The history of Darien's Rings End Bridge

Rings End Bridge

The bridge at Rings End landing as it has stood since 1930.
The bridge at Rings End landing as it has stood since 1930.Maggie Gordon

In the days before car wheels spun through the center of town, cart wheels beat against dirt roads and wooden bridges in Darien's first center, a place residents now refer to as Rings End Landing.

A lot has changed since Richard Scofield originally built the grist mill at the landing; there's a bridge now, the mill has been gone for decades and the landing itself has changed ownership and names several times.

The mill was originally built by Scofield in 1708; he then gave it to his son-in-law, John Klock, and the building became known as Clock's Mill. Capt. George Gorham acquired the mill in 1740, and it became known as Gorham's Mill, while the surrounding area remained "Clock's Landing."

"Other than Five Mile River, it's the only thing that passed for a harbor in town, and at a time when all external communication was by water, and if you wanted to go anywhere you went by boat, you needed that harbor," said Kenneth M. Reiss, who recently published "The Story of Darien Connecticut." "So that became the natural center of activity, from the very first settlements here. There was a lot of hanging around and talking and gossiping, and that became a community center."

There were several businesses near the mill, including stores and storehouses, as well as a blacksmith shop at the landing, according to Reiss. The spot where the bridge now exists was originally a mill dam, which made it hard from townspeople to cross from one side to the other, according to Judy Groppa, the executive director of the Darien Historical Society.

Local historians are not certain when or why Darienites began referring to the landing as Rings End, rather than Clock's Landing, but Groppa and Reiss have a couple of theories.

"At that time, people were choosing names from all over the world for places like Troy and Syracuse and Athens and Rome. Sometimes they had this idea of empire and were naming things after cities in Greece, Rome and elsewhere," Reiss said.

"The most likely candidate that I can find is that the main port of Dublin is Ringsend, and it was from the 1600s on," he said. "Anybody who was a seaman who was at all familiar with that part of the world would know Ringsend.

"We can think that one of the sailors from that part of town may have just picked that up as a glamorous distant name and tagged it on there," he said.

Another plausible reason would have been commercial competition, Reiss said. There were several businesses at the landing by 1814, which is the first documented appearance of the name Ringsend.

"The Jones family, for example, did own a store down there and were competitors of the Clocks and Gorhams, and possibly didn't like using the name of the competitor for the landing," Reiss said. "Who knows. That's as far as I've been able to take it. There's no ring, and there's no end and rings don't have ends anyway."

In February of 1825, George Gorham's grandson, Joseph Gorham and the town of Darien entered into a 99-year lease, through which the town gained the right to construct a bridge across the dam, according to the Corbin Document -- a compilation of town records, put together by former First Selectman J. Benjamin Corbin in 1946.

The first bridge was constructed later that year, and was replaced by the iron bridge (pictured in Postcards 1 and 3) in 1895. The iron bridge cost $10,000 to construct, and remained in place for 35 years. On Feb. 3, 1924, exactly 99 years after the first lease was put in place, the town renewed its lease, agreeing to continue paying one cent per year to the Gorham Estate in exchange for maintaining the floodgates, bridge and dam, according to the Corbin Document.

In 1930, the current stone bridge was built (pictured in Postcard 2), at a cost of $75,000. By this time, the town's hub had moved to Post Road, and the mill had been burned to the ground.