But the town was best known for its 100-foot flagpole that sits, literally, in the middle of Main Street. The flagpole also had been the town's greatest source of controversy for nearly 100 years -- declared a road hazard as cars replaced ox wagons. Yet the flagpole survived every attempt by highway authorities to remove it. It also survived a lightning strike and a car that slammed into it going 55 mph.
The 12-foot by 18-foot flag now flies at half staff, a sad reminder hovering above the town's center.
Headlines in Friday's Newtown Bee reported on vandalism at a cemetery and warned of police plans for a sobriety checkpoint over the weekend.
Then, everything changed.
Librarian Beryl Harrison was celebrating with staff at their annual holiday party last Friday. They were preparing to sing Christmas carols when word came.
"We got a call that there was a lockdown at the schools," she said.
Word spread. Rumors flew. At one point, they were told the library was in lockdown. "We thought they were joking: What could we be locking down the library for?" she asked. "It just got worse as the day went on."
Many of those precious children had studied in the library's children's area, accompanied by their parents. She had volunteered at the school over the years; both her sons attended school there, too. One librarian, she said, plans to attend at least six funerals.
"We just can't believe it," she said in the gentle voice of a well-schooled librarian.
"I hope this doesn't define the town, because it doesn't deserve to be remembered as a place of horror."
Not too far from Harrison's desk, pamphlets were spread out for any resident to take. One began, "Facts for Families: Children and Grief." Another provided the number for a grief hot line "should you or anyone you know need to talk to someone during this very difficult time."
The old town hall will be turned into a grief counseling center Monday, complete with privacy screens. The Newtown Savings Bank has established the Sandy Hook School Support Fund to help families pay for funerals.
Librarians across the country have begun pitching in. One book that's being shipped is called "Tear Soup," considered one of the best at helping people, especially children, cope with tragedy.
Just up the road, Ken Henggeler stood near the memorial with his wife and 22-year-old stepson, Eric Puffer.
Puffer had attended Sandy Hook in first grade. He couldn't help but wonder about that classroom of children. He likely had studied in that exact same room. Puffer had begun his first day at work on Friday, at a DNA sequencing job in Boston.
He immediately came home. His friends teach at the school and "students that they used to have are now dead."
"I don't know what to even say to them," he said. "It just doesn't make any sense why he would go into school where these kids can't even defend themselves."
Puffer was a senior in high school when the shooter, Adam Lanza, 20, was a sophomore. He doesn't remember much about Lanza other than the way he dressed.
"I would see him in the hallway just dressed up formally with a briefcase, like shirt and tie," he said. "He stood out so much wearing such odd apparel to school when we don't have a dress code."
Puffer glanced at the memorial his stepdad made.