What happened to the mill at Rings End Darien?
Published 11:24 am, Monday, February 8, 2010
The mill at Rings End Landing was originally known as Scofield's Mill when it was built in 1708; it was then known as Clock's Mill from 1729 to 1740; and Gorham's Mill from 1740 for the rest of its existence, according to Darien 1641-1820-1970 Historical Sketches, published by the Darien Historical Society in 1970. A fire damaged the mill in 1760, and the Gorham family rebuilt it, according to the book.
The grist mill enjoyed prominence as the largest building at the landing, but by the turn of the 19th century, it had fallen into disrepair.
"I hear conflicting things about what the building was used for. Some people said it could still grind corn right up into the 20th century; maybe it could," said Kenneth M. Reiss, who recently published The Story of Darien Connecticut. "Others said it sort of turned into a feed and grain store, because that was all that was coming in by barge in the late 1800s. It was pretty much well past its prime, and yes, it burned down in 1921."
According to Reiss, a series of arsons blazed through town between 1921 and 1923. The first suspicious fire occurred in April 1921, two weeks after the Darien Fire Department received its first fire truck.
"It was mostly barns and old building, boat houses and sometimes seasonal houses that were unoccupied," Reiss said. Toward the end of the three-year string of infernos, the town offered a $500 reward for information leading to the arrest of the arsonist; the reward was later raised to $2,000.
"It ended on Jan. 3, 1924, when they made the arrest of seven men who confessed," Reiss said. All seven men were members of the volunteer fire departments in town. The arrests were made by state police, since Darien did not yet have a formal police department.
"What was said at the time was that they were looking for excitement," Reiss said. "Three years is a long time to be looking for excitement because you have a new fire truck. I've always kind of suspected that what was happening was that the town had really been taken over by outsiders and people of means and I think some of the locals were feeling kind of disenfranchised, would be my guess.
"Fires happen," Reiss said, "and there were a lot of fires that were not attributed to this. They only attributed eight fires to the men."
Three of the men were given one- to four-year terms in state prison; the other four served lesser sentences in county jail, Reiss said.