Join  |  Official Historian, City of Stamford  |  Blog  |  About Us
Jewish Historical Society  |  Civil War Roundtable  |  Contact Us


Book Review, courtesy The Advocate

book cover Estelle F. Feinstein, Joyce S. Pendery,
Robert Lockwood Mills,
Don Russell (Introduction
Stamford: An Illustrated History
Revised Edition July 2002
Hardcover, 219 pages

Historian takes a new look at Stamford's past
By David Podgurski
Staff Writer
The Advocate
September 1, 2002

The history of Stamford has been a history of change, but also a tale of how some things remained unaltered in “the city that works.”

The winding road of its intricate timeline are traced in the recently revised “Stamford: An Illustrated History.” Originally published in 1984 and written by Estelle F. Feinstein and Joyce S. Pendery, the history has been revised by Robert Lockwood Mills, who edited the book's first nine chapters and wrote its final three.

Mills, a longtime New Canaan resident who lives in Meriden, says Stamford's strength has been weathering economic turmoil and social upheaval while retaining its sociable charm.

“Economically, it's a city, socially it's a town,” Mills says. “Its ability to manage change is what sets it apart. When other cities lost their primary industries, they didn't recover. When Stamford lost the lock business (in the 1950s), it changed. Also it's due to its work force -- highly educated, especially educated women; think of all those shoppers to fill the mall. Educated women -- now they are part of the Information Age work force.”

Stamford was once known as “The Lock City” because of the massive Yale & Towne Manufacturing Co. in the South End. When the plant moved in the '50s, Stamford became “The Research City” as research laboratories and high-tech companies started up. Today, Stamford is more akin to “The Corporate City,” with Fairfield County third behind New York and Chicago in number of Fortune 500 companies.

“Urban development generally -- the movement of Fortune 500 companies in -- the reverse commuting phenomenon, that's something they don't have in Danbury,” Mills says. “If you live in New York, you can commute to Stamford. The proximity is still there.”

This proximity and influx of corporate giants was something foreseen by a 1929 report written by Herbert Swan. Titled “Plan of a Metropolitan Suburb,” Swan's report urged Stamford to acquire land for additional parks and recreational areas and to construct a vigorous network of highways along with zoning regulations. The plan was shelved during the Great Depression, but the natural course of history proved Swan's foresight.

“Eventually, the city fathers managed to incorporate into the renewal of the city some socially progressive moves that were a little avant-garde -- busing, target schools. Swan also must have foreseen I-95, but the infrastructure in 1928 could not have held it,” Mills says.

The book charts the history of Stamford through the Depression and urban renewal to its status as part of Connecticut's “Gold Coast.” From its early beginnings as “Rippowam” in the 1600s, Stamford had been vital as a site along Native American trade routes to and from Manhattan.

Few at that time could have predicted the sprawling city of more than 110,000 that Stamford would become. One of the more intriguing aspects of the city's history has been its ethnic diversity -- not without its share of conflict -- as a point of convergence for immigrants.

“Stamford is interesting,” Mills says. “It is a suburb, but it has always had a more New York mindset than a Darien or New Canaan mindset. It's like an oasis for minorities, socially speaking. . . . It's a socially aware, socially progressive town and I was surprised to learn how much had been done to help the minorities along on a social basis. Stamford, through its churches and its local black leaders, was very active in helping minorities.”

And where is Stamford going, according to Mills?

“I don't embrace the Information Age entirely, but I think the Information Age is here to stay,” he says. “I would imagine media, financial services -- media that will become more electronic, not less -- that office space will fill with financial services, communications. The American economy is still filled with geniuses and they never stop being geniuses and they will find Stamford -- Stamford won't have to go looking for them.”

During the editing process, Mills found that he is a descendant of a man mentioned early in “Stamford An Illustrated History,” one Isaac Lockwood.

-- “Stamford: An Illustrated History” is published by the American Historical Press and retails for $32.95.

Copyright © 2002, Southern Connecticut Newspapers, Inc.  
Reprinted with permission.

Note:  The book contains an enlarged biliography as compared to the old one. Many of the B & W images are from the Sociey's own photo collection.  IBH

Books in our Library