Valley Forge Forever Gone by Marcia Miner

Marcia Miner's three-part series about the History of Trout Brook Valley (published in 2009)

Happy 10th birthday Trout Brook Valley Open Space. It is hard to believe that had it not been for the Aspetuck Land Trust and the many incredibly dedicated people who took on National Fairways, which was in the process of buying the property from Bridgeport Hydraulic Company, there would be a gated subdivision, including a private golf course with a $100,000 membership fee celebrating its 10th birthday on those fantastic and pristine acres in Easton and Weston that we call Trout Brook Valley Open Space. Instead, thousands of people have had the pleasure of walking the trails, picking berries and enjoying one of the most treasured and glorious pieces of nature in the state of Connecticut. However, to preserve this for all time was never a sure thing. The only certainty was the phrase that is always on the tip of every environmentalist's tongue, “Once it is gone, it is gone forever.” And that was the painful outcome of a fight to save the village of Valley Forge in the Saugatuck Valley 70 years ago. Not only the residents of the village, but people from all over fought vigorously against the same Bridgeport Hydraulic Company who had systematically and surreptitiously bought up thousands of acres over a number of years to dam the Saugatuck River and build a reservoir. If you go out to the Saugatuck Reservoir some October after a long dry summer you will see something unusual; low tide. How can that be? It happens when water is pumped from the Saugatuck Reservoir through Pop Mountain into the Aspetuck Reservoir. That action reveals the tops of Valley Forge's historic stone fences breaking through the water. It is a rare sight, but one that is amazing.

In his book, Village of the Dammed, James Lomuscio documents the beginnings of the area that came to be known as the Valley Forge. Welsh farmers and metal workers in the 1700s discovered the Saugatuck Valley, which at that time was all part of the original Fairfield. The valley had all the natural resources they needed. There were forests, rivers with waterfalls and most of all there was bog iron. As the word suggests bog iron is found in swamps and was abundant and sought after by the early colonists because it could be forged into pig iron from which much needed tools, particularly farming tools, were made. During the American Revolution it is said that cannon balls were forged from bog iron.

By the mid 1700s, an area of the Valley was named Sanfordtown by Ephraim Sanford who started his iron works there. At the same time, the General Assembly combined the parishes of North Fairfield and Norfield into the town of Weston which was made up of today's Weston and Easton.

Sanfordtown survived until 1805 when the river flooded the area and wiped out the factory causing Ephraim's son, Oliver, who was running the iron works, to salvage what he could and moved several miles south into what had been a grist and sawmill. He named the new area Princetown after a local landowner.

Handed down to the next generation the iron works continued to flourish and by the 1830s had expanded to the point where they were making wrought iron. Some years later the Princetown area was renamed Valley Forge and the former parish of North Fairfield was divided from Weston to become Easton. The forge continued with the name of Sanford, but in 1858, William Sanford sold it to a group of investors.

In part of a letter written to the Weston Historical Society by local Weston historian Jim Hoe, he notes that in Charles Burr Todd's The 1880 History of Redding, it states “the Oliver Sanford Iron Works was prominent and profitable, and they shipped their products from Westport and Norwalk to various points, transporting to these ports via ox cart. It had to be a successful enterprise or he would not have rebuilt his works at Valley Forge, Weston, at age 64. Also, if he shipped out from Redding by oxcart and boat, he would continue to do so from Weston.”

By the early 20th century, Valley Forge became a sleepy rural village, but unbeknownst to the residents, Lomuscio's notes, “Bridgeport Hydraulic Company had designs on the Saugatuck River Valley.”They had purchased a foundry in 1914, and by 1938 with little notice by anyone BHC had acquired 4500 acres around the Valley and as far over as Easton, including all of the rights of way. Why? It was to build a reservoir.

Enter, the Saugatuck Valley Association. In their newsletter called the Saugatuck Valley Defender they stated their mission was being, “engaged in a vigorous, truth-seeking crusade---a people's protest against the un-American type of power wielded by one particular utility company of Fairfield County - - Bridgeport Hydraulic Company.” An old charter had given BHC the right of eminent domain.

What was learned during the fight to stop the dam was nothing new. Money wins over influence. The fact that the Association had the support and backing of many famous people who lived in the area, plus the support of the Governor of Connecticut was of no help.

So much was in BHC's favor. They had a charter that gave them the right to eminent domain because water is essential to life and a water company must have certain amounts of land to ensure water quality. Proving that the charter was unconstitutional was to no avail. The people lost in court every time. How BHC compensated residents and how different the water company's taxes were compared to those of the residents became points of serious conflict and contention.

It was, in the end, the people be damned because nothing was going to stopped the Saugatuck River from being dammed and nothing was going to stop the village of Valley Forge from becoming nothing but a memory at the bottom of a reservoir.

Despite the good fight, the Samuel P. Senior Dam created the Saugatuck Reservoir. The residents had their homes taken, burned and the land was bulldozed, trees were felled and the land flooded. Valley Forge was gone although there were a few diehards who refused to leave as the water rose and had to be carted off like stuff.

A couple who had lived there for generations finally got up the courage to go and look at the reservoir years after they had left. Lomuscio quotes them as saying that the reservoir looked like it had always been there. And it does. The irony of it all is that if the reservoir had not been built, the valley, including the Aspetuck Land Trust Trout Brook Valley Open Space, would have been completely developed by now and be a booming town today.

Aspetuck Land Trust Inc. is a member supported, non-profit organization dedicated to preserving open space in Easton, Fairfield, Weston and Westport. The Land Trust maintains 42 trailed preserves on 1,700 acres.

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