‘One of the Last Remaining Artifacts of New Canaan’: Preservationists Explore Ways To Save Historic Ferris Hill Road Home

Mobilized by the very real possibility that a historic Ferris Hill Road home will be razed, local preservationists and other experts are working with its owner and touting the 2.14-acre property’s potential for types of development that would still save the antique structure.

Demolition sign erected March 9, 2016 at 8 Ferris Hill Road in New Canaan. Contributed

Demolition sign erected March 9, 2016 at 8 Ferris Hill Road in New Canaan. Contributed

A demolition sign went up Wednesday at 8 Ferris Hill Road (listed as 441 Canoe Hill Road in the assessor’s database), one week after its owner applied for a permit to raze the 1735-built home.

Now is a critical time for preservation advocates, before a 15-day window to object to the demolition runs out and a decision likely is left with a municipal committee. Though the home’s owner could not be reached for comment, he has said that demolition appears to be the only possible way to develop the property he now regrets purchasing more than two years ago.

Conceptual rendering of modern development at 8 Ferris Hill Road that preserves the antique structure, by Mark Markiewicz.

Conceptual rendering of modern development at 8 Ferris Hill Road that preserves the antique structure, by Mark Markiewicz.

Yet one local expert, Robert Dean of New Canaan-based Robert Dean Architects, a firm that’s been practicing here for 30 years, said there are three basic ways that emerged when it comes to preserving an antique structure such as this in the face of development: Move it, sustain it in place and build around it, or sustain it in place and add onto it (more on those options below).

For Dean—who works mainly in residential architecture, and at a high level where he’s developed expertise in antique houses, serves as an advisor to the New Canaan Preservation Alliance and works closely in his hometown of Redding on preservation issues—the home at 8 Ferris Hill “itself is of great historical importance in the community.”

Sketch of 8 Ferris Hill Road, present-day, by Mark Markiewicz

Sketch of 8 Ferris Hill Road, present-day, by Mark Markiewicz

“If you think of the community as something that has any kind of continuity—and I’m not sure everyone in the world thinks that way – but if you think of continuity culturally and historically and physically, this house is one of the last remaining artifacts of New Canaan in its original earliest days. And when you lose that memory, when you lose those artifacts, you lose that memory and you lose a great deal of the culture in that community. In this country, you can go to town after town that has simply and lightly dealt with one small pragmatic issue at a time and gradually has liquidated its entire history and now you cannot even find the town. But towns in Connecticut—and New Canaan in particular—are remarkably well preserved. That institutional memory, that cultural memory is still visible.”

On the radar of preservationists since it sold in November 2013 for $1,250,000, and a plan to develop the property soon emerged, the so-called “Hoyt-Burwell-Morse House” has been continuously occupied for 280 years, historians say.

Susan Serven, who sits on the New Canaan Historical Society’s Board of Governors, noted one particular story associated with the house that has to do with the Rev. Dr. William Drummond.

Installed as the third Congregational minister in Canaan Parish in July 1772 following some controversy (he had been spotted “drinking intemperately” in New York City, by some accounts), Drummond in December of that year set out to create his famous ‘Journal of Family Visitation.’ Now in the vault at the New Canaan Historical Society, the journal listed Drummond’s calls and what he found in Canaan Parish during the next two months or so.

According to 1951’s “Landmarks of New Canaan” book, Drummond at 8 Ferris Hill Road “found the house occupied by Ezra Hoyt” and his wife, Phoebe Benedict, whose names were “recorded as founders of Canaan Parish when it was formally established in 1731.”

It’s a significant connection to the establishment of what eventually became New Canaan, at the time an area divided (by the still-extant ‘Perambulation Line’) between Stamford from Norwalk.

“I can’t imagine we would tear down house that they lived in,” Serven said.

Historical Society Board President Mark Markiewicz and Executive Director Janet Lindstrom—together with Lesley Cousley and Rose Scott Long of the New Canaan Preservation Alliance, and Tom Nissley, member of the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation’s Board of Trustees, for a group that calls itself the “8 Ferris Hill Group.”

Asked why this is a critical time for the fate of the home, Scott Long said, “Because we have a window of opportunity here.”

“We are working with the owner to achieve a positive outcome” and “we just need to get all the pieces in place to accomplish that,” she said.

‘A positive outcome’ being any plan that preserves the antique and historically significant structure.

According to Dean, there are three basic ways to sustain the house, the first being “a way that seems to be currently desired: To find another place to put the house.”

“And that does not sustain all of its memory, all of its history but at least it sustains the artifact of the house. It doesn’t sustain the house at that intersection where it has been and formed part of the whole history of how houses were built in relation to roads and things like that, but if the artifact remained it would be a lot better than nothing.”

The second concept, Dean said is “to somehow sustain the house on the property while other, bigger structures are built and you sometimes see that done and that may have come up here.”

“But town zoning does not easily support that, so it has not been successful in New Canaan that I have seen.”

Finally, somebody may add the house to make it more modern and “figures out in so doing how to still sustain that memory and cultural memory of the original house.”

“That is kind of the full inventory of things you can do,” Dean said.

Anyone interested in the preservation of the home to contact the Historical Society at newcanaan.historical@gmail.org.

10 thoughts on “‘One of the Last Remaining Artifacts of New Canaan’: Preservationists Explore Ways To Save Historic Ferris Hill Road Home

  1. Thanks for some clear thinking and clear alternatives for this historically significant home. There are many real-life examples of concept three — adding to the house to make it more modern while sustaining the cultural memory of the original house. A great example is a circa 1724 house at 453 Carter Street, expertly added to and updated within the past 5 years with the architectural firm Faesy + Smith. It can be done.

  2. I believe many of us hope that other members of the community, those interested in preservation and the custodianship of New Canaan’s history, will come forward now, either with thoughts, or by spreading the word to others, who then may be interested in preserving the house in one of the forms mentioned above. We have to preserve valuable aspects of our history. Once they’re gone, they’re gone forever.

  3. Why does the burden have to fall on the preservationists. Why can’t the town have a share in this burden, especially when the owner is willing to work with the town.

  4. I’m very much for the preservation of history, but it seems this was mishandled from the beginning. From what I’ve read of this story, the first plan by the new owner WAS one of these options: keep structure in place and build new home around it. Seems to me everyone’s a little late to the party if they let the neighbors run all over that plan and kill it. What you’re left with is demo, or bring forth a buyer willing to make this man whole and buy the property from him at asking (and then not be allowed to develop it – good luck). Perhaps the neighbors should have thought their fight through a bit better.

  5. I live on Ferris Hill Road very close to this house. It should be up to Mr. Abel what he wants to do with his own property. Right now, this house seems to meet all qualifications of ‘blight’.

  6. To JH, with all due respect, I live very close to this house, too, and pass by it every day. The outside needs some repairs, it definitely needs paint, and the fence is falling down. But, if you’ve ever been inside at all during the last year, you’d see the nearly-original, extremely well-preserved character of the home, right down to the floorboards, woodwork and windows. The owner, Max Abel, has a wonderful web site for anyone wishing to see interior pics, or for more info. Please visit http://www.8FerrisHill.com

  7. Philip Johnson and David Whitney purchased three antique houses that defined the neighborhood surrounfings of the Glass House . One house is across the street and dates from 1735. How they transformed the interior is staggering. They restored the antique plaster walls, the two fireplaces and the antique timbers. They removed many walls and created just a few large open spaces and added perfect heat and air conditioning, electronic media, and high end lighting. This kind of transformation could compliment any new construction , transforming the property into an estate.

  8. With all due respect, I am thinking we will have to agree to disagree. It’s Mr. Abel’s property. It is is right to demolish or build or whatever he wants to do. I am sure he had no idea what he was in for when he bought this, and I feel for him. As a neighbor on Ferris Hill that is extremely close to 8, we have never being contacted by our any ‘side’ pro or con.

  9. A wonderfully successful example of ‘new’ preserving ‘old’ can be found in the house profiled in this article that appeared in Bedford Magazine. It is right down the road from me and I (and everyone in the neighborhood) was delighted that the new owners sought to preserve and restore the historic (but not landmarked) house instead of tear it down. The addition of the crisp ‘glass box’ behind it is handsome, practical, and fits nicely into the landscape. Take a look, even do a drive-by – it’s beautifully executed: http://bit.ly/1pc3Ian

    I have worried over the fate of 8 Ferris hill for about 2 decades. There are some lovely details and there exists the sense that the house sits on its land as it does for all the right reasons. The property could lend itself beautifully to an addition that preserves and honors the original, historic home while expanding sensitively with modern construction.

  10. It appears that New Canaan believes in the new. New post office, new Grace Farms, new town hall, etc. There are multiple opportunities to build new, but right now the town is under a limited time-frame to resolve this issue and preserve our history. Can New Canaan come together and save this house?

    It seems Mr. Abel has provided this community ample opportunity to rectify the situation, but I understand he has a lot of money tied up in this project and his patience is waning. We have a storied heritage, and it would be a shame to destroy the house in which individuals, who have lent their names to our streets, lived in. If New Canaan does not act now, this town will be left with only recent memories.

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