Waveny Poised for Listing in National Register of Historic Places

Waveny Park—crown jewel of New Canaan, gift of the Laphams and site of so many community touchstones, from youth sports, Mosley Hill and weddings to fireworks, nature hikes and sledding—is poised to take an important step toward listing in the National Register of Historic Places, following an informative public hearing Thursday night.

Inclusion in the register puts no restrictions on the property and would allow New Canaan to apply for funds in the form of matching dollar-for-dollar reimbursement grants that could go toward restoring parts of the original Olmsted-designed landscape or work on Waveny House and its many outbuildings—planning, conditions assessments, architects’ fees and feasibility studies, state officials said during a meeting of the Town Council Land Use & Recreation Committee.

Waveny is “in wonderful shape right now as far as its integrity is concerned, so you’re starting with a really good product,” said Mary Dunne, administrator of the State Historic Preservation Office.

“And so I’m assuming you want to keep it that way,” added Dunne at the hearing, held in the Training Room of the New Canaan Police Department.

Attended by more than 20 guests, the hearing followed two public meetings on the matter of listing Waveny on the National Register of Historic Places —first before the Park & Recreation Commission in May, then the full Town Council in July.

Town officials have moved deliberately through the process as Waveny ranks among New Canaanites’ most cherished amenities.

In an opening presentation, Rose Scott Long of the New Canaan Preservation Alliance—the local nonprofit group that’s been driving this effort and has offered to pay the application fee (which could be as high as $30,000)—allayed many of the most commonly expressed fears with regard to the Register. Listing does not restrict a property owner’s right in use or development (or sale), does not require that properties be maintained, repaired or restored, does not automatically convey some special historic district status and does not mean projects on historic properties are subject to state review, Scott Long said.

Bill Holmes, a vice president of the NCPA, told the committee that “this is not a set of handcuffs for the town.”

“This is simply a key that if the town wishes at any given moment of any facet of a project at Waveny to open a door that could lead to significant amounts of funding,” he said. “The only thing that makes this so important to us, of course, is the enormous amount of work that Waveny needs.”

What Waveny needs is more than just $10,000 or $20,000, Holmes said.

“And as a taxpayer of New Canaan, I simply would like to see my tax dollars matched by the federal government or the state government if it’s at all possible,” he said.

One question facing town officials now is whether to apply for historic status for just Waveny House or the entire park, including its outbuildings.

Attendees at the meeting and state officials both urged the town to do the latter.

“We personally would like to see the entire park and contributing buildings, partially because we know that there is work to be done on every aspect there, but also because it is an ensemble, it all goes together and it all should be considered as one,” Scott Long said.

Laura Mancuso, construction grants coordinator with the State Historic Preservation Office—echoed that statement added that the property as a whole has historical significance.

“The house alone is significant, but the house in its setting is more significant,” Mancuso said.

Some buildings in Waveny Park, including the Powerhouse and Carriage Barn, were part of original property owner Thomas Hall’s 1894 “Prospect Farm,” with its shingle-style mansion, demolished to make room for Waveny House, according to Mimi Findlay, chairman emerita of the NCPA (a full history from Findlay can be found at the end of this article).

The park was created by the Olmsted Brothers from the 1911 siting of Waveny House through the next generation in the “Country Place Style,” according to Findlay.

Ruth Lapham Lloyd, who married Samuel R. Lloyd in 1924, had seven children and moved into Waveny mansion in 1940, Findlay said, and one of them is Christopher Lloyd, the actor of “Taxi” and “Back to the Future” fame who attended a 100th anniversary celebration at Waveny House in 2012.

Lloyd himself wrote a letter to the Town Council dated Nov. 4. Here it is in full, the article continues below:

Councilmen,

I would like to express my support of the proposal to nominate Waveny Park and all of its contributing strutures and landscape to the National Register of Historic Places. The cost of preparing the nomination will be donated by the New Canaan Preservation Alliance. Waveny is an architecturally  and historically significant site locally and nationally and deserves the recognition of being included in the national listing of America’s most historic sites.

Listing Waveny on the National Register will provide the opportunity to apply for available government grants and funds. The significance attached to this listing will increase the potential of fundraising for projects necessary for the maintenance and improvement of Waveny House, Waveny Park and all the contributing structures at this Gem of New Canaan which serves as a heartbeat of our community.

We ask that you support the proposal of the New Canaan Preservation Alliance to nominate Waveny Park and all of its contributing structures and landscape to the National Register of Historic Places. It is our community obligation to recognize and preserve this legacy for future generations.

Sincerely,

Christopher Lloyd

The property was sold to New Canaan in 1967 by Lloyd’s mother, who passed away 30 years ago.

New Canaan’s Terry Spring, a member of the Board of Selectmen at the time the town acquired the property, said at the meeting that Ruth Lapham Lloyd “would be absolutely thrilled, and the family would be thrilled, to know that this was happening because actually one of her big objectives in giving the property was she hoped that the Waveny House would be preserved—possibly for older people.”

Spring, echoing some of what Recreation Director Steve Benko had said about Waveny operating at one time as a working farm, remembers “having tramped the property with the architects trying to find a place for the Waveny Care Center, we were very cautious about this but one reason we chose the corner, which Steve Benko knows had the chicken coops, that was the chicken coop part of the farm, we chose the corner partly because of the accessibility of ambulances but mostly I think because the Lapham family were very glad we were trying to keep the essential piece of property as much of it as possible in tact. And I think that is important and I think how generous they were and that’s something I think we should consider as a town.”

Former New Canaanite and NCPA member Jessica Matteson, now of Fairfield, told the committee that she had undertaken a research project about Waveny and—after studying maps, plans, aerial photographs and letters—discovered “how significant a property it is and what an important piece of work it was for the Olmsted firm.”

Planting Plan for Upper Garden at present-day Waveny, from Olmsted Brothers, Landscape Architects, 1913.

Planting Plan for Upper Garden at present-day Waveny, from Olmsted Brothers, Landscape Architects, 1913.

“I have to say, plantings often become outdated, but I was incredibly impressed by the plantings—the specific plant species called out by the Olmsted firm—they are still viable plantings today, not all of them but particularly the native ones that are surrounding the property,” Matteson said.

Town Council members including Roger Williams, Penny Young and Bill Walbert asked about the application process, vetting and hiring of contractors (all state work must be publicly bid) and success rates among applicants for the construction grants.

Asked about what types of projects the NCPA has in mind for Waveny House specifically, Scott Long noted chipping flooring on the first floor, the fireplace in the Great Hall could be cleaned and a tapestry over the fireplace in the dining room that may be restored. She—and New Canaan’s Jeff Holland—also made a point of saying that ADA-compliance should be a priority, so that everyone can enjoy Waveny House.

One longtime advocate for open space at Waveny, Skip Hobbs, urged the committee to include not just Waveny House but the entire 263-acre property (exclusive of the high school) in the register application—in part, because the natural property itself needs rehabilitation.

“The forest and trails through the forest are in terrible shape,” Hobbs said. “We have terrible invasives, vines, we have trees coming down the ash trees are all dying, the hemlocks are all dying, we have washouts in the trail, the town has never been able to find the budget to really restore that forest woodland, and it was part of the Olmsted design, the forest and the trails through the forest.”

Park & Recreation Commission Chair Sally Campbell told Long she likely would need to come before the group again, since what they backed was a plan to list Waveny House, not the entire park and its buildings, on the Register. Walbert said the Town Council likely had enough information now to take up a formal vote at its Nov. 19 meeting.

***

Here’s a history of history of the present-day Waveny Park property, from Mimi Findlay:

Waveny Park encompasses the planned landscape of the first resident, Thomas Hall, and later of the second resident, Lewis Lapham and his children, as an “American Country Place.

The Hall Era: Thomas B. Hall, President of the American Hide and Leather Co[1], in 1895 purchased the 90-acre farm of the 18th century Elisha Leeds, creating the winding driveways and stone gateposts that remain today.  He built a three-story Dutch Colonial residence with views over Long Island Sound. Over the years Hall added acreage, planted orchards and gardens and farmed.  He erected numerous outbuildings including a carriage barn, an ice house to store blocks cut from the pond, a stone water tower, a superintendent’s cottage on the foundation of the Leeds’ farmhouse, and a power plant that ran on coal shipped by rail to the Talmadge Hill siding and then hauled to the farm in wagonloads. [2][3]

The Lapham Era: In 1904 Lewis H. Lapham purchased the property from Hall.  He was the son of Henry G. Lapham, a colleague of Hall’s in the leather business, preparing to establish the United States Leather Company when he died in 1888.  Lewis Lapham immediately hired the Olmsted Brothers, successor firm to Frederick Law Olmsted, to assist in the siting of a new residence to be designed by Brooklyn’s renowned architect, William B.Tubby, now living in Greenwich, and to create a grand landscape with gardens, terraces, small decorative garden structures, and an area of farm buildings. 

Correspondence, In the National Park Service’s Olmsted Archives in Brookline, MA, there are over 100 letters between the firm and the Laphams, documenting the interaction between Lewis and Antoinette Lapham and the Olmsted Brothers firm, starting with John Charles Olmsted, who hadattended the Sheffield Scientific School Yale University, who tried in vain to convince the Laphams to adopt scientific farming methods, breed special animals and plants, and practice “Aesthetic forestry.”       

As the new house progressed from 1911 to 1917, the Olmsted firm sent several landscape architects of great talent and national reputation, Percival Gallagher, trained as an artist, and A. Chandler Manning, a horticulturalist, to work with Antoinette (Dearborn) Lapham, on the Waveny plantings and landscape.   She was a founding member of the New Canaan Garden Club and also the national treasurer of the YWCA during World War I.

At the urging of son Jack, a polo field was installed by 1915 and at least 50 acres of lawn became an informal putting green and driving range for his father.

It is possible that Waveny’s landscape and gardens were photographed by Frances Benjamin Johnson, pioneer in photographing gardens during the American Country Place Era (1909-1927).

When the Merritt Parkway was designed, the Olmsted firm returned to mitigate the effects on the Lapham property, which was to be transversed.  A tennis court, a polo field, and a tennis court were incorporated into the landscape design over the years.[4]

Ruth Lapham Lloyd, married Samuel R. Lloyd in 1924, had seven children and moved into Waveny mansion in 1940, when her mother moved into the Bungalow, Lewis H. Lapham having died in 1934. One of her children was Emmy-Award winner Christopher Lloyd, the actor. After Mrs. Lapham had moved to California and then died in 1956, Mrs. Lloyd was the inheritor of the property. By 1967 she had given two parcels of land to the Town of New Canaan for a new High School and then made Waveny, including the mansion, available to the town for purchase. Subsequently, she became a benefactor of the Metropolitan Museum, establishing an endowment to keep it open to the public on Thursday nights.

Ruth Lloyd’s brother, Roger Lapham, was Mayor of San Francisco.  His grandson is Lewis A. Lapham, writer, author of numerous books on politics and current affairs, was editor of Harper’s magazine until 2006 and founder of Lapham’s Quarterly, a new journal about history.[5]

Significance: The buildings and landscape are of state and probably national significance, designed by prominent architects and landscape architects to create an “American Country Place”. In addition the individuals involved in the history of the property also have state and national significance as entrepreneurs, as participants in the early 20th century women’s movement, as politicians, actors and writers. 

[1] Chicago Securities, Vol. 18

[2] Carol Valentine  http://www.newcanaandarienmag.com/n/July-2008/The-Magic-of-Waveny/

[3] Lois Bayles, Mary Louise King, and F. David Lapham, The Story of Waveny, New Canaan CT: The New Canaan Historical Society, 1969  

[4] Lois Baylis, Mary Louise King and F. David Lapham, The Story of Waveny, New Canaan Historical Society 1969 p.15.

[5] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lewis_H._Lapham

One thought on “Waveny Poised for Listing in National Register of Historic Places

  1. This is a tremendous honor and notable distinction! Not to dininish anything from this historic listing but glad to see NCHS Post-Prom Party place makes good! 🙂 But that is just the thing with Waveny – the property is so versatile and fits different occasions. There is something there for everyone. It is a town jewel – a green town jewel! Again, great news!

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