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The Murky Origin of Norfolk Street Names

 

By Lindsey Pizzica Rotolo

For one of the largest towns in the state (geographically), there are relatively few roads in Norfolk, and the ingenuity in their naming is generally at a minimum.

Many street names denote their ultimate destination—Bald Mountain, Goshen East, Litchfield, Meekertown, North Colebrook, South Sandisfield, State Line and Winchester, for example, while a couple streets lazily indicate a general compass direction—North Street and Westside Road.

Other roadways state an obvious feature of the land—Gamefield Road, Golf Drive, Memorial Green, Schoolhouse Road and Station Place, or summon a feature in the surrounding natural world, like Blackberry Place, Greenwoods Road, Laurel Way, Loon Meadow Drive, Maple Avenue, Mountain Road, Pine Ledge Way, River Place and Sunset Ridge.

There are few street names in town that do in fact demand a second’s pause—Whose terrace’s view? Where’s the tower? What’s an ashpohtag? (It’s actually a Native American word meaning ‘something on high’). Was it a specific pair of notable lovers, or is it just a dreamy place to go for a walk? And then there’s the ever-curious experience of driving north on Loon Meadow Drive, arriving at the stop sign and turning west onto none other than… Loon Meadow Drive. Were they just plumb out of ideas?

The streets named after people should be more straight forward, but there are plenty of lingering questions there, too. One may reasonably assume that Mills Way was named for Samuel and Joseph, two of the very first settlers of Norfolk, or after Michael Mills, who built the house on the corner of Maple Avenue and Greenwoods Road, but no—it seems most likely that it was named after Frederick Shepard’s mother (Mills was her maiden name).

Shepard was a huge landowner in town and was responsible for carving out Emerson Street, Shepard Road and Mills Way from his private property for town use, which brings up another interesting naming choice—Reverend Ammi Ruhamah Robbins was the first minister in town, and humbly served for 52 years, but Reverend Ralph Emerson who followed, and only stayed in town for 13 years, got a street named after him.

The naming of Pettibone Lane is another conundrum. Judge Augustus Pettibone was one of the drafters of Connecticut’s constitution, and arguably one of our most noteworthy residents, but perhaps Pettibone Lane was named for his brother, Giles, who ran Pettibone Tavern for much of his lifetime?

Bruey Road was named for a farming family in South Norfolk who settled there in the mid-1800s, but it was Captain Bradley who originally owned all that land, and built the farmhouse. Tim O’Connor Road was named after another farming family who moved here in the 19th century, from Ireland.

Waldecker’s history of Norfolk reminds us that “the town roads were the concern of the selectmen.” While current First Selectman Sue Dyer has been known to put in long hours of storm preparedness through meetings with the head of the road crew, many selectmen of the past had a more intimate connection to the roads themselves.

A number of Norfolk’s old iron street signs are on display at Town Hall.

At least one of Dyer’s predecessors, Augustus Curtiss, was known to “outfit his caterpillar tractor with a V plow in a vain attempt to fight winter storms,” (according to Waldecker). That was back in the 1920s before the roads were oiled and sanded. While that heroism didn’t get his name on a sign post, another Curtiss (John J), who became road foreman in the 1930s and First Selectman in the 1940s did get a road named after him.

Dyer confirms that the street names in town were not finalized until as recently as the 1980s when the town committed to assigning 9-1-1 numbers to every residence in town. “It’s quite possible that certain roads, or sections of roads, were known by different names to different people,” says Dyer. “That was certainly the case with one section of Loon Meadow…some old timers in town today probably still remember that.”

While any Norfolk resident knows a lot about the Battells or the Stoeckels, who knows anything about the Esteys or the Windrows? History being subjective, we may never know the exact story of the genesis of some street names in town, but we welcome your input on the matter. If any readers have thoroughly researched the name of their street, please share your knowledge with the editors by calling 860-542-5006 or emailing editor@nor-now.org.

Photos by Bruce Frisch.

 

 

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