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Summer 2018 Newsletter
Did you know?
Plan a Visit
The Society is open most Mondays from 2 to 5 (always best to call ahead) and
by appointment by calling President Bob Rafford at home at 203-758-9798 or his
cell at 203-206-4717, and you may email him at
Historical Items Wanted
We are in the process of compiling a photographic history of Middlebury and
welcome any photographs or other historical items. We will be glad to scan them
and return them to you or receive them as permanent additions to our collection.
One of the most popular folktales of Middlebury is that of the Little Peoples Village. I receive more requests for information about that mysterious site than any other historical conundrum in town (especially around Halloween time). Much has been written about the village, particularly on the Internet, and some spooky tales unfold there. One Internet site, for example, includes tales of the village’s builder as “mad” or “insane;” it goes on to describe the “little people” who allegedly lived there, and mentions the presence of “strong fields of negative energy” and potential curses on visitors.
The village is, in fact, not in Middlebury, but lies just over the line in Waterbury. The origin of the designation “Little People’s Village” is unknown, but probably arose when folklore about this 1930s village started to amass many years later. Originally it was simply called a “village” or a “toytown.”
Research had not uncovered the origins of the village until recently, when the sharp eyes of society member and board member, Harold J. West Jr., spied a 1939 article from the Waterbury Republican-American, in one of Helen Benson’s Middlebury scrapbooks, and the cloud lifted from our eyes and revealed the mystery of the village’s origin.
It all began in the mid-1920s when William J. Lannen, a Naugatuck native, opened a gas station on the Middlebury Road, one of the major roads between Waterbury and Middlebury. This road used to curve under what is known as Pine Rock and came out about 100 feet south of the intersection with current-day routes 64 (Middlebury Road) and 63 (Straits Turnpike).
The gas station prospered for a while but then, in 1928, the state began rebuilding some roads in the area, and the curved stretch of road on which the gas station was located was bypassed by a straightened Middlebury Road, then called Route 14, which had been blasted through the heavy rock, where it still passes today.
By the mid-1930s, with the road running to the north of the old route, few automobiles passed by Lannen’s gas station. Business had fallen off too much to continue, so Lannen used his spare time to plant shrubs, flowers and build little houses, churches and a lighthouse, some illuminated by electric lights. He was preparing the property to begin another business – a nursery. However, that had not materialized by 1939, the date of the Waterbury paper’s article about the village.
William Lannen was married in 1936 to Elizabeth Kennedy of Naugatuck; in need of steady work and with World War II looming, he evidently abandoned the gas station, the toy village, and his hopes of beginning a nursery. The property lay dormant and was sold to a relative just before he died in 1958. It was resold in the 1960s.
Many young Middleburians and others trekked to the site of the village in the ensuing years. The little ceramic, metal and brick houses were still fascinating, but vandalism soon claimed them until, today, they resemble little of what they once were. Not knowing the origin of the village, fantasies about how it came into being and the man who built it have become magnified or distorted, and a more interesting scenario has been invented. There is no point in visiting the site. The land is privately owned, and its current owner is concerned that people not visit what little is left because of safety concerns; there are, however, a number of images available on the Internet.