Ridgefield Historical Society to commemorate visionary founders in 20th year

Photo of Alyssa Seidman

RIDGEFIELD — Preserving more than 300 years of history may seem like a daunting task, but a dedicated group of volunteers is continuing to realize that vision at the Ridgefield Historical Society. The nonprofit is marking its 20th anniversary next month.

On Oct. 2, visitors are invited to learn about the Society’s founders, their efforts and their legacy during a daylong celebration at the Scott House on Sunset Lane. The building was relocated to that site the same year the Society was established.

History in the making

The rustic red saltbox house was built on Main Street in 1714, but was moved to Catoonah Street to allow construction of the Scott Block. That Scott, surprisingly, had no relation to the original Scotts.

In the 1980s, the Ridgefield Library Historical Association, the Keeler Tavern Society and the Ridgefield Preservation Trust raised the need for a facility wherein they could store historical materials.

When Scott House was threatened to be demolished in 1999, preservation trust officers David Scott and Jeanne Timpanelli began efforts to save the building. Former Ridgefield Press editor Macklin Reid suggested Sunset Lane for the new location while the building’s owners, Rick and Donna Addessi, raised $10,000 to disassemble and store the structure for two years.

“The house was taken apart beam by beam ... and laid out just like it was originally with all the puzzle pieces and put back up again, which is just, I think, spectacular,” said board president Tracy Seem.

Volunteers raised $700,000 to purchase a climate-controlled vault to store archives under the Scott House. It opened on Sunset Lane in October 2001 as headquarters for the Ridgefield Historical Society.

Although the building received other modern touches, including a small freight elevator to move materials for archivists and researchers, it was finished in a way that emphasizes its 18th-century origin, board member Sally Sanders said. Programs, field trips and other events hosted at Scott House allow visitors to experience that history firsthand.

Contemporary changes

The work of the Society has broadened significantly over the past 20 years, and its reach only increased during the pandemic as people searched for things to do online.

“We had a lot of virtual programming that we presented, lots of e-blasts with information on a weekly basis … it made a real level playing field,” Development and Marketing Director Kathryn Tufano said of the shutdowns.

She added that the Society’s COVID-19 project — a video archive documenting townspeople’s takes on the pandemic — is just one way the organization is contextualizing contemporary history for its visitors.

The Society is developing programs that will highlight Ridgefield’s history after World War II, Sanders said. The town saw a huge spike in its population during this time as subdivisions started being built.

“It’s something that you don't think about as history,” she added, “but in another 50 years people are going to wonder what the changes were like and will these houses still be there?”

The future of the past

Bringing value to every era of Ridgefield’s history, Tufano said, is something the Society wants to do for the next 20 years and beyond. In 2020 it received a $60,000 grant from the Anne S. Richardson foundation to outfit the remainder of its archival space.

Another exciting event on the horizon is the 245th anniversary of the Battle of Ridgefield in April 2022, which will include information about the skeletal remains recently discovered not far from where the battle was fought.

Whether its history from the 1770s or the 1970s, the Society is committed to continuing the mission of its visionary founders.

“I don’t really think history is hierarchical, like the further back you go means it’s more important than what’s happening in recent past,” Tufano explained. “Knowledge and education ... is the birthing of appreciation, and that’s where we are.”

For more information about upcoming 20th anniversary events, visit ridgefieldhistoricalsociety.org.