New Canaan Now & Then: The Seely House


605 Ponus Ridge

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

The Colonial house at 605 Ponus Ridge was built in 1751 and in 2003 was documented as being the eighth-oldest house in New Canaan. 

The land at that time was a gift from Obadiah Seely to his son Obadiah Jr. and included four acres of land on what was then called “Ponasses Ridge.” Mr. Seely Jr. had married Abigail Crissy the year before, and they had one child at the time, Hannah Seely, born on Dec. 18, 1750. The Seelys went on to have five more children: Obadiah born in March 1753, John born in December 1755, Samuel born October 1760 (and died in 1764), another Samuel born July 1765, and Abigail born March 1767. 

The house constructed at the time was a typical center chimney Colonial house with a centered front door facing the road. In 1995 architect Richard Bergmann and historian George Nelson visited the property and discovered that the roof rafters showed framing for a center chimney which was removed at an unknown date due to remodeling.

Mr. Seely, Jr., like his father and brothers, was a Loyalist. Their names were published by the local Committee of Inspection. The people of Stamford were told to avoid them. In January 1770, Mr. Seely Sr. received another 10 acres of land from his father on Ponus Ridge, making his total estate 14 acres. Mr. Seely died in 1778 at the age of 50. 

When his estate was settled two years later, his widow was given the customary one-third of the house and the other two-thirds were given to his heirs. It is interesting to note that his widow was given the portion of the house that included the kitchen and the heirs were given access to that portion of the home. It is speculated that the second parcel of land (the 10 acres) may have been sold at the time of his death to pay off debts. 

Mrs. Seely married Josiah Stevens before the turn of the century and was listed as owning the house (not the land). When her son Obadiah died in 1796, the land (which was in his name) passed to his younger brother Samuel Seely. His mother then deeded him the house. The 1800 Census shows Samuel Seely as living at the property, however in February 1803 he is listed as being from Pound Ridge when he sold 20 acres and buildings for $730 to Jared Seymour. Jared Seymour and his wife Abigail sold twenty two acres and buildings for $1050 on April 9, 1807 to Ezra Waterbury. Mr. Waterbury then sold the property the next day for the same sum to Hoyt Scofield. 

Mr. Scofield owned additional land and on April 18, 1818 he sold a total of 50 acres (which included the land where the property sits) to Elijah Scofield. Mr. Elijah Scofield gave Hoyt Scofield a mortgage and a note for $1500 which was paid off. In April 1834, Mr. Elijah Scofield sold five acres (which included the buildings) to his son Samuel for $1000. On the same day Samuel Scofield deeded the property to his mother, Hannah Scofield, who would own it and live there until 1869.

Mr. Elijah Scofield chose his wife Hannah as his executrix and stated in his will that each of his children would have equal shares of his property which was inventoried to be forty six acres, worth $36 per acre in 1838. Mr. Scofield was rich in land and poor in cash so the Norwalk Probate Court allowed his wife to sell real estate before the distribution of his estate was completed. It is unclear whether Samuel Scofield bought out the other heirs but the 1850 Census lists both Hannah Scofield (age 62) owning real estate worth $1500 and Samuel Scofield (age 42), a carpenter.  

The New Canaan Museum file includes a memorandum submitted by Anna Scofield Crissey from 1934 which states that the house was built in 1830 and remodeled in 1870 according to dates carved in a beam in the cellar (the beam no longer exists) and these dates don’t coincide with any land transfers of the property. It seems probable that a dwelling of some kind existed on this spot since 1751 (not 1830) according to Ms. Lois B. Bayles, town historian in 1972.

When Ms. Hannah Scofield died in 1870, she sold the home and five acres of land for $2500 to Martha Ann Flandreau, wife of James N. Flandreau of Yonkers, New York. The town assessor for 1870 listed the house at $1500, 7 acres of land (not 5) at $200, and Ms. Flandreau as the resident. In 1895, Ms. Flandreau sold the property to Anna M. Seely of New York City for $2000 (she was listed as a non resident) and lived in Detroit Michigan. In 1915 the title passed to her husband, Selleck Seely. 

When Mr. Seely died on July 3, 1917 the property passed to his son, Albert. Mr. Albert Seely was described in the Advertiser as being “for many years a Summer resident of New Canaan.” In July 1935, the property passed to his sister, Julia S. Pine. Ms. Pine never lived in New Canaan. On July 3, 1940 the property was sold to Margery Wells Van Steeden of Bronxville, New York for $6000 and included 6 acres and buildings. Her husband,  Peter Van Steeden was a well known orchestra band leader. It was reported that the Van Steedens intended to do extensive renovations to the property including erecting a guest house.  

The Van Steedens’ son-in-law, Daniel Conron, reported that the Van Steedens owned two other houses (the old red school and the A.S. Terry property) in the Ponus Ridge area and never lived at the residence. The Secret Garden Tour of the Nature Center in 2003 reported that the property was “abandoned for almost ten years,” and that the gardens remained neglected until the 1990s. In 1945, Ms. Van Steeden sold the property (which was then 3.389 acres) to George P. and Moira W. Braun. The land at the time was valued at $4400 and the house at $8,610. The Brauns built a two car garage, added a bay window to the south side of the dining room and an ornamental iron railing was installed on the small stone and brick front porch. 

Mr. Braun never listed his occupation in the New Canaan directories and the Brauns did not report that two of Ms. Braun’s sisters, Zillah Damian and Veronique Wall lived with them for many years. Ms. Damian died on May 23, 1966. Mr. Braun died on October 1, 1968 and Ms. Braun died February 4, 1986. Ms. Braun had the foresight to establish a trust fund for her brother and surviving sisters.  Ms. Wall, who was the head librarian for the city of Chicago’s public library system, died at the age of 79 on June 4, 1974. The trustee of this fund, Ralph A. Nichols, sold the property on August 22, 1991 to Mathew Zachowski and Lucia M. Mulkiewicz. The Zachowski family added an addition to the east of the house. In 2008, the Zachowskis were awarded a Historical Preservation Award for their “vision and tenacity” in rehabilitating the home. On August 24, 2009 the current owners purchased the property. 

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