New Canaan Now & Then: Woodsedge


481 Canoe Hill Road in New Canaan

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

The house located on Canoe Hill Road was originally a sixteen acre parcel of land that was a land grant to Colonel James Lockwood for his service to the King of England in 1683. 

The Rock School, currently an historic museum on the campus of the New Canaan Museum & Historical Society, was once located on this original parcel of land that adjoined the property located at 481 Canoe Hill Road. 

The town’s property records indicate that the house on the property was built in 1750 and has undergone significant renovations throughout its history. The original house was constructed farther from the road than was customary at that time. It was expanded in 1858 into a Victorian house. The remnants of that 1858 structure serve as the rear part of the current home, which includes a family room, kitchen, pantry, laundry room, back porch. In 1920 an addition was added that created a 8,662 square foot Georgian colonial.

Mr. Edgar Rickard and his wife Abigail owned the property when it was transformed from Victorian to a Georgian colonial. In some articles the home is referenced as “Woodsedge.” Mr. Rickard was born in France in 1874. Ms. Abigail Ella Church was born in La Conner Washington in 1882. The Rickards were married in 1905 in San Francisco.

Mr. Rickard was a personal friend of President Herbert Hoover. The two men became acquainted when President Hoover was a student at Stanford University and Mr. Rickard was a student at the University of California Berkeley. Both men were mining engineers and their friendship spanned many decades. In 1919 Mr. Rickard joined Hoover as the joint director of the American Relief Administration. He had been promoted to director by 1922. In 1931 the Daily Advocate reported that Mr. Rickard was responsible for handling Hoover’s personal fortune and that, prior to beginning his presidential campaign, his investments were transferred to Government Bonds. Mr. Rickard was one of two vice presidents of the Pitney Bowes Postage Meter Company in 1932. In 1932, he publicly denied that President Hoover had any (then or at the time written) oil investments in foreign countries. In June 1933, his name appeared on a preferred list to the Congressional Committee which had been inquiring into the affairs of the J.P. Morgan Company as it related to former President Hoover. At the time, Mr. Rickard was the President of Androscogin Water Power Company, President of the Peipscot Paper Company and had other interests. In 1941 Mr. Rickard received, along with four others, the Silver Buffalo Award for the Boy Scouts of America for “outstanding service to boyhood of a  national or international character”. He died in San Francisco on January 21, 1951 at the age of 77.

Abigail Rickard was elected as a member at large of the Board of Directors of Girl Scouts of America in 1927 (along with the wife of former New York Governor Nathan Miller). She became the National Treasurer of Girl Scouts, Inc. Ms. Rickard was also a personal friend of the Hoovers. The Rickards had two daughters: Marguerite born in 1912 and Mary Elizabeth born in 1907. In April 1929 it was reported that Mrs. Hoover broke precedent by driving her own car and Ms. Rickard and her daughter, Marguerite, were passengers. The Rickards were reportedly guests at the White House in 1930. When Mary Elizabeth Rickard married Reginald D. Mohum in October 1929, Mrs. Hoover attended the ceremony. Ms. Mohum died at the age of 90 in Tacoma Washington. 

Ms. Marguerite Rickard married Graham Hoyt of New York City and Darien in April 1932. Mr. Hoyt was a student at the Yale School of Architecture at the time. He was the grandson of the philanthropist Anson Phelps Stokes. Mr. Hoyt’s mother, Ethel Valentine Phelps married John Sherman Hoyt. Ms. Hoyt died in Sarasota, Florida in1991 at the age of 78. Ms. Abigail Rickard died in 1938 and Mr. Rickard sold the property.

The property, which included the house, three barns and six acres, was sold in 1938 to Alanson C. and Mignon Eberhart. Ms. Eberhart was the author of many mystery novels and details of the home can be found in her books. Mignon Good Eberhart was born in Lincoln, Neb., on July 6, 1899. She studied for three years at Nebraska Wesleyan University. She married Alanson Eberhart in 1923 and began her prolific writing career. While she lived in Connecticut she attended guest writer luncheons and various community events at the Darien Community Association including a 1959 discussion entitled “The Inherent Value of the Creative Experience.” She was one of the original writers at the “Famous Writers School” founded in 1961 in Westport.

The school was founded by Bennett Cerf, a Random House editor and well-known television personality, Gordon Carroll, an occasional editor for Reader’s Digest, and Albert Dorne, an illustrator whose school, the Famous Artists School, owned Famous Writers. It began operations in 1961, based in Westport, Connecticut. The ubiquitous advertising copy for the school, which was often found in the back of magazines, listed the following writers (who were also stockholders) as the school’s “Guiding Faculty”: Faith Baldwin, John Caples, Bruce Catton, Bennett Cerf, Mignon Eberhart, Paul Engle, Began Evans, Clifton Fadiman, Rudolf Flesch, Phyllis McGinley, J.D. Ratcliff, Rod Serling, Max Shulman, Red Smith and Mark Wiseman.

Between 1960 and 1969, revenue from tuition increased from $7 million to $48 million, and the stock increased in value from $5 to $40. Radio spots featuring Guiding Faculty, including Faith Baldwin and Mignon Eberhardt, being interviewed by Bennett Cerf were aired. By 1964, they were offering four different programs: fiction, non-fiction, advertising, and business writing. The school went into bankruptcy in 1972 after the journalist Jessica Mitford wrote an article entitled “Let Us Now Appraise Famous Writers” for McCall’s (that it declined to print because it feared Bennett Cerf’s response). The article was printed in the July 1970 article of the Atlantic Monthly. At the time of her death in 1996 Ms. Eberhart had written 59 books.

In 1979 John R. Laird purchased the six acre property for $320,000. Mr. Laird’s wife Ruth Laird was the daughter of the Rev. Louis Young. Rev. Young retired from the Centerport United Methodist Church in 1980 and moved to New Canaan. During his 10 years in New Canaan he was involved in community service at the Congregational Church of New Canaan, the Kiwanis Club and the Waveny Care Center. He died in 2003 in New Hampshire. 

Ms. Laird worked as an aide at the New Canaan High School, and served as president of the League of Women Voters. Ms. Laird was also a member of the Works Progress Administration Arts Committee (WPA committee) that helped restore the “lost” paintings of Ernest Maxwell Albert which were installed in the Lapham Center in 1997. The Lairds sold the home to the present owners in October 2020.

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