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Fitch's Home for Soldiers

Maggie Gordo, Darien News-Review
Published 12:20 pm, Tuesday, February 9, 2010
  • The nation's first veterans' hospital, Fitch's Home for Soldiers, was built on Noroton Avenue in 1864. Photo: Maggie Gordon / Darien News
    The nation's first veterans' hospital, Fitch's Home for Soldiers, was built on Noroton Avenue in 1864. Photo: Maggie Gordon

 

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mgordon@bcnnew.com

The military has a long history in Darien. America's first veteran's hospital, Fitch's Home for Soldiers, was dedicated on July 4, 1864, on Noroton Avenue. The building was financed by Benjamin Fitch, who dedicated more than $100,000 to the project.

The home was originally built on five acres, but expanded to 12, plus another five across the street and two for the Fitch Home Cemetery, according to an essay written by Fitch's nephew, Francis Stuart Fitch, published in Noroton Heights: A Neighborhood for Generations, by Edmund F. Schmidt.

In 1865, the home's trustees decided the facility should also be used as a home for orphans. That July, the state declared that the building would also serve as a school for the dozens of children who called Fitch's Home home. The state took full control of the facility in 1887, four years after Fitch's death.

According to Fitch's essay, the home grew from 197 soldiers in 1889 to 500 in 1905 and 547 in 1910. The soldiers left in August 1940, when they were relocated to their new headquarters at Rocky Hill.

The building was not vacant for long; in November of that year, the United States Naval Reserve Radio Station leased the property for the use of training radio specialists for the Navy. When it opened, it was the largest training station of its kind in America.

"The citizens of Darien recognized a problem in a small community for entertaining 1,500 or more boys over the weekend, some of them going out of town," according to the Corbin Document.

As a result, a chapter of the United Service Organization (U.S.O.) was launched in Darien in February of 1941.

The Navy left again in January of 1946, and the building was demolished in 1950 to make way for Allen-O'iNeill, a moderate-income veteran housing community named for Eric Allen, Jr., and William T. O'Neill, two Darien residents who had lost their lives during the attack on Pearl Harbor.