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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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
on Huntington State Park
Wheel Inn/Restaurant History
is what I have on the Spinning Wheel:
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
Center- How it was decided to place it in Hopewell Woods
Town Meeting: June 24, 1960:
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."
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."
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.
of the Planning Commission 1960:
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
Town Meeting, December 9, 1960:
2: To hear the report of the Board of Selectmen in regard
to their investigation of a site for a town dump.
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.
following is the report and recommendations:
effort has been made to find a site which would:
Have adequate capacity
Be acceptable from the health and sanitation point of view
Be located in a sparsely settled region and one not likely
to increase in residential use.
Be available at a reasonable price.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
Harold Samuelson, Leslie G. Favreau, Louis J. Nazzaro
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.
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
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.
Werfelman then asked the meeting to back the recommendation
of the Selectmen to form a committee to further investigate
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.
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."
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.
following citizens were nominated and approved: Margaret Sullivan,
William Werfelman, Raymond Beaudry.
Town Meeting, July 21, 1961:
4: To receive and act upon the recommendation of the Dump
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
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:
Starr Plains site (Picketts Ridge area)
2. The Hopewell Woods site (Redding Ridge area)
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
the Town Land-Fill/Dump would be on Hopewell Rd.
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
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.
request to close the private citizen's dump-site on Mrs. Huntington's
property was voted by voice vote and approved.
of the Planning Commission 1961:
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.
School on Redding Ridge, Time Magazine Article 1938
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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."
Ridge Stories from Redding Remembered-Oral History Project
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:
"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
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.
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.
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.
Tracy Birmingham, Nadia Tarlow
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Victorian Murder in the Newtown, Easton, Redding Frontier
By Daniel Cruson- Forwarded to me by Dennis Paget
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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!".
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.'
threatened to break the Dutchman's head," said Tyler.
he no break dis Dutchman;s head," Rudolf answered savagely.
you'll find out when the officers come down about 3 o'clock"
may come with them"
never mind! Have a drink of cider brandy."
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
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."
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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