New Canaan Now & Then: ‘The Gingerbread House’


281 Ponus Ridge

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

The gingerbread house on Ponus Ridge was originally purchased from the Sears Catalog and built in 1932. 

The property had belonged to the Hayo family as early as 1909. In 1913, Charles Hayo, who worked as a farmer, had a telephone installed at their property. In November 1914 it was reported that Mr. Hayo had broken ground and was building a new home north of his existing home on the property which the family moved into in 1915. In July 1933 the property was owned by Emily M. Hayo. 

Ms. Hayo was born on Feb. 3, 1890 and died in November 1968 in Florida. She had been a resident of New Canaan for 60 years before she died. She was the daughter of Matilda (also spelled ‘Mathilde’) Emily Bayersdorfer, (1867-1933), who was born in Switzerland, and Charles M. Hayo (1869-1956), who was originally from Hamburg ,Germany.  In addition to Emily, the Hayos  had two sons—Gustave and Charles (the oral history reports he went by Carl). The Hayo cousins, the Reinholt family, visited their family in New Canaan before they moved from New York City. 

According to the transcription of an oral history in the possession of the NCHS&M of Anna [Ann] Reinholt Eberhardt, her family home at 25 Weed St. was built by Bob VanName who was married to Jen DeForest. The DeForests were a large family in town and lived on Knapp Road. Esther DeForest Knapp lived further down on Knapp Lane and her parents lived on the corner of Weed and Knapp Road. Nellie DeForest Brower lived between the two and their other sister, Trudy, lived on Hoyt Street closer to Darien. 

Anna Reinholt was born in Norwalk Hospital on January 31, 1935. Her grandfather, John Bayersdorfer was from Bern, Switzerland and moved to the United States after WWI. Her mother was Pauline Mary Bayersdorfer. George Alvin Reinholt (1907-1996) had four children.  When their mother died, her sister, Pauline, came to help care for their children and eventually married George.  

In 1913 Miss Emily Hayo participated in an event at the Ponus Ridge Chapel where she and others were dressed as “belles.” Miss Haayo posed as Queen Elizabeth in long robes; others were dressed as an Indian maid, a Puritan belle and Queen Louise of Prussia. 

In March 1914, Gustav Hayo married Sarah Emily Avery and they lived on Ponus Ridge. Sadly, Sarah  died in August 1930 at the age of 33. Her brother Charles Jr. worked for a local merchant, D.H. Wyckoff in Springdale. Before her death, the Hayos enjoyed many family gatherings at their home on Ponus Street with relatives from nearby Stamford, Brooklyn and New York.

Emily Hayo owned the property on Ponus Ridge until she sold it to Frederick and Dorothy Brush in May 1968 for $25,000. Mr. Brush was an interior designer and transformed the nondescript Depression era house into its current gingerbread house creation with extensive Victorian moldings and stained glass.  Dorothy Brush was famous for making actual gingerbread houses.  In 1974, she won $500 for the first prize in Ladies Home Journal Christmas food competition with her Snow-man-in-the-box gingerbread creation. Dorothy grew up in Springdale and enrolled at the Art Career School in New York City after graduating high school. She met her husband when they both worked at Norcross in Stamford. 

When the property was sold in 2015 at the cost of $824,000 to its current owners the real estate listing stated that the present owner had started many of the interior projects that were never completed. The listing also detailed that the home had three fireplaces, a coffered ceiling in the dining room, cathedral ceilings in the primary bedroom and hand painted hardwood floors.

8 thoughts on “New Canaan Now & Then: ‘The Gingerbread House’

  1. Thank you so much for doing this story! Fred and Dottie are my Aunt and Uncle and I spent a lot of time in that house growing up. Many great memories were made in that home. One of them being that snowman gingerbread house! The house was always a cool place to visit when I was a kid. You never knew what project my uncle started or finished! It was nice to learn about its history of it and that the current owners love it as much as my aunt and uncle did.

  2. So many wonderful memories of visiting Aunt Dottie & Uncle Fred & David! I wonder if the 1/2 bath under the stairs has been redone 😉

  3. I grew up in the Hayo’s original house at 273 Ponus (formerly#23) which was next door to the Gingerbread House. My parents bought #273 from Charles Hayo in 1947. Mr. Hayo had built 3 houses on this property- the main house and 2 matching bungalows on either side. After he sold the main house to my family, Charles and his unmarried daughter Emily moved into the bungalow on the north side (which was turned into the Gingerbread house by the Brush family). Charles’ son Gus and wife lived in the matching bungalow to the south. This house stands on the corner of Sagamore and Ponus. (There is now another large house in between). I remember Miss Hayo very well. She was small “ old fashioned” lady who always wore black. She heated her house with coal and being frugal always sifted through the ashes to see if she could find any chunks to burn again. She baked coarse brown bread once a week and always gave us a loaf. She had a large vegetable garden and ‘put up’ her produce for the winter. She never wasted anything! She didn’t drive and depended on my mother and other neighbors for rides. After my mother died in 1968 Miss Hayo moved to Florida to be near relatives.

    • Wow! This is such great information – would you mind if I add it to our file at the New Canaan Museum & Historical society? It was difficult to decipher which houses were built and/or torn down so it is wonderful to have this clarification. I appreciate it!

    • Thank you for this information Susan! I remember your family well when I was a kid. Andy, Kelly, and I were great friends! Hope you’re doing well!

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