Henry Grabar is a staff writer for Slate’s Moneybox and a former fellow at CityLab. He lives in New York.
A New England town with a touch of the Gold Coast.
Connecticut is a state of contrasts, and Interstate 84 -- which runs right through the middle of Newtown, Connecticut, the site of this morning's horrific massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary -- is something of a dividing line.
To the south sits Connecticut's famous Gold Coast, one of the country's wealthiest suburban enclaves, where many residents commute to jobs in Stamford or New York City. To the north, the more rural half of the state sprawls though rolling hills to the Berkshires, a land of apple orchards and farms stretching to the Massachusetts border.
The elementary school, where a reported 20 children and 7 adults were murdered today, lies just north of the highway; most of the Newtown school district lies to the south.
The statistics paint Newtown as largely well-off. The town's median household income, according to Trulia, is $86,553, well above the state average of $53,935, which is one of the highest in the country. The high school graduation rate hovers around 95 percent, seven points above the state average.
But the school district is more economically diverse than it might first appear, with the children of multimillionaires attending school alongside those from working class families, as one former newspaper reporter who covered Newtown extensively put it. Commuters to Hartford and nearby Danbury are as common as those to Stamford and New York.
In 1999, The New York Times Real Estate section profiled Newtown as a "sprawling, pastoral community" that was "scrambling to hold onto its hometown image and rural landscape while coping with population growing as inexorably as Pinocchio's nose." A home-building boom was underway in in the late 1990s and early 2000s, thanks to a population that was "broadening from traditional families to include singles and divorced men and women with and without children."
In character, it's more New England than New York. Newtown is over 300 years old, and the general store on Main Street has been owned by the same family since 1857. The community comes together around parades for Labor Day and Christmas, and around its school district -- the fourth-best in the state, according to Connecticut Magazine.
The motto of Sandy Hook Elementary School, with 456 kids the district's largest, is, "Think you can, work hard, get smart, be kind."
Amanda Erickson, Sara Johnson and Sommer Mathis contributed reporting.
Top image: Families walk to their cars after picking up students from Reed Intermediate School in Newtown, Connecticut, following a shooting nearby at Sandy Hook Elementary School (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)