There is nobody named Dan in the founding of Danbury. The eight families who came from Norwalk to found the town in 1684 named it after an English town of the same name. In the early years he better known to most locals as “Beantown” for the quality of beans grown in the area.
Early in the Revolutionary War the town was targeted by the British as the location of American military supplies. The British apparently had reliable information. When they arrived to sack the town the house of those sympathetic to the crown were marked and spared, most everything else, including all the military goods, was burned.
Zadoc Benedict was one who rebuilt after the raid. In 1780 he established the first beaver-hat factory in America here, employing three men in his shop and producing 18 hats a week. From those modest beginnings Danbury rapidly became Hat City, churning out more hats than any city in America. At times one out of every four hats sold in the country was manufactured in Danbury. In the early 1900s it was said that 51 of the town’s 70 mills were in the hat trade, an industry that would be almost killed overnight when John Kennedy was elected president and showed up at the White House hatless
And we won’t see any hats on our walking tour, either. We’ll begin at the old railroad station and follow a route historically taken by thousands of passengers getting off those New Haven Railroad trains...
Danbury Railway Museum
120 White Street
Danbury was an important city for the New Haven Railroad after World War II. Even Alfred Hitchcock came here in 1951 to film his Strangers on a Train about trading murders. The New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad built a railroad complex here in 1903 that included an engine house, a freight house, a roundhouse and a turntable, in addition to the depot. Passenger trains were in decline by the 1980s and here in Danbury the engine house had burned and the freight house razed. In the 1990s the complex became the foundation of a museum and the station and turntable eventually restored. Excursion trains also began running for visitors.
WALK WEST ON WHITE STREET, TOWARDS THE CENTER OF TOWN.
90 White Street
Oscar Meeker came from Bridgeport and constructed this brick store in 1883. Meeker’s hardware opened in 1885 and has operated here, still in the Meeker family, ever since. Topped by a decorated cornice with a pediment, Meeker’sbecame the first hardware store to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places on the occasion of its centennial in 1983. Inside, the accoutrements of more than a century of business remain and on the northeast wall is a painted sign advertising Pepsi Cola for ten cents, beckoning disgorging passengers from the train depot. Meeker’s used to sell tiny cups of cola for that price but now they are free.
TURN LEFT ON MAIN STREET, INTO THE HEART OF THE COMMERCIAL DISTRICT.
266-270 Main Street
The main commercial building that dominates this block, fashioned in red brick and terra cotta, was developed by Levi Treadwell.
U.S. Post Office
265 Main Street
The two-story brick post office was rendered in the Georgian Revival style. The recessed entrance is punctuated by Corinthian pilasters that rise to meet an denticulated cornice running under a brick parapet. It opened for business in 1916.
Old Danbury Library
254 Main Street
The first home of the Danbury Library was in this High Victorian Gothic building of pressed brick, the only one of its kind, architecturally speaking, in the city. Lamb and Wheeler provided the design for the building that was constructed in the late 1870s.
Danbury National Bank
248 Main Street
This Romanesque building of sandstone blocks was the headquarters of the Danbury National Bank in the 1890s. Note the carve frieze above the second floor and the door surround. A fire claimed the third floor gable whose replacement stands out against the original Victorian materials.
The Danbury and Bethel Gas and Electric Light Company
238 Main Street
This was the Darragan Building when it was constructed in 1891 on designs from local architect Joel Foster. The Romanesque design and terra cotta tile details are eye-catching but you don’t have to look up far to see the most interesting thing about this building - it is the art deco sign in the window, a souvenir from its days as the offices of the Danbury and Bethel Gas and Electric Light Company who purchased it in 1913.
234 Main Street
Although Citytrust planned a perfectly serviceable two-story Neoclassical bank on this site in 1912 but it almost disappeared on the block next to the formidable Union Savings Bank next door so the building was beefed up by Morgan, French & Co. of New York. With a new third floor came a marble facade dominated by a Roman arch inset with bronze details. Citytrust failed in 1991 and now serves as home to a church.
Union Savings Bank
226-228 Main Street
The Union Savings Bank was chartered in 1866 by some of Danbury’s leading businessmen. One was James S. Taylor, who was a descendant of Thomas Taylor, patriarch of one of the seven original families that founded the town. He served as first president of the bank and owned the land that this bank would be built on in 1886. Before that a wood frame building sufficed as bank headquarters. The firm of Berg and Clark came up from New York to deliver Danbury a building not often seen in a town its size, packed with multi-patterned terra cotta tiles in a Romanesque style. It was actually used by two banks in the beginning - the National Pahquioque Bank accessed from the north corner and Union Savings Bank, which would eventually take over the entire first floor, accessed from the south corner. A men’s club occupied the third floor. The bank has been renovated three times, each time with meticulous care to preserve the original architectural details. One unplanned restoration took place in 1970 after a bomb was used to blow up the vault in a robbery.
Savings Bank of Danbury
220 Main Street
Still a going concern, the Savings Bank of Danbury has been a presence on Main Street since 1849. The first depositors were required to do business in the home of one of the bank’s officers. This Beaux Arts limestone vault came along in 1909.
Danbury National Bank
210 Main Street
Charles Ives, one of the first important American composers although his music was largely ignored while he was living (he worked as director of an insurance agency in New York City), was born on this location on October 20, 1874. His homestead was later picked up and moved to Rogers Park in the city. This Neoclassical vault was erected in 1924, 100 years after the bank was chartered as the Fairfield County Bank in Norwalk, with the provision that a branch be established in Danbury.
TURN RIGHT ON WEST STREET.
Saint James Episcopal Church
25 West Street
This Gothic Revival church contains the 25-bell Ella S. Bulkley Memorial Carillon, the oldest carillon in Connecticut and the first carillon made in America.
RETURN TO MAIN STREET AND TURN RIGHT, CONTINUING TO WALK SOUTH.
F.A. Hull Building
183 Main Street
F.A. Hull & Son was the go-to destination in Danbury for the latest in hardware. He made good use of decorative brick patterns for his store in 1907.
165 Main Street
Sitting in the middle of the block as part of a multi-story apartment complex it is easy to overlook the Palace that was one of Connecticut’s most splendid showcases when it opened on September 6, 1928 as a stop on the vaudeville circuit. The classically inspired marble interior could seat 1,999 patrons, a concession to the law that when an auditorium had 2,000 seats it had to join the union and pay extra fees. The Palace shifted seamlessly into moving pictures and survived until 1995, holding out longer than most downtown movie houses. It has recently been renovated with over 400 seats and hopes to bring all original 1,999 back into play.
Church of St. Peter
104 Main Street
St. Peter’s has been the mother church to Danbury’s Catholics since 1851. This Gothic Revival church was built from locally quarried granite and that soaring spire reaches 175 feet above the curb
71 Main Street
Popular Connecticut architect Warren Briggs delivered this Beaux Arts creation to the Danbury streetscape to greet the new century in 1900. Briggs conveyed the strength of the law with granite and bricks and topped the courthouse with an imposing copper dome. This is the third courthouse on this location. The first, complete with old stocks and whipping posts, was constructed in 1785 and replaced in 1824. Don’t look for the whipping posts today but you can search out a boulder near the entrance that marks the spot where the first shot was fired at British invaders during the American Revolution.
Danbury Museum and Historical Society
43 Main Street
Formed in 1947, the Danbury Museum and Historical Society is home to five historic buildings: Huntington Hall, the 1785 Rider House, the 1790 John Dodd Hat Shop, the Little Red Schoolhouse, and the Marian Anderson Studio. Anderson, the famed opera singer, lived in Danbury for over 50 years. The studio was on her estate on Joe’s Hill Road before it was moved here.
THIS IS THE END OF THE TOUR. THERE IS NO SHUTTLE BACK TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT AT THE RAILWAY MUSEUM SO YOU WILL HAVE TO RETRACE YOUR STEPS. IF YOU WANT TO HAVE A LOOK AT THE DANBURY ARENA, TURN RIGHT ON LIBERTY STREET AND LEFT ON DELAY STREET UNTIL IT HITS WHITE STREET. TURN RIGHT TO RETURN TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT.