Danbury History for Students


Beginnings of Danbury . . .

 Eight families came from the Norwalk and Stamford, Connecticut area to found a new town. They settled in this area in 1684. Many of our streets today are named for these founding fathers. If your last name is Hoyt, Gregory, Benedict, Beebe, Taylor, Barnum, or Bushnell, you may be a descendant of these original settlers.   The local Native Americans called the land "Paquiack", which means open plain or cleared land. The founders settled in an area near the Still River which was later called Town Street and today is called Main Street.   
There was a debate over what to name the new town. The settlers wanted to call it Swampfield, but the court of Connecticut ordered that the town would be named Danbury, after a city in England.   

Connecticut History Online -  Search for great Danbury photos.   

Danbury Today

Danbury is a city in northern Fairfield County, Connecticut, United States, approximately 70 miles from New York City. Danbury's population is 83,684 (2013). Once a great hatting center, Danbury today makes electronic equipment, plastics, machinery, and furniture. Danbury is also the home of the Danbury Fair Mall, one of the largest malls in New England. 27% of the population was born in other countries, and the people of Danbury speak many different languages.   

Danbury is home to the second largest high school in the state, Western Connecticut State University, Naugatuck Community College, and the Danbury Federal Correctional Institute. The city has many parks and cultural activities. Candlewood Lake provides many recreational opportunities. You are encouraged to visit the Danbury Museum and Historical Society on Main Street to learn more about Danbury’s history. 

Where is Danbury?
Danbury borders New York State and the Connecticut towns of Bethel, Brookfield, New Fairfield, and Ridgefield. The major highway is Interstate 84, and routes 7 and 202 also pass through our city.
Danbury was voted the Number One City to Live In by Money Magazine in August 1989 because of low crime, good schools and location.
Danbury was voted number 8 as America's Best Places to live by MSN House and Home out the 331 metropolitan areas in the U.S. in 2003.

Revolutionary War

The British soldiers took over Danbury in 1777 because it was a supply depot. They wanted to use the munitions and other supplies stored here. The British ended up burning Danbury to keep the supplies out of the hands of the Patriots.

Civil War

People in the North and South had very different ways of life. They could not agree on what to do about slavery and that is one of the reasons the Civil War started. The North was against slavery and felt that all people should be free. Danbury sided with the Union (the Northern states). The Southern States were called the Confederates. 

The war was long and hard. Danbury’s economy was badly hurt by the war. Hats were sold to southern cities like Charleston, Savannah, and New Orleans.  When the war started, trade between the North and South stopped. The hatting industry lost some important places to sell their hats. A lot of Danbury men enlisted in the 17th Connecticut Infantry during the Civil War. African American men also enlisted in the 24th and 29th infantry. Between these groups, they fought in almost all the major battles of the Civil War. 

James Bailey, a newsman in the CT 17th, wrote what was going on during the battles. He came back and bought the Danbury News, a newspaper that eventually became the Danbury News Times. He died in 1894. In 1888 a monument was erected to all who fought in the Civil War. The Soldiers Monument is on Main Street across from the library. The GAR was a group of men who fought in the Civil War and were active in civic affairs in Danbury. Only one African American Danburian was included in the GAR.  A new Civil War monument in Wooster Cemetery was dedicated to Danbury area African American soldiers in 2007.

Hatting in Danbury

By 1850, more hats were made in Danbury than any other place in the United States. There were about 56 hat factories or shops in Danbury and it became known as "Hat City of the World".
A lot of water is needed to make hats and Danbury built many reservoirs to hold the water needed for the factories. Today, we use those reservoirs for our drinking water. Danbury also had a very good transportation system, such as trains and good road, to take the hats to other cities around the world.
Over the next 100 years, millions of hats were made here. Most people in Danbury worked in businesses that had something to do with the making and selling of hats. The hat boxes, silk linings for hats, and even hat trim was made here. The hatting industry created many jobs and great wealth in Danbury. Workers were well paid and were considered to be artisans.
But by the 1950's, not many people were buying hats. People spent more time in cars and less time outside, so they didn't need a hat to stay warm. The styles changed and men no longer wore felt hats. The hat factories started to close down. The last Danbury hat factory closed in 1981.

The Great Danbury Fair

The Danbury Fair was held for one week in October every year for 160 years. It started in 1821 as a small agricultural fair. It was a place to show off your crops, cooking, and farm animals. It was small at first and grew to include much more.

Many people came to the Danbury Fair. In the early years, people rode horses or carriages to get to the fair. They entered through a big gate. By 1895, visitors rode the train or a trolley to visit the fairgrounds. After 1900, they arrived by motorcar. They listened to many kinds of music and could even be in a singing contest.
As the fair grew, there were car races, rides, food, sideshows and dancing. There were contests with prizes for the biggest pumpkin, best sewing, or the tastiest cake. People ate foods like hot dogs, pizza, calzones, and hot apple pie. Every October, Danbury school children got a day off of school to go to the fair. They even got a free ticket!

Starting in 1932, there was a car race track on the fairgrounds. Every Saturday night in summer and early fall, you could go to see the stock car races. The main midway of the fair was always crowded. The tall statues around the fair made it easy to look up and figure out where you were. After the fair closed, many different people bought these statues and took them all over the country.

By 1942, John Leahey owned most of the Danbury Fair. He worked hard to make the fair a special place. Each year he wore his magnificent ringmaster's uniform and led the daily Grand Parade down the midway of the fair. After Mr. Leahey died, his family sold the fairgrounds. The very last Danbury Fair was in 1981. It was torn down to build the Danbury Fair Mall. You can see pictures of the old fair at the mall. 

Kohanza Disaster

  • Because of the hatting industry, Danbury built many dams and reservoirs to provide the water needed to make hats. The first water system was the Kohanza Reservoir, built in 1860. It provided clean, clear water to Danbury. It held 40 million gallons of water.
    The Kohanza Reservoir froze on January 31, 1869. This frozen river of water traveled down to Danbury and caused major damage to many homes and farms. In only a half an hour, eleven people died and homes, bridges, and factories were destroyed. The big blocks of ice uprooted trees and moved big boulders.
    People described the noise of the frozen ice as sounding like a rumbling train moving over the tracks. The bridges on Main, North, and White streets were destroyed. Many other bridges were damaged. The Kohanza Disaster caused over $100,000 worth of damage to properties and homes.

1955 Floods

  • In August and October of 1955, Danbury had a lot of rain. So much rain, that the Still River and many small streams flooded. A large part of the downtown area was destroyed by all the water.
    Downtown Danbury was declared a disaster area, so the federal government sent money to rebuild the city. The plan called for many changes to Danbury so that the city would not flood again. They built a concrete channel for the Still River to flow through.
    Many historical buildings and homes were torn down for the new plan. People who lived in them had to move.
    Many roads, buildings, and homes were destroyed during the floods of 1955.
    Today parts of downtown Danbury look very different than it did before the 1955 flood. The Still River stills flows through downtown Danbury, but much of it is hidden underground. 

People

  • The population was changing in many ways. Some of those people came from Ireland and Germany. Later, people from Italy, Sweden, Hungary, and Canada came to Danbury. Each of these groups of people had their own clubs and churches. Many came to Danbury because they had family members already here.
    By 1910, most of the people living in Danbury came from other countries. Polish and Slovak people moved to Danbury. Families came from Lebanon, Syria, Portugal, and Brazil. Usually these people would live in separate neighborhoods where they could keep their own language, culture, and traditions.
    Today over 75,000 people live in Danbury. They include Portuguese, Spanish, Brazilian, African, Asian, Italian, Irish, Russian and German people. Danbury has the largest population of Brazilian people living outside of Brazil. There are over 42 languages spoken by students in Danbury's schools!

Famous Danburians


General David Wooster (1710-1777)

  • David Wooster was a General in the American Army during the Revolutionary War. When the British were burning Danbury, General Wooster marched from New Haven to Ridgefield and had a battle with General Tryon, the commander of the British troops. He won the fight and gave hope to the New England colonies.
  • After the battle near Danbury, the Patriots started winning the war. It was an important battle because the British never again went behind American lines. General Wooster was shot in the battle and soon died. Wooster Street and Wooster Cemetery in Danbury are named after General David Wooster.

Charles Ives (1874-1954)

  • Known as the Father of Modern Music, Charles Ives was born in Danbury in 1874. The house where he was born is still standing, but has been moved to Mountainville Avenue. Ives Street and The Ives Center are both named for Charles Ives.
  • Charles’ father, George, was also a musician and he taught music to his son. As a boy, Charles listened to his father’s band play in the Danbury town square. His father helped him experiment with different kinds of music.
    Charles' music was very loud and strange to many people and it was not what they were used to hearing. His music was mostly ignored while he was alive, but when he was 73, he won a Pulitzer Prize for his Third Symphony. He died in 1954 in New York City.   

Rose Wilder Lane (1886-1968)

  • Rose Wilder lane was an author of many magazine articles and books. She was a novelist, travel writer, and also wrote about politics. Born in 1886, she did many things differently than other women of her time. She wore short dresses, cut her hair, and spoke her mind.
    Rose lived in many different places when she was young, but spent her last years in Danbury. She loved to travel all over the world. Her mother, Laura Ingalls Wilder, wrote the Little House on the Prairie books.

Marian Anderson (1897-1993)

Marian Anderson was a famous singer. She was born in Philadelphia and learned to sing there. Marian traveled and performed her music all over the world. She sang all kinds of music in many languages. She was the first African-American woman to sing at the Metropolitan Opera House. 

In 1939 she was to give a concert at Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C., but the owners of Constitution Hall would not allow her to sing there because she was African American. Eleanor Roosevelt, the First Lady of the U.S., arranged for Marian Anderson to sing at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. instead. Over 75,000 people saw her sing there. Many more watched her on TV or listened to her on the radio. Marian Anderson lived with her husband in Danbury for more than fifty years. You can visit her music studio at the Danbury Museum on Main Street.