New Canaan Now & Then: The Alma Colbron House [Part 2 of 2]


4 Beacon Hill Lane

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

[Part 1 of this “New Canaan Now & Then” installment is published here.]

John Dickinson, formerly of Burton-on-Trent near Staffordshire England is the next owner of the property. 

Dickinson arrived in the United States with his wife and three children. Dickinson’s speciality was colorful satin slippers which he  sold to the Benedict shoe store. In October 1950 the Advertiser article reports that the small room where he made his shoes was the only room in the house that still had the original floorboards and indentations from the shoemaker’s craft was evident. John Dickinson’s English wife died and he married the woman who had been keeping house for him, Mrs. Quigg, who was originally from Ireland. John Dickinson lived to be nearly 80 years old and died in 1887. A year later the property (16 acres) was sold to Charles E. Keith for $1675. The Keiths sold the home to Margaretha and J. F. N. Seeth. Mr. Seeth served in a number of public offices, including acting as a grand juror. In 1912 Paul and Alma Colbron bought the property. The Colbrons installed modern plumbing and a furnace when they purchased the home. The “best room” of pre-revolutionary days was converted into a paneled library. The living room, the bedroom and the kitchen were converted by the Colbrons to an “L” shaped living room with a second fireplace. The smaller bedroom at the rear was remodeled into a bathroom. The Colbrons removed the front porch and built an addition which housed a dining room. A stonewing was added on the west to accommodate servants quarters and kitchen. The milk room was transformed into a study for the Colbron’s daughter, Barbara. Electricity was not yet available at the time of the renovations. 

Paul Colbron entered Princeton in 1903 but left in 1906 without graduating. He married Alma Diefenthaler on August 5, 1907 and they had two sons, William and David Colbron both of whom predeceased them. Colbron’s parents were William and Isabel (DeForest) Colbron and his grandfather was Cornelius Vanderbilt DeForest. Colbron’s sister, Grace Isabel Colbron died in 1943 and was internationally known as a translator of Scandinavian works. The William Colbron family moved to New Canaan in 1921 full time (formerly summer residents)  when William retired from the New York Stock Exchange. Paul Colbron is reported to be one of the first commuters in New Canaan, taking the train to New York out of the “next station from heaven”. In 1914 Paul Colbron served as the marshal of the “Red Men’s Parade” as part of the Red Men’s Carnival. The carnival was run under “the auspice of the Ponus Ridge Tribe” and was a four day celebration with an elected king and queen of festivities. Colbron was reportedly an expert horseman and was assisted in his duties by Jack Lapham who was riding his prized polo pony. Paul Colbron was cited for bravery at Belleau Woods in France in 1933. He reported to his Princeton class that he was engaged in art, architecture, ranching, and farming and lived in the following places: New Canaan from 1910-1936, Jackson Wyoming from 1929-1941 and Tryson North Carolina from 1941-1950. He married Italia Napollello on May 18, 1939, who had two children from a prior marriage. It is not known when he and Alma divorced. 

Alma Diefenthaler Colbron’s childhood summer home was Stoneleigh Manor, located at 255 Brushy Ridge Road. It was designed by Stanford White and was built in 1903. In 1909 her mother, Antonia, held the first exhibition of the New Canaan Garden Club at their home. Antonia died in 1927. In 1934, a bizarre story was reported regarding their gardener, Jacob Dvorachek. Dvorachek had been the gardener for the Diefenthalers, their daughter Alma Colbron and Mrs. Bliss (of Oenoke Ridge) and lived in a cottage at the edge of the Colbron Estate. He apparently mistook rat poison for cough syrup and died. Alma Colbron’s father, Charles E. died in 1946. 

Alma Colbron was an active member of the community, serving as vice chairman of the New Canaan Red Cross Disaster Committee for years. In 1945 she was chairman of the Research Bureau and sought volunteers for the “Clipping Bureau” which provided a valuable service to the Post War efforts. She died in 1962.  In 1963 she was honored (with other deceased members) by the planting of eight dogwood trees around the Mill Pond by the New Canaan Garden Club. 

Barbara Colbron inherited the family home until she moved to New Hampshire in 1989. She died in 2017 at the age of 102. Ms. Colbron was born in 1914 and graduated from the Madeira School and Bryn Mahr. She apprenticed as a teacher at the Shady Hill School in Massachusetts and taught at the Chapin School in New York. She was a captain in WWII in the women’s army corps and when she returned she began a long career in education, serving in numerous academic roles at her college alma mater. In 1945 she served as the assistant dean to the women at University of Wisconsin and four years later was the associate dean at Swarthmore College. At the age of 37 she became the headmistress of the Spence School in New York City where she worked for 18 years until her retirement. Ms. Colbron was heavily involved in the New Canaan Public Library, serving on the board for ten years and acting as president for five. In 1992 she sold the property to MDC Partnership, which was a development firm headed by Peter Marshchalk (fellow New Canaanite Ned Brooks was also a principal). The proposed plan for the 43 acre parcel was for fifteen building lots of between two and five acre parcels which required approval from the Environmental Commission, which it received in April 1993. The development resulted in the new road Beacon Hill Lane. Laurie N. Kelley purchased the home on November 9, 1994. The kitchen was renovated in 1997 and the bathrooms were remodeled in 1999. The new owners took possession in November 2020. 

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