If anyone in Ledyard can claim responsibility for the landscape of the town, George Dieter, a Gales Ferry resident for more than 60 years, has a better chance than most.
You’ll find him in the George Dieter room in the Ledyard Senior Center most weekdays after 11:30 a.m. but the room is just a small token of the space in Ledyard that have his fingerprints on it.
“I was here before it was built,” he said of the Senior Center. “Most of Ledyard too.”
Dieter began working for State Highway Department as a 19-year-old and his first day of work turned out to be Pearl Harbor Day.
“So where was I on Pearl Harbor Day,” he asked rhetorically. “Surveying Iron Street.”
He said back then, the town had only five paved roads and he “worked for the state highway department building roads and bridges.”
“Working for the state you didn’t make any money,” he said and when he retired in 1975 the top pay was $20,000.
Dieter is the founding partner of Dieter Land Surveying in 1951, which is now known as Dieter & Gardner, a land surveying, planning and engineering company on Route 12.
Dieter was recently named an honorary lifelong member of the Senior Center Commission but again, it is a small token of recognition for a man who surveyed and planned most of the buildings and homes in Ledyard.
“If we didn’t start it, we finished it,” he said of the boom years in Ledyard.
He helped build up Birdland, Christy Hill, the Highlands, North Glenwoods, Iron Street, Ledyard Center, including Town Hall and the Annex, to name a few. He was on the first WPCA and involved with several building committees including the Ledyard High School.
Dieter was also on the first zoning commission where he said their eyes were set on Gales Ferry, “which was meant to be the center of town.” He said that's why there's much more commercial businesses in that area.
“That’s how the stuff down on Gales Ferry got built, we zoned it that way,” he said.
A baker’s son who was born in Mystic, Dieter grew up around the bakeries in Norwich and eventually moved to Ledyard after he began working for the Highway Department.
Dieter says he “took all the wrong classes” in school. He took business classes and typewriting classes at NFA, where he graduatd from and he learned math, trigonometry and engineering on the job.
“For some reason or another, I picked it all up,” he said.
Dieter says he delivered the Sunday newspaper to the man who eventually got him a job with the Highway Department and in keeping with that tradition, he hired help for his own surveying company Dieter & Gardner.
“Peter (Gardner) used to be my paperboy and he started working with me,” he said. “Now he’s running everything.”
Dieter said he did “piles of stuff” in Groton, New London and North Stonington and in the meantime, he got to make some good connections while working for the Highway Department. Those connections helped him get jobs for his commercial business.
Dieter’s first subdivision in Ledyard was Barrett Park 61 years ago. Barry Drive was next and he said back then, things were a lot less complicated.
“It was so easy back in those days, we laid the road out and graveled it and the town took it over,” he said. “Today with all the stuff you have to go through to get your plans approved, it costs a barrel of money just to get your plans approved.”
But that didn’t stop him from getting in on bigger landmarks in the area. For example, Dieter was involved with both casinos, the Crystal Mall, the Pfizer campus and both spans of the Gold Star Memorial Bridge.
“It was all houses on the New London side,” he said. “On the Groton side, it was a jungle.”
He’s been living on Bluff Road in Gales Ferry for 60+ years. He said he bought the house for $2,000 and years later, bought the land for $2,000.
Dieter’s wife Ruth passed away about 15 years ago he said but they had two kids, and three granddaughters, and seven great grand children.