New Canaan Now & Then: Town Hall


77 Main St.

New Canaan has had several town halls since it was founded 221 years ago.  The current Town Hall is actually the fourth, but only the second one built especially for that purpose.  

Although New Canaan was incorporated as a town in 1801, the first town hall was not built until 1825.  Until that time, town meetings were held in the Congregational Church, and the clerk’s office and treasury were housed in a business run by Samuel St. John.  When St. John passed away in January of 1825, town officials finally felt that they needed a dedicated building out of which to run town business.  In the next few months, officials decided to build just north of the Congregational Church on land purchased from Joseph Silliman Jr., the third owner of what is now the Hanford-Silliman House.  To fund the purchase of the land and to cover the construction costs, an extra tax of 2.5 cents on the dollar was authorized (on what we assume was property taxes) and four other town owned buildings were sold.  The building seemed to serve its purpose very well as it was the seat of government here for the next forty years until the town sold it in 1865.  Strangely, upon its sale,  the building was moved a few feet from the road and a few feet to the west. The Town House, as it is now called, is located at 13 Oenoke Ridge and it became the home of the New Canaan Museum & Historical Society in 1960.    

New Canaan’s second Town Hall was built in 1834 as the first Methodist Church.  This small structure was originally located on the north corner of Main Street and Church Street.   In 1854, the Methodists sold the building to a group of their parishioners, who had the structure moved up the hill by a team of oxen to its present location of 132-138 Main Street, the current home of Spiga.  The new owners then expanded the building  into a two story structure so that it could seat 500 people and opened the venue as the Concert Hall, even though lectures were much more common than any musical acts.  By 1865, the Concert Hall had gone out of business and the town bought the building for $1,125 despite being in financial trouble due to the Civil War.  The first town meeting was held in this building on October 3.  (The meeting actually started in the Town House, adjourned, and then reconvened and finished in the second Town Hall.) Even though the building has undergone many changes, it is still the second church structure in New Canaan, after St. Michael’s, which was built just two years before in 1832.  In 1908, the town sold the building to Benjamin P. Mead, who added the third story and gave 132 Main Street the facade that remains to this day.

In 1890, town officials had moved Town Hall up Main Street to the Nichols Opera House.  The Nichols Opera House was located at what is now 80 Main Street.  Oddly enough, the Opera House was built using plans for a town hall that town leaders had rejected.  With a few modifications to the plans, the Opera House was able to fit 850 people in its auditorium.  Town Hall offices were moved into the building as soon as it was finished in December of 1890.  They occupied the southern storefront  for $350 a month and the office was home to the town clerk’s office, and the selectman’s office.  The storefront served as a courtroom in a pinch. The basement of the building was converted into the town jail with three cells.  The auditorium was also rented out regularly for town meetings.  (The Opera House was the subject of a Then & Now article back in April, so for more details on the building and to read a story of infidelity and attempted murder scroll on back to that article.)

In 1908, the land for the fourth and current Town Hall was purchased.  Seventeen different designs were submitted for the new Town Hall, and after a review by a panel, the design by Edgar A. Josselyn of New York was selected.   Joselyn had worked in the area three years prior when he designed the old Stamford City Hall, 175 Atlantic Street.   Construction was finished in 1909 for a total of around $42,000, $3,000 less than expected.  It probably helped that the jail cells that were originally installed in the Opera House were reused in the building. The photo above, taken c. 1910, shows how the building was originally built.  Notice how the wings on either side of the building are absent.  These wings were added in 1937-38 and paid for by WPA funds.   When construction was done, the basement of the left wing served as the headquarters for the local police.  In 2015, an additional wing was added to the back of the building and the interior of the rest of the building at a cost of approximately $17.9 million. 

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

3 thoughts on “New Canaan Now & Then: Town Hall

  1. New Canaan Now and Then makes a strong point in this tracking of the changing land uses on Main Street which have not required the sacrifice of the late 19thc and early 20thc collection of historic structures that presently form the street facade that provides the New Canaan village character that so defines the community. Why is it that the 1913 library building on its current site anchoring the Main Street corner can be so sacrificed for a lawn? The proposed repurposing of this building for contemporary land uses only follows that commitment to retaining the New Canaan architectural heritage while respecting the need for a community to maintain economic vibrancy. All of the buildings cited in this article have successfully undergone renovation and reuse without requiring demolition. So why not the 1913 library building? This is not a question of resources, but of leadership. Thank you for New Canaan Then and Now.

  2. I grew up in New Canaan and attended public school through 12th grade. It was a wonderful town.
    I spent many hours in the old library building and loved its charm. The idea that this building should now be torn down is an abomination.How the leadership of today can ignore the town’s unique history and desire to maintain its old structures is beyond me
    So sad…..

    • Thank you for your comments, Susan and Margaret.

      Kindly note that Public Comment will be allowed this morning, Monday, August 29 at 10 am in Town Hall and via Zoom about the issuance of a demolition permit related to the 1913 Library. Details below are from the Government Calendar:

      “There is a Special Historical Review Committee Meeting today Monday, August 29 at 10am – in the Board Room of Town Hall and via Zoom”.

      Please use the Zoom Link if you cannot attend this morning’s meeting in person.

      Consideration of the objection filed with the Town Building Official to the issuance of a demolition permit relating to the structure at 151 Main Street, New Canaan, CT 06840, as required by the Ordinance for the Temporary Preservation of Certain Historical Structures Subject to Proposed Demolition.

      Join Zoom Meeting
      Meeting ID: 862 7925 3503
      Passcode: 723661
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