What can be said of the history of this beautiful parcel situated in the center of Woodbridge?
The Town acquired the 131 acres, located at 100 Center Road, “after a vote of approval at a Special Town Meeting, held on January 29, 1973. This property was purchased for $655,000 by the Town through an Executor’s deed from The Connecticut Bank and Trust Company, Executor of the will of David E. Fitzgerald, Jr., late of Woodbridge,” according to the 1982 CUPOP Survey (page 20). Despite the Town Meeting’s vote that night to authorize the filing of “an application with the State’s Department of Environmental Protection for an open space grant” for this purchase, “such an application was not made for reasons of necessary timing and a desire for the total Town control over use and disposition of the property, ” according to the CUPOP Survey writers.
Today, the FitzGerald property enjoys a variety of uses; the Board of Selectmen annually lease the northeast portion for agricultural use; the center of the property is used for the Community Gardens; in 2008 the new Fire House was constructed on a portion fronting Center Road directly across from the Police Department; and the southern and western portions remain wooded and feature hiking trails.
But now let’s look more closely at this family and their roots in olden Woodbridge…
David Edward FitzGerald was born in New Haven in 1874, the eldest son of Edward and Anne (Conway) FitzGerald. According to a biographical sketch at the CT State Library:
“His parents were natives of County Kerry, Ireland, who came to America in their youth and located in New Haven. His father conducted a grocery store in New Haven for many years, and on many occasions Mr. FitzGerald has paid tribute to the early opportunities afforded him in his father’s store to “size up” his fellowmen and to listen to the opinions of his elders relating to public affairs, expressed around the cracker barrel on winter nights and summer evenings in that long-ago time. The corner grocery store has had its place and made its contributions to society in cities no less than in rural communities.”
A graduate of Hillhouse High School, David earned a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in law from Yale (1895, 1896), and was elected to four terms as mayor of New Haven, serving from 1918 to 1926. He was a prominent member of the Democratic political party, and is the only New Haven mayor to have his name inscribed on Yale’s Hall of Fame in Harkness Memorial. He ran unsuccessfully for Governor in 1922.
David married Alice Josephine Clark in 1900 and the couple had two sons; the above mentioned David Edward FitzGerald, Jr. (1901-1972) whose estate would ultimately sell the family property to the Town of Woodbridge, and John Clark FitzGerald (1906-1983). Both sons became lawyers and practiced in the firm their father founded. David’s biography relates that, in 1941 when John became a judge of the Court of Common Pleas, “the oath of judicial office was administered by the father to his younger son on that memorable occasion in the FitzGerald family. Seldom, if ever, has a father the opportunity to induct his son into high judicial office.”
David FitzGerald’s wife Alice was a daughter of Josiah Fowler Clark, Sr. (1828-1904) and Sarah Josephine McEwen (1858-1929). According to David’s biographical sketch published in the Modern History of New Haven, vol. II, in 1918 “the Clark family is one of the oldest of Milford and the old homestead stands on the farm which has been in the family for seven generations.”
Again quoting from his obituary at the CT State Library:
“On a hillside of St. Lawrence Cemetery, overlooking the city of his birth, ‘Little Dave,’ as he was affectionately known to his intimates, now rests. In the distant vista appear the lofty buildings of the city which he served with distinction and with love, the towers of immortal Yale, and the dome of the county courthouse. Yes, death has come to a truly great lawyer and public-spirited citizen of Connecticut, but only death in a physical sense. The spirit of David E. FitzGerald is eternal.”
What more fitting tribute to his eternal spirit could the FitzGerald family have made than to arrange for these acres of land to be enjoyed by generations to come? Perhaps you will take a moment to consider the public service of ‘Little Dave’ next time you visit the FitzGerald tract — the view at dusk especially seems to have something to whisper to us…