I want to describe my town, because in light of a gutwrenching tragedy, it’s hard for the strangers who swoop in to report the news to suss out what makes us “us.” I’m disappointed to see CT newscasters who seem shocked that we have “woods” behind Sandy Hook Elementary School. The national news, I get it – they check the website and rely on the on-the-ground reporters. The President? In fairness, he mispronounces things all the time, so what’s the difference between Newtown and Newton, anyway? But for those of you who give a damn, this is what makes Newtown home to me.
Newtown is my lifelong home. I was born in Danbury hospital and spent my first few years in a tiny house near Yogananda Street in Sandy Hook. Yogananda Street used to be a dirt road to some cow fields. I would walk with my parents and dogs through the meadows, finding brightly-colored spent shotgun shells in the grass long after hunting season was over. We moved across town when I was four, and the cow fields grew into a sprawling subdivision.
Newtown has been described as “idyllic,” “sleepy,” “rural,” and “quiet.” Sure it is. But it’s also huge, vibrant, and full of life. Founded in the early 1700s, Newtown today has just over 27,000 residents in less than 9,000 households (that’s a lot of kids). We are spread over 60 square miles.
60 square miles! That’s a big town! In fact, it’s the 2nd largest by acreage in the whole state of Connecticut. We live here because we love trees and grass and sky. We like having a little space between us, but we love our neighbors. You can drive for 30 minutes in a (relatively) straight line and still be in our town. We have 3 dedicated exits off of Interstate 84, and we’re an hour drive from Hartford, Stamford, and New Haven with ready access to Metro North trains to New York City.
We are an uneventful middle class community, full of hardworking people. Doctors and lawyers and financial advisors work here, elsewhere in CT, and in New York City. We have farmers, truck drivers, and factory workers. We have hairdressers, shopkeepers, and restauranteurs. We have local small businesses and national headquarters.
We have an anachronistic but charming giant iron flagpole smack dab in the middle of Main Street and the intersection with Church Hill Road. It’s 100 feet tall and, in one incarnation or another, has been at that intersection for over 130 years. It’s iconic and hard to drive around. But it’s breathtaking at sunset.
We have a two-dollar movie house inside the old Town Hall, where we can watch second-run Hollywood films at 7 and 9pm. On weeks of school holidays, they are sure to add a G-rated matinee for the kids. The board game SCRABBLE was invented here. We have a “Washington Slept Here” memorial and a 9-11 memorial. Every December, we have a communal Christmas tree lighting in the grassy 20-acre Ram’s Pasture preserve in the middle of town.
Our firefighters and EMTs are all volunteers, supported by community donations. Our police officers are top-notch, as far as I know. The DARE Officer who was assigned to the Middle School when I was attending is now the Chief of Police. (Luckily, I don’t see him much!)
It’s a town for families, a bedroom community where one or both parents work and the kids are busy with extracurriculars. We have an organic farmer’s market in the summer, and several outstanding farm-to-table ice cream venues. We still have hayfields and a few dairy farms. Horses are popular – both in commercial stables and backyards. People let their dogs roam off leash. Some people don’t lock their front doors. Installing a few speedbumps on a major “cut-through” from the highway caused a scandal.
We don’t have apartments or “multi-family” homes beyond the standard in-law apartment in a basement or over a garage. We have a few condominium complexes for residents over age 55, but it’s largely single-family homes on grassy lawns or tucked in woodlands. We also don’t have “drive thru” food stores like McDonald’s. We have a Dunkin’ Donuts and a Starbucks, but their signs have to comply with strict size and lighting rules.
It’s hilarious to me when newscasters describe our town as “rural.” We are next-door to Bridgewater and Roxbury in Litchfield County, where working farms are the predominant use of land. Even our neighbors to the south and east like Oxford and Bethany have much more open space and undeveloped land. Having seen the town expand from a populations of 10,000 or so when I was a child to nearly 30,000 in my lifetime, I feel a little bit crowded. New businesses surprise me. Old businesses closing sadden me, even as they’re replaced with a new gym, day care, or frozen yogurt shop.
Our schools are excellent. When I was in high school, Newtown High School earned a Blue Ribbon School designation, ranking top in the nation. Our schools have outstanding theatre and music programs, and high-achieving athletic programs. It’s a classic “American Dream” kind of town.
Sure, we have a few bad apples. Someone I went through school with was busted for dealing heroin in a nearby city after he dropped out. Sometimes people have domestic disputes. Once, we had a spate of nonviolent bank robberies.
I am Facebook friends with dozens of my classmates from elementary and high school (I went to Hawley School for elementary school), but it struck me that I’m one of the few remaining residents. It’s not a hopping place for a single thirty-something. Most of the restaurants close their kitchens at 9pm and many popular spots are closed on Sundays. Like our neighboring towns, we got creamed by Hurricanes Irene and Sandy in 2011 and 2012.
I grew up here my whole life, moving back after college and later law school. Now, as an intellectual property attorney, I’m building my law practice here. I also sit on the Economic Development Commission and am active in local politics. Newtown is my home. And it’s not spelled “Newton.”