For those who aren’t aware of how “The Four Corners” in Brookfield came to be let this be a short history lesson for you and how we have made Brookfield into a place people want to stay and live. When anyone from Brookfield hears reference to the ” Four Corners “, it conjures up a variety of thoughts or associations. The reference is a very generic one, and yet people from our area typically think of the intersection of state Routes 25 and 202 (the old Route 7), with a gas station on each of the four corners. It is often used as a landmark for directions or a reference to that north central area of Brookfield . History has played a significant role in the evolution that this area has experienced over many decades and generations.
As a native of Brookfield , I grew up within a mile of “The Four Corners”. To me it was the town center and a short bike ride or walk to pick up a grocery item, a snack, or a 10 cent bottle of coke from the machine. The area, originally known as the Ironworks District with a fascinating history of historical homes, and former factories that straddled the north flowing Still River at Halfway Falls. It was an area that was the former retail center of northern Brookfield . It included The Brookfield Market, owned and operated by Carl & Ed Borodenko widely known for their butcher shop. Next door was the Town Tailor in the old Inn owned by the Chengrian family, and the Brookfield Train Station that still had functioning passenger rail service until the early 60′s. Just across the street was the Brookfield Craft Center, founded by NYC retired school teacher, Nancy DuBois Hagemeyer, which would become renowned nationwide for the education of fine crafts.(more recently the bridge that connects the two riversides of their campus has officially been named in her honor) Around the corner were a cluster of independently owned retail and service businesses, three barber shops, two hairdressers, two pharmacies, the Post Office, a Laundromat, hardware store, real estate offices, banks, and several restaurants. A notable land mark, just north of the Four Corners is a historic home that would later be converted to a restaurant. Once the home of former State Representative and Town Treasurer, Clarke Joyce, it became the home of former State Senator Platt Creed, and then a series of restaurants, The Old Stage Coach Tavern, The Country Squire Inn, Christopher’s, Harvest, The Tavern at The Four Corner’s, and currently Casa Blanca. If only those walls could speak.
Progress- be careful what you ask for. For many years, local and state officials recognized population (shifts and growth) had shifted north and the former Route 7 was struggling to accommodate the burdening traffic congestion. In the early 70′s, former State Representative & Speaker of the House, Francis Collins was successful in obtaining funding to build a new highway which became Super 7, Exit 7 from I-84 to the old Route 7 just south of the Four Corners . For decades local and state officials deliberated over how to complete the highway to alleviate the traffic congestion and it was for that reason I requested to be appointed as a leader on the legislature’s Transportation Committee, and the Transportation Bonding Committee. In hopes of prioritizing and securing the funding to complete the Route 7 Bypass. After more than three decades of waiting, the project got underway in May of 2008, and in November of 2009, the project was completed and opened to traffic following a ribbon cutting ceremony presided over by former Gov. M. Jodi Rell (and) with me by her side. With the issue of traffic congestion eliminated, the new concern has become, how do we get traffic back to the Four Corners to support the local businesses?
The Town of Brookfield by significant majority supports the concept of a ” Village Center “. A destination where people can visit retail shops, restaurants, professional services, park, walk around, browse, get a bite to eat, socialize, perhaps be entertained, sit on a park bench and read a book. As required under state statute the town files an official plan of conservation and development every ten years. Within it, section 8 is entitled, establish a Village Center . It states the towns desire to focus on people oriented design, establishing a network of pedestrian sidewalks, providing diversity of uses, preservation of and adaptive reuse of historical buildings, alternative transportation (re-implement passenger rail and enhance bus services). It would include accessible parking for vehicles and bicycles, brick sidewalks, lanterns, gardens, park benches. An opportunity to connect with the Still River Bike Path & Greenway also is included. Local officials, including the Economic Development Commission, Planning, Zoning, Inlands Wetlands, the Brookfield Chamber of Commerce, and other local business groups have been actively discussing and evaluating various strategies and plans to bring this concept to fruition.
Funding- Of course all of the issues in developing a village district require funding for support. The only way the village center concept could ever become a reality was to develop a plan, ensure that local regulations would allow for the plan to be developed, and address the challenges that exist, which included ground water contamination, and the many decades of mixed use and structural difference that pre-exist. I have worked with local officials and colleagues in Hartford , and over a period of eight years and have secured five Small Town Economic Assistance Program (STEAP) Grants, totaling $2.5 million for that purpose. The town has been given broad discretion in how it applies the use of those funds. A great deal of that funding has been committed to resolving two separate ground water contamination issues to begin building the infrastructure. Recently townspeople approved $75,000 expenditure out of one of those grants for an updated study. The state has been very supportive to the town’s vision and commitment and has even partnered with them in providing an investment of future growth for economic development and quality of life.
The town has officially named this area “The Town Center”, just like I thought of it as a kid. With a vision in place, sound planning, local leadership’s commitment, major obstacles resolved or eliminated, focused dedication by volunteers, there is great potential, and (a future) an opportunity for the people of Brookfield to realize a dream. This enhancement to the town has been met with significant and costly challenges, along with frustration, disagreement, and a strong test of patience. With a continued focus and generous dose of New England Yankee ingenuity and spirit, there is enormous promise and future for the Town Center to add to Brookfield ‘s fascinating and rich history, a place we can support, enjoy, and be enthusiastic about.