Every town and city has some basic statistics that can shed a little light on the community. It is easy to learn the population of a place and to discover its geographical size and to find out when it was founded. But there is much more to a community than what can be shared by simple statistics. Going to a location, looking at its buildings and natural features and meeting some of its people and learning about it first hand is the best way to make a most meaningful discovery about a given corner of the world.
The Town of Brookfield in Fairfield County has rather unremarkable statistics. With a population around 17,000 it is considered middle sized. At 19.8 square miles it is not one of the larger nor one of the smallest towns in Connecticut by geographical measurements. Historically, having been chartered in 1788, it is not one of the oldest towns in the Nutmeg State nor is it one of the youngest. But it has some singular dynamics that set it apart as an engaging town and an interesting place to visit.
What today is called Brookfield was initially deeded to Colonial settlers from the shoreline town of Stratford by the Pootatuck Native American sachem Pocono. Purchased in 1671, at first it was known by his Indian name. About a century later, the final land composition of the new community was organized as Newbury Parish. The name reflected the three towns from which the new town had been derived: New Milford had given up its South Farms area; Danbury ceded 3¾ square miles of its northern border area and Newtown gave its West Farms area of about 6 square miles. When it came to chartering the town, however, the founders decided to honor their resident clergyman, Reverend Thomas Brooks, by calling the place Brookfield.
Finding a settled minister who would remain for an extended period of time in a rural
location was not easy in eighteenth century Connecticut. The local parsons were among the only fully educated men of the time. Most of the clergy preferred parishes in the larger cities where there were greater opportunities for intellectual discourse, larger libraries and payment for services in cash. The annals of the Newbury Parish note that in 1779 Rev. Brooks was paid in wheat and Indian corn. But the Rev. Mr. Brooks stayed with his parish from his ordination on Sept. 28, 1757 until his death in September 1799 at the age of 80 years.
In May 1788, when it came time to choose a name for the town, Rev. Brooks had already been the resident minister since 1757. He had led the congregation through the challenging times of the Revolutionary War, signing his allegiance to the American cause and watching as two of his sons fought for the Colonial militia. Not only was he alive at the time of the choosing the ultimate name of the town named for him, he lived 11 more years in Brookfield. Ironically, Rev. Brooks is buried in the Land’s End cemetery, which is just south of the Brookfield town line in the Hawleyville section of neighboring Newtown.
It is fitting that the name of Brookfield was used for the growing community in that brooks and rivers played a major role in the development of the area. The brooks that ran through the various farm districts were used for the watering of livestock and for irrigation of fields of orchards. Both the Housatonic and Still Rivers were also used by the first residents. Although initially agricultural, Brookfield developed an industrial component as well. By 1732 a dam was built across the Still River and buildings and equipment were set up for the production of iron. Among the items produced at the ironworks were muskets, anchors and chains. It has been suggested by researchers that part of the chain that was stretched across the Hudson River near West Point during the Revolutionary War was forged in Brookfield.
In the middle of the eighteenth century, other buildings were erected by the Still River, including a saw mill, a paper mill, comb shops and a shoddy factory. Shoddy was a basic type of inferior woolen yarn made from used fabrics that had been reprocessed. Other businesses in the center area of Brookfield, known as the Ironworks District, were a cotton mill and several hatting factories. Today much of the area that once was an industrial center has become repurposed for recreational use as the Still River Greenway.
The idea for the Still River Greenway surfaced in Brookfield in 2000 in response to a survey
that researched resident needs. Between 2011 and 2016 a trail 2.25 miles long was laid out that links the Four Corners area of Brookfield Town Center with the Municipal Center, which includes the Police Station, Town Hall and other civic buildings. Completely paved with asphalt, the Greenway is accessible all year long – although there is no winter maintenance on the walkway. A series of interpretive signs tells the history of the walkway and informs visitors about wildlife they might see in the area. Connected to the Greenway is the Harris Linear Park, which traverses wooded and wetland areas adjacent to the Still River and provides further hiking options.
Located along the Still River near the Four Corners of Brookfield is the Brookfield Craft Center, a professional school for creative study of both traditional and contemporary crafts in America. Among the crafts that can be studied at the center are ceramics, weaving, blacksmithing and jewelry making. Housed in a number of vintage buildings, the center carries out its mission “to teach and preserve the skills of fine craftsmanship, and to enable creativity and personal growth through research and craft education.” A gift shop and gallery, which is open daily, makes available for purchase a broad sample of the crafts from the center’s artisans.
Brookfield is much more than a set of statistics. It offers breathtaking vistas of Candlewood Lake from Arrowhead Point, Lakeshore Drive and other elevated sites and has lovely river views along Lake Lillinonah. It features local residents in the town’s Historical Museum and at the Brookfield Library who enjoy sharing information about their community. It presents many shopping opportunities along Federal Road and especially in the renovated intersection of US 202 at CT Route 25. And it has a sense of civic pride and optimism – which may have contributed to its having been named “The Best Place to Live in Connecticut” by Money Magazine in 2013. Simple to get to and easy to explore, Brookfield is a great Out and About destination.