Open Spaces / Hoydens Hill: The straight skinny on a Fairfield mystery
Published 10:00 am, Monday, September 12, 2011
The streets of downtown Fairfield are the kind of jumble you'd expect in a town that has had over three centuries to grow. But something startling happens with our inland roads, something you can see only on a map, or from 10,000 feet up.
Many become long and straight -- Sturges Highway, Redding Road, Burr Street, Morehouse Highway and Park Avenue, to name a few -- and head northwest in perfect parallel. The pattern continues into Westport with Bayberry Lane, North Avenue, and others. The result is a mysterious 10-mile array of parallel roads, with many property lines following suit.
What's going on here? Occult magnetic fields? Extraterrestrials who got tired of crop circles?
Calm down, everyone, and take off those aluminum foil helmets. There's an old and very earthly explanation.
In 1671, Fairfield included what now are Westport, Bridgeport and a large swath of inland territory, all "corporately" owned by its 100 households. Concerned that King Charles II of England might seize colonial land not owned individually, the town granted each household a land "dividend." Fifty-two thousand acres (!) of land were divided into a series of "long lots," ribbons of property extending 13 miles north of what is now Hill Farm Road (which becomes Long Lots Road in Westport), Brookside Drive and Fairfield Woods Road. Modern Fairfield's northern streets are direct descendants of those original long lots. Mystery solved.
This bit of history prepares you for Hoyden's Hill Open Space, a 58-acre property that was included in a 270-acre purchase from H. Smith and Grace Richardson in 1966. Part of this land was used for the Smith Richardson golf course, the rest becoming the Grace Richardson Conservation Area.
Hoyden's Hill Road climbs from Congress Street behind the Hi-Ho Motel and becomes Hoyden Lane as it bends right at the top of the hill. The town driving range is a quarter-mile further on the left, and the Hoyden Hill entrance is along the driveway. You can park there, but don't get locked in when the driving range closes! An option is to park carefully on Hoyden's Lane.
Walk down the service road past a sizable barn and an abandoned orchard with a few old but noble apple trees. You then come to the fields -- a glorious expanse at the highest point in Fairfield, and among our last remaining agricultural terrain.
Now that you know The Secret of the Long Lots, a map, or even better, a Google Earth "fly-over", will clearly reveal the 340-year-old provenance of these four three-acre fields (one is now the driving range). It's an open question how Hoyden's Hill got its name, or exactly when the fields were cleared, but we know that one Samuel Wilson purchased this land in the mid-1600's. Good choice, Mr. Wilson! Wilson Road, just to the north in Easton, is laid out in a manner we should now easily recognize.
Continue on the service road through the field, or take the fine mowed paths along its east and west borders. Beyond the hedgerow at the other end are the two other fields. Walking a field under an open sky puts me in an expansive mood, but here I also feel a palpable connection to our agricultural past. It's not hard to imagine these fields, overgrown with meadow grasses now, planted with corn or grain. Whatever happened to the idea of having a small teaching farm up here?
A surprise beyond the two "back" fields is the very seldom-used Fairfield Police Department shooting range. If it's a rare occasion when the range is in use, there will be no mistaking it; police will be everywhere. Otherwise, cross the shooting range at mid-point (I can't help picking up the pace here) to the start of a delightful and well-maintained wooded loop trail about a half-mile long. There's a short-cut trail, as well as a spur that will take you out to Beers Street at the Easton border. There are several stone walls in the woods that align perfectly with ... well, you know.
Hoyden's Hill is well worth a visit. And hey, throw your clubs in the trunk!
Ron Blumenfeld is a retired pediatrician, a member of the Fairfield Board of Health and an experienced hiker. His "Open Spaces" appears every other Wednesday. He can be reached at: email@example.com.