Roger Ludlow is the “Father of Norwalk” since he bought the land west of the Norwalk River from Mahackemo, chief of the Norwalke Indians, in 1640 or 1641. But Ludlow was merely an agent, Deputy Governor of Connecticut, not an adventurer or settler. The purchase may have been to thwart potential Dutch expansion plans out of New York. Ludlow stayed in the town of Fairfield and left the dirty work of clearing land and carving out a life in new territory to others.
Those first settlers migrated down from Hartford in 1649 and the first crops were planted. Flax and hemp used for linen and rope became an early important crop. In the island speckled waters they found natural beds of oysters, the foundation of an industry that would help power Norwalk’s economy for three centuries.
The Revolutionary War did not treat Norwalk kindly. In 1779 British forces swept along the Connecticut coast in an effort to cripple American naval activity in Long Island Sound. General William Tryon arrived with 2,600 troops on July 10 and quickly dispatched the resistance from a few hundred Patriots. Tryon’s troops burned the town to the ground; it was said only six houses were spared. Included in the carnage were flour mills and saltworks. After the Revolutionary War, many residents were compensated for their losses with free land grants in the Connecticut Western Reserve in what is now Ohio; this later became Norwalk, Ohio.
It did not take long for the local industry to rev up again, however. Within a few years the first kilns were fired that would churn out the pottery for which Norwalk became famous. Many of the pieces of red, yellow, brown and black, mostly of simple design, are collectors’ pieces today.
In January 1849 the New York and New Haven Railroad began operating, bringing railroad service to Norwalk. Within a few years the town was linked to Danbury by rail. The iron horse brought unwanted notoriety in 1853 when the nation’s first railroad bridge disaster occurred over the Norwalk river. The engineer failed to observe an open drawbridge signal and the locomotive, two baggage cars and two-and-a-half passenger cars plunged into the river. Forty-six people drowned or were crushed to death with many more injured.
In 1913, the cities of Norwalk, South Norwalk, the East Norwalk Fire District, and the remaining parts of the surrounding Town of Norwalk consolidated into the present day City of Norwalk. The resulting city on both sides of the Norwalk River became the sixth largest in Connecticut. Our walking tour will focus on South Norwalk, the historic SoNo district, where the original town began...
295 West Avenue
LeGrand Lockwood came to Wall Street at the age of 18 to work as a clerk in a brokerage firm. By the age of 40 he had formed his own banking firm and been elected Treasurer of the New York Stock Exchange. An early investor in railroad and steamship businesses, LeGrand Lockwood became one of America’s first millionaires. In 1863 he returned to his boyhood home of Norwalk, looking to build a country “cottage. He purchased 30 acres of land on West Avenue, hired New York-based, European-trained architect Detlef Lienau, and sunk an estimated $2 million into his project. The grand castle was completed by 1868. Lienau created one of the pioneering French-inspired Second Empire houses in the county; it would influence chateau-like mansion for decades afterwards. Things were not so rosy for LeGrand Lockwood, however. Financial reversals in 1869 forced him to mortgage the home to the world’s richest man, Cornelius Vanderbilt and then Lockwood died of pneumonia three years later at the age of 52. Vanderbilt sold the property to New York importer Charles D. Mathews in 1876 for $90,000. The Mathews family lived here until 1938. The estate was sold to the City of Norwalk for $170,000 and designated a public park.
FROM THE PARKING LOT IN FRONT OF THE MANSION, FOLLOW THE DRIVEWAY AWAY FROM WEST AVENUE.
Center for Contemporary Printmaking
299 West Avenue
The original stone carriage house of the Lockwood estate has been transformed into a modern printmaking facility that hosts exhibitions. A cottage to the rear houses an Artist in Residence Program. On the opposite side of the mansion the original gatehouse does duty as a Visitor Center.
CONTINUE FOLLOWING THE DRIVEWAY AWAY FROM WEST AVENUE.
Stepping Stones Museum for Children
303 West Avenue
The children’s museum opened in 2000 with over 100 interactive exhibits.
FOLLOW THE DRIVEWAY AROUND TO THE CEMETERY IN THE BACK OF THE PARK. ENTER TO YOUR RIGHT.
Pine Island Cemetery
This burial ground was established on December 16, 1708 when it was known as Over River Cemetery, to help distinguish it from Norwalk’s other cemetery on the opposite side of the Norwalk River. The first burial recorded from an existing gravestone is Elizabeth Haynes Bartlett, the daughter of one of Norwalk’s founding families, who died in 1723. Shortly thereafter it became known as Pine Island Cemetery, possibly after an island in the river just south of here. Today there are records of over 1000 gravestones and some 800 unmarked graves. As you walk through the cemetery note the three basic styles of gravestone used between 1680 and 1820: the Death’s Head, the Winged Cherub and the Willow & Urn.
WALK THROUGH THE CEMETERY, CROSS CRESCENT STREET AND CROSS THE RAILROAD TRACKS. PICK UP THE PAVED PATH TO YOUR RIGHT ON SCIENCE ROAD, JUST PAST THE RAILROAD TRACKS.
Art Under The Bridge
Norwalk State Heritage Park
Art Under the Bridge provides a focal point in Heritage Park for large works of art specifically commissioned for eight 8-foot by 8-foot spaces between cement pillars supporting the I-95 overpass. First unveiled in 2002, the plan going forward was to have new works every year representing a new theme.
Oyster Shell Park
path along Norwalk River
Many of the northeast coastal towns from Delaware Bay to Massachusetts feasted on oysters in the America’s early days. But few could match the oyster production in Norwalk. By the late 1800s the city was the largest producer of oysters in Connecticut and had the biggest fleet of oyster boats with steam power in the world. Norwalk was known as Oyster Town. The boom lasted for several decades, into the early part of the 20th century but crashed with the passage of Pure Food Laws in 1906. Today oyster farming has been revitalized in the waters around Norwalk and the city again embraces its heritage as Oyster Town. it still produces more oysters than any other town, celebrated each year with the annual Norwalk Oyster Festival. The 17-acre park was most recently a landfill.
WALK TO THE MARITIME AQUARIUM AT THE END OF THE RIVERWALK PATH.
10 North Water Street
In 1986 ground was broken on the site of an old 1860s iron works factory to create a new waterfront maritime center. Included inside the long-abandoned brick building sprouted an aquarium with native Long Island Sound sea creatures, a six-story high IMAX movie theater and a boat collection.
BEAR RIGHT TO CONTINUE WALKING UP WATER STREET, WITH THE MARITIME AQUARIUM ON YOUR LEFT.
20 North Water Street
Originally known as the Norwalk Iron Works, the Norwalk Company Incorporated located in South Norwalk in 1864. Since M.E. Hill took out its first compound air compressor patent in January 1876, the Norwalk Company designed, manufactured, and serviced its own positive displacement reciprocating gas compressors. Norwalk Company made many significant contributions to the advancement of compressor technology, such as a patent for the world’s first multi-stage compressor in July 1881. The Norwalk Company was the largest manufacturing enterprise in the Norwalks. The orange brick, classically inspired factory is currently slate for a multi-use refurbishment.
TURN RIGHT ON WASHINGTON STREET.
Jeremiah Donovan’s Saloon
138 Washington Street at southwest corner of Water Street
Jeremiah Donovan opened his establishment in 1889 at this corner where it quickly attracted a loyal patronage. Donovan traded his career as a saloonkeeper for politic in 1898. He served in the Connecticut state senate and was sent to Washington D.C. as a Democrat to the 63rd Congress in 1912. He lost re-election in 1914, however, and returned to Norwalk where he served as mayor from 1917 to 1921. Except for a brief time during Prohibition when the bar served as the neighborhood A & P, Donovan’s has been an eating and dining spot for over 120 years. A collection of 200 vintage prizefighter pictures was accumulated by “Battling Bat Kunz,” regional champ who owned the bar for a couple of decades and catered to ring personalities throughout his tenure. On the blank outside wall of the eastern side of the building, facing the Stroffolino Bridge, a large mural depicts a sailing ship under a banner announcing “Welcome to Historic South Norwalk.” The mural was painted in 1978 by Brechin Morgan, then a South Norwalk artist. In 1983, after a billboard company rolled white paint over it, Morgan repainted the mural with some friends. The mural was touched up in 2007. It depicts one of the last working schooners on Long Island Sound, the Alice S. Wentworth, and Sheffield Island.
SoNo Switch Tower Museum
77 Washington Street
The SoNo Switch Tower Museum preserves a vital cog in the New York, New Haven and Hartford’s main line service between New Haven and New York City. Housed in this oddly shaped building, three stories high and only a few strides wide, were the mechanisms required to switch trains manually from one track to another in the days before computerized controls. Tower 44 - so named because it was the 44th such control tower on the line out of New York City - was active until 1984.
TURN RIGHT ON NORTH MAIN STREET.
29 North Main Street
The Palace Theater in South Norwalk was built by Samuel Roodner. When it opened on December 21, 1914, the Palace contained 1,000 seats. Over the years, the Palace hosted renowned performers such as Enrico Caruso, Mae West, Harry Houdini, W.C. Fields, among others. At one time, the Palace was known as “the theater you play before you play the Palace in New York.” The popular movie house closed in 1966 and is currently trudging towards its 100th anniversary as a production studio.
41 North Main Street
This Colonial Revival brick building began life as the South Norwalk City Hall, constructed in 1912 on the plans by New York architects Joel D. Barber and Frank Bissell. When Norwalk consolidated the next year it became the headquarters for the entire city and remained so until 1988. When City Hall was moved across the river to East Avenue its parking lot just happened to swallow the front lawn of the Norwalk Museum causing a slide in attendance. Turn about is fair play and in 1995 the museum moved into the newly spruced up original City Hall.
50 North Main Street
This gilded Art Deco bank was constructed for the Gateway Bank that was chartered in 1860 and remained independent for over 130 years.
Little Zion Church of Christ
4 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive
Note the variegated Gothic brownstone church on the slight rise at the intersection as you pass.
First United Methodist Church
39 West Avenue at southeast corner of Reed Street
Cornelius Cook delivered the first Methodist sermon in Norwalk near the New Canaan parish line in 1787. Jesse Lee, the Methodist preacher who was so successful at establishing his sect in New England that he was given the nickname “The Apostle of Methodism” first preached in New England at Norwalk on June 17, 1789; this yellow brick and granite Romanesque church was constructed in 1897. The church was deconsecrated and put up for sale in 2008.
CONTINUE ONE MORE BLOCK ON WEST AVENUE TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT.