Summer in Fairfield is synonymous with one ecological landmark:, the beach. Fairfield’s gorgeous, New England-style shores have attracted and amazed ever since our ancestors first laid eyes on them. But beyond beauty, Fairfield’s proximity to the ocean has proved extremely useful in many different ways over the years.

In the pre-Columbian era, native groups farmed and fished in the Sound. The Paugussett people were dependent upon the beaches as a means for food. Then were also farmers. The name ‘Fairfield’ comes from the English colonists noting that the Native Americans had cleared the land before they had arrived, further adding to the appeal of the coastal town.

When Roger Ludlow first founded Fairfield, it was the marshy shores of Southport that caused him to fall in love with the land. Ironically, he was already in the middle of founding a collection of other towns, including Windsor, where he lived, when he glimpsed the land that would become Fairfield. He was so taken with it he immediately requested permission to form a settlement.

Once successfully founded, Fairfield’s beaches became instrumental in the growth of the colonial town. The shores provided useful access to the Atlantic, and to England. While farming was perhaps the most common employ in early Fairfield, shipping and sailing were preferable due to more opportunities for advancement and for higher wages. Many young men chose to go to sea and save money rather than following in the footsteps of their farming fathers.

All the money accrued from the shipping industry kept Fairfield relatively happy and healthy. Despite some average fluctuations in wealth, the seaside has always give Fairfield a kind of insurance: profitable trade. As time went on, and shipping became more and more of a blue-collar, manufacturing- type gig, Fairfield began to change hands.

The allure of the seaside remained, but now it was for aesthetic reasons. Those who had made their fortunes during the Gilded Age, in places like Bridgeport and New York City, wanted to vacation, retire, and raise families in Fairfield’s Long Island Sound cradle.

The Fairfield Museum & History Center and Museum Shop, 370 Beach Road, is open seven days a week, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Members of the museum and children under 5 are admitted free. For more information, call 203-259-1598 or visit Fairfieldhistory.org.