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New Canaan's Hanford-Silliman House to benefit from fundraiser

Published 12:24 pm, Friday, April 26, 2013
  • The Hanford-Silliman House in New Canaan will receive further restoration through funds raised at the Wednesday, May 1, screening of the new Civil War film "Copperhead." The house belonged to a New Canaan private who served in the war. Photo: Contributed
    The Hanford-Silliman House in New Canaan will receive further restoration through funds raised at the Wednesday, May 1, screening of the new Civil War film "Copperhead." The house belonged to a New Canaan private who served in the war. Photo: Contributed

 

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New Canaan's first historically restored house will see further repairs through funds raised by the pre-release screening of the new film "Copperhead."

In 1761, 26-year-old weaver Stephen Hanford bought 10 acres on Haynes Ridge. Within three years, he built the gray, shingled house at the bend in the road, which is now called Oenoke Ridge.

In the 1790s, after several deaths and sales, the house came under the ownership of Dr. Joseph Silliman. A family of doctors, ministers and other town dignitaries, the Sillimans were an institution for generations. Some in New Canaan will remember Silliman's Hardware, which closed in 1981 after 114 years of operation.

Generations after Joseph Silliman, Justus Silliman enlisted in the Union Army when the Civil War broke out. He served in the 17th Regiment of the Connecticut Volunteer Infantry. A collection of his letters, mostly to his mother, was edited by Edward Marcus in 1984 for the New Canaan Historical Society.

"The attack commenced about 4 o'clock Saturday afternoon," Silliman wrote to his mother on May 18 from near Brookes Station, Va. "Five minutes after the first shot was fired, the bullets grape and shell came whistling and singing over our heads most melodiously. The waiters and others at the house jumped on their horses and were off in a hurry. The signal captain, after tearing his signal flags off their supports, followed their example. The Major told us to squat until further orders."

The New Canaan Historical Society purchased the house, then named the Hanford-Silliman House, in 1957.

"When (we) purchased the house, we took it back to the original times," Janet Lindstrom, historical society executive director, said. "Anything that was not authentic was removed. All the things that really told you the story of how people lived were kept."

The inside of the house is a look back into a long-gone time.

"Beds were often filled with corn husks or straw," Kim Mellin, historical society director of education, said on a recent tour of the house. "That's where the phrase `don't let the bed bugs bite' comes from -- there were really bugs in the mattress."

Mellin lifted the mattress, showing the rope cords that held it off the floor. Tightening the rope, which would gradually become slack and cause the beds to sag, is where the phrase "sleep tight" originated, she said.

But time has not left the house untouched. The windows are old and the sills are rotted and disintegrating. The paint is chipping off some of the walls and there are visible cracks.

twoods@bcnnew.com; 203-972-4413; @Woods_NCNews