Natural Setting and Town Origins
Click on the map for a larger view.
Within a few years of the earliest settlement in the Region, at nearby Danbury, the fertile alluvial soils of the Still River Valley attracted settlers to what is now southwestern Brookfield. The broad central Still River Valley is a defining feature of Brookfield's topography. Rising east and west from the central valley are rolling highlands and north-south ridges which extend east to the Housatonic River and west to Lake Candlewood.
Wetland, flood plain and terrace soils, with interspersed
narrow wetland corridors, dominate the eastern and western
highlands. As might be expected, the Town's total land and
water 13,056 acre area lies in three major drainage basins;
the northwest rim draining directly to Lake Candlewood,
the central valley area to the Still River, and the area
east of the ridges in central Brookfield to the Housatonic
Befitting its name, the Still River follows a meandering course northward along the level plain of the central valley, eventually discharging, as does Lake Candlewood, to the Housatonic in New Milford. The several noteworthy brooks which drain from Brookfield's eastern highlands directly to the Housatonic are Hop, Merwin and Dingle Brooks in Brookfield, and Pond Brook just south of the Town in Newtown.
Brookfield's surface features are very much a product of the great glacier of 10,000 to 15,000 years ago (see glacial deposits map).
(See also early research on glaciers and drainage development in Greater Danbury), and more particularly such research for the Still River Valley.
The Still River Valley and also the valley flooded to create Lake Candlewood are the residual floors of large lakes which resulted from the melting glacier. The upland areas with their elongated north-south ridges and stony slopes of unsorted glacial till were created by moving and melting ice.
TOPOGRAPHIC OVERVIEW OF BROOKFIELD, CT
The highest elevation in Brookfield is about 730 feet in the east central part of
Town, east of Route 25. Then the low point of just under 200 feet on the
shore of Lake Lillinonah at the easternmost point. See the full context
for Brookfield's terrain on the regional topographic map.
Because of its glacial origin, the Still River Valley bottom consists of a succession of sand and gravel terraces which are productive aquifers, and the valley has seen much sand and gravel mining.
The attractive countryside of Brookfield induced a rapid settlement of the area in the first half of the eighteenth century. A parish of Newbury was formed in 1754. The first meetinghouse was built on the central ridge about equidistant from the parish bounds, adjacent to a highway which had been laid out in 1715 from Newtown to New Milford. Additional roads were laid out, like spokes of a wheel, from this point which eventually became the village of Brookfield Center. The Brookfield Museum and Historical Society is the guardian of the Town's early resources.
Beginning to 1950
With its good farming land Newbury became a prosperous agricultural community by the middle of the eighteenth century. Industry developed slowly, due to the paucity of good mill sites along long stretches of the Still River and other streams.
Nonetheless, mills and an iron foundry were in operation by 1732 along the banks of the Still River in the "Iron Works" section, and limestone and other minerals were mined nearby. Incorporation as the Town of Brookfield came
in 1788. Brookfield's population in 1790 was 1,018 persons.
Brookfield's Housatonic River frontage, of interest will be
the 1973 report Navigation
of the Housatonic River in the 18th and 19th centuries.
By 1850 population had gradually increased to a peak of 1,359 persons and
most of the land was in agricultural use. Three north-south
turnpike roads crossed the town. In 1842, the
Housatonic Railroad had been completed through
the Still River Valley, connecting south to Bridgeport and
north to Massachusetts, and by the 1860's the
New York and New England Railroad line connected
to the Housatonic line in Brookfield, giving the town rail
stations at Iron Works Village and Brookfield Junction.
A business directory of the Town at this period, the mid 1860's,
showed eight small industries in operation, manufacturing
boots and shoes, saddles, hats, cotton batting, lime, shears
and knives, fan mills, and carriages and wagons. Five of these
enterprises, as well as a blacksmith shop, freight depot,
store, livery stable, hotel, two churches, a store, a private
boarding school, the original town hall and about 25 dwellings
comprised the village of Brookfield Center which had grown
up near the original meetinghouse.
Mid-nineteenth century prosperity, however was not destined
to last. In common with other rural towns of the area, Brookfield
began to lose population in the 1850's as marginal farms were
abandoned and small water-powered industries lost out in competition
with the steam-powered factories being built in such growing
industrial centers as Danbury, Bridgeport and the Naugatuck
After a brief gain at the turn of the century, the town's
population reached its low ebb in 1920 when Brookfield held
only 896 persons. A table of census
population by decade for Brookfield in this period
Two significant development in the 1920's started the town
growing again. Route 7, one of the fourteen "trunk line"
roads in the newly established State Highway System, was completed
through the Still River Valley at the beginning of the decade,
and by later in the decade State and State-aid improved highways
had been constructed through Brookfield Center, connecting
to Route 7 and to Newtown and Bridgewater.
By 1927 construction was complete on the hydroelectric project
which created Lake Candlewood, a scenic ten mile long lake
with over two miles of shoreline along Brookfield's western
What did Brookfield's neighborhoods look like in 1934? Check
them out on this highly
detailed aerial photograph.
You will see a lot of farm land, for according to the U. Conn
Dept. of Agriculture in 1935 there were 141 agricultural businesses
in Brookfield occupying 76% of the Town's total area.
At first the impact of Brookfield's new accessibility and
the miles of magnificent lake front was relatively slight,
but as the 1930's arrived a surge of new construction began.
Lake front cottages were built, small roadside businesses
started along Route 7, and older homes in the hills were remodeled
by city people as country estates. Year-round population jumped
from 926 to 1,345 in the ten years prior to 1940, a 45% increase
despite the effects of the Depression.
By the 1940's, the town had an extensive network of paved
local roads. Many farms were still active, especially in the
Still River Valley, Whisconier, Obtuse, Ironworks and Long
Meadow Hill areas, although about half of the Town's terrain
had reverted to forest. Many of the scattered business establishments
along Route 7 were passerby or lake-oriented; tourist cabins,
restaurants and refreshment stands, gasoline filling stations,
realtors, produce stands, and various services.
1950 to 2000
At the beginning of the post World War II period, Brookfield
remained a town of rural countryside although there were well
established patterns of development along Route 7 from Danbury
to the "Ironworks" four corners, along Route 25
through Brookfield Center and along the shore of Lake Candlewood.
The Route 7 corridor, now a heavily traveled two-lane concrete road, had frequent small commercial enterprises interspersed among residences and farmland; the other areas were predominantly residential. A consolidated elementary school and a Town library had been built in Brookfield Center in the pre-war period, and a new Town Hall was under construction in the center.
The 1950 population stood at 1,688, a modest 25% gain over 1940. Excluding farms, an estimated 624 acres of land had been developed by 1950, a little over four fifths of this in residential use, but developed land was slightly less than 5% of the total Town area.
In 1950, the Region and Brookfield lay on the threshold of major change. An influx of new light industry began in Danbury and soon spread to adjacent towns. The fifties was the period of the "baby boom" as war-delayed family formation escalated and prosperous young families rushed to buy homes
in nearby suburban areas.
For an overview of the extent of land development in Brookfield, CT near 1950, a review of 1951-55 USGS Topographic Maps for Brookfield will be of interest (sample above).
Brookfield was suddenly inundated with extensive subdivision activity and a boom in dwelling construction throughout the town. The Brookfield Planning Commission was created by town ordinance on June 27, 1958.
A milestone, the first Brookfield Plan of Development, was published in 1961. As a key planning landmark for the Town it has been reproduced by HVCEO and is available for review (2.7 MB).
Excerpt from the 1961 Brookfield Plan of Development
Population doubled in only ten years, reaching 3,045 persons in 1960. Elementary school space was expanded and a junior-senior high school constructed in 1959.
In 1961 the "East Shores" area of New Fairfield, a 333 acre peninsula on the east side of Lake Candlewood, separated by water from the mainland of New Fairfield since the construction of Candlewood Lake, was annexed by a legislative act to Brookfield. Already intensely subdivided in small lots, several hundred dwellings, many year-round homes, were by
a stroke of the pen added to the Town.
Both residential and commercial growth accelerated even faster in the 1960's. Long established farms and other large tracts of land throughout the Town were now being rapidly subdivided, and many sections had changed in appearance from pastoral to suburban.
A large shopping center and many substantial commercial and light industrial buildings were built at the south end of Brookfield along Route 7 near White Turkey and Grays Bridge Roads, but commercial space northward along Route 7 increased as well.
During this period two new elementary schools were built and comprehensive zoning was adopted in 1967. In the layout of zoning districts, both east and west frontages of Route 7 from Danbury to the Route 25 four corners (old Iron Works section) were zoned for "Roadside Commercial", as
was most of the west side of Route 7 northward.
"Restricted Commercial" zones were established near Lake Candlewood frontage. "Industrial" zoning was designated over most of the Still River Valley lowland and adjacent to the rail line near Interstate 84 at the Newtown line. Residential zoning was applied to the rest of the Town's area -- "R-7" (7,000 sq. ft. lots) at the "East Shores", "R-40" west of Route 25 and "R-80"
from Route 25 eastward to the Housatonic River.
In 1967 the first state pollution abatement order was issued to Brookfield. Development of local sewer service tied to Danbury would be a growth factor thereafter.
It had always been intuitive to shape Brookfield's development to natural features of the underlying landscape. These are "constraints on development"
due to soil, slope and flood plain.
But as planning and zoning modernized, consideration of these limiting natural features became more formalized in local land use regulations, this trend due in part to newly available federal and state natural resource maps.
See the four basic categories above
displayed on a townwide map of Brookfield.
Examine components of the four categories.
HVCEO as the regional planning agency for Brookfield was formed in 1968, the word "Housatonic" in its title having its source in an old indian name.
At the close of the sixties, the Town's population had increased by 184% over the ten year period, from 3,405 to 9,688 persons, the fastest growth rate of that decade for any Connecticut town.
After the arrival of Connecticut's 1973 wetlands protection law, development potential in Brookfield was significantly reduced as the approximately 9% of municipal land area defined as wetland was largely excluded from development.
But growth continued at a rapid pace throughout most of the 1970's as approximately a thousand more dwellings were built, commercial development continued to intensify along Route 7 and new industrial buildings were built on Grays Bridge Road and off Route 7 south of Junction Road.
By the end of this decade, the products of Brookfield industry included lithography, custom-built metal products, the manufacture of electrical connectors, machine and tool making, and the assembly of electronic equipment. In 1977 the Route 7 Expressway was opened through the middle of the Still River Valley from Interstate 84 in Danbury to just south of the business center at Routes 7 and 25, alleviating some of the South Brookfield traffic congestion. Brookfield's population in 1980 reached 12,872.
Town growth slowed down during the 1980's as the Town adopted more stringent land use regulations and a national recession slowed regional growth. Small apartments and townhouse complexes, some of which began in the 1970's, were added to the Town at widely separated locations and there were many new subdivisions, especially of larger lots.
A well established business district had emerged at the Routes 7 and 25 intersection, and new light industrial/commercial plants were built along the frontage of the new expressway. Commercial growth continued along Danbury Road (now old Route 7) as new office buildings, retail stores and other commercial structures came into being.
Additional school space, several new churches, and a new Town Hall, Community Center, and central post office were built as the institutional sector attempted to catch up with the explosive growth of the past two decades.
By 1990 Brookfield was more suburban than rural. Almost 6,000 acres of land had been developed, not including parks and recreation, a nearly tenfold increase since 1950. Only 61 acres of farmland remained.
Of the developed land, 84.5% was residential, 8.8% was commercial and industrial, and 6.7% consisted of institutional and utilities. Not including wetlands and water bodies, vacant and farm acreage totaled 5,234 acres, just under 40% of the Town area.
The growing economic base provided 5,790 jobs, of which 1,090 were in manufacturing and 2,130 were in retail and wholesale trade. Brookfield's 1990 population showed 14,113 persons residing in the community.
See Brookfield's zoning patterns on full regional map
Brookfield's population reached 16,452 in 2010. Having
moved into the twenty first century, this attractive Town
to the northeast of Danbury has a future as a pleasant place
in which to live and work. For a logical path for Brookfield's
future land use to follow, the HVCEO Regional
Development Plan presents sound advice.