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West Redding Connecticut (CT) History, Past and Present  

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

West Redding, Connecticut Businesses

The coming of the Railroad, built between 1850-1852 from Norwalk to Danbury sparked the businesses of West Redding. Before that time Side Cut/Simpaug Trpk. did not cross and connect to Long Ridge Road, at best the section of road currently running from Side Cut to Long Ridge was a dirt path used by the locals but not a main route of travel...for example the Stage coaches ran across either Simpaug Turnpike or Merchant Rd. to Picketts Ridge to George Hull Rd. to Long Ridge and points north.

With the addition of the Railroad came a depot, post office and a store. J. L. Griffin appears to be the first selling Dry Goods, Groceries, etc.. in the West Redding area. His name appears on the Beer's map of Redding business directory circa 1867 as a dealer of Dry Goods and Groceries. The building stood where the Baptist Church is today (2006) on the south side of the tracks and has been said to have been built in 1864 so it's a good bet that it was Mr. Griffin's store initially. W. Griffin, a relative, lived directly behind the West Redding store in the house still standing today on Side Cut (though modified I'm sure). Later a man named, William Mandeville, owned and operated the West Redding Store prior to 1900. Not much is known of him outside of his name being mentioned.

The business was in a good location, due to railroad traffic. Looking to draw more people, the Danbury/Norwalk railroad company had converted an old church (Methodist) campground into a picnic/recreation park area they called Brookside Park in West Redding. The entrance gates (stone pillars) of this park is still standing over at the current West Redding Post Office employee/service entrance and parking lot.

Brookside Park opened (slash) re-opened officially as a recreation park in 1878, but historically the land was a popular destination from approx. early 1860's to 1900. It was 30-acres, it had a bridge crossing the Saugatuck River, a fishing pond, gold fish pond, and many gravel covered paths for walking, most of these paths leading to water fountains. It was very popular with New Yorkers looking to get out of the city to picnic and fish. So popular that a 2-story hotel was erected (burned down in 1900) and a band/dance pavillion was added. The first electric lighting generator in CT was said to have been installed here in 1884. The property also had a caretaker's house and cook's house.

The next owner of the West Redding Store was John H. Jennings, at or slightly before 1900, the General Store also contained the Post Office in this period and probably had for some time. John H. Jennings had been active in town, he is one of the founders listed at Putnam Park (Redding/Bethel line). Putnam Park was formed in 1887, John was the Chairman of the project. When the Jennings owned the building it was a bit different in appearance- it had a large Bay Window to the right of the staircase on the second floor, 3 windows on ground level, white picket fence and gate at ground level to the right of the staircase leading to the second floor. What appears to be a 60 yr old maple tree in the front right of the main (center) portion of the building.

During Jenning's ownership Samuel Clemens, a.k.a. Mark Twain arrived at West Redding Station in 1908. Many gathered in the West Redding Store's parking lot to greet him with cheers of welcome. Shortly after a shoot-out occured at this train station involving the local police and two burglars that had robbed the Twain estate of silver early that evening. Sadly, in 1910 Twain departed from this station for New York in a coffin.

After Mr. Jennings came Emory P. Sanford. Emory came some time after 1914. It was in 1914 that his butcher shop in the Aspetuck Valley (Povery Hollow) of Redding Ridge was condemmed by the Bridgeport Hydraulic Company who felt the waste from his operations would contaminate their reservoirs. Forced out of business in Aspetuck, Emory Sanford arrived in West Redding and took over the West Redding Store shortly after. He sold a wide variety of products, including boots, shoes, paints in addition to groceries and dry goods. Emory was active in the newly formed West Redding Fire Department and is shown in many photos with the first firetruck in town outside his store.

The first WRFD was to the right of the current WR Post Office, a simple barn that was later lost to fire.

A photo in the 1950's shows it is still operating as a store and gas station that was likely added in the 1930's (though I cannot confirm that). The building has been altered by this period as a bay window was added to the left of the main (center) building and what appears to be apartments are to the right where the old bay window used to be.

Photo's taken in the 1920's with Emory show the right second floor has been framed in as a porch already. Bay Window Package Store was occupying the left side of the building in the 50's and from my recollections they had expanded to the main (center) section by the 1970's, perhaps even the 1980's.

In the 1920's Emory Sanford sold the building and property to J. Birdsey Sanford for about $3,100. In the period J.B. Sanford owned the store it was known as the Sanford Store. Gertrude Sanford, J.B.'s daughter recalled that "everything in the store was sold differently than it is in the present day. We had to cut cheese, and butter was cut from tubs by the pound. We had a coffee grinder, one of those great big old things. People would buy a pound of coffee beans and have them ground right there on the spot. Tea was sold by the pound...we had oolong tea and green tea. We had penny candy, if you'd believe it and there was a tennis court over where the West Redding Post Office is now. Everyone on that side of town came and played tennis there.

In 1946 Ken Bell bought the General Store from J.B. Sanford. A little bit later the West Redding Post Office was erected by Mr. Bell, moving the firehouse in the process. The General Store, changing with the times, became more of a food store that a general goods store. From Ken Bell on the information about West Redding Store is spotted, likely due to the establishment of the Country Emporium across the tracks in the late 1950's. William Gordon was an owner in the 1950's and Fred Cole was the owner after Gordon.

Most recently, the main building of the West Redding Store was a rock/mineral business popular with kids in the 1990's. West Redding's Red Garnets are well known in Natural History Museums so it was a good match for the area.

The far right of the building was Gail's Station House, a breakfast/lunch restaurant in the 1990's from what I recall.

Currently the building is home to the Baptist Church.

If by any chance the parking lot is dug up for some reason and large amounts of clamshells are found. They came for West Redding's annual Clambake not Native Americans. The annual Clambake was held each summer in the West Redding Store's parking lot. Native American's were in the area, I have maps that show their trails close to this area, but here at least, clamshells were not the work of Indians.

As mentioned above- the construction of the Country Emporium on the opposite side of the tracks in the late 1950's had an impact on the West Redding Store. The Emporium was very popular and well known even to those outside CT. Mark Twain Library's annual book fair was held there initially. It continued successfully into the 1980's, and later became a Restaurant...think it still is.

The history of the Country Emporium is as follows: On April 12, 1950 J. Birdsey Sanford sold a barn and a quarter acre of land on the north side of the RR tracks to Evelyn Marinelli for $2,000. Seven years later on November 23, 1957 the Marinelli's sold the barn to Michael Tree for $3,500.

West Redding was changing in this time period, New Yorkers were finding Redding to be a nice, tranquil little spot in the country to rejuvenate themselves after a long, stressful work week in the city and began converting their summer homes into year-round residences.

Michael Tree was a New Yorker himself, having run a flower shop in NYC he knew quite a few New Yorkers, and better yet their buying habits. Tree got the idea for a country store from two ex-Madison Avenue executives who started a store of their own in New Hampton, NJ. Mr. Tree traveled the country for ideas on how he'd like to set up the store. Having viewed close to fifty shops he knew exactly how he wanted his store to look and operate before he began building it.

One characteristic he felt was most important was that when a customer walked in he or she would be able to see only a small portion of the store. This way the mystery of the store remained and customers would make several visits in order to cover all the items. His floors would be stacked from floor to ceiling with odd and unusual tools, gadgets, and foods found almost no where else. Initially there were no plans for a restaurant, but later on was established.

Michael Tree spent a little over two years fixing, renovating, repairing and buying stock for his store. He turned the building in two rooms with an upstairs shop, where hay was previously stored.

Tom and Helen Lalley, long-time residents of West Redding related: "the interior boards of the Emporium were taken from the Shepard Tannery in Bethel, CT, and if you look closely you'll see they'll full of nail holes that were used to tack skins up for curing. Mike Tree liked the antique look of them so he managed to get them from the Shepards." Tree also procured hundreds of antiques for the store, which he hung on the ceilings and walls, and did not put up for sale. Outside of the building he hung a "T" from an old Woolworth's sign and weather vane in the shape of a tree. Inside, the Emporium looked exactly as Michael Tree had envisioned it. For a finishing touch he added a penny candy counter and a huge round of cheddar cheese.

To obtain enough capital to make his vision a reality, Mr. Tree found about 30 stockholders; many were friends and acquaintances. Having come from a show business background, many of these friends were actors, singers and musicians. The names, though not quite as impressive today, formed a list of very famous and prestigious people of the 1950's and 60's:

Jean Dalrymple, Wallace B. Dunckel, Carleton Scofield, Gypsy Rose Lee, Jesse Rice Landis, Franklin Heller, Baron Polan, Jerry Mason, Joan Vandemaele, Genevieve, and Julie Wilson are examples.

On Memorial Day, 1960, the Emporium opens it's doors to the public for the first time. It was a gala affair. Stars such as Genevieve and Gypsy Rose Lee were present at the opening, with celebrity Jean Dalrymple working the candy counter. More than a thousand people looked through the store on opening day alone. And at the end of just one weekend 90% of the Emporium's stock had been sold.

The success was spurred by a rather large amount of "free press" the Emporium received from nationally renowned publications: The New York Times ran a half-page ad, that even Mike Tree wasn't aware of until reading it himself the day is appeared, full page coverage in the Christian Science Monitor and Gourmet magazine and a quarter page spread in Look magazine.

The Emporium's success and popularity continued and as a result and several other factors, Mike Tree began serving food. He credited two major influences in his decision to open an eatery: #1, he had been giving out free coffee since the opening, and people began to bring in their own bread, rolls and snacks to the store. #2 was his friend, Jean Dalrymple, who felt it would be nice to have a place to eat at the Emporium.

There was a regular cook on weekdays but on the weekends there were celebrity cooks in the kitchen. Jean Dalrymple, Genevieve and Gypsy Rose Lee all cooked on weekends. The basic menu consisted of pancakes, but as time went on famous foods such as dillybread and dillyburgers, hot chili, and all kinds of pancakes were created.

There are varying opinions as to how Redding accepted the Emporium. The Tree's felt that a first Reddingites did not want it, but after realizing it was good for the town they began to accept it. Herb Bronson recalled that, "it was an accepted enterprise, probably well worthwhile." Gertrude Sanford said, "It's very popular. I don't recall anybody resenting it. I think they rather liked it." The Lalley's felt acceptance was gradual, but successful."

After a few years the original celebrities involved began to fade away, but other stars replaced them. Mary Travers held her wedding reception there, Tyrone Power has been there, and Paul Newman brought his mother to the Emporium for Mother's Day one year.

The actual economic influence of the Country Emporium in West Redding is limited to the growth of a small row of stores adjacent to it and there is no written or factual evidence to indicate any growth caused by the Emporium. But one thing that has grown is the reputation of the establishment.

Michael Tree said, "I built the Emporium so that people from out of town could see the beauty of Redding." Which is exactly what happened.

"If you go there now." said Bert Bronson, "you rarely see a local person. They're all from Ridgefield, Southport, Westport, or some place. No matter where you go everybody knows about the Emporium, so apparently it's quite well known." And it was.

Anita Galer and her husband Gilbert purchased the Emporium from Mike Tree on June 19, 1978.

*much of this history comes from Adam Foster's oral history project interviews and his article that resulted from them. More to come from Adam's amazing work very soon.

The Country Emporium, restaurant, general store and Redding landmark, was severely damaged by fire in March 1986.

On the burnt-out site of the former Country Emporium, L'Hotellerie des Bois (Little Hotel in the Woods) sprung phoenix-like from the remains in 1988. The handsome, Victorian-style building a complete departure in style, ownership and character. Read the New York Times Review

Today(2013) the site of the old Emporium is owned by Dottie (Earle) DeLuca who has been buying and selling antiques for 25 years. Although a professional dancer/singer for 16 years she always kept up her love for the other arts as well. In between shows on Broadway or kicking up her heels as a Rockette at Radio City she would be hitting the flea markets or estate sales in search of that diamond in the rough and usually found it. Now she brings it to you.


Summer Hours are:
Thursday through Saturday 11-5

Or by appointment

West Redding Remembered- Oral History Project

William Ryder: Mayor of Umpawaug Hill
Michael Kroll

Big Man, typical fine American, a fine expansive spirit, direct, generous, honest, upright.

There are adjectives used by seven people I interviewed to find out about a man who was possibly the most influential person in Redding. His name, William Ryder.

Mr. Ryder was an elusive individual when it came to the Oral History Project, although he essentially initiated this endeavor.

It all started the day my mother, my sister, and I were selecting a Christmas tree from Mr. Ryder's lot when he started to tell me a story. A am told that I was captivated- I'm not too clear on the details as that was six years ago. My mother noticed my interest and thought to herself, "It's too bad that other people can't hear these stories." She approached Mr. Daniel Fuerst, Mrs. Averill Loh and Mr. Donald Wendell with her brainstorm that would later be known as the Redding Oral History Project.

I am unhappy about the prospect of using the past tense throughout this narrative, however, I hope the man will be brought to life by the friends who knew him.

As Hjalmar Anderson said, "Bill Ryder typified the real rugged New Englander who's honest as the day is long. He was ready to help at any time but a little bit risque and a little bit blunt in the way he expressed himself. Underneath all that he was certainly the heart of hope, no question about that. As I say, the thing that stands out the most is real, solid, four square integrity in every way."

Mr. Ryder had many friends who he acquired during his 83 years. Mr. Boyd was one of his closest friends. Mr. Boyd wrote his recollection of Mr. Ryder: "The first time I remember meeting Mr. Ryder was when, one evening, I was working on a house on Diamond Hill. We talked for quite a while, and when he was leaving he put his hand in the pocket of his denim jacket and handed me a couple good apples. This meeting was the beginning of a friendship I will always cherish."

"During the next 28 years I found out a lot about his life, and most of the time we would sit on the tailgate of his truck and just talk."

"Mr. Ryder attended the Red Brick Schoolhouse on Umpawaug Road. One of the games at noon recess was to try and throw small stones through the opening in the peak of the school gable. Evidence of some poor marksmanship are the chipped bricks, surrounding the opening.

"Many initials of the scholars of bygone days are carved in the bricks at the end of the school. Of these W.R. is the one that really catches the eye. Mr. Ryder told me he arosed the teacher's ire by carving deeper than anyone else. To help right a wrong he was ordered to fill up the carvings. He complied but, so his art work would not suffer, he filled the letters with plaster of Paris. These initials stand out white and plain today."

"One girl at the school when Mr. Ryder was a boy, seemed overbearing to a point where she became the target of a little prank. The sanitary facility was the customary outhouse, partitioned so that one side was for the girls and the other for the boys. But below the seat there was no divider. Using his inventive mind the Ryder boy figured out that by cutting a paddle to a certain length and angle he could reach the seat area on the girls compartment via the hole below the seat in the boys compartment. He waited patiently for his prey to use the facility, and when she did he lower the paddle under the seat on his side and let her have it with a few good whacks to the backside. She raced out the door, into the school and soon stern measures were taken on the Ryder boy by the teacher."

The school was very important to Mr. Ryder for the rest of his life, a teacher there became his bride. He always made sure the building was in order.

"Mr. Ryder later attended Connecticut Agricultural College, now UCONN at Storrs. When a member of my family (Boyds) was a student there, in the early 1970's, Mr. Ryder gave him a school pennant which he had kept since 1916."

"Above the entrance to one of the main buildings at Storrs, in a rather inaccessible area, the initials W.R. appear again. To enable him to accomplish this work of art, Ryder enlisted a classmate to hold him by the heels, upside down, from the 2nd floor window while he did the carving."

"Not long after his discharge from the Army during World War I, William Ryder traveled to Kansas where he helped with the wheat harvest and the large harvesting machinery in use then. He often spoke of the long hours and people that worked there."

"When he returned to Redding, he spent most of his life running the beautiful farm and nursery on Umpawaug Hill. The white barn and outbuildings attest to his industrious nature. The walls on the inside of the building carry a pretty good record of dates and important events occurring over many years.

In those years he ran a very productive construction business, and many Redding residents live in the fine houses he built.

Mr. Ryder had many friends and so many people stopped to visit him one wonders how he got any work done. He was often called the Mayor of Umpawaug and was respected for his honesty, ability to call 'a spade a spade.'

"It's more blessed to give than to receive. This must have been William Ryder's motto, and if so he must have been more blessed than any man I have ever known. When one paid him a visit it was impossible to leave without his giving you something to take along, and if you refused, it would show up at you premises in a couple of days."

More to come on William Ryder soon.

Arthur Glasner Remembers West Redding
Susan Ferraguzzi

The big social event of the summer was the clambake, held where the general store is in West Redding (across from West Redding Post Office). "All the oldtimers would get together. You could eat all you wanted," Mr. Arthur Glasner, of Limekiln Road, Redding, told us. "Some of the oldtimers used to say that they would throw the clam shells over their shoulders when they were through eating the clams. When the clamshells reached up to the top of their necks, why then it was time to quit."

Mr. Glasner was born in Brooklyn, NY. His early recollections are of subways, trolley cars, and Propect Park. Mr. Glaner, with his brother, mother and father, moved to Redding in 1930. They travel to Redding during weekends before they bought the house. When Mr. Glasner first moved into his house, it was in the original state. There was no electricity or plumbing. Cooking was done on a wood-burning range. The only source of heat came from the fireplace. Kerosene lamps provided light.

Remnents of an old-limekiln are still on Mr. Glaner's Redding property. Just the base of it is left today. The limestone rocks were dynamited out of the quarry and hauled to the kiln. "The lime rocks would disintegrate or burn. then the limestone was put into barrels and sent to New York City. They used the limestone to make plaster."

Mr. Glasner today, is well-known for his fine reproductions of antique tin sconce lamps. He told us how it all started when Florence Maine, a famous antique dealer in Ridgefield, approached him with two antique tin sconce lamps and asked him to make two more like them. "i've never done this before. I couldn't do it," he said. "Oh, go ahead. You can do it," she replied.

Mr. Glasner pointed out that he did not have any materials. Mrs. Maine insisted he give it a try. Thus in 1959 after his brother died, Arthur Glasner began his new career. "I got mixed up in making these lighting fixtures. That's kept me busy."

Today Mr. Glasner is a meticulous artisan who reproduces lighting fixtures in tin, just as they were, and similar to those in old houses that used candles.

Mr. Glasner has observed many changes in his adopted town. "You don't know people anymore. They rush right by in their automobiles. Once I could hear a wagon coming up the road for quite a distance. Nowadays, the automobile is right on top of you and by."

"When they had Ford Model T's, you could hear those. They would rattle along. We bought a second-hand Ford car for $150.00. they were kind of mean to travel in. They were very high. They were built high because the ladies wore a lot of hats with feathers on top. It was quite a tall thing. If you went on a road that had a crown on it, why the thing was ready to tip over! The car was plenty top-heavy."

Although this multi-talented man, Arthur Glasner, had not lived in Redding all his life, he can still remember the times when the town was a placid, pastorial community.

Topstone Park
Oliver Goulston

A group of Redding citizens has provided the town with 270 acres of open space, including the town's swimming area. The citizens, calling themselves Redding Open Lands, Inc. (R.O.L.I.) initiated the idea in 1970.

The year before, Axel Bruzelius, who was an alternate on the Planning Commission, became interested in a project in Lincoln, Massachusetts. A whole farm in a suburb of Boston was purchased by local citizens, The property was subdivided into several large acre lots, which were sold, and which produced sufficient money to pay back the purchase price. The excess land was given to the town. Mr. Bruzelius decided Redding needed a similar organization.

At about this time Edward Steichen, the renowned photographer, decided to sell all but 38 of the 421 acres he owned on Topstone Road. Before Mr. Steichen put it on the open market he gave the town the right of first refusal. A group of twelve citizens decided to form an organization and attempt to accomplish the same thing that had been done in Massachusetts.

R.O.L.I. began with the idea of building a park on Mr. Steichen's property. Believing in R.O.L.I.'s idea, eleven more citizens joined the group. James Jenkins was elected Presient of the first meeting and William Karraker was elected chairman of the organization. Their plan was to alter the size of the parcel so that the land available for the town's purchase would be valued at under a million dollars. They agreed that if R.O.L.I. bought enough acreage, the remaining land's value would be brought under a million dollars.

R.O.L.I. was able to negotiate a bank note for $350,000 dollars to be secured only by the signatures of the 23 members of R.O.L.I. This enabled R.O.L.I. to buy 117 of the 387 acres. The note was signed on March 1, 1971.

The town did indeed buy the other 270 acres, and it is now used for open space and a natural park.

But R.O.L.I. had to get its money back. They decided to sell their acreage in plots. The smallest being 2.8 acres and the largest being 10.6 acres. They sold all 15 plots and ended up with a profit. These profits have been used to help the Conservation Commission and the Land Trust.

The Geoppler Cider and Vinegar Mill
Jeff Harrick

At the intersection of Topstone Rd. and Simpaug Turnpike stands an impressive building. Once it was filled with the hustle and bustle of a productive factory. In the past, during the months of October and November, it churned with exciting activity. This enormous building is the Geoppler Cider & Vinegar Mill.

The four-story building was built in 1893 by Mr. Adolf Geoppler. Apples were stored in the cupola, and an apple chute, extending from the cupola (the top of the mill) to the basement, was used to let the apples roll down to where they would be mashed. When the apples reached the bottom floor, they were dropped on to a large tray and into a huge burlap cloth. The power to grind the apples was provided by a steam boiler. A press was lowered, the juice was squeezed out of the apples, and then was stored in barrels or jugs. The apple pulp was loaded into a hand-wheeled cart and then dumped out in front of the mill.

After the juice has been pressed out of the apples, some of it was stored in vats to ferment. A few months later it turned into vinegar and was sold for about 25 cents a gallon. The cider had to be kept in a warm, dry place in order for the fermentation to occur.

A fifty gallon barrel of cider required about fifteen bushels of apples. They were bought from residents who owned apple trees. When asked what type of apple was used, Mrs. Geoppler replied, "any kind, if it was an apple. Worms, bugs and bees, all went in, but it was fine cider." To make a barrel of cider the cost was about 2 dollars.

Mr. Geoppler usually had two men who helped him in the mill. Their pay was probably only two dollars a day, but, as Mrs. Emma Geoppler said, "You were just glad to have a job."

The Geoppler Cider Mill was more than just a mill in the early 1900's. It was also the Post Office and RR Station, called Sanford Station named for the many families named Sanford in the area. Mr. Geoppler was the postmaster, Later the post office was renamed Topstone because the mail became mixed up with the Town of Stamford.

Mrs. Geoppler recalled, "My husband came down one morning to the room where the post offccie was and found that someone had broken into the mill and blown the safe open. They had grabbed the few dollars that were in the safe and most of the 2-cent stamps Mr. Geoppler had in the mill."

This case was never solved and the money was never recovered. However, the safe, with a chunk blown out of the door, still remains sturdy.

The mill served as a post office, until cider operations ceased in about 1940. Adolf Geoppler sold the mill in 1946, and for a time it was used as an antique shop. Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Sachetti renovated the mill into their home in the 1980's.

West Redding Firehouse Jubilee
Kristen Bernhardt, Andrew Metzger

"That first year we had about 150 people, and they sat around, swatted mosquitoes and told tall stories.," Tom Lalley, thirty-five year member of the West Redding Fire Department, described the First Annual Fireman's Hickory Charcoal Beefsteak Dinner.

The dinner was initiated in 1954. Since then it has been drawing crowds of up to 1,500 Reddingites, and many out of towners.

At the first Fireman's Dinner, center cut sirloins, fresh green salads, and homemade desserts were served. These were all a hit, but the biggest hit of the evening was Tom Lalley's Firehouse Jubilee Cocktail.

The "Firehouse" as Tom refers to it, is a fantastic tomato juice drink. "It started as a recipe we read in a farm journal many years ago. We made some adjustments and added and subtracted some ingredients so we feel its our own recipe. We used it for about 20 years before the picnic." The Laley's creation, when introduced, became an instant favorite, people all over town could heard asking for "that tomato juice" or "the juice cocktail the firemen make."

It wasn't until 1960 or so that Tom realized his creation had commercial possibilities. At first Tom mixed the jubilee in a tub in his kitchen and brewed it on a three burner electric stove.

The first sale of the Firehouse Jubilee was at the opening of the Country Emporium. "We made up 12 cases, and at the end of the first day there was only half a case left." Before long Tom was supplying it to local gourmet shops.

With all the publicity the Jubilee was getting, Paul Dean Arnold of Arnold Bakers became interested. After a short discussion, Tom sold the Firehouse Jubilee to Arnold. Firehouse was produced by Arnold for a while. Subsequently the rights were bought back by Mr. Lalley and sold to Ocean Spray. To this day Ocean Spray is producing Tom's Firehouse Jubilee. So next time you take a sip of the now Ocean Spray Tomato Vegetable Juice Cocktail, it's nice to know that a product distributed worldwide can trace its roots back to Tom and Helen Lalley's small kitchen on Redding Road.

Charles Ives: Musical Visionary
Cathy Laning, Katie Tkach

In August of 1912, Charles Ives and his wife Harmony came to West Redding and bought land on Umpawaug Hill, across the road from the site of General Putnam's headquarters in the Revolutionary War (corner of Umpawaug and Topstone Rd). They had the house and barn built, and moved in a year later. This was their country home for the rest of their lives. They would come out from New York City in the early spring, and stay until late in the fall. Ives commuted each morning by train to his insurance office in the city, and he did much of his music writing on this train.

For many years they had a horse named "Rocket" who was very much a member of the family. Ives would ride "Rocket" down the hill to Sanford General Store near the train station. They also had a Model T Ford. Umpawaug Road in those days was just a dirt country road, filled with "thank you ma'am's, as Ives's nephew Bigelow describes it. It wasn't paved until 1928, and when it was, Ives got quite upset. He was also outraged when the first airplanes began flying over, and whenever he heard one he would come out and shake his fist at it and shout "Get off my property!" He didn't want anything to disrupt the peaceful country world of Umpawaug Hill which he loved so much.

In our quest to capture the essence of Charles Ives- revered classical composer, interpreter of the American scene, and the man- we talked with John Kirkpatrick, Paul Winter and Luemily Ryder. The synthesis of their recollections provides a composite sketch of this muscian.

John Kirkpatrick is the curator of the Ives Collection at Yale. He is a well known Ives authority and has come to know Ives's music well.

In 1937 Kirkpatrick met Charles Ives. He had been corresponding with him for ten years, but had never met him.

"I can see him right there. I knew him during the last 17 years of his life, and I saw him a few times each year. In a way he was the most paradoxical man I've ever known. As a musician he was both traditional and experimental. You could describe his music best by saying there's no simple way to describe it. That's part of the paradoxical nature he had.

"When Ives first began to compose, his music was comparatively simple. Many of his early pieces were influenced greatly by the church, since he played the organ in church during his grammar school years. At fourteen he was a salaried organist, the youngest professional organist in the state.

"His father was a musical "jack-of-all-trades". He was even more versatile than his son.

"Ives received his earliest muscial training from his father and later from Horatio Parker at Yale. He attended Yale from 1894-1898. From this time through his twenties he used both styles, experimental and traditional, but he hardly ever showed his experiments to Parker. At that period the simpler traditional style was more acceptable than the complicated, experimental style. Ives's music was different from itself all the time. It could be very simple, or it could be very, very complex. There were pieces that could be read and played with no effort, they were the simple. And there were pieces that were so complicated they are challenging, even today.

"You know how you can look at a page of music and feel instinctively if there is somthing real there or not? Well, there's something real to Ives's music. There's always a core of something very direct. and no matter how complicated it is, it hangs together and communicates."

When Charles Ives reached the peak of his experimental period, he did not receive the recognition he deserved. The public did not like being put to the inconvenience of having to try hard to understand and play his music. "He knew exactly how good a composer he was, and he knew exactly how far ahead of his own time he was. It didn't bother him. Someone once asked him why he didn't write music that people would like, and he said 'I can't hear something else.' He anticipated all the tricks of modern music in the first part of the 20th century. Even though he was so far ahead of his time he still deeply admired some of the classical composers- Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms. He also admired the popular composers of the Civil War Period. Although he enjoyed their styles, he had ideas and opinions of his own.

"It would be impossible to describe his music because it was so paradoxical. You could never put your finger on it. You could rarely get a definite answer to a question our of him. He usually used your question as a springboard to other thoughts. He was a genius. He was used to improvising and filling in; he was much more of a musician than anybody realized.

"Charles Ives knew that the kind of music he wanted to compose would have no relation to his own times. Ives knew he would never be able to support a family on it, so he deliberately financed his composing through his insurance business. Many people regard him as an insurance man doing music on the side. However, he was a composer first and foremost, financing his non-conformist composing through insurance, and showing the same genius in both. There was a constant pressure living two lives a once. Most people who come home from business want to relax. If a composer finishes a symphony he naturally wants to relax and perhaps celebrate. When Ives finished a symphony, most likely late at night, he probably had time for only a little sleep, before going downtown the next day for business. When he got home from a day's business he would roll up his shirt sleeves and start right into composing where he had left off the previous night.

"Charles Ives literally lived a double life. He was an insurance man by day and a composer by night, on weekends, and during vacations. Many of his business associates had no idea that he was even interested in music. His musical friends never saw any trace of his business life. He kept to himself a great deal, partly because he treasured the time he wasn't actually engaged in business, so he could compose. But he was both gregarious and shy; like his music, Ives himself was a paradox."

At Home with the Iveses
Luemily Ryder became a close friend of Charles Ives during his years in Redding. She and her husband, Bill, lived next door to Ives on Umpawaug Hill.

"Well he was, shall I say, gentle, first; he was also a rebel and he could be quite explosive. I think he was a religious person and I think he was very understanding and considerate of the downtrodden and the outcast. He was a great person.

"The Iveses were people who often showed their kindness and generosity. They were always doing something for other people. One family's house was burned down and they offered their cottage. Here the family stayed until a new house could be built.

"The Iveses often lent their cottage out to poor people from the city. It was similar to the Fresh-Air Organization (Branchville, CT) that brings city children into the country for a vacation. One summer the Iveses lent their cottage to the Osborne family. the youngest Osborne child, Edith, was very ill. Mrs. Ives graciously offered to take care of her. Edith gradually improved in health under Mrs. Ives's care. The Ives grew immensely fond of her and near the end of Edith's stay they approached the Osbornes about adopting Edith. After much thought the Osbornes consented.

"Children loved Charles Ives. He would come out with his cane and shake it in their facesm or he'd grab a child around the neck with it and pull him toward him. The children would either be so scared or so tickled that they'd giggle all over.

"Mrs. Ives was just as loving as her husband. When she came down to visit you could hear he whistling all the way down the driveway.

"We visited them in NYC many times and after dinner at their house we would go into the living room. Mr. Ives would stretch out on the couch. The room was dimly lit to rest his eyes so Mrs. Ives would sit directly under the light to read the classics. He liked that so much, just to listen to her read. That's one of the nicest things I remember about them."

Mrs. Ryder, herself a pianist and organist, went on to say, "His music is beautiful. I really love it, even though it would clash. I know he had all these sounds in his head that he kept hearing and he would just bring them all together in a composition. At first people did not accept it. There were only a few that would play it. Most said it couldn't be played because it was so difficult. That would make him mad because he was so sure it could be played..

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History of Redding is a not a business or an organization..It's one person working to promote the history of his hometown
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