New Canaan Man Says 117-Year-Old Tomb on Ponus Ridge Obstructs Sightline


Long may, on Ponus Path, this sentry standing,

The sun, the stars, the hunter’s moon, salute;

A silent figure, rugged and commanding,

Bearing its message when our tongues are mute.

Yet though we raise the stone and guard it duly,

Stern time, some day shall bid the finger fall,

The only monument that serves us truly

Is the heart’s honest word, to each and all.

—From “A Hymn to Ponus,” written by Charles H. Crandall of New Canaan for the Oct. 2, 1897 dedication of the “Monolith on Ponus Path”

This granite monolith, dedicated Oct. 10, 1897 by the New Canaan Historical Society, marks the traditional tomb of Ponus, sachem of the Rippowams. A New Canaan motorist says it obstructs sightlines. Credit: Michael Dinan

This granite monolith, dedicated Oct. 10, 1897 by the New Canaan Historical Society, marks the traditional tomb of Ponus, sachem of the Rippowams. A New Canaan motorist says it obstructs sightlines. Credit: Michael Dinan

A New Canaan man has lodged a complaint with town officials that his sightline as a motorist at Ponus Ridge and Davenport Ridge Road is obscured by a large upright stone on the traffic island there—a 117-year-old monument to a 17th Century native American chief said to be buried nearby.

Officials with a working group that oversees traffic calming in New Canaan said Tuesday that a similar request to move the rock had been made about four years ago. According to Tiger Mann, assistant director of the Department of Public Works, this most recent motorist said he “doesn’t like the island with the sachem’s rock on it.”

“He says it blocks the sightline,” Mann said at the meeting of the Traffic Calming Work Group, held in the Training Room at the New Canaan Police Department.

A look from the opposite side of Ponus Ridge at the traffic island. Credit: Michael Dinan

A look from the opposite side of Ponus Ridge at the traffic island. Credit: Michael Dinan

Officials searched for an accident history at the intersection—by the corner of the Hayes family’s well-preserved antique home and a few doors down from Ponus Ridge Chapel—but found nothing significant just there, Mann said.

Police Capt. John DiFederico, a member of the working group, said the department is aware that Ponus Ridge is a target area for selective traffic enforcement—motorists often follow other cars too closely and run the stop signs at Frogtown and Jelliff Mill Roads, police have said—and that officers are “out there frequently.”

At this point, especially with no history of accidents at the intersection, Mann said that he is not likely to recommend moving the rock.

It’s been there a long time.

The granite monolith was unveiled at 3:30 p.m. on Oct. 2, 1897 (a Saturday) by the New Canaan Historical Society and Ponus Tribe of Red Men No. 31, according to an article in the New Canaan Messenger newspaper.

The traditional tomb of Ponus, sachem of the Rippowams—a chief, historians say, whose domain included New Canaan, North Stamford and a large swath of Ridgefield—the rock itself had been given to the Historical Society by Charles Comstock (transported by oxen from his farm, on present-day Weed Street, to the spot where it has stood ever since).

According to documents on file with the member-supported Historical Society, the tomb’s timeworn inscriptions read (by side):

  • East: “Ponus, Sagamore, 1640”
  • West: “October 2, 1897”
  • South: “Erected by the Historical Society and the Ponus Tribe No. 31 of Red Men of New Canaan, Marks the Home and the Traditional Tomb of Ponus, Sachem of Rippowams.”
  • North: “Dedicated on the Seventh Day of the Tenth Moon of A.D. 1897.”

Historically, Ponus is the known as the sachem of Native Americans in the Stamford-Norwalk area when white settlers came in increasing numbers to the region in the 17th Century, making his permanent home on what we call Ponus Ridge and “his realm extending from the Fivemile River to the Mianus River in Greenwich,” according to a New Canaan Historical Society annual. Ponus, together with another chief, the Shippan Wascussue, in about 1640 sold to Nathaniel Turner of the New Haven colony wide tracts of land in this area.

One account of the tomb’s unveiling that’s on file at the New Canaan Historical Society—likely from the Oct. 4 or 5, 1897 issue of the Stamford Advocate, according to liner notes—says: “Those who expected to see an elaborate structure were disappointed, but upon reflection must have been convinced that nothing was more appropriate as a memorial to the Indian sagamore than the rough stone taken from what was once part of his domain.”

The ceremony itself included an opening prayer from the Rev. J.H. Hoyt of New Canaan, the unveiling, singing of “The Red, White and Blue” by the “school children of Ponus Street,” an historical address by the Rev. C.M. Selleck and the reading of Crandall’s original poem (sampled above)–the Advocate refers to him as “the Robert Burns of Ponus Street and the talented author of many bits of verse.”

Full copies of the poem and historical address are available in the file at the New Canaan Historical Society—here’s a snippet from the latter:

“While we to-day raise a monument to the departed, we also plant for the living a greater-girth memorial than that of mere person-recall. In other words, these rites not only perpetuate their subject’s name, but they stamp for posterity certain oblivion-rescued facts in his history, and, consequently, augment the world’s stock of information; which latter, we conceive, is the climax of the day’s ceremony.”

The monument in June 1966 was listed with the State Register of Historic Places, according to a survey inventory supplied by the agency.

10 thoughts on “New Canaan Man Says 117-Year-Old Tomb on Ponus Ridge Obstructs Sightline

  1. The triangle at Ponus and Davenport Ridge has to be the most famous in town. Growing up I always admired the tomb and my mother used to tell me stories about the local tribes. I don’t know how she knew them but, perhaps from her father Dr. Markey Pullen. Anyway, two years ago when the Beautification League asked if I wanted to care for a triangle here in town, I immediately said YES and requested this one. I not only maintain it through weeding and trash removal but, trim the lower branches of the tree and cut back the Juniper bushes so that the correct line of sight is always open. Even the spring flowers I’ve planted are set back so as not to interfere with that sight line. The town also keeps an eye on the higher up branches and cuts them when necessary. In fact people have stopped there and thanked me for keeping it safe and if you ask me, it’s not the ability to make a left out of Davenport Ridge but, the fact that I’ve seen on more than one occasion a vehicle making a left from Ponus on the wrong side of the triangle and that has nothing to do with the stone being there so, I fully support Tiger Mann’s decision.

    • Thank you, Mr. Orteig, for your dedication to do what is good and right, and to your mother, who you were blessed to mirror and learn from at an age so early, you do this kindness naturally and to the benefit of all the other passersby who appreciate it, but who may not see you there to thank you for your precious efforts.

  2. I grew up about 500 yards from the statue and have always admired it, it gives the road and the town character and provides and important landmark related to the development of both New Canaan and the area. Given the lack of statistical data related to relevant traffic incidents in the area directly correlated to the stone and supposed “sightline” obscurement, I believe it would be entirely without merit to relocate it. This complaint seems petty and doesn’t take into account the historical significance of the piece. I applaud the DPW for declining this request in advance.

    • I came across this piece on a friend’s Facebook page, and am so thankful that it stirred her interest, mine enough to read the whole article, and yours and those along with you, to leave your voice here.

  3. Thank you, Steve Orteig, for caring for this site. We had guests from out of town this week who, when we were at that intersection, asked us to pull over so they could look at it as well as the small cemetery across the street from this monument. It’s lovely and one of the many quickly disappearing things that make New Canaan unique.

  4. “Bearing its message when our tongues are mute.”
    Other than street names, the memorial is the one reminder of the people who called this town home for so long. Seems like the town is doing the right thing by ignoring this obtuse request to move a piece of town history so he can get through the intersection more quickly.

  5. As a member of a family moving to the area in the late 1940’s, New Canaan has an integral and unique corner of my heart, through myriad memories and a brief time, living off Main Street. I’m reminded of that every time I come home to visit family and friends and drive through town. I can only add my heartfelt support to those above, and express gratitude for those who care now for these Southern New England Historical Landmarks and to those who wrote so wisely and eloquently throughout our human history of their vital importance to all who follow, regardless of the man of the future’s irreverent lack of regard and appreciation of the gift to live in an area of such a rich and sacred American history. I am far away now, but a powerful spirit blankets me whenever I am gifted with a chance to revisit such places. I applaud the decision to uphold what is for the greater good, over the whim of a spoiled, entitled, unappreciative hurried-up hedonist over those– who through time and absence– appreciate that, which once removed, can never be replaced.

  6. My deep apologies to go off on a tangent here yet I did not realize Stephen’s grandfather was none other than Dr. Markey Pullen. Dr. Pullen was nothing short of a miracle worker for me! As a year-around swimmer with a chronic ears-nose-throat condition, I do believe I was if not Dr. Pullen’s #1 customer, I was at least in the top 5! I called his office on Elm my home away from home. What I liked about him was never once did he allow me to feel sorry for myself. He would not tolerate me fretting over my constant continuum of ear and throat infections. Our family also regaled in his numerous amusing Dartmouth and McGill stories. He was quite a rich story teller who held a deep appreciation for history while still keeping up with modern technologies and protocols. Funny I was just thinking about Dr. Pullen as the winter was the season where I was a regular in his office. My dad used to like to try to quiz Dr. Pullen. Great memories of a great New Canaan Doctor. Still very much miss him.

  7. Wow.. I am a tribal member of the Ramapough Lunaape Nation of New Jersey/New York who descended from the Ramapoo and Chief Katonah. I have not visited the area but always planned to someday. Would be very interested in seeing these sights and visiting with the local historical society.


  8. Steve, We all appreciate the care you give to the triangle between Davenport and Ponus!! Loved reading about your Mom.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *