In one sense, all of NewCanaanite.com falls under the category of Town Living. In this section specifically, we collect articles and remembrances that touch our town’s history, quirks, quality of life and often unnoticed details that make New Canaan our home.
The recent news that the Chamber of Commerce is no longer sponsoring the Pop Up Park has left its future uncertain. While volunteer organizers are scrambling to obtain permits, insurance and town approval, a 2015 debate of how the park affects local business has been reignited. We spoke to several businesses in the area to hear their thoughts. Helen Richards of Odesmith & Richards Boutique on South Avenue describes the park as a “pleasant idea” but in the “completely wrong place.” Her concerns revolve around how the park affects nearby businesses, saying “it blocks traffic and impedes commerce where it is.”
She referred to a letter written by area merchants a few years ago. “The merchants have been complaining about it for a long time,” she said.
The White Oak Shade home now under a cease-and-desist order after an unpermitted demolition of its second floor dates to about 1750, historic preservationists say, and appears originally to have belonged to a Canaan Parish family that earned a curious—and rather treacherous—footnote in the history of the town. According to New Canaan Historical Society files cited by Rose Scott Long, co-president of the New Canaan Preservation Alliance, the home at 251 White Oak Shade Road had been labeled at one time as the “William Reid, Sr. House.”
Records show that it has been renovated several times since the 18th Century, making it “difficult to discern what was original and what was fabricated to appear original,” Scott Long told NewCanaanite.com. One historical record also notes that the home at some point was “moved back from the road.”
A census records list unearthed by Scott Long indicates that in 1790—the year of the first census in the United States—the home was inhabited by a “William Reed, Jr.”
Turning back to the clock about a dozen years, to the American Revolutionary War—historians note that in Canaan Parish (recall that New Canaan, as we know it, wasn’t incorporated until 1801), one practice among patriots as well as Loyalists seeking to maximize value in trade was to drive cattle across Westchester County to trade with the British, who paid in coin rather than unreliable Continental paper money. (Mary Louise King notes in her “Portrait of New Canaan” history that Maj. Benjamin Tallmadge, among other heroic feats of battle during the war, in 1779 moved against that illicit trade.)
The year that Lord Cornwallis would surrender, in October, at Yorktown, Va.—1781—opened in Canaan Parish with “Samuel Cooke Silliman presiding over the trials of three men and a woman who had been trading with the enemy,” King writes.
“The people in this place have agreed, many of them, to set up a library and are collecting money to make a small purchase of books.” —from a Jan. 16, 1790 letter from the Rev. Justus Mitchell of New Canaan to Roger Sherman, his wife’s uncle
Perhaps no commercial enterprise in New Canaan has garnered as much attention in recent months as the Roger Sherman Inn. For good reason. Since hitting the market at $6 million three summers ago, the Oenoke Ridge Road restaurant and inn has been the subject of wide speculation. After lingering on the market for years, a well-known developer materialized last fall as the property’s “contract purchaser,” with a plan to create eight (later modified to six) homes on a 1.8-acre property that, as-of-right, would have just one.
“Some say that the original Lone Tree has died and been replaced by a new tree. Others indignantly claim that they have been looking at it for 50-60, even 80 years and that it is the same old tree. It is not a large tree, but apparently size is not necessarily an indication of the age of a sugar maple. At any rate, all agree that it has been a favorite trysting place for lovers ‘time out of mind’ and it bears many hopefully entwined initials.” —from “Lone Tree Hill” by Elizabeth P. McGhie, Feb. 26, 1948 (“Landmarks of New Canaan”)
With few exceptions, the landmarks that New Canaanites associate with their town’s rich history are manmade.
Life changed unexpectedly and irrevocably for Annette Ross in January of 2000. Just before the birth of her second child, Ross experienced a catastrophic spinal cord injury while receiving an epidural. The injury inhibited the use of her lower body and confined her to a wheelchair. A dream life that she shared with her husband Bill, living in New Canaan, appeared to have been shattered. In the nearly 17 years that followed, Ross’s life has taken twists and turns, many of which are shared in her new book, Where Fairy Tales Go: A Love Story.