Stamford Through the Centuries

Stamford Beginnings – 1600’s

Historical mural depicting Stamford beginnings

In 1640, two Indian chiefs, Ponus and Wascussue, signed the deed selling Stamford to Captain Nathaniel Turner of the New Haven Colony for 12 coats, 12 howes, 12 hatchets, 12 glasses, 12 knives, 4 kettles, and 4 fathoms of white wampum.
Fact:  “howes” are hoes, and wampum are shell beads strung on a thong or a cord. The Native Americans gave wampum as a sign of friendship; they did not think of it as money. The Puritans didn’t understand the meaning of wampum to the Native Americans, and they considered it part of the price they paid for the land.

Shortly after, Captain Turner sold the land to a group of men from Wethersfield, the first town in Connecticut, for 33 pounds (English money). These men held what could be called the first “Stamford” town meeting in 1640.  The meeting was held in Wethersfield.  The group agreed to start the new settlement, but to remain part of New Haven.  29 families moved to this land in 1641. (note: sources differ in these numbers. According to Dr. Estelle F. Feinstein writing for The Stamford Historical Society, “28 would-be planters and their wives and families and at least two ‘Negro servants’ began building a meeting-house and their own homes on high ground above the harbor”).

In 1642 they changed the name of their land from Rippowam to Stamford, after a town in Lincolnshire, England.  More than 80% of the New England settlers were from this part of England.  Stamford means Stony Ford.

In 1655 a new agreement with Ponus and his son, Onax, defined Stamford as eight miles wide and 16 miles long. Bedford and Pound Ridge, now part of New York State, were then part of Stamford, as was one-third of present-day New Canaan and all of Darien.

The boundary line between Stamford and New York was eight miles from the Post Road and it was known as the “eight mile line”.  The Post Road goes all of the way north to Boston, and still exists today as Route 1.

Stamford was controlled by New Haven, which was called the parent plantation, until 1662. In that year, The Charter for the Colony of Connecticut was passed and Stamford became a separate part of the Connecticut Colony.

In the 1600s Stamford was a farming community, where people grew grain and raised animals. There were four common fields where everyone in the community farmed together.

Men worked in the field, raised stock, fished and hunted. Women were responsible for preparing and preserving food. They also had gardens where they grew beans, peas, pumpkins, squash and other vegetables. They had to make all of the clothes from scratch; spinning the thread, weaving the cloth, and sewing the garments by hand.  In addition to these other jobs, women also had to take care of the children.  Until 1671, when the first one-room public school was built, they were also responsible for educating the children. The children had responsibilities around the house and farm. Boys cared for the cattle and sheep. Girls helped their mothers and learned the skills needed by women.

In 1692 the Stamford Witch Trials took place. 17-year-old Kate Branch accused some women of bewitching her and two of them were put on trial. This happened in the same year as the famous Salem Witch Trials.




In 1701, there was a final treaty between Stamford and the Indians.

Throughout the 1700s many households in Stamford had slaves, although free blacks also lived in Stamford.

How the Revolutionary War (1775-1783) affected Stamford

Like other colonial communities, Stamford was divided between Patriots, people who wanted to be freed from Great Britain, and Loyalists, people who thought the British should continue to rule the American colonies. During the nine years of fighting, Stamford was at the center of schemes, plots, and raids, by sea and by land. Abraham Davenport was a Patriot leader during the Revolutionary War.

Early in the American Revolutionary War, Colonel Benjamin Tallmadge used Shippan as a departure point for a small group of ships that sailed to Long Island.  On Sept 5, 1779 his Hundred Light Dragoons attacked a force of 500, took 100 prisoners, and returned to Stamford. No one was killed. This event is marked with a plaque at the Stamford Yacht club.

Fort Stamford

Under the direction of General David Waterbury a fort was built in 1781 to protect Stamford from raids. It was designed by Colonel Rufus Putnam, the architect of West Point. It was made of earthwork and was 135 feet by 165 feet, with an inside area of 30 square feet.

Do you know where the fort was located? There is now a monument at the site off Westover Road.

In 1783 the Treaty of Paris was signed which ended war between the American colonists and Britain. But tension between the Patriots and the Loyalists in Stamford continued even after the war was over.

During this time, the Long Island Sound was used for shipping goods and it is possible that there were pirates threatening the merchant ships on Long Island Sound.

By 1790, Stamford was an agricultural and market town of 4,051 people.  The residents were mostly farmers who raised potatoes, wheat corn, rye, oats, and livestock. They exported their surpluses to the New York market.  But, during the 1700s, artisans like blacksmiths, gunsmiths, carpenters, hatters, tailors, shoemakers, coopers and silversmiths joined the farmers living in Stamford. In addition to running their households, some women also managed small stores and inns.




Throughout the 1800s Stamford was still mostly a farming community, but as the century progressed the mills and factories became more and more important.

In 1801 New Canaan became a separate town, and was no longer part of Stamford.

In 1806 The Connecticut Turnpike Company wanted to build a toll road from Byram to Fairfield straight through the center of the village of Stamford.  Many people were concerned because the planned route would divide the community burial ground.  Even though there was disagreement about it, the road was built.

In 1820 The Town of Darien was established on territory that had been part of Stamford.  Now, without Darien or New Canaan, Stamford was reduced to 37 square miles of land.

In 1825 the Stamford Steamboat Company introduced service to New York from Stamford.

In 1833 a ship canal was begun on the Rippowam River.  The canal was dug along what is now Canal Street in Stamford.

The Advocate, our local newspaper, has been published since 1829. The Advocate is the oldest business operating continuously in Stamford.

In 1835 Stamford was a village, not the city it is today.  It had 21 general stores, 12 shoemaker shops, four carpenter shops, three iron-rolling mills, two copper shops, a tinware factory, a water-powered gristmill, a tannery, a newspaper and print shop, a stove shop, a carriage maker, a silversmith, a millinery and hat-making shop, a bakery, a leather shop, three lumberyards, and a coal  yard.  Before 1840, the population of Stamford was less than 4,000.
In 1848 the first train stopped in Stamford, and in 1849 Stamford became a stop on the railroad line between New York City and New Haven, CT.  Because of the railroad, many new people moved to Stamford.

By 1850, Stamford’s population was 5,000. The Irish began settling in Stamford and made up a large part of the population.  They were the first immigrant group to come to Stamford. The Potato Famine in Ireland during this time caused many people to flee the country. Potatoes were a major part of the diet in Ireland, and when the potato crop failed many people were hungry.  A large number left looking for a better life. The railroad allowed them to come to Stamford to work in the mills and factories.

By 1880 the population of Stamford reached 11,000, and Stamford was rapidly becoming industrialized.

In 1886 a second newspaper started publication in Stamford, called “The Stamford News”. You can no longer buy that newspaper today.

Starting in 1894, electrified trolleys were used for transportation around town.  These trolleys ran through Stamford until 1933. All trolley lines met at Atlantic Square, the center of downtown life.  For five cents passengers could ride to all areas of Stamford.

During the 1890s, the bicycle and horse-drawn trolleys were other popular and inexpensive transportation alternatives to the horse and carriage.

Many of Stamford’s municipal services began operating in the late 1800s.  In 1871 the Stamford Water Company began piping water downtown.  Sewers were built in the 1880s, and the first paved roads were built.  Also in the 1880s a partly paid fire department replaced volunteer fire fighting groups.  In 1882 The Ferguson Library opened its doors, and in 1896, Stamford Hospital was founded.  1893 marked the first year of the organized police department in Stamford.

This was one of Stamford’s first policemen, Charles Luther Alphonse.




The beginning of the century marked the end of much of the farm life in Stamford. In the early 1900s country villages in North Stamford changed from farms to suburban neighborhoods.


During the peak years of immigration from Europe to the United States (between 1900 and 1910), Stamford was one of the fastest growing cities in Connecticut.

Immigrants came from other countries, but people also moved to Stamford from other parts of the United States.

Stamford’s black population grew, as black workers from the South migrated to Stamford to work in the mills and factories.

In 1961 the Stamford Board of Education started integrating the schools, so that all children in Stamford would receive an equal education.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s Stamford’s Haitian community began to grow, making it one of the largest in Connecticut.


In 1934, during the Depression, James Daugherty was hired to paint seven large murals for the music room at Stamford High School. This project was part of the WPA (Works Progress Administration), a program started by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to provide employment for artists. In 1970, when Stamford High was renovated, these murals were thrown in a dumpster by the workmen. They were rescued by a student, cut in pieces and stored. One of the murals “School Activities” hangs at UCONN Stamford. Another mural “New England Tradition” was restored and can now be seen at The Ferguson Library at Bedford and Broad Streets.

Stamford was the home of the largest glacial rock in the Northeast, called “Rimmon Rock”. Located in North Stamford at the corner of Saddle Hill Road (near Rock Rimmon and Briar Brae Roads), the boulder was 45 feet high and about 120 feet around.  Archeological research at the base of the rock in the 1970s found Indian-made flint and quartz tools that were more than 4000 years old.


There was a serious fire in town hall in 1904.  The second Old Town Hall was built on Atlantic Street to replace it.  This town hall opened in 1906.  The city government operated from this building until 1963.  In 2007 a project was begun to renovate this old town hall.  It now houses a ballet school and has other public space.

In 1933, the city’s charter was revised.  It now provided for a full-time mayor, city council and board of finance.

In 1947 a consolidated charter merged city and town government and expanded the overall size of the government in Stamford.

In 1986 Stamford’s government offices moved into the building at the corner of Washington Boulevard and Tresser Street now known as the Stamford Government Center.  The site was originally built by G.T.E. for its own use, and was sold to the city.  Before the city bought the G.T.E. building, the former Rippowam High School building on High Ridge Road was also considered as a location for the government offices.

In 1995 Dannel P. Malloy was elected mayor of Stamford.  He served four terms, longer than anyone else who had that job in Stamford. Michael Pavia was elected mayor in 2009.


By about 1900, the first automobiles could be seen on the streets of Stamford.  By 1927 buses had replaced most of the trolleys that ran through Stamford. The last trolley run took place in 1933.

In 1934 work began on the Merritt Parkway, named for Stamford’s own Schuyler Merritt. The parkway was built by men who needed work during the Great Depression. It was opened in 1938.

In 1956 the CT Turnpike opened. To further help with the traffic on the Boston Post Road, a second expressway was planned that would allow trucks and other commercial vehicles as well as cars.  This became the Connecticut Turnpike, which is part of Interstate 95 (known as I-95). I-95 runs in a mostly north/south direction up the east coast of the U.S from Florida to Maine. The section through Stamford goes east/west.

In 1980 Stamford released plans for a new railroad station.  Construction did not begin until 1983, and the Stamford Transportation Center was completed and opened in 1987.  There were problems with the station from the beginning and a renovation was completed in 2003 that corrected many of the problems. The renovation added tracks and made it easier for pedestrians to walk to the train station.  Amtrak trains and commuter trains run by Metro North Railroad serve Stamford’s train station.

one of Stamford's first automobiles
Merritt Parkway sign
Stamford Transportation Center


In 1911 the Ferguson Library opened at its present location at the corners of Bedford and Broad Streets.

In 1913 the new Stamford Hospital opened.

In 1960 the city started a process of urban renewal, making plans to improve Stamford’s downtown. The decision was made to hire one company to supervise the whole process.  Ads were placed all over the country, including in The Wall Street Journal newspaper, to find the right company for the job.  After ten companies were interviewed, F.D. Rich Company from Stamford was chosen.  The changes to downtown were made over many years and the building of the Landmark office buildings and of St. John’s Towers (a high-rise apartment complex completed in 1971) were the result of urban renewal.

In 1982 The Stamford Town Center opened with department stores Macy’s, Saks Fifth Avenue, and J.C. Penney.

In 1994 the Downtown Special Services District (DSSD) was established and funded by taxes on local stores and businesses.

The DSSD has done many things to make downtown more welcoming, from starting the Downtown Ambassador’s program (men and women who patrol downtown on bikes to help pedestrians and answer questions) to hosting special events.

In 1998 the University of Connecticut (UCONN) Stamford moved to its current location downtown, which was previously Bloomingdales department store.

Macy's storefront
Stamford Downtown sign
UCONN Stamford Campus




By 2000, Stamford had a population of 117,000 people. About one-third of them were born in other countries. Some of the countries Stamford immigrants come from are Haiti, Guatemala, India, Russia, Poland, Jamaica, Colombia, China, Mexico and Peru.

In summer 2000, life size cow sculptures, each one painted in a different way, decorated the streets of Stamford.  These cows were part of the Stamford Downtown Art in Public Places annual exhibits.  When the exhibit ended, the cows were sold at an auction.  Later Art in Public Places exhibits included Volkwagen “bug”-type car sculptures called Art-O-Mobiles in 2001 and Safari Animal sculptures in 2003.  In summer 2008, a statue of famous actress Marilyn Monroe, in a pose from her movie The Seven Year Itch, was on display outside the Avon theatre on Bedford Street, part of that year’s Art in Public Places exhibit.   In 2010, the exhibit was called “Reigning Cats & Dogs” and sculptures of cats and dogs were placed around downtown Stamford.

In 2006, a state law was passed giving tax breaks to companies filming movies in Connecticut. In 2008, residents saw actress Drew Barrymore and actor Robert de Niro in Stamford while they were filming a new movie, Everybody’s Fine. Some of the movie was shot in The Grand Penthouse at The MetropolitanSummer Street.
In 2006, volunteers built the Mill River Playground (at the corner of Tresser Boulevard and West Main Street) in seven days.

In August 2006, Stamford hosted the JCC Maccabi Games. Jewish teenagers from around the United States and from other countries like Venezuela, Poland and Israel participated in an Olympic-style athletic competitions and community service projects.  Team Stamford had members from all over Fairfield County.


In 2008, the Ferguson Library began a major renovation of the Main Library at Bedford and Broad Streets. The renovation was completed in 2010

On October 23, 2009 President Obama visited Stamford. His helicopter landed in Kosciuszko Park in the afternoon. After he arrived he and Connecticut Senator Dodd quickly toured a local landscaping company called Eastern Land Management. Later that day, President Obama gave a speech at a fundraiser for Senator Dodd’s reelection campaign. The event was held at the Stamford Hilton Hotel, and people paid at least $1,000 each to attend.

In 2009 Michael Pavia was elected mayor of Stamford.  Former mayor Dannel Malloy was elected governor of Connecticut in 2010.

Marilyn Monroe Statue
Mill River Playground
Library renovation
2008 Library Renovation
President Obama and Senator Dodd