The Crajah House at 757 Oenoke Ridge Road was named after the owners Charles Riley Abbot and Jane Anne Humphrey. The “CRA” for Charles and the “JAH” for Jane.
It was built beginning in 1886 and completed in 1887. A marble plaque still exists in the basement inscribed CRA-JAH HOUSE. The paddocks and gardens were added at a later date and the current barns were built in 1951, according to the land records.
The superintendent’s cottage, which was the original home on the property and known as the Betts Bagley House, was built between 1729 and 1733 by John Betts. The Betts Bagley House was moved further east and north to make room for the construction of the red brick Crajah House in 1886. Thomas Betts was the father of John Betts Jr. and was one of the first group of settlers in Norwalk, CT. The Betts’ land ran from Smith’s Ridge near the swamp at the head of Five Mile River and included land on the west side of the Five Mile River which undoubtedly ran up to the crest of Oenoke Ridge.
John Betts married Hannah Burwell and was a farmer and a carpenter. Mr. Betts owned the property from 1729-1730 before it passed to one of his five sons, John Jr., who built the original house with his father’s assistance. In 1729 he had purchased twenty acres on Canaan Ridge from Daniel Keeler (the land north and south was owned by Thomas Betts) at that time. John Jr. married Sara Gregory who joined the Congregational Church in Canaan Parish in 1741. The union between John Jr. and Sara Gregory produced nine children, although there are no records of their baptisms. Their son, John III, was mentioned as a vestryman at St. Paul’s Church in Norwalk and in 1782 his property in Canaan Parish was confiscated because he was “with the enemy in Long Island” (referring to the Crown). John Jr. passed his property to his widow and his son, Jesse.
In 1771 his widow Sara Betts and another son who had acquired John III’s interest sold the property to Nathaniel Benedict who owned it until 1782 when he left it to his son Isaac. Nathaniel Benedict was the son of Nathaniel Benedict and Mary Lockwood, a daughter of Deacon Lockwood. Nathaniel Sr. was the son of John Benedict, whose father (also named John) was the original Benedict to emigrate in 1638 from Nottinghamshire, England. Nathaniel Benedict died in 1806. Issac was born in 1751 and married Jane Raymond in 1773, who bore him nine children.
It is speculated that Nathaniel gifted 12 acres of land and the house to his son, Isaac as a wedding gift when he married Jane Raymond in 1773 but because of the confusion of the war period the transfer was not recorded. When Jane Raymond Benedict died in January 1794 Nathaniel married Mary Davenport on August 19, 1794. Mary Davenport was the daughter of Deacon Joseph Davenport. Mary Davenport Benedict bore two children, Mary Seely and Lorana (her name is also spelled Loranna in some records). Isaac Benedict joined the Congregational Church in 1781 and served as deacon from 1805 to 1840. In 1781 a deed from David St. John (for the estate of Sara Betts) describes the property as adjoining Isaac’s homestead land, suggesting Benedict increased his acreage at that time.
Isaac Benedict gave his daughter, Lorana, title in 1837 to the southern portion of the property, which included half of the house, the east half of the barn and the west half of the garden and had willed her the other half at his death in 1841. Lorana bought the two acres on her north together with a barn from her brother in 1842. In 1843 she married Emery Whitlock of Wilton. The 1867 Map of New Canaan lists the home as the Whitlock House. Charles R. Abbot purchased the property from the estate of Lorana Benedict Whitlock.
Shortly before the turn of the century, Oenoke roadway was straightened and moved to the west. The site of the old highway is still marked for some distance by two straight rows of trees. The original stone walls here were used by adjoining property owners in the area to aid in drainage of the new road. Both the brick house and Betts Bagley House were originally closer to the road. The first mention of the new building was in the August 28, 1886 Messenger article stating 100,000 bricks had arrived at the freight depot for the building of C.R. Abbot’s home which was to be 40 x 48 feet. Charles was referred to as “professor” because he was the Superintendent of School No. 1 in Brooklyn, New York. He was the son of Jonathan Abbot of Smith Ridge and his family was held in great esteem. Charles Abbot was one of three men that entered the ministry from St. Mark’s Parish but he never had his own parish. When he retired he decided to build his home on Oenoke Ridge. Charles Abbot died in 1901 and the estate was sold to William C. Clarke.
Clarke died in 1907 and the property was sold to Alfred H. Mulliken as part of his quest to create a new Tuxedo Park (see Advertiser May 2023). Mulliken kept the property until 1925 when it was sold to Thomas F. Cole. Cole, who was living in the next house north, had acquired all of the lands owned by Deacon Benedict on the Ridge more than a 100 years earlier. A year later, Louise Van Anden Frank and her husband George S. Frank (land records list the owners as Coleraine Realty Co.) bought the house and the 30 acres of land.
The Franks had been summer residents of New Canaan for fifteen years. They restored the home. In 1933 the property was sold to Dr. A. (Abernathy) Benson Cannon. Dr. Cannon was a professor of dermatology and Head of the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University. He died suddenly of a heart attack while hunting on his estate in Dutchess County on Nov. 27, 1950 at the age of 62. Dr. Cannon was the husband of Eleanor Moore Reid Cannon. In April 1946 the Cannons sold the property which consisted of 45 acres to Mr. and Mrs. Carroll Bagley. The superintendent’s cottage in the late 1940s was occupied by Mr. Frederick P. Bowes, a graduate of Dartmouth College and manager of advertising and public relations at Pitney-Bowes in Stamford.
The original Betts Bagley House was used primarily as a superintendent’s cottage until it burned to the ground in 1958. Real estate listings from the 1980s describe it as “colonial home with 2 bedroom guest or manager’s cottage (land records indicate a new cottage in 1960). Horse facilities include …fabulous barn, hayloft often used for Oktoberfest barn dances.” In November 1982 James G. Wayne purchased the property for $450,000. Wayne attended the University of Minnesota and Harvard Business School. He retired from a twenty six year career at Louis Dreyfus group. Mr. Wayne served on the Board of New Canaan Winter Club and Innis Arden Golf Club.Mr. Wayne was also elected to the Waveny Care Center Board in 1999. In 1991 Wayne applied and received a variance to expand the existing dining room which increased lot coverage from 4.2 to 4.3 (zoning regulation is 4 for the 4 acre zoning). In April 1994 an application by Wayne and Robert and Elizabeth Barker was presented to Planning and Zoning to subdivide the 36 acres into 6 building lots (a seventh lot will be given to the land trust).
In October 2002 the property was listed and the real estate brochure described it as having eight acres of land, a wrap around porch, port au cochere, and four working fireplaces. The barn had eight large box stalls at the time. It was purchased by William N. Gardner Jr. for $4.2 million on August 28, 2003. In 2004 William Gardner and Judy Larsen sub-divided the property into two four acre parcels. One of those parcels was sold to Thomas C. and Kathleen Albertson on May 20, 2004 for the purchase price of $3.45 million.
The subdivision sparked a controversy because it put the two historic barns at risk of being demolished. The issue was resolved by excluding historic buildings from the lot coverage.
On May 31, 2011 Kevin McQuilkin purchased the property for $4.275 million. Kevin and his wife, Debbie, moved to New Canaan in 1990, lived in a house on Ponus Ridge and then ten years later moved to 575 Oenoke Ridge. The McQuilkins named the property “Abby Normal Farm.” The McQuilkins had a full menagerie in residence when they owned the property including alpacas, NewFoundlands, hens and a parrot. Debbie McQuilkin was instrumental in creating the Storm Ice Hockey Team for ASHA (American Special Hockey Association). Her own three boys (she also has a daughter) all played hockey at the New Canaan Winter Club and two at their respective high schools. Kevin McQuilkin was an investment banker and a graduate of the Kellogg School of Business. The McQuilkins sold the property on Feb. 10, 2022.