New Canaan Now & Then: Rose Hill


255 Brushy Ridge

‘New Canaan Now & Then’ is sponsored by Brown Harris Stevens Realtors Joanne Santulli, Karen Ceraso, Bettina Hegel and Schuyler Morris.

The property located at 255 Brushy Ridge Road has been a sought after location since the 1800s.

The property was purchased by Frederick Weed Lockwood in 1880. Mr. Lockwood was the son of Major John Lockwood and Mercy Weed. He was born on November 2, 1833 and was married to Mary Amelia Bowles (born in 1836). The Lockwoods had five children: Frank, Amelia, Annie, Harry, and Florence. Sadly, both Frank and Annie died as children. Harry and Amelia born in 1875 and 1865 respectively have no recorded date of death. Florence Millington Lockwood lived a full life and married William H. Reid. The Reids made their home in New Canaan. A July 1916 Advertiser article reports that the area was known as “Rose Hill” in the old deeds because there was apparently a “delightful vision of a wilderness of wild roses (God’s roses)” where the estate was located. 

Mr. Lockwood was a friend and business associate of John D. Rockefeller and worked at Standard Oil. When he purchased the property he reportedly tore down the old homestead and built a 20 room Victorian mansion and erected additional outbuildings. According to an Advertiser article dated November 19, 1970, he expanded his holdings to include acres of “choice land, overlooking Long Island Sound.” The property soon changed hands in 1889 for the sum of $25,000 to a New York City contractor, John Downey. The Downeys were described as a “phenomenon in the community” and reportedly “lived in a dashing style, with a four horse tally-Ho and footmen equipped with a warning horn” to alert people to clear the roads before the train times on Monday mornings when they came “spanking through town”. 

John Downey died in 1899 and the property was sold to a German immigrant, Benedickt Fischer, for $35,000 which included 90 acres of land. Fischer was many times over a millionaire and started his career in the coffee business in New York City at the age of 19, which became Astor Coffee. He enlarged the company under the name of B. Fischer and Company, which soon became one of the leading concerns in the city. Fischer was a gifted businessman and his greatest success was the Encaustic Tiling Company in Zanesville, Ohio. Encaustic tile is ceramic tiles in which the pattern on the surface is not a product of the glaze but of different colors of clay. Fischer became interested in encaustic tile in 1874 when it was only imported from Europe. He guided his tile business for thirty years until European encaustic tile no longer dominated the market. When Fischer retired, he turned his business over to his son in law, Emil Kohler, who married Leonora Fischer. The Kohlers purchased three acres of the estate on Rosebrook Road and built their own summer home in 1909. The company fell on hard times during the Depression, and eventually merged with another to form the American Olean Tile Co. 

Additionally, in the 1890s Fischer invested in the Mauser Manufacturing Company and became its vice-president. The company was a well regarded silversmith brand and approximately 10 years after Fischer’s death it became part of the Gorham Silver Company. Fischer also helped found the Riverside Bank and was a large investor in New York real estate. Fischer died unexpectedly on the elevated train on his way to work on March 16, 1903 at the age of 62. His close family all spent time at the estate at 255 Brushy Ridge.The Fischers had at least nine children and many grandchildren. The 90 acre estate included a bowling alley, a water tower, a greenhouse, dairy barn, staff cottages, and formal gardens.

 His eldest daughter, Antonia, married Charles E. Diefenthaler, who was an officer at the B. Fischer Company. In 1903 the Diefenthalers purchased eight acres across from Brushy Ridge Road and then increased their land purchase to 56 acres in 1912. Antonia died in 1926. The third daughter, Florence Josephine, married Dr. Kosmak, a successful physician in New York.  She died in 1966. The youngest daughter, Irma, married Frederich Matthesius who was an architect and ran a successful construction business. She died in 1967. Fischer’s son, William J. Fischer, worked for his father’s company. An interesting story appeared in the Advertiser dated May 25, 1911: apparently a young man, Harry Wolfel, spotted a pole on the Fischer property which he believed would make a fine flag pole for the town. A train of investigation was started and apparently Mrs. Fischer intended to give the pole to the country club but agreed that it would be better used as a flagpole at town hall. 

Mrs. Fischer continued to live on the estate until her death in 1937 at the age of 89. She was heavily involved in the garden club and hosted charity events at the property. In 1912 she hosted a benefit for the St. Mary’s Convalescent Home for Children in New York where one of the highlights was “character reading from handwriting through the kindness of Mme. du Muro.” The Fischers continued to reside in New Canaan as part time residents, splitting their time between New York and New Canaan. 

When the estate was divided, the real estate brochure at the time described the “Main residence [as] a substantially built home of frame shiplap construction supported by cut-stone foundations and containing 20 rooms and 3 baths of which six are family bedrooms. First floor contains a music room with pipe organ, library living room, billiard room, two porches, dining room, pantry… second floor reached by two stairways has six bedrooms, a sitting room, open porch and three baths. Third floor – seven rooms and two baths… water tower and bowling alley .” The property with the house was sold to John Kellam in 1938. Mrs. Julie Kellam was a song stylist and appeared at the Deer Crest Inn in Banksville. John Kellam ran his insurance and appraisal  business next door at 265 Brushy Ridge Road. The Kellam’s owned the property until the 1980s. 255 Brushy Ridge continues to attract owners that appreciate its commanding views and its impressive architecture. The Stauffer family (of soccer fame) owned the house in the 1990s. Emily and her brother Matt were honored by the New Canaan Alumni Athletic Association in 2017. 

5 thoughts on “New Canaan Now & Then: Rose Hill

  1. Love these little historical vignettes about New Canaan homes. In 1973, we purchased 276 Park Street, built I believe in theearly 1800’s and previously owned by the Haviland family, makers of the famous French china.line. 276 Park Street, right across from the entrance to Mead Park, was the last “in-toen estate”, 3 acres with beautiful French gardens and a georgous limestone swimming pool. When we bought it, the house still had lots of evidence of the Haviland’s turn of the century lifestyle. Butler’s pantry with hidden buttons to the main dining room, old glass fire extinguishers hanging throughout the house, etc. Lots of changes since we bought in the ’70’s (since sold) but I am sure the early history of that last of the in-town estates, which really marked the end of an era, would make a fascinating story. Miss that house and I miss that New Canaan we lived in beginning in 1966. Bill Croke/ Martha’s Vineyard, MA &Vero Beach, FL.

      • Bill – unfortunately there are no photos of the house in the Museum files. You were indeed correct that the Haviland family had an interesting history. If you have a photo of the house please send to the NCM&HS.

  2. I have another suggestion for a future article. There were two large yellow Victorian (?) houses set back from the street on the corner of South Avenue and Bank Street where the Leefair condos are now. I was told these residences were owned by a family named Valentine.

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