A glimpse of Wilton from 80 years ago
While packing to move The Bulletin’s office to Danbury recently, the staff came across a number of old books and photos that had accumulated over the years.
One of the more interesting documents uncovered was a copy of the town of Wilton’s Annual Report for 1939.
That was the year Franklin D. Roosevelt was president and World War II began overseas. Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz were hits at the box office. And a gallon of gas cost just a dime.
Much has changed in the past 80 years since that report was written.
Times were much simpler in 1939, when Wilton was a more rural town. Many homes lacked modern conveniences — 24% had no telephone, 23% had no central heat, 22% did not have an indoor bathroom and 14% had no running water, according to the book Wilton Connecticut by Robert Russell.
Still, Wilton was considered something of a wealthy town in 1939. The grand list of taxable property was $8.952 million, which was three times greater than similarly populated towns in Connecticut. In 2017, Wilton’s grand list was around $4.32 billion.
With the opening of the Merritt Parkway in 1938, new businesses started opening up on Danbury Road, including Bedell’s vegetable stand, Affleck’s commercial poultry house, and the Stone Mill Market and gas station.
The population in Wilton evolved slowly over time. From 1939 to 1940, there were just 2,829 residents in town.
It wasn’t until post World War II, when industry started to arrive in Wilton, that the numbers took off. From 1950 to 1970, the population jumped from 4,558 to 13,572 residents. The current population is around 18,600, with a projected decline expected in 2020.
Expenses and expenditures for Wilton in 1939 are detailed in the Annual Report and include:
- $26,740 for Belden Hill and New Canaan roads.
- $22,000 for payable Notes.
- $14,000 for building bonds.
- $8,355 for the “indigent.”
- $7,310 for salaries of town officials, including the board of selectmen, tax collector, tax assessors (3), auditors, board of relief, dog warden, health officer, registrars, treasurer, tree warden and town counsel.
- $6,045 for highways and special highways — Cherry Lane, Range Road, Dickinson Road and Buckingham Ridge.
- $2,345 for work done to New Town Hall.
- $1,493 for repair machinery.
- $1,330 for care of the “insane.”
- $1,166 for insurance.
- $1,076 for oil and sand.
- $466 for bushes.
- $485 for snow removal.
- $397 for bridges.
- $89 for election expenses.
- $22 for petty cash.
Among special expenses that year were $29.40 for damages by dogs and $7.70 for the Mad Dog Fund.
Wilton’s first selectman in 1939 was Edward E. Lindblom. The other selectmen were John F. Goetjen and Howard B. Corsa. Lindblom, a Republican, was first elected to the office in 1933, beginning a 40-year Republican dominance of the first selectman position, according to the book Wilton Connecticut.
For many years, the town had a three-member board of selectmen. In 1963, the number of selectmen was increased to five — one first selectman and four selectmen.
In 1939, Wilton had just two schools: Center School in Wilton Center and Gilbert and Bennett School in Georgetown, serving 442 students in grades K-8.
Wilton did not have its own high school at the time, so 118 students in grades 9-12 attended high school in four school districts — Westport, Danbury, New Canaan, and Ridgefield.
In 1958, the town constructed a $1.2 million-wing on its junior high school building to accommodate increasing enrollment. After a brief stint in the building now housing the Middlebrook School, the present-day Wilton High School was opened in 1971.
In addition to Wilton High School (grades 9-12), the other schools in the Wilton school district are Miller-Driscoll School (preK-2nd grade), Cider Mill (grades 3-5), and Middlebrook School (grades 6-8).
In the 1939 Annual Report, School Supervisor Frank W. Knight gave a report about the schools.
He said emphasis was being given to the “tool subjects” — English, math, social studies and science. But he said the curriculum also featured music, art, domestic science and home hygiene care.
In social studies in the upper grades, he said, teachers tried to stress the values of a democratic form of government. “Our class meetings have served to show us a ‘democracy in the making.’ We have tried to foster a love and appreciation for our form of government and the ideals of the American nation by means of all school activities,” he said.
In the Nurse’s Report, Juanita B. Thayer said 1,312 quarts of milk were given to children in school. The weights of school children were recorded four times yearly, and heights twice yearly.
For those wanting to know even more about Wilton’s vital statistics history, there are volumes in the vault at the town clerk’s office, with Annual Reports dating back to 1877. The last annual report for Wilton was published in 2006, according to Town Clerk Lori Kaback. She said for some unknown reason the town stopped publishing the reports after that.