Actors Dustin Hoffman and Broadway composer-lyricist Stephen Sondheim call it home. The late actress Marilyn Monroe did, too, when she was married to the late playwright Arthur Miller. And actor and comedian Denis Leary lives here too, with his own backyard hockey rink, tennis courts, stable and pool.
It is the “four-bury” region, comprised of the towns of Woodbury, Southbury, Roxbury and Middlebury, in Connecticut’s lush, scenic western New Haven and eastern Litchfield counties.
The area appeals to a handful of celebrities, plus thousands of regular folks who crave country living combined with nearby highway access that gets them to the bright lights of Hartford to the north in under an hour or midtown Manhattan to the south in slightly over an hour.
“We have it all here,” says Marian Van Egas, the top-selling real estate agent in Prudential CT’s Southbury office.
Antiques, Picturesque Scenery and Rural Charm
By “all,” she means the hills, valleys, lakes, horse farms and antique barns that make rural life charming, plus the modern amenities of suburban living, including excellent schools, shopping, a strong historical presence and a broad range of housing options.
The four communities were originally a part of Woodbury, which was created from Pomperaug Plantation, a parcel of land purchased from the Paugussett Indians in 1659.
The plantation was renamed Woodbury and incorporated into a town in 1673. Today, Woodbury, with a population of 9,960, is known for its stunning Greek Revival homes on Main Street and its designation as the “antiques capital of Connecticut,” a title substantiated by the more than 30 dealers here who’ve made it a mecca for lovers of old, rare treasures.
Southbury, incorporated in 1787, is the largest of the four communities, with a population of 19,904, according to the 2010 U.S. Census.
“We are the only Southbury in the United States,” says first selectman H. William Davis, Jr. on the town’s website.
The One and Only
That distinction is proclaimed on Southbury’s town seal, which reads “Unica Unaque,” meaning “The One and Only.”
In the 1920s, Russian expatriates Count Ilia Tolstoy, son of author Leo Tolstoy, and George Grebentschikoff founded an artists’ colony at the end of Southbury’s Main Street. Known as Churaevka or “Russian Village,” it attracted such notables as composer Sergei Rachmaninoff. Most of its immigrant population is now gone, but the community’s
St. Sergius Chapel remains and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
In 1963, Interstate 84 opened, slicing through Southbury and forever changing its rural farming legacy. Today, the town is home to Heritage Village, one of the largest active living, over-55 communities in the United States, with 2,580 homes on its 100-acre site.
Southbury is the retail destination of the four “burys,” too, and its attractive town green and gazebo are popular meeting spots for residents.
“Everyone gathers on the green for outdoor summer concerts and arts and crafts shows,” Van Egas said. “Many people just come here to sit and visit with friends. It’s a beautiful spot.”
“Southbury is a beautiful town, quaint, with strong traditions, a lot of diversity and nice, friendly people,” said Jeanette Pryor, an active volunteer at Sacred Heart Church and a resident of Traditions of Southbury, a planned unit condominium development.
Middlebury, with a population of 7,343, according to latest figures, was incorporated in 1807 and celebrated its bicentennial with a full year of events in 2007. It is home to Quassy Amusement Park, a 103-year-old complex of roller coasters, kiddie rides and water attractions, built on the south shore of Lake Quassapaug.
Roxbury, the smallest and most rural of the towns, was settled in 1713 and takes its name from a Native American word meaning “rocky water.” Its current population numbers 2,311 residents, including a cast of celebrities.
“It was a farming community with 10 sawmills and mining on Mine Hill,” said Van Egas.
Roxbury’s stone quarries provided material used to construct New York’s Brooklyn Bridge and Grand Central Station. Today, people still mine for garnets, the state mineral, at Garnet Hill.
“You pay $5 or $6 a carload and the kids have a great time finding garnets here,” said Van Egas.
This Old Barn
The town is equally proud of its antique barns, which were documented in Barn Stories from Roxbury, Connecticut: A Survey and Oral History.Antiquing is also another popular pastime in the area.
“We thought we’d find about 200 barns and other buildings, but it turned out to be closer to 300,” said Georgette Miller, a member of the Historic District Commission, which commissioned the work.
“If we couldn’t save all Roxbury’s barns, we could at least document the ones we still have,” said Wendy Walker, commission chairperson.
Housing options in the “four-burys” run the gamut from delightful condominiums, many in active adult communities, in the $75,000-$600,000 range in Southbury, Middlebury and Woodbury, to $6 million riverside mansions in Roxbury.
“Roxbury has no condominiums, but the other communities do,” said Van Egas.
Heritage Village, the oldest and largest active adult community in Southbury, often has condos for sale, she noted.
“They range from $75,000-$275,000 here. It is a huge complex with four pools, social clubs and many activities,” she said.
Pryor moved to Traditions of Southbury when she downsized from her larger home in Somers, New York, eight years ago.
Traditions homes are free-standing units, connected to neighboring homes with trellises. They are 2,000-3,000 square feet in size and range from $200,000-$550,000 in price.
“It’s a great community with young professionals to young families to retirees, very diverse,” she said.
Middlebury has six condominium complexes, including an active adult community now under construction with a pool, clubhouse, fitness center and movie theater. Prices range from $120,000 to $600,000 depending on the complex.
People moving to any of the “four-burys” are happy with their decision.
“It really is a lovely part of Connecticut,” concluded Van Egas.
Nancye Tuttle is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to New England Condominium.