Charles Ashbee: Ridgefield's Santa for three decades

Charley Ashbee played Santa Claus to children in Rigefield for three decades, from the Great Depression into the start of 1960s.

Charley Ashbee played Santa Claus to children in Rigefield for three decades, from the Great Depression into the start of 1960s.

Contributed photo

When Charley Ashbee died in 1962, the front page of the May 31 Ridgefield Press announced: “C.F. Ashbee, Santa Claus, Dies at 89.” By then the retired insurance executive had become a local legend.

“Mr. Ashbee spent nearly as much of his long life portraying Santa Claus and delighting the children of this town as he devoted to the insurance business,” the newspaper said in his obituary. “Donning a Santa Claus suit became a habit with Uncle Charley soon after he and Mrs. Ashbee settled here.”

Born in New York City in 1872, Charles Francis Ashbee moved to Wilton Road West around 1929. Soon after, he began his Santa services when he pinch-hit for someone who was unable to play the part at a church school party. He took on other appearances and by the early 1930s had already become a fixture at Christmas celebrations on Main Street and with various organizations.

In the 1940s, Ridgefield Savings Bank (now Fairfield County Bank) had Charley visit each year. He also paid an annual outdoor visit to Ridgefield Hardware, often arriving in a sleigh. Over the more than 30 years, Ashbee wore out three Santa suits and three sets of wigs and whiskers.

“Charley got to be such an important part of the Christmas season that letters addressed to the man at the North Pole were rerouted to him,” reported Dick Venus, former postmaster. “He would never fail to visit the home of the little kid that wrote the letter.”

Venus added that, “in many cases, he was able to locate a toy that a youngster had asked for. When he did, he would take it along with him and leave it with the parents, to be put under the tree. Not only the kids, but grownups as well, thought that he was just the greatest.”

Among Ashbee’s off-season hobbies was autograph collecting, and he had the signatures of every president except George Washington. He also collected signatures of Civil War generals, and had all but J.E.B. Stuart and Stonewall Jackson.

For all the joy he gave children, Ashbee was named Rotary Citizen of the Year in 1960.

A year later, when he was about 88, Ashbee missed his first Christmas as Santa in three decades. He was seriously ill at a nursing home. Scores of the town’s children went to the nursing home to visit him that Christmas season. He died in the spring.

Everett Lounsbury Jr., who developed Ashbee Lane off Route 7 in the 1960s, named the road the year after Charley Ashbee died. Lounsbury was undoubtedly a Santa fan, one of thousands in Ridgefield.