A Condensed History of Stamford, CT

Researched and written by a summer intern some years back

From the Beginnings to the End of the 18th Century

The original name of Stamford was Rippowam, that's what the original inhabitants called it and the first European settlers continued the tradition.

The name was later changed to Stamford after a town in Lincolnshire, England. What does the word Stamford mean? In old English Stamford means stony ford, and why was the town named for a community in Lincolnshire?

Lincolnshire furnished more than eighty percent of the original settlers in New England and a greater number of old English names to New England towns and counties than all the other sections of the mother country combined.

Anglo-Saxons are great believers in established titles. They have always been anxious to set up records of their transfers of land.

Possessed of this instinct the New England settlers usually began their settlements with the purchase from the original occupants.

The native inhabitants had no concept of private land ownership. It never occurred to them that people would put up fences, record deeds, and presume that the land belonged to them in perpetuity.

On the first of July 1640 one Capt. Turner for the New Haven colony signed a parchment that is considered the deed to Stamford. Signing for the native inhabitants was Chief Ponus, in return for a tract of land that extended from the Mianus River on the west to Bedford and Pound Ridge on the North, Five Mile River on the East and Long Island Sound on the South. Payment for this land was to be twelve coats, twelve hoes, twelve hatchets, twelve glasses, twelve knives, four kettles, and four fathoms of white wampum.

Ponus appears to have been the overlord of the entire region. But it wasn't just Ponus who made the deal. Four family groups dwelt on the land and they all agreed to the terms of the land purchase. It is however very doubtful that they fully understood the terms of the deed that they were signing.

This deed was renegotiated a number of times and it wasn't until 1700 that Catoona and Coee, who are believed to be lineal descendants of Ponus and his family, confirmed all previous grants of territory to the settlers for considerable and valuable sums of money.

None of this stopped the native inhabitants from attacking the settlers, for it would appear that their the culture was quite different than that of the settlers and they truly believed that they had been swindled.

Captain John Underhill was the Miles Standish of the Stamford colony. Underhill was a broadminded thinker who was not afraid to adopt new ideas and opinions. He was also a bit of a wanderer and moved to Oyster Bay Long Island where he died in 1672. His eldest son John, by his first wife, Helena Kruger, who came with him from Holland, inherited the lands on the bay, and from him were descended the Underhills of Long Island. His son Nathaniel, by his second wife, a daughter of Robert Feeks the Greenwich pioneer, inherited the Underhill's Connecticut and New York lands, and from him were descended the Underhills of Westchester and New York City.

Whittier commenting on Underhill's friendship with Anne Hutchinson wrote this verse:

With Vane the younger, in counsel sweet
he had sat at Anne Hutchinson's feet,
And when the bolt of banishment fell
On the head of this saintly oracle,
He had shared her ill as her good report,
And braved the wrath of the General Court.

In 1704 a woman by the name of Madame Knight wrote a journal describing her horseback ride from Boston to New York. Her comments about Stamford are of interest:. Stamford was a well compact town with a miserable meeting house.

One of the major businesses carried on in Stamford, besides agriculture and fishing, was that of merchandising by water. The proximity of Stamford to New York has always worked to its benefit.

The Earl of Bellmont, in a report to the English Lords of Trade, said of Stamford. “There is a town called Stamford in Connecticut colony, on the border of this province, where one Major Selleck lives. He has a warehouse close to the sea, that runs between the Mainland (Long Island). That man does great mischief with his warehouse, for he receives abundance of goods from our vessels, and the merchants afterwards take their opportunity of running them into this town. Major Selleck receives at least ten thousand pounds worth of treasure and East India goods, brought by one Clarke of this town from Kidd's sloop and lodged with Selleck.”

And, there lies the seeds of the Capt. Kidd legend. Many people have looked for pirate treasure in Stamford, but none have found any.

Selleck was evading English taxes even before it was a political statement.

Stamford in the 18th century was an insular community, but no matter how insular a community was during that time, the crisis of the revolution intruded upon the consciousness of its citizens.

Between 1756 and 1790, France lost virtually all of her North American empire to Great Britain; and Britain lost a substantial portion of her empire to the upstart United States. The United States in turn transformed itself from a loose confederation into a sovereign nation.

Stamford made only a marginal contribution to the French and Indian War. Four area militia companies were called up in 1758. On the night of July 8,1758, some 500 recruits under the command of Captain David Waterbury of Stamford participated in an ill planned assault on Fort Ticonderoga. Seven men died during the raid and 400 disappeared from the ranks during the attack. By November the much reduced company returned home to Stamford.

Local businesses, however, prospered during the era. The Lloyds, and the Davenports and other Stamford entrepreneurs supplied Colonel Fraser's British Highland Battalion forces with billets, bedding, firewood and candles. The community had invited the British units and in turn was well compensated for its hospitality.

From early 1774 to July 4, 1776, frictions between Patriots and Tories mounted in Stamford. The fiercest critics of Britain tended to be Congregationalists; the staunchest apologists, Anglicans. Patriots increasingly suspected a British plot to thwart Congregationalism, home rule, and colonial growth. The Patriot faction in Stamford and Connecticut argued that British dominion, once successful in Massachusetts, would stifle colonial expansion. The leading Patriot voice in Stamford was the Honorable Abraham Davenport. Davenport was quite remarkable. He held a dazzling array of offices from the mid 1740s to his death in 1789. On the local level he served as selectman for 31 years, moderator of town meetings, town treasurer, and member of every important committee in town. On the colony level, he was an elected deputy from 1747 to 1766, and served as clerk of the House 13 times and was speaker four times. Throughout the Revolutionary period he was a member of the Council of Assistants and the powerful Council of Safety. Davenport was part of the inner circle of Governor Jonathan Trumbull and undoubtedly gave Stamford a distinct voice in state affairs during the period. Davenport also was justice of the peace for Fairfield County, and judge of the Fairfield County Court, judge of probate court in Stamford and judge of the special Maritime Court of Fairfield County. And in addition he was deacon of the First Church, member of the First Society committee and a colonel in the militia. He did all of this while accumulating considerable possessions. By 1775 he was the wealthiest property owner in Stamford. During the war of Independence he was able to increase his holdings appreciably. It didn't hurt that he was Judge of the Probate Court which ordered confiscation of Loyalists estates, and judge of the Maritime Court, which condemned prizes taken at sea.

Beyond his wealth and power, Davenport left a legacy to history. The episode is known as “The Dark Day.” On May 19, 1780, the day turned dark at noon in Hartford. Members of the House of Representatives fell on their knees and clamored for adjournment. They thought that the day of judgment was approaching. Davenport rose to his feet and declared “I am against adjournment, The day of Judgment is either approaching, or it is not. If not, there is no cause for adjournment. If it is, I choose to be found doing my duty.” So, as the poet John Greenleaf Whittier later declaimed, Davenport had stood “A witness to the ages as they pass, That simple duty hath no place for fear.”

In opposition to the Patriot establishment were the local Loyalists, or Tories. Though the definition of who constituted a Tory is not clear, scholars have found Stamford and Western Fairfield County a hotbed of Loyalists.

There were many reasons for support of the Crown; class background, however, did not play a significant role, since the majority of Loyalists, like the majority of Patriots, were middle class farmers. The critical factors were probable allegiance to the Church of England and a pro British kinship and neighborhood network.

With the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, Loyalists confronted an agonizing decision. Families and neighborhoods were set against each other. In Springdale, for example, 16 landowners opted for the Loyalist side and 11 for the Patriot side. Almost all the families in the Loyalist camp were Anglican.

During the first year of the war, 40 householders, including Samuel Jarvis, the long time town clerk, departed for British held Long Island. Many later moved to friendly New York City, and at the close of the war they took ships to New Brunswick, where the British government allotted them land grants.

Following the legislative mandate to confiscate the properties of departed Loyalists, a little over 1000 acres or about 1.5 percent of the town's area was sold at auction.

The Tory problem was only one of the dilemmas posed for Stamford during the War of Independence. When the state required that each freeman take an Oath of Fidelity, 288 men stepped forward on September 16th, 1777 and swore fealty, although only 101 names had been registered on the 1777 freemen list.

The number of Stamford men who served as soldiers may have been about 420, but the precise figure is not known. Approximately 165 men saw Continental service; over 200 served only in the militia. Official archives record the deaths of at least 22 in the field, in hospitals, and in prison.

Many Stamford area men who volunteered for the 5th Connecticut Regiment under Colonel David Waterbury opposed the adoption of the regiment by the Continental Army, organized in May of 1775. They were sent on an ill fated and miserable campaign to take Canada under General Richard Montgomery, and many men deserted in October and November.

One of Colonel Waterbury's claims to fame was that he was second in command to General Benedict Arnold at the disastrous battle of Valcour Bay.

With provisions of all kinds at a premium for both the Loyalists and the Patriots, Stamford lay at the center of a web of schemes and plots and of incursions and raids, by sea and land, during all the nine years of fighting.

By 1790, Stamford was an agricultural and market town of 4,051 inhabitants. It had grown 11 percent since 1774. The residents were largely farmers who raised potatoes, wheat, corn, rye and oats as well as livestock, and exported their surpluses to the New York market.

The typical family was descended from early settlers. As late as 1831, over one third of the town registry list was made up of Scofields, Smiths, Lockwoods, Weeds, Hoyts, and Junes. The black minority included 46 slaves and 27 free persons.

When George Washington had breakfast at Webb's Tavern, he found it a tolerable good house. Webb's Tavern stood on Bank Street until 1868.

Mural: Dark Day
Abraham Davenport & The Dark Day
Next chapter: The 19th Century
With the advance of the nineteenth century, the face of America changed, and the Eastern seaboard became industrialized and populous.

The 19th Century

With the advance of the nineteenth century, the face of America changed, and the Eastern seaboard became industrialized and populous.

To meet the demand for better transportation, the Post Road underwent continuing change and improvement. Widened, graveled and finally paved, it stretched from Maine to Florida as U.S. Route 1.

Driving along the Main Street in Stamford today, you can still see the waterfall on Mill River, though it does not look quite as it did to the eyes of George Washington.

America is a nation of immigrants, and Stamford is America in microcosm. With roots in the Anglo-Saxon tradition, the city of Stamford has been molded and modified by many cultural influences during the years from 1848 to the present time.

With the opening of the railroad in 1848, Stamford became accessible to outsiders. By 1850 the population had grown to 5,000 people, by 1880 it had reached 11,000.

The first wave of new residents were mainly from Ireland, and many found jobs in the mills; some worked as day laborers, gardeners, and coachmen. As would happen with later immigrant groups in similar circumstances, the Irish lived among themselves, mainly in an area near the railroad tracks called Dublin.

The new residents were often aggressive and spirited, but, as might be expected, such positive qualities were not always warmly welcomed.

Prejudice, along with fear that “papists” would have mixed loyalties, prompted antagonism. Men like Pat Hanrahan and Patrick Boyle arrived from Ireland in the mid 1840's, took whatever jobs there were, and set out to build a new life. These men made it in Stamford, but we can't assume that success in the melting pot was only a matter of time, toil and temperament.

Fear, loneliness and homesickness were often unbearable for many immigrants, and the pain of adjusting to the ways of the New World was common to all of them.

In the 1880's political and economic upheavals in Europe brought about a new wave of immigrants. A considerable number of Germans settled in Stamford and like their earlier Irish counterparts, they took whatever employment was available.

By the last decade of the nineteenth century, Stamford was rapidly becoming industrialized. It was the availability of cheap foreign born labor that enabled many local companies to prosper and expand. The Stamford Manufacturing Company, formerly the old Cove Mills, and the St. John Woodworking Company, later known as Getman and Judd, were dependable employers of immigrant labor.

The most influential local business firm of the era, the Yale and Towne Manufacturing Company, employed nearly 1000 people by 1892, roughly six percent of the total population of Stamford.

Assimilation can seem a simple matter to those born into the dominant culture, but to the immigrant settlers, there were two distinct worlds, the place where one lived and the place where one worked, and each upheld separate standards of behavior.

Next Chapter: Here's how segregation of living worked in Stamford: Revonah Manor
Assimilation can seem a simple matter to those born into the dominant culture, but to the immigrant settlers, there were two distinct worlds, the place where one lived and the place where one worked, and each upheld separate standards of behavior.

Revonah Manor

Assimilation can seem a simple matter to those born into the dominant culture, but to the immigrant settlers, there were two distinct worlds, the place where one lived and the place where one worked, and each upheld separate standards of behavior.

Here's how segregation of living worked in Stamford.

It's 1909, Herman Henneberger and his son-in-law Henry Jevne, in one of Stamford's largest cash transactions, purchased approximately 180 acres from the heirs of Alfred Hoyt. The Hoyt family, having been among the original settlers of Stamford, could hardly have been able to document the cost basis of the land.

Henneberger and Jevne had been looking for a suitable parcel for speculative development. They did not seem to be in any apparent rush to develop the parcel. They initially announced that they planned to dispose of the majority of the property in ten acre lots for the construction of houses similar to the existing houses on Strawberry Hill, the type that we today call merchant mansions and which were owned for the most part by the most successful of Stamford's business and professional elite.

The large lot development plan did not meet with success, and Henneberger and Jevne decided to subdivide the southerly portion of their property into smaller lots. They focused on selling the area as a racially and ethnically restricted upper middle class enclave. Minimum lot sizes of 100 by 150 feet were established, and no home was to be built for a cost of less than $6500. This was also the only area in north Stamford whose residential use was guaranteed by restrictive covenant.

In supplying macadamized streets, brick gutters, concrete walks, city water, sewer, gas, electric lights, and in restricting frontages to a minimum of 100 feet, and protecting the residents from the influx of [undesirable persons], the developers appealed to those seeking a clean suburban setting away from the social and sanitary problems of the city. The provision of uniform plans and excellent sanitary conditions echoed the national dissatisfaction with the fragmented planning and diverse architecture of the nation's suburbs.

L.L. Barnard, a Rye, New York Architect ,drew up 5 plans for suggested houses. Three streets were laid out: Urban, Chester, and Revonah, and the area was named Revonah after the Catskills retreat of a friend of Mr. Henneberger. In fact Revonah is merely Hanover spelled backwards; the name was derived from the birthplace of Henneberger's friend.

Revonah Manor derives its significance from the fact that it is the best preserved example of one of Stamford's first planned communities. The development was planned to appeal to wealthy Protestant families who sought a clean and convenient suburban life within an hours commute of Manhattan's congestion.

Due to the exclusive nature of the development, enforced by restrictive covenants, there were constructed a large number of generously sized residences in three revival modes. The area gained its architectural significance from the cohesiveness created by the limitation of styles, and by the generally high design quality, considering the speculative nature of the community's development.

In several advertisements and commentaries about Revonah Manor, there were vague references to the City Beautiful movement and sanitary reform, concerns which were echoed in every city of any size during the first third of the 20th century. The Revonah Manor Development was typical of many cities the size of Stamford. In hindsight we can't consider this a grand plan for suburban housing, Revonah Manor represents, at a very low level, an attempt to incorporate national concerns for controlled, beautiful and sanitary development into a successful commercial real estate venture, and as such was Stamford's first attempt to create a planned community that combined the national concern of the times for safe, clean and beautiful housing in a suburban setting.

The uniformity of styles in Revonah Manor was intentional, and so the area possesses distinctive cohesiveness of style and material. The choice of architectural styles by the architect Barnard and his clients is consistent with upper middle class taste in the first decades of this century. As one would expect, the majority of the homes are either Georgian or Federal Revival, echoing their owners chauvinistic urge to associate with a genteel, democratic, and pastoral era of American history. They also reflect the literature of the period that encouraged the adaptation of these styles for domestic use and particularly associating late Georgian and Federal with such feminine pursuits as homemaking. As the development progressed, Colonial Revival and Arts and Crafts inspired facades started to appear. Also popular in the Manor was Tudor Revival. The style was meant to evoke an baronial calm and splendor.

Two Queen Anne anomalies exist in the Manor. These two rather conservative examples of an architecture replete with nooks and crannies and ostentatious massing, serve as reminders of the occasionally conservative tastes that occurred even in planned communities.

Little is known of L.L. Barnard, the architect of this community; neither his obituary nor any personal papers have surfaced to allow us to judge Revonah Manor in relation to the rest of his work. From the surviving drawings, and material related to Revonah Manor, we can see that he was a competent, but not highly inspired, designer of domestic residences.

The historic district comprises a three block, 25 acre area to the northeast of the intersections of Bedford and Fifth Streets. Located approximately one mile north of the old Town Hall, this slightly sloping area was, except for the northwestern side, laid out in 1909 in an orthogonal grid pattern.

Today, as we look at Revonah Manor, its significance is due to the fact that as Stamford's first planned community, its architectural totality projects a strongly cohesive image, and even more important, it reflects not only upper middle class taste in the first three decades of this century but also mirrors the sociological revolution that has changed suburban communities. While the streetscape is constant, and the pride of place is apparent, the community is neither socially or economically homogenous.

It was nominated for the National Register of Historic Places in 1985.

RG-21: Land Site Surveys and Plot Plans
Photos of Revonah Manor

Next Chapter: So where has Stamford's history taken us? Into the 20th Century
The War Years, Stamford's Postwar Planning Council, Labor Unrest, The loss of Stamford's traditional industrial base, Urban Renewal, Education, and the redefinition of Stamford as an edge city, all happened within the last 60 years.

Into the 20th Century

That this century is worth saving is a foregone conclusion…with all its warts and scabs and terrors, this century will be considered by future generations as a benchmark in the continuum called history.

History exists on many levels and is constantly being reinterpreted. But it is the raw data, the primary source material, and that has to start somewhere.

Individual memory and collective memory is preserved at Stamford's history center, The Stamford Historical Society.

In 1930, Stamford historian Herbert F. Sherwood wrote that “Only a nucleus of the population of Stamford today can survey for itself the tremendous changes which have taken place in the town during the last generation.” Within Sherwood's memory, Stamford had become a prosperous small city with an expanding downtown and a diverse population.

At the start of the 20th century, the city looked prosperous. Downtown, large commercial, industrial, and public buildings were replacing the small frame and brick structures of an earlier era. The old Stamford Advocate building on Atlantic Street, which has been beautifully restored, was built in 1894 to resemble a Neo-Italian Renaissance palazzo. Several bank buildings in the form of Greek and Roman temples were constructed to convey an impression of stability that inspired confidence.

The Beaux Arts Town Hall on Atlantic Square, the Georgian style Ferguson Library, The Stamford Theatre on Atlantic Street, all lent an air of significance to this small, relatively self contained city.

But the facade can be deceptive…ever more numerous factories occupied land near the harbor, railroad, and downtown areas where the workers lived. Crowded tenements and older buildings in the central city housed Stamford's immigrant population. When you think that before 1848 Stamford was a small homogeneous community populated almost entirely by decedents of the Wethersfield Plantation Puritans, you can start to imagine what changes had taken place. Why, before 1848 the Episcopalians, were barely tolerated…can you imagine how well the Irish Catholics were received?

The immigrants came, they brought their brawn, and Stamford's industry thrived. And how did the immigrants fare? Some made it into the middle class.

Two-family houses, frame bungalows, and Queen Anne style houses lined the residential streets within walking distance of the city center, and they reflected the taste and increasing prosperity of an expanding middle class. Springdale and Glenbrook, north and east of the city, offered attractive suburban homesites at reasonable prices.

Because of Stamford's proximity to New York City, the affluent came. They built large comfortable homes on Shippan Point; the estates and summer homes of the wealthy and prominent were scattered on Strawberry, Palmer, and Noroton hills as well as in rural North Stamford. Country villages in the northern ridges changed from agricultural centers to suburban neighborhoods after farming ceased to be a factor in the local economy.

Some of the wealthy were also prominent, most were not. But the prosperity of Stamford came from it's mills, its factories, and it's development as a retail hub. The bustle of Pacific Street, where members of every ethnic and racial group could be found living, working, and shopping, might be considered the precursor of The Stamford Town Center.

Immigrant groups developed subcommunities containing elements of the life and culture left behind. They organized fraternal, benevolent, and mutual aid societies to provide assistance and sociability. Organizing a church, synagogue, or parish and constructing a sanctuary were important matters for most immigrant groups. And they left their mark on this century.

During the peak years of immigration between 1900 and 1910, Stamford was one of the fastest growing cities in Connecticut. The population of Connecticut increased overall by 23 percent during the first decade of this century. The population of Stamford increased by 53 percent. By 1910 one third of Stamford's residents were foreign born.

And immigration was not the only factor in Stamford's population growth. There was a significant migration: Stamford's black population, like its foreign born population, expanded after 1900. Black workers from the South, particularly the Carolinas, came to Stamford to work in wire mills, foundries, and factories.

The abundant supply of labor was a major factor enabling Stamford firms to expand and prosper. Between 1900 and 1910, the number of manufacturing establishments increased from 49 to 86, and the size of the labor force nearly doubled. The value of products manufactured here in Stamford increased by 123 percent, the largest gain in any Connecticut city during that decade.

Stamford takes pride in it's economic development, but at what cost. As employers prospered, workers began to organize trade unions and make demands for a shorter work week and increased pay. In 1916, for example, 13 labor unions in Stamford held 6 strikes.

Discrimination and prejudice were not unknown in Stamford, the record of which is just beginning to emerge as the heirs of Stamford's history discover dirty little secrets in the attic. The Ku Klux Klan literature. The letters of rejection, the attempts to purchase property in restricted parts of town, we may not like it, but we can't ignore it.

Yale and Towne was Stamford's principal employer. By 1916, the number of employees reached an all time high of 6500, and world wide sales of their products was estimated at 76 million dollars.

There was a time in this century when one in every eight people employed in Stamford worked for Yale and Towne. Did that make Stamford a company town? It could have, but it didn't because there was room for the Blickensderfer's and the Pitney Bowes, and a myriad of other manufacturers, both large and small.

The first World War brought defense contracts to Stamford. Mustard gas was made in Stamford, and the men who worked at the arsenal were called canaries. It seems that after a week or so of working with the mustard gas components, they turned yellow. By the way, the building that housed the chemical arsenal still stands.

The first quarter of the century marked a period of unprecedented growth and optimism. In 1926, Stamford created a Town Plan Commission and hired Herbert S. Swan of New York to prepare a plan for the city. His farsighted “Plan of a Metropolitan Suburb”, published in 1929, attracted national attention.

Swan said of Stamford: “A city of unlimited potential…without either knowing or paying any particular attention to the fact, Stamford is rapidly becoming one of the great cities of America”.

In the ten year urban development program he outlined for Stamford, Swan placed a high priority on creating a transportation network. He advised Stamford to acquire land for additional parks, playgrounds, and recreational areas along the 13 mile indented shoreline and the Rippowam and Mianus rivers. He recommended that a civic auditorium and art museum be developed along the Mill River near Broad Street. Prophetically and in vain ,Swan warned in conclusion against waiting too long to implement his plan.

The stock market crash of 1929 and the Depression of the 1930's shattered the optimism and prosperity of the city.

During the Depression however, one recommendation of the plan was carried out: construction of a major east west parkway to relieve traffic on the historic Boston Post Road and to link Stamford and Connecticut with the parkway system of Westchester County. Ground was broken in 1934. The parkway was named for Stamford's own Schuyler Merritt. In 1934, Merritt was serving his eighth term as the district's congressmen. He was also chairman of the Parkway Commission.

The parkway was built by men who needed work during the Depression, and their legacy is still appreciated today. The Parkway was opened in 1938 by Governor Wilbur Cross, Congressman Schuyler Merritt, and U.S. Attorney General, Homer S. Cummings. It received nationwide acclaim for its landscaping, well planned approaches, and attractive bridges, each designed by a different architect.

Stamford suffered through the Depression, as did the rest of America, but the struggle to survive continued. The electric dry shaver industry was born in a Stamford loft during the Depression. By 1940, Colonel Jacob Schick was able to employ nearly 1000 workers at his Schick Dry Shaver Company on Atlantic Street.

Stamford's economic life was governed by cycles outside of local control, and to some extent so was its political life.

It was Republican Mayor William W. Graves who in 1928 got elected on a platform calling for Charter Revision. He appointed a Charter Revision Commission to study the forms of government suitable for the City of Stamford. There was a referendum on the question in May 1932. The choice was a strong Mayor with administrative powers concentrated in the hands of the Mayor as chief executive, or a Council Manager Charter with an elected council and professional city manager. The referendum choose a “strong Mayor.”

The new charter went into effect in 1933 and provided for the election of a full time, salaried mayor, a seven member city council, and a six member board of finance. The council handled legislative matters, subject to the mayor's veto, and the mayor was completely responsible for the operation of the government. He also had power to appoint all other city officials, including the five commissioners who headed the departments of finance, health, law, safety and services.

Of course, that was the city government, there was also a town government that had a traditional New England Town Meeting structure.

Next Chapter: The Most Exciting Parts of Stamford's History
The War Years, Stamford's Postwar Planning Council, Labor Unrest, The loss of Stamford's traditional industrial base, Urban Renewal, Education, and the redefinition of Stamford as an edge city, all happened within the last 60 years.

The Most Exciting Parts of Stamford's History

The War Years, Stamford's Postwar Planning Council, Labor Unrest, The loss of Stamford's traditional industrial base, Urban Renewal, Education, and the redefinition of Stamford as an edge city, all happened within the last 60 years.

In the 1930's, Stamford turned its attention to maintaining the status quo. Stamford was one of the few unzoned communities within the New York metropolitan area. There was a plan of development authored by Herbert S. Swan, but what with the Depression and then the second World War, the plan was apparently forgotten. The only recommendation of the plan that was carried out was the construction the Merritt Parkway.

In 1930, the population of Stamford was 56,000 people, a jump of 42 percent in just 10 years. The industrial work force numbered 10,000 men and women, nearly one fifth of the population. They worked in 118 industrial establishments, and manufactured products valued at 40 million dollars annually. But the decade of the thirties was not one of growth, and by 1934 the number of industrial firms had dropped by one third, and the value of manufactured goods was down to 20 million dollars per year.

A good indication of the state of the economy is the value of building permits. During the boom year of 1929, over $5 million worth of building permits were issued. In 1934 that number had dropped to $500,000.

In Stamford, Yale and Towne, Stamford's largest employer transferred approximately 300 jobs from Stamford to other locations and moved their executive offices to New York City.

Walter C. Allen, the President of Yale and Towne, explained the move was due to “rapidly rising taxation in Stamford”. The company was losing money and by 1937 the loses were being blamed on the high cost of labor in Stamford.

The decade of the thirties was one of many rises and falls. The Peoples National Bank was the only bank in town to fail, its assets and liabilities were taken over in 1933 by the First National Bank and Trust Company with no loss to depositors.

Stamford lost some old firms like Lyman Hoyt and Sons Furniture Company and Stollwerck Chocolate Company, but also gained a few. Borden Farms Products and Schavoir Rubber Company were able to lease empty factory buildings at bargain prices. In the worst year of the Depression, 1934, Machlett Laboratories bought a factory in Springdale. Globe Slicing Machine and Clairol came to town, as did American Cyanamid Corporation, opening a research laboratory on West Main Street. Pitney Bowes and the Schick Dry Shaver Company expanded in Stamford. By the way, Colonel Jacob Schick manufactured pencil sharpeners before he invented the electric shaver. While no one noticed at the time, with hindsight one can see a pattern emerging. The foundry industries were being replaced in Stamford, and the work force had to start using brain rather than brawn.

It was the thirties, it was the time of the great Depression, the new industries could not absorb the number of unemployed, tax revenues were declining, and the Town Board of Finance had to cut the school budget by $200,000 in 1932. 92 teachers lost their jobs. They challenged the Board of Finance over the budget cuts and lost.

People were out of work, children were starving, and there was not a social service safety net. It was the City of Stamford working closely with groups like the Family Welfare Service, Salvation Army, Catholic Welfare Bureau, and other affiliates of the religious community, that had the responsibility for providing for the needy. The cases were pathetic, but it wasn't long before welfare expenditure entered the political arena. By the time of the “New Deal”, 17% of Stamford's population was receiving municipal funds. More money was spent for welfare than on education.

Stamford had a new charter, approved by the State legislature in 1933. It provided for a full time salaried mayor, a seven member City Council, and a six member Board of Finance.

On January 1st 1935, Democrat Alfred N Phillips Jr. took office as Stamford's first strong mayor. He promised to make Stamford a happier and more prosperous place in which to live and to see that suffering in Stamford is abolished. He was energetic and resourceful and a New Deal democrat, and managed to get large federal works projects for the city, while increasing citizen participation in government.

The new charter came under fire almost immediately, critics contending that the strong mayor had too much power. But it was the dual structure of government that drew the most criticism. Separating town and city for some functions and not for others was an outmoded and inefficient way to govern a modern industrial city. In 1937, the Connecticut legislature passed a resolution calling for a commission to study the consolidation of town and city governments. Action was postponed by the start of World War II. In June of 1941 Stamford celebrated it's 300th anniversary. Between 1848 and 1941 Stamford had transformed itself. 93 years.

The Charter Consolidation Inquiry Commission, formed by the state legislature before the war, reported back in 1946. They recommended a single government for town and city. The whole country area of Stamford was against it. Even Town First Selectman Barrett, who became the consolidated city's first mayor, was against it. That's why Stamford has a 40 member board of representatives, 2 members from each district. At the time, the rural sections had only six districts and they would have been overwhelmed by the city. The city was Democratic and it was presumed that the rural districts would be Republican.

Voters approved the Consolidated Charter in November 1947 and it took effect on April 15, 1949, ending separation of the 56 year old city and the 308 year old town governments.

The Charter Commission intentionally divided responsibility among mayor, Board of Representatives, and Board of Finance. The critics of the charter revision called Stamford's government one with few powers and many checks, pointing out that the mayor lacked clearly defined administrative power and had many limitations on his authority. No single individual was responsible for the overall operation of government. The system however provided citizens with many opportunities to serve on boards and commissions.

It was Thomas Quigley, who served three terms as mayor, who tested the powers of the mayor to fix the tax rates under the charter by filing lawsuits against both the Board of Finance and the Board of Representatives. He lost both suits.

In 1951 it was the Board of Representatives who created a five member Urban Redevelopment Commission and in 1953 adopted the city's first Master Plan, an inevitable response to the changes in the city that Herbert Swan had predicted back in 1929.

The war years had a profound effect on Stamford industry and it was during those years that the seeds of change were sown. Stamford shifted to war production just as 9500 men and women left Stamford to serve in the armed forces. Electric Specialty Company, Stamford Rolling Mills, Yale and Towne, Pitney Bowes, Machlett Laboratories and Norma Hoffman Bearings shifted to war production.

By 1944, as the end of the war approached, business and civic leaders organized the Stamford Postwar Planning Council. They discussed employment of returning veterans, absorption of displaced war workers, and orderly reconversion of local industries to peacetime production. Stamford's postwar plan, received national recognition and served as a model for other Connecticut cities. What the plan did not anticipate was the labor unrest that erupted in 1945.

Union and management at Yale and Towne could not agree on two union demands, the closed shop and substantial wage increases. 2500 of the 3500 workers at Yale and Towne in Stamford walked out. They shut down the plant, and pickets barred company officials from entering the buildings. The strike lasted 21 weeks.

While changes were inevitable, it was the Yale and Towne strike that became the defining moment of that change.

The post World War II history of Stamford is well archived at The Stamford Historical Society.

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