Suburban Dreams

Middlebury in the Twentieth Century

The growth of Middlebury from a farm town into a Naugatuck Valley suburb began in the early 1900s and continued slowly but steadily through most of the century. The town’s reinvention as a bedroom community was the latest chapter in a history that has long connected Middlebury to the industrial centers to its east. As Waterbury and Naugatuck urbanized, Middlebury retained its rural beauty, which first lured summer residents from the city in the Victorian era. At the dawn of a new commuter age, the town became even more attractive as a permanent place of residence by offering a growing middle class affordable housing in an attractive country setting.

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Residential development began shortly after the 1908 introduction of trolley service from Waterbury to Lake Quassapaug, where simple cottage colonies soon appeared. Public transportation also made it financially feasible to lay out the first large subdivisions near the border with Waterbury. Among these early planned neighborhoods were Hillcrest, Bissell Heights and Westview Heights—all carved out of former farmland within walking range of Middlebury’s easternmost trolley stop on Foster Street.

As the century progressed, an increase in automobile traffic led to more development near the main east/west highway, which ran over present-day Route 64 to Four Corners (the intersection of Regan Road and Glenwood Avenue) before veering up Tucker Hill. By the 1930s, when residential enclaves like Stevens Road were developed, each property came with a private garage, now a must-have for those in quest of an increasingly universal American dream: owning a home in the suburbs.

This exhibition is organized by guest curator Rachel Carley and illustrated with photographs by artist Avery Danziger. It is based on an extensive survey of historic sites and buildings in Middlebury undertaken during the last few years by Ms. Carley, an architectural historian. The project has been sponsored by the Mattatuck Museum Arts & History Center in cooperation with the Middlebury Historical Society and the Town of Middlebury. It is generously funded by the Connecticut Humanities Council.