The creation of Candlewood Lake, the first hydroelectric lake in the United States began February 25, 1928, when a switch was thrown at Connecticut Light and Power's new Rocky River plant in New Milford. The water surged up 200 feet from the Housatonic River traversing a huge 1,000-foot tube to flood the valleys above. By the end of December the water had reached 429 feet above sea level, and the pumping stopped. On a winter morning the glistening ice mirrored a magic new island in the midst of the lake soon to be described by national writers as one of the seven most beautiful in the world - Candlewood Isle.
By 1929 there was a causeway and a sign and inevitably a real estate office to promote the Isle. The real estate development firm Miller, Price and Schiller, acquired all the property on the island north of the causeway. There were no roads. The terrain was treacherous in many areas, dropping sharply to the lake. There was, however, great optimism for this spectacular new setting and the opportunities it offered. The developers set aside the northern tip of the Isle for a beach and a tiny clubhouse to form a nucleus for the new community.
Photo of the old Trading Post
The first people to purchase land and build the small Adirondack lodges were a mix of clergy, doctors, lawyers, business-owners and corporate executives. They were attracted to the natural beauty of this new sanctuary, its privacy and the opportunity to be part of a small community with the ability to shape its own future. They were in every sense of the word the first settlers, and their credo would establish the pattern of the Isle for many years to come. Their self- reliance and independence were critical in the first year because in November 1929 the economy of this country as well as the world crashed, and a decade of depression set in. Many plans for other communities around the lake were abandoned, their developers in bankruptcy.
Volunteerism would be the mainstay of the new community's success. The first settlers formed an association with the one-room clubhouse and the beach as its focus. The members worried that the developers might go bankrupt, and they offered to buy the land that formed the communal beach. The Candlewood Isle Association was chartered in 1930 as a non-stock corporation assuming that its membership would include all landowners on the Isle who would equally own all assets of the corporation. It is difficult to imagine what this entailed in a cash-poor society. The first records include individual donations of barrels of sand and cement to build a beach and volunteer families working to construct a seawall or plant some flowers.
The '30s passed but not without financial and natural disasters. In 1938 a major hurricane demolished most of what had been built. The community held together. The developers tried to keep pace with the influx of new residents who required basic needs for their summer cottages. Some rudimentary roads were extended with a water system that in many places ran over ground and had to be shut off at the first frost. Since the community had chosen to be private, there was little help from state or municipal sources. The volunteers, as they had from the beginning, kept the community going but the problems of rapid growth required funds for road maintenance, snow and garbage removal, security and other services. There was no authority to administer to the needs of a maturing community that now included an increasing number of year-round homes.
On the beach circa 1960
To deal with the upkeep of roads and other Isle needs, first a Landowners Association was formed to levy taxes and eventually the Candlewood Isle Tax District was approved in 1970. The Candlewood Isle Association bought out the original corporation in 1994 and is the official owner of the clubhouse, the roads, the trading post, the tennis courts, the guardhouse and all open space on the Isle. The Tax District leases those things from the association because by state law a tax district can't own real property. Taxes are levied each year and collected July 1st and January 1st by the treasurer of the Tax District. Tax revenue supports upkeep of the buildings, roads, snow removal and Isle security.
There are five recreational programs servicing the Isle. The Tennis Program, the Marina, the Youth and Senior Recreation programs, and the Bocce program raise money from participants and are self-supporting.
Today the Isle numbers 339 homes. Our mail is delivered to the post office by an employee of the USPS system who places it into locked mailboxes in the post office and a number of freestanding mailboxes outside near the guardhouse. In addition to the Isle's guards, New Fairfield police and the resident state trooper patrol the Isle regularly. The New Fairfield Volunteer Fire Department services the community as well.
Portions of the history were adopted by Aimee Suhie form one written by Murray Murtha. Additional material was supplied by Linda Shine Wise.