People passing by the section of Kings Highway East near Kings Crossing shopping center need wonder no longer about the significance of a stone set in gravel by the sidewalk.
The Eunice Dennie Burr chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution has affixed a plaque to a rock in front of the stone that identifies it as one of the "mile markers" set by Benjamin Franklin in the mid-18th century. The DAR paid for the plaque and it was affixed recently by Ed McCourt from the town's Department of Public Works.
"We've been taking care of it since 2005," Betty Oderwald, a DAR member said of the stone, which was installed in 1754 and marked a distance of 22 miles to New Haven. Before the DAR started maintaining the marker site, it had become overgrown with weeds.
She said the DAR started plans for the plaque a year ago, but it was installed only recently because the DPW was diverted from the project when Superstorm Sandy hit.
Oderwald said she was glad the plaque was installed before the town next year marks the 375th anniversary of its settlement in 1639 because the history of Fairfield is evident in places other than Fairfield Center and the town's Southport and Greenfield Hill neighborhoods. "History is under every square foot of Fairfield, it seems to me, and as we approach the 375th, which is going to be big I hope, I think it's important to remember the history all around us," she said. "It's another piece of history. I'm glad we got it all finalized."
Fairfield once had five known mile markers, but only three exist within the town's boundaries today. Another one that marked 21 miles to New Haven and which was on Kings Highway by Villa Avenue is missing and one that marked 20 miles to New Haven is on Clinton Avenue in what is now Bridgeport. The other two mile markers in Fairfield are on the Old Post Road by Fairfield Center (23 miles to New Haven) and on Kings Highway West in Southport, the lettering of which Oderwald said is "pretty much obliterated."
"There's nothing much on it in terms of legibility," she said.
All of the mile markers are on an old Indian trail that served as a postal route, but the mile markers also were used as rendezvous points and for tracking troop movements in the Revolutionary War, according to the local DAR. Oderwald said the mile markers prove Fairfield was a literate society in the mid-1700s and that Franklin, a former postmaster general, used an early version of an odometer to mark where each of the markers should be placed. "Did Benjamin Franklin really lay this mile marker? Probably not. Did he go through with an odometer and measure? Yes," Oderwald said.
Oderwald said the plaque identifies the mile marker as the "Franklin Colonial Stone" because Franklin laid out the route.
The missing mile marker, at least 5 feet tall as recorded in a historical photograph and which the DAR believes was the tallest mile marker in the state as of 1930, is among the significant artifacts of Fairfield history that Oderwald said she would love to find. Also among those missing artifacts are Nathan Jennings' tombstone, a horse trough that was on Sherman Green by the corner of Post and Reef roads, and a sundial by Burr Mansion on the Old Post Road.
"There's all these missing pieces of Fairfield history. It would be nice if we had a Fairfield history detective and found out what happened to them," she said. "That's what happens if you don't pay attention to history. It disappears under your feet."