Historic Preservation: New Canaan Family’s ‘Ponus Ridge Chapel’ Project Underway

A closely followed historic preservation project is underway on Ponus Ridge. 

The new owners of the “Ponus Ridge Chapel,” a 1911-built structure located a few hundred feet north of Davenport Ridge Road, have had the interior of the long-neglected building cleaned and its main floor replaced. Once a community hub that functioned as gathering place for important events—church services, Sunday School, group dinners, fairs, christenings, weddings, holiday parties, meetings and the very first Walter Schalk dance classes—the Chapel hasn’t been used in some 50 years, according to town records. In December, after clearing legal hurdles that had dragged on for years, the Chapel’s next-door neighbors Brendan and Ainsley Hayes—owners of their own antique house—finally acquired the property and immediately set about a restoration project that local preservationists long have supported. After taking ownership of the property, they found a “ton of rot inside” the Chapel, Brendan Hayes told NewCanaanite.com when asked for an update. “The wood was all rotted and destroyed, including the framing, so that was fixed,” he said.

‘We Are Excited’: Long-Neglected Ponus Ridge Chapel To Be Restored

After years of disuse that dragged on due to bitter legal disputes, a neglected and deteriorating former chapel and community center on Ponus Ridge now is poised to be restored in a way that historic preservationists in New Canaan long have supported. The historic Ponus Ridge Chapel stands to be transferred from a dormant association to a neighboring property owner, clearing the way for its protection and eventual conversion into a privately owned structure that will be opened periodically to the wider community. “We are really happy about it,” said Brendan Hayes, next-door neighbor and soon-to-be owner of the Chapel property along with his wife, Ainsley, told NewCanaanite.com. “Restoring historic properties is one of the things we feel strongly about, so we are excited to be able to start this project—it is long overdue.” Once a community hub that functioned as gathering place for important community events—church services, Sunday School, group dinners, fairs, christenings, weddings, a funeral, dancing and art classes, holiday parties and meetings of the Ladies’ Aid Society, Farm Bureau and Fish and Game League—the Chapel hasn’t been used in some 50 years, according to town records. 

Since 1959, the ca.

Did You Hear … ?

One of the men brought up on misdemeanor charges by New York City police for climbing the Brooklyn Bridge in order to get a nice photo of Manhattan at sunrise Saturday was a 24-year-old New Canaanite, the New York Post reports. ***

Some of the New Canaan High School students who attended the boys varsity lacrosse game Saturday versus rival Darien misbehaved to the point where the principal of NCHS sent a letter that went to the wider school community to address the problem. The letter references “a number of incidents at the game” including alcohol consumption and profanity. It continues: “Consuming or possessing alcohol, threatening or harassing others, acting disrespectfully, and/or any behaviors that would not be tolerated in school will not be permitted at these contests. If it is witnessed, students will be removed from the game and may face significant disciplinary action in school, up to and including suspension.

Despite Court’s Decisions, Lawsuits Tie Up Restoration of Ponus Ridge Chapel

Though a judge this month found that town zoning officials acted properly in granting a variance designed to allow for the restoration of a long-neglected chapel on Ponus Ridge, the historic structure’s fate is unclear, as it remains tied up in multiple lawsuits brought by a New Canaan woman. In a decision issued April 11, Superior Court Judge Charles Lee affirmed the New Canaan Zoning Board of Appeals’ unanimous vote three years ago to allow for the rehabilitation of the legally nonconforming, 1911-built Ponus Ridge Chapel (see Lee’s full decision at the end of this article). Plans call for the conversion of the dilapidating structure into a guesthouse by its neighbors to the south, the Hayeses, with an easement to the chapel property at 424 Ponus Ridge for a parking space and septic system (at .14 acres, the chapel’s lot is itself too small). The president of the association that owns the building, now deceased, in 2012 had entered into an agreement with the Hayeses whereby the property would be transferred to them, in a complicated arrangement also involving New Canaan Library, following the organization’s dissolution. However, another member of the Ponus Ridge Chapel and Community Association—a group that hasn’t met in decades (the chapel itself hasn’t been used in 40-plus years)—neighbor Elizabeth Weed of 434 Ponus Ridge, filed two lawsuits designed to halt the proposed transaction.

Ponus Ridge Woman Files Lawsuit Appealing Neighbor’s Expansion Plans

Saying a neighbor’s plan to expand an antique home—coupled with plans to acquire the adjacent, long-disused Ponus Ridge Chapel and convert it into a private dwelling—would diminish home values in the area, a town woman is appealing a recent decision by the New Canaan Zoning Board of Appeals. Elizabeth Weed in a new lawsuit is seeking to nullify a variance granted Nov. 3 to her next-door neighbors on Ponus Ridge, the Hayeses. The variance would allow them to build an addition to the rear of their home within what technically is the front yard setback—in fact, the entire ca. 1840 house is located within that setback (many 18th and 19th Century homes are situated very close to the road).