In the woods ahead I see the outline of what looks like the ruins of a castle. Myth and rumor had brought me here. Guided by directions found on the internet, I’d ventured on foot down an abandoned roadway in a tree-filled area adjacent to Interstate 84. The castle-like structure I see is larger than anything I’d expected, and below it are a network of little paths and smaller structures I can only vaguely make out. I remember the stories about this place, the otherworldly creatures that supposedly haunt the air here. Despite myself, as I leave the main path and make my way closer to the ruins of the village, I can’t shake a feeling of unease.
My search had begun a few weeks earlier, when in anticipation of St. Patrick’s Day I started looking for tales of Connecticut leprechauns. The closest thing I found was the Little People’s Village, a real complex of tiny houses and other stone structures in the woods of Middlebury with a mysterious origin. In one tale, a woman who lived with her husband in the stone house overlooking the site had visions of fairies in the woods around their home. She convinced her husband to build the structures for them. Eventually the couple went mad. In another account, it’s just the man who hears the voices and goes mad before killing himself. Hang around the location long enough today, so local lore holds according to the website Damned Connecticut, and you too will hear the fairies and go mad.
There are also seemingly more clear-eyed accounts of the village’s origins. One states that it was once on a trolley line to nearby Quassy Amusement Park and was an attraction linked to the park. In reality, all of these accounts, even the plausible-sounding ones, are false.
“It was never associated with Quassy Amusement Park,” Ron Gustafson, Quassy’s director of marketing, tells me a few days before I venture out to find the village myself. Gustafson directs me to Middlebury’s town historian, Robert Rafford, who is used to queries about the site, and explains its real history.
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As it turns out, the Little People’s Village isn’t even in Middlebury, it’s a few feet over the border into Waterbury. Its story begins in 1924 when the property it now sits on was bought by William Joseph Lannen, who built a gas station there. At that time, the road beside the station was a major thoroughfare between Middlebury and Waterbury, but in 1928 a new route was built that bypassed the road, dooming Lannen’s gas station.
Lannen began converting the site into a nursery. He planted trees and colorful flowers and also started building what years later would be called the Little People’s Village. Using brick, concrete, ceramic and metal, he made small houses, churches, a lighthouse, as well as steps and rainwater-collecting pools. Electric lights even lit up some of the houses. As Lannen prepared the property, he posted signs around it saying “Poison: Keep Out” to discourage trespassers and vandalism.
The nursery never came to pass. After marrying and getting a new job at Connecticut Light & Power Co., Lannen abandoned the village to nature. By 1939 a local reporter wrote that the overgrown miniature village “looks like somebody’s dream crumbling to dust.” After Lannen died in the 1950s, a relative sold the property, which remains privately held.
Raffard says the site is in danger of being destroyed. There are plans to build a new interchange for exit 17 off I-84 and the property the site is on may be purchased or obtained by the state through eminent domain, which could spell the end of the strange little village. “It would be nice if we could do something to preserve some of it,” Rafford says.
A day after speaking with Rafford, as I move off the main path toward the village, I realize that what from a distance looked like a castle in ruin is actually what’s left of the stone garage from the gas station. Vandalism and the passage of time have taken their toll on the site. Few structures remain fully intact, but the outline of the village is still present and stretches out below and around the garage. Paths weave around the site, and walking it is haunting. Even in its decayed state, I agree with Raffard that it would be a shame to see the place plowed over.
As foolish as it is, it’s hard to shake that uneasy feeling. The highway is nearby and there is a house within a hundred or so yards, but the place still feels remote, forgotten and sad. As I take a few photos, the afternoon shadows lengthen. A gust of wind mixes with the roar of cars on the interstate, creating an eerie whistling howl. I don’t believe I’ll start hearing wicked fairy voices if I stay, but I’m not about to wait around and find out.