A historic town, a cultural gem
Far enough from the urban action to be countrified, but near enough to be a kind of crossroads, New Canaan, Connecticut, is a place of happy spirits.
Originally Part of Norwalk, Canaan Parish was incorporated into New Canaan in 1801, and remained an agrarian oasis until the railroad arrived in 1868. Soon wealthy businessmen from New York City began to build lavish summer homes here. Along with these titans of commerce came the architects, artists, artisans and shop keepers, all of which shaped the town into what it is today, a marvelous mix of the refined and the avant-garde, of old and new.
Many of those Victorian, Neo Classical and Queen Anne homes remain. Of special interest is Waveny House, a Tudor mansion built in 1912 for John Lapham, one of the founders of Texeco oil, and his family. Located on 300 acres, over the years generous portions of the estate were donated for the building of the Talmage Hill train station, New Canaan High School, and Waveny Care Center, with the balance of the property being sold to the town in 1967 for public use.
Waveny Park is well known for its extensive walking paths, beautiful gardens (designed by Frederick Law Olmstead Jr.), as a venue for parties and weddings, for it’s summer theatre productions, and as a set location for many movies and TV shows. The annual 4th of July celebration should not be missed.
The New Canaan Historical Society has preserved five 19th Century structures, which capture the pastoral essence of the old town, including the studio of John Rogers, who was known as the “Sculptor for the common man.” Another famed sculptor, Solon Borglum, established the Silvermine Guild of artists in 1924, whose grounds today include five individual galleries which host new exhibitions every six weeks.
Maxwell Perkins’ Greek Revival home is located at 63 Park Street, a five-minute walk from the train station. He was the Editor to some of the Twentieth Century’s greatest writers; F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and Thomas Wolfe among many others.
That said, modernist architecture has also found great expression in town.
Designed by architect Philip Johnson, The Glass House (1949) is one of many National Trust Historic sites located in New Canaan, and tours of the 49 acre, fourteen building complex, which also include 20th Century sculpture and art galleries, can be booked in advance at the Glass House Visitors Center at 199 Elm Street.
The just completed Grace Farms, an 80-acre sanctuary whose modernist main building “The River” was designed by the Japanese architectural firm SANAA, is a multi use space dedicated to the exploration of the arts, nature, community awareness, and the great questions of faith.
Amazingly 77 of the 80 acres will remain unaltered from their current natural state in perpetuity. It’s free and open to the public.
After all that, you’ll be hungry. With 36 restaurants right in town, your biggest challenge will be deciding what you’re in the mood for. Choices abound, from local hotspots like Baldanza Organic Café, to Dan Camporeale’s newest eatery, Spiga, to the yummy small bites of Locali, to the nouvelle Italian cuisine of Chef Nube Siguenza at Cava Wine Bar.
Once you’ve dined, hours of delightful shopping fun can be had in this pedestrian-friendly town, from the compulsory (Ralph Lauren) to the exquisite (fabulous ladies apparel shop L’Armoire), along with inspired spots like Pimlico, the divine interior design boutique.
With its historic, cultural and culinary offerings, New Canaan is pleasantly composed—whether you’re on a spiritual quest to Grace Farms, or in search of the perfect Margarita at Tequila Mockingbird.
Image Credits: ALEXANDER R. WILCOX CHEEK