New Canaan tear-down reborn
Moss-flecked old stonewalls surround the entrance to a mini-estate in New Canaan that dates to 1846.
The first two owners of the house and the one-time farm were Nathan Jones and James Clark, who owned some 40 arable acres. In 1911, Dr. Whitney Lyon bought the farmhouse, the land and 42 contiguous acres. Lyon is believed to have doubled the size of the house, added a wrap-around porch and installed the of-the-moment utilities of his day.
Lyon, who bought the property in 1911, was the son of New York dentist, Israel Whitney Lyon, who invented Dr. Lyon's wintergreen-flavored tooth powder at about 1866. The tooth powder and its companion dental cream were sold at least into the 1950s. In 1891, Lyon invented a revolutionary tin can with a telescopic measuring tube for his newer dental cream. A major advertiser on radio, he sponsored "Backstage Wife" and "Manhattan Merry-Go-Round," advising people to "do as your dentist does," and have whiter, brighter teeth with tooth powder.
Later, the company was bought by R.L. Watkins Co. in New York.
Lyon, a widower, married Maude Cecil Vollman in 1917, when he was 53 and she was 34. Lyon had been sued for $100,000 for breach of promise two years earlier by Margaret Connell, a New York City dressmaker. Connell was unsuccessful in her suit that claimed the couple were to be wed in June 1914 at Westminster Abbey in London, a ceremony postponed when Connell became ill. Lyon said Connell had lived with his family in New Canaan and had been employed by his wife as a seamstress.
Connell said she had closed down her dressmaking business and "began making arrangements for taking her place in society as the wife of a prosperous man," according to The New York Times.
At the time of his second marriage, Lyon owned an estate in Fleming Park at Larchmont Point, overlooking the Larchmont Yacht Club, as well as the New Canaan house and an apartment at 875 Park Ave. in Manhattan. He also had rooms at the Hotel Knickerbocker on Broadway at 42nd Street, now condos.
Other owners of the New Canaan house included Capt. Frederick Russell, who owned tow, or tug, boats that plied the New York area waterways, and built a cottage as a playhouse for his children. A family grandmother moved into the cottage in 1935, and the sexton of the local Congregational Church and his wife lived there years later.
The present owners bought the house in 2001, when it was considered a tear-down. Their one acre backs up to almost 17 acres donated by an adjacent owner to the New Canaan Land Trust. The new owners completely renovated and restored the house over the period of a year, tore down an old garage and the cottage, which were beyond repair, and rebuilt them. The cottage now has an office or living room and bath downstairs, and a bedroom upstairs. Above the new three-car garage with three peaked dormers is an expansive recreation room, according to listing agent Marsha Charles of Coldwell Banker Previews in New Canaan.
The deep wrap-around porch of the main house has a beadboard ceiling and leads to an outdoor patio. The unusual folding front door opens to the foyer and a symbol of a past era, when families had a telephone room.
A large living room has a fireplace banded in brick with simple pilasters alongside. The dining room has a classic wood fireplace and old French doors, with original brass hardware, that open to the porch. There are two corner cupboards, and the chair rail is painted below and papered above. The dining room and the kitchen open to the butler's pantry with a farmhouse sink, dishwasher and glass-fronted cabinets.
The beamed-ceiling kitchen has cabinets of pine and cream-colored paint, double ovens, beadboard backsplashes, soapstone countertops and another farmhouse sink. On one side is the mudroom, and on the other is a large breakfast and family room. Here, the raised-hearth brick fireplace has a surround of tiles picturing several species of area birds -- a robin, a cardinal and a blue jay among them. A Dutch door heads outside to a screened-in porch.
Antique chestnut steps take you to the second floor, where a large landing is floored in antique random-width chestnut boards, as are some of the bedrooms. The master suite is reached through a small office and has a bedroom and sitting room, with bookshelves and cabinets and a simple wooden fireplace. There are three additional bedrooms and two more baths. Up another old stairway is the third floor, with chestnut flooring, a bedroom and a sitting room with built-in storage along the walls. Visible here is part of the old, possibly original, brick chimney stack.
The architect for the 2001 to 2002 renovation was Louis DiBerardino, whose New Canaan studio carries his name. The general contractor was Randy Salvatore of RMS Construction in New Canaan, and the kitchen was designed and installed by Sarah Blank of SDB Kitchens in Darien. Three years ago, New Canaan builder Hobbs Inc. remodeled the third floor.