The historic 1735-built Ferris Hill Road home slated for demolition June 1 will be spared because the group of preservationists that formed to save it will purchase the property with an eye on selling it on to a like-minded future owner, officials say.
Between funds raised and a generous dollar-for-dollar pledge from a town resident, the 8 Ferris Hill Road Group has enough money now to enter into a contract with the widely discussed 2.14-acre property’s owner, according to New Canaan’s Tom Nissley.
“The upshot is that the history of New Canaan is upheld with some integrity,” said Nissley, acting chairperson of the group. “It just would be wrong to eradicate that house and what it represents in the development of the town.”
On the radar of preservationists since it sold in November 2013 for $1,250,000, and a plan to develop the property soon emerged, the so-called “Hoyt-Burwell-Morse House” has been continuously occupied for 280 years, historians say.
Its owner has said he regrets purchasing the property at all, believing that neighbors would back his idea of preserving the old house while building a new one.
The month after he he bought it, the owner filed an application with the Planning & Zoning Commission for a special permit that would allow the antique home to remain as an accessory structure so that he could build a new house on the property (the combined square footage would go over coverage). Though the owner worked with preservationists and made some concessions in his development plan, several neighbors objected to its specifics, citing safety and aesthetic concerns, and in some cases requesting that P&Z impose requirements regarding the preservation of the antique, according to P&Z meeting minutes from January and February 2014.
In the end, on March 2 the owner filed an application to demolish the home—a move that drew objections from preservationists and other locals. Following a public hearing before the Historical Review Committee, the date of that planned demolition was pushed back 90 days, to about June 1.
According to Nissley, the 8 Ferris Hill Road Group is “preparing a contract to finalize the sale at about the same time as the demolition delay on the property expires.”
It isn’t clear just what group will take title of the property in the transfer, though the nonprofit New Canaan Preservation Alliance is likely, Nissley said. Asked about the cost, Nissley said only that the current owner is seeking to break even between what he paid and put into the property and no more.
More donations are needed, Nissley said, though helping to make the purchase possible is a New Canaan resident who heard about the situation and pledged a dollar-for-dollar grant matching donations to the group’s cause, up to $100,000. That resident has chosen to remain anonymous, he said.
Since they became active, members of the group—they include Historical Society Board President Mark Markiewicz and Executive Director Janet Lindstrom, Lesley Cousley and Rose Scott Long of the New Canaan Preservation Alliance, and Nissley, a member of the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation’s Board of Trustees—have proposed different ways the property could be developed while retaining the historic home.
Asked whether he has a specific prospective buyer, Nissley said no but that “everything sells.”
The group is prepared to take some loss between its purchase price and how much it would sell the property for, Nissley said. An easement will be placed on the historic structure to ensure its continuation, he said. Those who donate to the group would help see through not only this project but a standing fund is being created to ensure the preservation of historic structures elsewhere in town, he said.
Wes Haynes, a circuit rider for the Hamden-based Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation, has said that the house is “very well-preserved.”
“The original parcel has long ago been subdivided to what it is now, but the house has the original feeling with relation to the roads and it was cared for very well by the previous owner,” Haynes has told NewCanaanite.com.
Called the “Hoyt-Burwell-Morse House” in 1951’s “Landmarks of New Canaan” book, the structure itself hasn’t been registered on a state or national registry. In “Landmarks,” Edwin Hoyt Bouton identifies the home as one of those built and occupied by the Hoyts as that family moved from Norwalk to newly formed Canaan Parish in the 1730s, on what was called “House Ridge”—basically Canoe Hill Road as it rises from Carter Street, up and over the crest of the ridge, to Laurel Road on the other side. Future occupants are said to include Jonathan Burwell, Ezra Hoyt, Capt. Daniel Hoyt and Gilbert Birdsall (more on him here).
At least one local historian believes the house to have been occupied by Onesimus Comstock—a man born into slavery in New Canaan in 1761 and said by some to be the last living slave in Connecticut (there’s some debate; he died at 96 in 1857). Comstock had identified himself as “voluntary slave” in the 1850 Census for Norwalk—he’s buried in the nearby Canoe Hill Cemetery (which is off of Laurel).
Anyone interested in the preservation of the home can contact the 8 Ferris Hill Road Group at Save8FerrisHillRoad@gmail.com or Nissley at 203-966-4049 or 203-322-1400.