HISTORY OF LAND USE IN SHERMAN, CT

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Natural Setting and Town Origins

Sherman Small Map
Click on the map for a larger view.

Throughout the eighteenth century the area which now comprises the Town of Sherman was the northern, and more remote, half of the Town of New Fairfield. The total land and water area of Sherman today is 14,950 acres.

Twelve years after the first settlement in the township, or about 1736, pioneer families settled in what is now Sherman. A parish of North New Fairfield was authorized in 1744 in recognition of the new settlement's great distance from the first meeting house near the south end of the Town.

The area which attracted the first settlers is a long, narrow valley between parallel hill-and-mountain ridges. Fertile valley soils are drained northward by Naromi and Wimisink Brooks and southward by Sawmill Brook and the Sherman "arm" or bay of Lake Candlewood.

Several small streams flowing from adjacent highlands are Glen, Greenwood and Tollgate Brooks which discharge to Lake Candlewood and Quaker Brook which flows southwesterly to the Croton River in New York State. At the northernmost extremity of the Town, Ten Mile River forms Sherman's boundary with the Town of Kent.

Lake Candlewood, created in 1927-29 by the Connecticut Light and Power Company's hydroelectric project which flooded the Rocky River Valley, is a central feature in southern Sherman. A fjord-like bay, over 3-miles long and averaging a half-mile in width, reaches northward from the New Fairfield line to Sherman Center.

Except for the central valley, Sherman's terrain is a series of high hills and mountains broken by narrow stream valleys. Upland ridges extend along the town's long western and eastern boundaries, and there are several high peaks near the southwest border: Turner Mountain of 1,242 feet elevation, another peak of 1,250 feet and one which rises to nearly 1,300 feet on the border with Pawling, N.Y. The pattern has resulted in Sherman having existing and potential water supply watersheds.

The central valley, from Sherman Center north to Gaylordsville, is an area of calcium-rich carbonate bedrock weathered from an ancient sea floor when the original continental shore was thrust upward along with the adjacent mountains. Long erosion and recent glaciation (see glacial deposits map) have resulted in the rich soils of this valley which remains choice farmland to this day. (See also early research on glaciers and drainage development in Greater Danbury).

TOPOGRAPHIC OVERVIEW OF SHERMAN, CT
The highest elevation in Sherman is above 1,290 feet along the New York border.
T
hen the low point of under 260 feet is on the shore of the Housatonic River. See
the full context for Sherman's terrain on the regional topographic map.

Sherman Development:
Beginnings to 1950

Early settlement appears to have been primarily in the middle of the central valley, between Sawmill and Wimisink Brooks. From this point early trails or roads developed northward and southward along the valley with various branches climbing into the hills east and west.

Sherman's central village developed, however, not at the meeting house site on Church Road but close to the banks of the Sawmill Brook where early roads branched eastward toward New Milford and southwesterly along the valley of Quaker Brook.

Small industries, a sawmill, a tannery, a hat shop and a carriage factory developed here early in the nineteenth century, as well as a store, a church, a burial ground, a schoolhouse and about 15 dwellings. This small village, now at the intersection of Routes 37 and 39, is the present-day Town Center. Agriculture, however, remained the mainstay of the community.

The Town was named for Roger Sherman, the only American to sign all four of these important historical documents: the Continental Association of 1774, the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the Federal Constitution.

By the time of the Town's incorporation in 1802, and throughout the nineteenth century, most of the valley land and many areas of upland plateau and gentler hillsides were under cultivation and pasture. Dirt roads extended through the valleys and across hills wherever topography and soils permitted farming. Population remained stable for the first half century of Sherman's existence as a Town; in 1810, eight years after incorporation, the census recorded 949 inhabitants and in 1850, 984 persons. The Sherman Historical Society is the guardian of the Town's early resources.


Photo courtesy of Rick Gottschalk.

However, in common with other small rural towns in the area, population began to decline after 1850 as residents drifted away to seek opportunity in the growing towns or better land for farming in the west. Soil and timber resources in the Town were declining from generations of use, and small water powered mills could not compete with steam powered factories with access to rails for transportation. Many hillsides and upland farms were abandoned and began to revert to woodland. Population dropped below 600 persons shortly after 1900 and finally reached its low ebb in 1930 at 391 persons.

During this long quiet period, however, many farms in the lowlands continued to thrive. Tobacco was an important cash crop, and dairy production was another. In 1882, telephone service arrived and in 1886 the Town constructed its first Town Hall. A public library was established in 1914 through gifts from two public spirited citizens.

Sherman benefited from three major developments of the 1920's. As part of its farm-to-market program of providing improved road access to all Connecticut towns, the State completed construction during the decade of a paved two-lane highway from New Fairfield to Sherman Center and over Towner Hill to Route 7 at Boardman Bridge (present day Route 37). It also had Route 39 on the drawing boards, and would build that road shortly after. Sherman was suddenly released from two centuries of relative isolation.

In 1927 electricity began to flow over newly installed lines throughout the community and the benefits of twentieth century power and communication became available. The third great event took place from 1927 to 1929 as the Connecticut Light & Power Company constructed Candlewood Lake.

Although Sherman lost several good farms, a small number of dwellings and about 900-acres of land to the waters of the lake, it gained a magnificent lakefront of about nine miles with several islands and land for a Town waterfront park.

The natural beauty of Sherman had already been discovered, to a degree, in the past. Early in the 1900's farm families took in city residents as summer boarders, some of whom returned to establish summer homes in the community. Artists and writers also established homes in the Town, long before the automobile era, attracted by the bucolic charm of its countryside. In 1906, a group of local residents and summer people joined forces to build a 40-acre lake for boating, swimming and summer outings, which they named Lake Mauweehoo, and which functions today as a private club on Route 37.

What did Sherman's rural landscape look like in 1934? Check it 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 132 agricultural businesses in Sherman occupying 78% of the Town's total area.

In 1936 an aspect of rural Sherman ended as a new consolidated school opened in the center, replacing the half dozen rural "district" schools. Another indication of forward vision occurred in 1937 as Sherman became one of the first Connecticut towns to adopt zoning regulations, according to the 2001 Town Plan the very first.

Except for Holiday Point, near Sherman Center, relatively little of Sherman's Lake Candlewood frontage was developed in the 1930's and 1940's, due likely to its steepness and lesser degree of accessibility from roads than in other towns. However, two lakefront campgrounds, Camp Allen and Camp Mauwehu, and a few seasonal homes were established in this period.

As a sign of changing times, population began a modest rebound: by 1950, the Town's permanent population was back up to 549 persons. A table of census population by decade for Sherman in this period is available.

Sherman Development:
1950 To 2000

Exurban influences began to be felt in Sherman with the close of World War II. Weekend and summer residents chose to retire in the community and there was a modest increase in new homes constructed by persons willing to commute long distances to jobs elsewhere.

Subdivisions began to create lots for seasonal homes at several locations around Lake Candlewood and in the "Timber Trails" area. The Town adopted subdivision regulations in 1947, and in the same year established a recreational field in the center in honor of its war veterans.

For an overview of the extent of land development in Sherman, CT near 1950, a review of 1947-55 USGS Topographic Maps for Sherman will be of interest (sample above).

With the prosperity of the fifties and sixties, and increased accessibility of the Town as rural roads were improved, developers began to acquire large tracts of land, often entire farms, for potential subdivision. As more homes were built, the Town's resident population jumped to 825 in 1950 and 1,459 in 1970, a three-fold increase since the end of World War II. A substantial number of the new homes built in this era were in several subdivisions close to the shores of Lake Candlewood, near Lake Mauweehoo and off Route 39 east of the center.

In response to the growing pressure on land for development, a group of public-spirited citizens organized and chartered the Naromi Land Trust in May, 1968. Immediate efforts began to save farmland, natural areas and open space. New and more stringent zoning regulations were adopted by the Town in 1977, establishing a small residential and commercial village area at Sherman Center, designating lakefront and Timber Trails areas as "one-acre" (40,000 sq. ft. minimum) lot areas and mandating "two-acre" (80,000 sq. ft.) lot areas elsewhere.

It had always been intuitive to shape Sherman'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 Sherman.
Examine components of the four categories.

HVCEO as the regional planning agency for Sherman was formed in 1968, the word "Housatonic" in its title having its source in an old indian name.

After the arrival of Connecticut's1973 wetlands protection law,, development potential in Sherman was significantly reduced as the approximately 11% of municipal land area defined as wetland was largely excluded from development.

But during the 1970's residential growth continued at a vigorous pace and more subdivisions were added, now occurring in the northern as well as southern sections of the Town. Land and funds were donated to the Town, enabling construction in 1975-77 of the new Mallory Town Hall.

The 1978 Sherman Town Plan recommended a strong local sewer avoidance policy which has been retained since then.

The village center continued to develop in the seventies and eighties with the donation of tennis courts to Veterans' Field, expansion of the Consolidated School, construction of a small retail center, a new post office, an enlarged fire house, and a new church. An old church building was restored as a playhouse, and an antique dwelling was restored as a historical society museum. Approximately twenty new roads were added by subdivisions during the two decades between 1970 and 1990. Town population reached 2,281 in 1980 and 2,809 ten years later.

In November 1987, zoning regulations were amended to require 80,000 sq. ft, lots in "B" Residence Zones, thus in effect mandating 2-acre lots throughout the Town for future building.

In 1979-80 local citizens succeeded in securing title to a large tract of land embracing Ten Mile Hill and adjacent highland at Sherman's northern corner, subsequently transferred to the National Park Service as a wilderness preserve for the relocated Appalachian Trail.

By the mid-1990's, conservation initiatives by the Naromi Land Trust had successfully created thirty permanent open space reservations in the Town, totaling approximately 1,000-acres of which 850-acres were held in title and 150-acres by conservation easement. Protected lands included active farmland, fields, forest, subdivision open space, trail land and wildlife preserve.

Sherman's permanent recreation and open space land, including the Town-owned Sherman Meadows, Veterans' Field and Town Park increased from 117-acres in 1950 to 1,255 acres in 1990.

See Sherman's zoning patterns on full regional map

Sherman's total developed land increased from less than 500 acres in 1950 to over 2,600 in 1990. With a 2010 population of 3,581, the Town retains an attractive rural character. For a logical path for Sherman's future land use to follow, the HVCEO Regional Development Plan presents sound advice.

 

 
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