There is a certain subset of Newtown inhabitants who don’t need signs or maps to identify Church Hill Road. They see the churches from stone steps to spires, and their own heart rates and respiration tell them it is a hill. They are sidewalk walkers. We see them every day from our office perch on the eastern slope of Church Hill within earshot of the snap of the town’s famous flag — just below where the sidewalk ends. Unfortunately, it is not the magical and poetic place made famous in every child’s imagination by Shel Silverstein. In the final 300-foot stretch to the top of the hill, where vehicles crowd simultaneously left and right to negotiate the tricky and busy intersection, pedestrians must leave the curb, join the fray, and hope for the best.
Those hopes were bolstered considerably this week when both the Board of Finance and Legislative Council appropriated $193,000 to safeguard those sidewalkers summiting Church Hill. The money comes from a special revenue fund established by the town for a Sandy Hook memorial sidewalk that will one day tie together five of Newtown’s public schools in the center of town, Fairfield Hills, and Sandy Hook — at least that is the vision. The community has been contemplating a Newtown/Sandy Hook sidewalk connection for a very long time. Seventy-five years ago this month, the Chamber of Commerce was proposing a sidewalk from the flagpole to Sandy Hook. (See “The Way We Were” this week on page B-10)
Let us hope, now that the sidewalk is making it to the top of the hill, completing the rest of the loop will be all downhill from here with full funding coming through grants and donations at the same level of generosity shown by the Draper family, who pledged $200,000 to the effort at the beginning of this year. Whether additional support comes in a year or two or in another 75 years, however, depends on the community’s willingness to make this a priority. As far as capital projects go, there is nothing more pedestrian than sidewalks — and by that we mean dull. They are not much to look at. They are neither here nor there on so many levels. But they have everything to do with getting here and there in a way that dramatically enhances community life.
The more time we spend on the sidewalks of Newtown, the more we come to the conclusion that if you really want to know the community, you must get out of the car, put your feet on the sidewalk, and walk — through residential neighborhoods, through commercial areas, by schools and churches, up and down hills. You will meet people along the way and you will exchange greetings, a few words, even long stories. Without consulting signs or maps, you will know exactly where you are, and, remarkably, the farther you go, the closer you get to home.