Making the Grade c. 1905
In memory of Jean Rice Loveland, a Danbury girl who found a home here in Monroe. We thank her for her tireless dedication to the Monroe Historical Society and for her many years of keeping us informed via her Monroe Miscellany newspaper column. Her legacy of fine work continues to inspire us today.
Is everyone ready for another Monroe photo postcard? Of course you are. Everyone loves a good Monroe postcard. This gem was recently discovered in our photo archive. The back of the postcard confirms the photo was taken by Monroe’s own Fred Sherman, but there is no indication of where the photo was taken. Fred Sherman was a prolific photographer and his postcards highlighted points of interest in numerous towns throughout Fairfield County. Some were specifically labeled by location, while others were labeled by subject matter. Many had no labeling at all. This was presumably to appeal to a broader postcard purchasing public.
This postcard labeled simply “Road Makers” could have been taken on any road in any town in New England. Fred Sherman wasn’t typically one for action photos, but with this image he truly captured something anyone from this era could appreciate. Imagine the state of the dirt roads in any small town after the snowmelt following a harsh winter and the heavy rains that inevitably arrived with spring. There were no curbs or catch basins to manage the water or the resulting mud. You just had to suffer through it and wait for it to dry out until it could be repaired come summer.
In her day, Jean Loveland identified many of the photographs in the society’s archives. So, with Jean’s fine work in mind, we set out in our own attempt to identify the location lost to time. After several weeks of scrutiny, and poring over 19th century residential maps, aerial surveys and (USGS) topographic quadrangles, we are excited to report that the precise location has now been positively identified. The “Road Makers” and their Six Ox Hitch are in the East Village District of our town, specifically on Barn Hill Road. They’re climbing south up the long grade from the East Village Church, and we see they have just passed the home and farm of William Sanford Clark (260 Barn Hill Road).
Imagine the magnificent views that surrounded them. In the photo to the north, you can see clear across the Housatonic River Valley to the distant hills of Oxford. Just 400 feet lay before them until they reached Barn Hill’s summit. Once at the top, below them to the south were Israel Hill, Walnut Tree Hill and Booth Hill, and further on in the distance lay the City of Bridgeport and Long Island, and the sound that separates us. At 650’ in elevation, they were at the top of the world. It was all downhill from there.
This was Old Monroe during its agricultural heyday. Forested lands were far and few between. The lands were cleared for farming and firewood. During the Colonial era, the average home in New England burned 40 or more cords of firewood over the course of a year. Just imagine the labor involved in such an endeavor, especially before the industrial era. But in the early 20th century, if you had forested land to be cleared in Monroe, there was one man to call, and that man was Howard Wheeler of upper Wheeler Road. Howard had invested in a portable steam-powered sawmill that was hauled by his team from site to site. In late summer and fall his services were in high demand. For a fee he and his crew would clear your lot of trees and cut them into logs or lumber right on site.
Have we now wandered completely off point? No, not really. You see, during this same era, during the early summer months, Howard Wheeler also had the town contract to repair our roads, particularly on the eastern side of town. There were many references to his anticipated work in the local newspapers. Knowing this photo is of Barn Hill Road, surely this is one of Howard Wheeler’s crews. So, there you have it friends, a bit of old-fashioned history sleuthing just like Jean Loveland taught us by her example. Now, have any of you noticed the old horse drawn road grader across town near the corner of Hammertown and Judd Roads? Could this have once been used to improve our roads on the western side of town? Anything is possible. Thanks for tuning in and remember to like and share our history with others.