that Mary had deserted him.

Some 20 years after the divorce decree (that she knew nothing about) was granted, Mary found out that Andrew was living in the southwestern area of Newtown. She had learned of his whereabouts from a letter sent to her by Andrew's brother-in-law. The reason for this letter, which was dated 1882, is not clear, but it created a round of letters between Andrew and his former wife. Finally, he sent Mary some money and invited her to join him, which she accepted. The divorced couple lived together on Town's End Road for two years under stormy circumstances until 1885 when she left him and returned to Rochester where she had lived before learning of Andrew's whereabouts. Six months later, Mary was back in Connecticut; but at least twice more she took off to New York, returning to Andrew each time within a few months. These New York trips are shrouded in mystery. Later newspaper accounts claim she was running a "house of ill repute" in Rochester before coming to Newtown the first time. Her frequent return trips to Rochester may have been connected with her former profession, or perhaps she was simply eager to get away from Andrew for a while.

When Mary returned for the last time in August of 1887, Andrew was living with Jennie Alice Lockwood, a former nurse at Bridgeport Hospital. Mary stayed with the couple for several days, but soon found the situation intolerable. She had her things moved to Albert Platt's house, located about a mile west of the Peck homestead. There she was described as "living in criminal intimacy" with Platt at the time of Andrew's murder. Oddly, Mark Peck was the first person Jennie Lockwood contacted after she realized Andrew Peck had been killed.

Jennie Alice Lockwood's relationship with Peck, and her role in the events of June 8, became clear only after several months of newspaper articles had revealed the latest aspects of the case. Initially, Jennie staunchly maintained that she and Peck had been married a few months before his death, and that he had written a will leaving his estate to her. Not surprisingly, neither a marriage certificate nor a will was ever found. A subsequent local news item reveals that Lockwood's testimony concerning Peck's last words was hopelessly unreliable. One witness, William Gilbert, testified in court that Jennie was under the influence of morphine at the time, a substance to which she was addicted. In fact, according to one source, police officers found "84 bottles that contained the drug in her bedroom, beside a large number of empty bottles." Gilbert further testified that she could not possibly have been aroused from her sleep when the fatal shot was fired.

An interesting footnote to Jennie Lockwood was added by Judge Anderson. He remembered her from when he was a child, not long after the turn of the century. According to him, she would appear in Redding and stay for six months or so and then disappear, only to reappear somewhat later for another "visit," staying at a different house, with a different man. The judge was too young to fully understand the situation, but he remembered the disapproving whispers of his parents and other adults in the neighborhood.

Meanwhile, Rudolf Stoffel languished in his Bridgeport jail cell. Since he did not have enough money to post bail, he was forced to stay there through the following winter. Finally, by March of 1889, the trial was ready to begin. The press corps, including the eager reporter from The Newtown Bee, gathered at the Fairfield County Court House in Bridgeport to cover this sensational trial, which began on March 13, 1889. Compared to the personalities and bizarre nature of the crime, the trial was actually rather dull. A parade of 30 witnesses was produced by the prosecution and defense, consisting mostly of neighbors who had known either Peck or Stoffel, knew about their arguments, or had been at the crime scene on the day of the murder. Other witnesses gave detailed accounts of Stoffel's arrest, the events subsequent to that arrest, and the search for further clues at his house. Evidence was given on the Yellow Jacket tobacco package and a mysterious vial of powder that had been discovered near the rock wall behind which the murderer had fired the fatal shot. All witnesses agreed that these items had been covered by soot-blackened handprints and smelled of charcoal. Much testimony was also devoted to the footprints found in front of Peck's house, leading across the oat field toward Stoffel's property. Detailed comparisons were made with Stoffels' boots, and endless questions were asked regarding his movements over the previous two or three days to determine if the footprints could have been made by him well before the murder.

The one piece of crucial evidence still missing, however, was the murder weapon. Stoffel admitted he owned a gun, but he swore that it had been in the possession of a neighbor, James Tyler, for some time and therefore could not be the murder weapon. This was confirmed by Tyler. Rumors of a second gun arose, but a thorough search of Stoffel's house and the land between his house and Peck's could produce no such weapon.

Such was the state of the case when it went to the jury on Friday, March 21. After less than two hours of deliberation, the jurors announced they were deadlocked. Because the trial had already cost the public about $5,000, the judge ordered the jury to try again, but by noon on the following day, the situation was deemed hopeless. One jury member from Weston voted adamantly for murder in the first degree. Two others (from Trumbull and Weston) insisted on a verdict of murder in the second degree. The other nine jurors, who remained unconvinced by the circumstantial evidence, agreed there was a reasonable doubt and so held out for acquittal. The jury was dismissed and Stoffel returned to jail to await retrial. The general feeling among the public was that Stoffel was not guilty. He himself, along with his lawyer, felt confident that, because the majority of jurors voted for acquittal, he would be set free by the next jury. Stoffel, in fact, felt so confident of his impending release that he made a fatal mistake.

It so happened that the prison in which Stoffel was being held was badly overcrowded. As a result, each cell contained two prisoners. Stoffel's cellmate was a young German named Carl Meyer, who had been charged with manslaughter. Stoffel quickly took the new man into his confidence and told him the story of the murder, confessing everything. He even told Meyer where he had hidden the murder weapon. He urged Meyer, should he manage to get out of prison, to see "the old woman" (by which he mean his wife) and "fix" the gun.

Upon his release, Meyer wasted no time in making the short trip to Redding, where he was welcomed by Stoffel's wife, Mary. Shortly after the murder, she had located the gun where her husband had hastily hidden it, abut 12 feet off the path that ran between the houses of the murdered man and his murderer. She then hid the murder weapon deep in the woods where it could not be found by the search parties. With Meyer's help she procured the gun and they proceeded to dismantle it. The stock was burned and the lock and other metal parts were buried in the basement. The barrel was buried 18 inches deep in her garden and cabbages were planted over it to hide the freshly dug soil.

After finishing his term, Meyer's partner in crime, one William Stetson, joined him in Redding and stayed in the area through that summer. A few months later, perhaps feeling some qualms of conscience, the two men returned to Bridgeport and confided in Reverend William Ritzmann, pastor of the German Baptist Church. He advised them to tell the Newtown authorities what they knew, but the two men decided they had enough of American Law and left town to settle somewhere in Long Island. Reverend Ritzmann contacted the authorities himself and the witnesses were tracked down. After hearing the full story from them, the authorities returned to the Stoffel's home, apprising his wife of the situation and requesting the gun parts that she and Meyer's had "fixed." Realizing the story was out, Mary Stoffel confessed that her husband had, in fact, murdered Peck. She then disinterred the gun barrel and retrieved the other parts.

At this point, James Tyler, the neighbor who lived just across the border in Easton, revealed that he had been in contact with Stoffel shortly after the murder had occurred. Afraid that Stoffel would be acquitted and come after him, Tyler was reluctant to testify at first, but when he learned that confessions had been obtained from Stoffel's cellmate and Mary Stoffel, Tyler proceeded to tell what he knew concerning the immediate aftermath of the murder. At about 6:00 in the morning, a half hour after Peck was shot, Stoffel had asked Tyler to help him hoe his potatoes. Stoffel claimed he was sick and feared he was going to die. Tyler refused, claiming he was sick, too. Their negotiation continued, with ever-increasing amounts of money offered and Stoffel growing increasingly agitated. In the words of the officials as they took down Tyler's testimony:

"Almost every five minutes, Rudolf would nervously ask what time it was. When I asked about the latest quarrel with Peck. He replied, 'Yes. He locked up my cattle and I would have thumped him, only that woman of his was back of a big rock with a pistol.'

"Peck threatened to break the Dutchman's head," said Tyler.

"Vell, he no break dis Dutchman;s head," Rudolf answered savagely.

"Why no?"

"Oh, you'll find out when the officers come down about 3 o'clock"

"Peck may come with them"

"No he won't!"

"But why not?"

"Oh, never mind! Have a drink of cider brandy."

Rudolf then fell back on the bed and repeated: "Oh, I am so sick! Put your ear down here and I'll tell you why Peck won't come down"

Then, with scarcely a pause, he uttered this oath: "Because I shot him...I got where he could not see he and when he came out I let a drive at him. You ought to have seen him jump when the shot struck and stung him. He jumped like a grasshopper."

With Tyler's testimony, Stoffel lost all chance of escaping justice and his lawyer finally convinced him to confess. Soon the rest of the story emerged. Rudolf had resolved to kill Peck long before the actual murder and had stalked him on several occasions. One night, a short time before the murder, Stoffel took his gun and pistol and set out to waylay Peck. Just as the neighbor appeared, however, Stoffel's hired hand happened by, forcing Rudolf to defer his plans.

On the day before the murder, Stoffel had taken a load of charcoal to Bridgeport to sell. As was his habit, he stopped at several saloons on his way home and had several drinks in each. At every stop he repeated his quarrel with Peck to anyone who would listen, and to many who wouldn't. At each telling, the story became more impassioned, until the last man with whom he spoke heard him say with a savage force, "I shoot him!"

After arriving home close to midnight, Stoffel turned out the horses and armed himself with is gun, a pistol and a knife. He then proceeded to Peck's house and hid behind the front wall. There he waiting in a drunken stupor from 12:00 until 5:30 in the morning. Although drunk, his brain was clear enough to fill Peck with 50 pieces of buckshot, then watch his victim dance in the throes of death.

This confession is almost the last chapter in a murder case that took 18 months before a conviction was obtained, and it has taken most of the last 15 years to rediscover and piece it back together. On October 12, 1889, Stoffel appeared before Judge Prentice of the Superior Court in Bridgeport and pleaded guilty to one count of second degree murder. For this he was sentenced to life imprisonment at Wethersfield State prison, a sentence that only ended with his death in 1913.

The case, however, continued to appear in the local newspapers off and on for the next two years. Peck's estate remained in contention, and every time the Probate Court tried to close it, the press would recap the murder and speculate about who had the latest claim to Peck's money. The estate moved toward a final settlement in January of 1890. Mary Peck had just suffered a stroke and could not appear at the probate hearing, but evidence was supplied to proved that Metta E. Shuart nee Peck was born on March 15, 1859, at the Yates County Poor House and was the child of Andrew and Mary Peck. Metta bounced around between various foster homes until her early 20's. She finally met her father in Jersey City during one of the periods when he and her mother were living together in Newtown, and he invited Metta to come live with them. This arrangement lasted several weeks but ultimately failed because she refused to marry a man that her father had picked out for her. She returned to Rochester where she met and married Milton Shuart in 1886, just two years before her father was murdered. The remainder of Peck's estate, which was now worth $4,000, was finally awarded to Mrs. Shuart in December of 1891, almost two years after her mother first tried to establish her as the legitimate heir.

In light of the events of 1888, it is obvious that the southwest corner of Newtown was truly a local frontier area. It was farthest away from the moral scrutiny of the town authorities not only of Newtown, but also Easton and Redding, and therefore its denizens were pretty much left alone. Because of this, men and women of dubious character gravitated to the area and were left alone unless or until a crime was committed which was of such a heinous nature that it could not be ignored. Such was the case when Stoffel buried his anger in Peck in the form of 50 pieces of buckshot.

As for Andrew Peck, the town was probably better off with his death. One contemporary newspaper describing him as follows: "Peck has been for years a notorious character, being in fact regarded by his country acquaintances as a sort of moral outlaw. He was never married, but had one or more dissolute females living with him as his wife. Notwithstanding his generally bad reputation, he was an energetic farmer and a shrewd and thrifty businessman. Being possessed of a contentious and overbearing disposition, a sharp tongue and few scruples of any kind, it is not strange that he was continuously embroiled in petty quarrels with his neighbors." It was also not strange that Peck would kill an offending dog or, when confronted by an equally contentious and hot tempered German immigrant, be shot and killed himself.

A special thank you to Dennis Paget for forwarding me this information. The Paget's own the Stoffel homestead and have done a wonderful job restoring it.

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