Ridgefielders of all ages are committed to preserving their town’s history.
That’s what makes the joint effort between State Rep. John Frey and his two interns — Nick Patterson and Petros Papadopoulos, graduates of the RHS Class of 2017 — such a special venture.
The trio played an integral part in creating a new Battle of Ridgefield historic marker that was installed Wednesday morning at the island of land at the intersection of Route 116 and Barlow Mountain Road. The sign marks the first engagement of the battle where American Gen. David Wooster attacked British Major General William Tyron on April 27, 1777.
“We replaced the sign where General Wooster was fatally shot before the battle reenactment in April, and that got me thinking of another sign I remembered seeing as a kid,” said Rep. Frey, a Ridgefield High School graduate.
“There were about 130 historic signs made back in the 1930s that were put across Connecticut to celebrate the tercentenary of European settlement, and two of those were placed here in Ridgefield to commemorate the town’s involvement in the Revolutionary War,” the state representative added. “But there’s no reference in the state archives to a third sign — the one I saw growing up — at the island on Barlow Mountain Road.”
With state records turning a cold shoulder and other local historians — Town Historian Kate Ables, Ridgefield Press archivist Jack Sanders, and Town Clerk Barbara Serfilippi — not recalling the old-wooden sign either, Rep. Frey began asking former classmates what they remembered.
“Jessica Wilmot, who owns the Ancient Mariner, was 100% positive it was there, and that helped prove I wasn’t going crazy,” he said.
That’s when Rep. Frey decided to enlist the help of his two senior interns.
Patterson and Papadopoulos scoured the state library in Hartford as part of their six-week spring internship looking for any files they could find on the tercentenary committee, but still could not find the exact language of the original sign.
“They made friends with the archivist,” Rep. Frey joked.
Start from scratch
With no trace of the original, Rep. Frey was forced to rewrite the sign’s original language from scratch.
He got Sanders and Keith Jones — author of Farmers Against the Crown, the definitive history of the Battle of Ridgefield — to proofread his rough draft and give the new sign an official historical blessing.
“There were three encounters in Ridgefield — the big battle in front of what is now Casagmo, the confrontation where General Wooster was shot, and this one. Every historian agrees on that,” Rep. Frey said.
“I have no idea what happened to the original third sign — it could have came down at any time, but I know it was there.”
Similar to the replacement of the sign marking where Gen. Wooster’s died, the state Department of Transportation did not claim responsibility for a new sign at the intersection of Route 116 and Barlow Mountain Road.
Enter resident Elaine Cox, who originally brought the deteriorating conditions of the historic marker to Rep. Frey’s attention last year and paid $2,000 to renew it.
“There’s no money to fix these signs at the state level, and a lot are disappearing or falling down without replacements,” Rep. Frey explained. “They cost $30 to make back in 1930 so it’s a bit more expensive these days.”
Cox volunteered to cover the costs again — bringing Ridgefield its third historical marker.
“Elaine is the one who got this whole thing started,” Rep. Frey said. “We wouldn’t have either sign without her.
“We actually used the same template for this sign, but this one is made from a much different substance,” he added. “It’s made out of foam, not cast aluminum. It’s a lot lighter than the other one — you can lift it with one hand…
“Nonetheless, they look the exact same, and they both match the spec images that the interns found while doing their research.”
Of course, it took a few months this summer for the state to approve the project.
“In typical bureaucratic fashion,” said Rep. Frey.
The delay means that Patterson and Papadopoulos, who are attending the University of Chicago and Northeastern University, respectively, this fall, won’t be around to see the conclusion of their hard work.
“Give these two young men a lot of credit,” said Rep. Frey, the internship supervisor. “This was only the second time I’ve had interns, and I know it takes a lot of commitment on their part — it’s not easy to trek up to Hartford every day and work these cooky hours.
“I’m happy that we were able to mark their effort with this achievement.”
Despite the hurdles, Rep. Frey said that the process was reaffirming.
“We value our history here in Ridgefield,” he said. “We treasure being able to tell the whole story, and the whole story was that there were three engagement that were part of the Battle of Ridgefield.
“It’s really cool that we now have a third sign that completes this story.”