Now & Then: The Raymond House

Thanks to letters sent between the New Canaan Historical Society and Howard B. Raymond back in the 1950s, the early history of 32 Seminary Street is fairly complete. The house was built by Howard’s father, George E. Raymond during the summer of 1889. George Raymond was a carriage maker by trade and started his career in the Johnson Carriage Company located on the corner of East Avenue and Forest Street. Raymond, along with his coworker William Brant, started their own carriage business in 1898.  

 This shop was also located on Forest Street seemingly where Gelatissimo is now located. At some point Brant left the business but Raymond continued to work in the shop until his death in 1920. The mainstay of the business was repair work, but by most accounts Raymond was an excellent woodworker who could also build a beautiful carriage. Advertisements for the business were in almost every edition of the Advertiser for a decade. By the time of his death, cars had not become popular enough to have an effect on the business. However, his former employee, Henry S. Duryea, who took over the business upon his death, may have struggled due to changes in modes of transportation. Interested in sponsoring our local history feature “Now & Then”? Contact editor Michael Dinan at editor@newcanaanite.com for advertising details.

New Canaan Now & Then: The Hoyt-Mills-McGhie House

This photograph was taken sometime before 1888 of 372 Brushy Ridge Road, a home built by Timothy Hoyt in 1732. It was known as Long Meadow Farm. The man seated in the picture is Timothy’s descendant, Samuel Hoyt; his wife, Clarissa, stands in the doorway. Samuel Hoyt was a harness maker who most likely supplied the local farms. His most notable customer and neighbor was Gilbert Birdsall, who owned the Birdsall Inn on Main Street (now the Morse Court parking lot.)

Eventually the Hoyts sold the house in 1907 to Albert and Laura Mills. Little is known of Mr. Mills, a salesman for the Gage Hat Company, but his wife, Laura, is legendary. Twenty years after his death, she remained in the house with 13 Dalmatians for company, along with a herd of Jersey cows. According to Mrs. Harold Gillen in her article in “Landmarks of New Canaan,” Laura was a hoarder, and the house was filled with shoes and dirty dishes on the mantel, men’s nightshirts bulging from the drawers, and the constant drone of the radio. Despite the messy interior, Laura ran a successful dairy business and, in her own words, “was not afraid of man, beast or devil.”

Mills styled herself the “Witch of Endor.” As if to support this claim, Mills was never without her felt cloche hat that had taken on a point over the years. She claimed to be a member of the Mazdaznens religion. (This is most likely a misspelling of “Mazdayasnian” which is another term for the religion Zoroastrianism, an ancient Persian religion that was first recorded in the 6th century BCE.) Her membership in this religion is further supported by the care Mills gave her cows and dogs; she treated animals as if they were human. (A core belief in Zoroastrianism is that all living beings, both humans and animals, have an important role to play and must be treated as such.) In an attempt to convert Mr. and Mrs. McGhie, who purchased the house in 1933, Laura Mills gave them a pamphlet on her religion. The McGhies did not appear to have been convinced. Laura Mills is also the reason why there are no records on Samuel Hoyt’s harness business. Mills apparently threw the records and all the old furniture that came with the house into a bonfire at some point. She felt that, after the McGhies bought the house, they should simply burn it down and buy a Sears Roebuck mail order house to replace it. They refused.

New Canaan Now & Then: The John Brotherhood Company

The John Brotherhood Company, Inc. was founded in 1926 by John Brotherhood on the northeast corner of Park and Elm Streets. The original building was a simple wooden structure heated by a Franklin stove. 

When the firm outgrew this building, it was moved to the opposite side of Elm Street where it stood next to Franco’s for a number of years. The building was not there for long though, and was later moved to the New Canaan Nature Center (although it no longer appears to be there.)

The single story brick building, pictured above in 1944, had been built in 1936. A second floor was added in 1960. John Brotherhood was instrumental in developing New Canaan into what it is today. When Brotherhood first set up his business, Elm Street was unrecognizable. The north side of the street was mostly empty, the south side was a tumble of various stores, and Elm Street was known as Railroad Avenue. This began to change in 1929 when John Brotherhood helped to establish the Village Improvement Company. Its goal was to develop Elm Street into an attractive shopping district. The company bought up all the property on the south side of Elm from Park Street to South Avenue.

New Canaan Now & Then: Silliman’s

The Silliman and Weed, a grocery store, was formed in 1867 by Joseph Fitch Silliman and Chauncey Weed. This business was located on the south corner of Main Street and East Avenue, most likely in 102 Main Street now occupied by Personal Touch and Dashi Custom Tailors. After a few years, Silliman bought out Weed and moved the store to what is now 114 Main Street. (At this point the brick Raymond building, which was covered in a previous article, had not been built.) Renamed Silliman & Co., the store occupied a two story wooden structure, and sold groceries along with hardware, furniture, and crockery. It also sold small farm equipment to the local farmers.