New Canaan Now & Then: D.R. Merritt

The photo taken in 1896 (at 3:55 p.m. according to the clock above the door) shows Dewitt R. Merritt, local businessman, at his location on 97 Main Street. 

Mr. Merritt is the gentleman standing on the right side of the doorway.  Standing opposite is Alan Patterson.  The boy sitting on the steps is Benjamin F. Weed who was about 14 at the time. 

Mr. Merritt had opened up his jewelry store in 1895, only a year before the photo was taken.  Never seeming to be happy with just selling jewelry and watches, in 1896, he opened the Merritt Cycle Company.  This aspect of the business did not last very long and by 1900 he seems to have merged the bike company into his jewelry business.  Mr. Merritt  always seemed to have a head for trends and was always selling new products.   In 1910 he ran an ad for his store and services which included selling Edison phonographs and wax cylinder records.  This same ad advertised that he was selling Kodak cameras and could develop the film.  Mr. Merritt could have been one of the first car salesmen in New Canaan when he became an agent for the Northern Manufacturing Company some time in 1904.  He bought one for himself, and sold at least three Northerns to local residents, including C. E. T. Fairty.  Fairy’s 1904 Northern is still owned by his family and is the oldest car to have been originally registered in New Canaan.  

D.R. Merritt was a committed member of the community.  He served as Treasurer of the Commodore Perry Council in 1911, and hosted various political events at his home.  In March 1916, Merritt constructed a large and attractive street clock in front of his store on Main Street.  He built the entire clock himself except for the movement which he purchased from Seth Thomas and Company.  He wanted all New Canaanites to know the time of day.  The clock was unfortunately destroyed in 1925 when a truck with a wide load accidentally clipped it. 

The building in the photo was demolished sometime in 1940 and the current building at 97 Main Street was built the same year. “New Canaan Now & Then” is presented in partnership with the New Canaan Museum & Historical Society.

New Canaan Now & Then: S.B. Hoyt Florist 

S.B. Hoyt Florist on Main Street thrived from 1908 to its demise in 1971, when it was demolished to make way for the Cherry Street extension, enabling what was known as the “circle route.”

The circle route was envisioned to create an outer circle of traffic around town, rather than the prior traffic pattern that involved congestion on Elm Street. The new roadway served not only as another badly needed crosstown traffic artery but also was proposed to renew a sagging part of the business section of town, making it more attractive to retain development for existing businesses to “stretch out.”  

Stephen B. Hoyt, who was born in the Justus Hoyt House on Main Street, bought the florist business from B.S. Woundy in 1908. Woundy, the town’s tree warden, had owned the business for over fifteen years but decided to sell his successful business to focus on preserving the life of the mature trees in town. Woundy’s greenhouses were dismantled and reconstructed on Silvermine Road and then moved again to the north and rear of the Hoyt Homestead on South Main Street. An article dated August 9, 1909 details how the grounds marking the approach to the houses were to be laid out with flower beds and shrubbery.

New Canaan Now & Then: Mansion House

The current owners are not spooked by the ghost that occupies their home at 453 Carter Street. The cast of characters that lived in this residence seems as though they would be excellent housemates. The house, known as the Mansion House or the “Benedict-Eels-Thatcher House,” is reputedly the oldest house in New Canaan. It was built in 1724 on land owned by the Carter family who sold it to Deacon John Benedick Jr, who gifted it to his son, John Benedick, soon after his wedding to Dinah Bouton of Norwalk. At the time Carter Street was known as Clapboard Hills.

New Canaan Now & Then: The Congregational Church

The history of New Canaan is tightly entwined with the history of the Congregational Church. By 1731 enough members in the New Canaan area were tired of traveling to either Norwalk or Stamford to attend services on Sunday, and they petitioned the colonial government to form their own parish in the area. Their request was approved and the Society of Canaan Parish was established, which covered just about the same area that New Canaan does today. The entire membership of the church was only twenty-seven people. With the church established, it began to collect taxes from both members and nonmembers living in the parish.

New Canaan Now & Then: The Playhouse

In 1922, when the New Canaan Playhouse was built, current day Elm Street (then Railroad Avenue) was vacant land, except for one resident on the south side.  A group of local men, The Village Improvement Company, recognized the need for a playhouse.  Their proposal included the opportunity for each and every resident to become a stockholder. 

The cupolaed building was designed by local resident, Calvin E. Kiessling. Kiessling’s design, the red brick and white trim, suggesting a  modified colonial structure, established the style for the future buildings that eventually filled in both sides of Elm Street. The building had a frontage of 58 feet on Railroad Avenue (Elm) and extended back 100 feet with flanking passageways on each side used in conjunction with the fourteen exits in addition to the exits off the main lobby. The original plans also called for two stores at street level. The auditorium itself was originally 56 feet wide and 76 feet deep, with a seating capacity of 400.