New Canaan Now & Then: Lt. David St. John Home


46 Park St.

The earliest real estate transactions regarding the parcel of land known as 46 Park Street date back to 1741. 

Land Records report that “proprietors of Norwalk” sold two acres at the upper end of White Oak Shade Ridge (as it was then called) to John Betts in 1741. Betts in turn sold the property to his son in law, Henry Inman of Bedford, New York for £28. There is no mention of any dwelling in these early accounts, but when Inman sold the property to Jonathan Husted on November 8, 1742 the deed reflects a home and a shop on the property. The home originally had the entrance on the north side of the building, unlike its modern configuration of the front door facing Park Street. The four rooms on the ground floor level were built around a central chimney with three fireplaces. 

In 1764 Lieutenant David St. John purchased the home, a shop, and fruit trees for £300. St. John was a colorful character and, unlike many of his neighbors, was not a farmer. Reports indicate that he was a captain, selectman, blacksmith and a “lister and sealer of weights and measures.”  Lieutenant St. John and his family were visited by Reverend William Drummond according to the “Journal of Family Visitations” on both April 28, 1772 and January 18, 1773. David St. John lived at the home until his death in 1796 when he passed ownership to his son, Samuel. Samuel owned the home from 1772 until 1825. Samuel’s daughter, Hannah, lived there with her husband, Reverend Theophilus Smith, until their deaths in 1854 and 1853 respectively. Hannah’s brother, also Samuel, was born in the house in 1813. He was a professor at Western Reserve College in Ohio. He returned to New Canaan and served as a professor of chemistry at the College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York. He also built his own home and observatory across the street. Dr. St. John died in 1867. The house remained in the St. John family until it was sold to Helen M. and Thomas W. Ashwell in 1919.

Thomas Ashwell graduated from Harvard in 1909 and was a retired publisher. He was the president of the board of the Community School, which was located in what is now the parking lot next to his home on Park Street, and he also served as Town Treasurer. Mrs. Ashwell coincidentally donated her 1915 wedding gown to the New Canaan Historical Society exhibit “Ten Generations of American Fashion: 1690-1870” and her great great grandmother’s travel journal from her 1815 sea crossing back to England. The Ashwells took on the momentous task of modernizing the home. The two rooms on the street side were combined into the present living room. The existing kitchen on the southeast side became a library. An addition was added that included a new kitchen and pantry.Mrs. Ashwell reportedly made cuttings from the 150 year old boxwoods on the lower level of the backyard to create the boxwood garden around the house. 

After the Ashwells, 46 Park Street had the good fortune of being owned by D. Dean Telfer who taught the History of Architecture and Design at Columbia. As the house was part of the historic district in town, Mr. Telfer had to seek permission for any renovations he planned for the building. In a letter dated March 8, 1976, Mr. Telfer describes the home as the “most difficult to deal with as an essay in historical design; because, while the three windows on the left were part of the original saltbox, the central four and the fan light date from the late 18th century, and the lean-to extension is possibly a century after that.” Mr. Telfer was committed to the architectural integrity of the exterior of the home. However, a March 16, 1989 Stamford Advocate article reported that a tenant of 46 Park Street mounted a vintage traffic light on the side of the house, which was apparently not an issue for the town police but was an issue for the Town Planner (and Telfer) because the building was in the historic district.

Property records suggest that the property was converted into condominiums in the 1980s. Mr. Telfer owned his residence from 1975 to 2004 when it was sold to Michael Fabacher. Mike and Mary Helen Fabacher renovated the house, combining the two established condos into one home. The grounds were improved by Paul Winsor, a landscape architect from Southport. In December 2007 the house known as “Copper Beech”was listed for $4.6 million. The property was sold to David L. Squiers in 2011.

“New Canaan Now & Then” is presented in partnership with the New Canaan Museum & Historical Society.

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