YES!  THE LIBRARY IS HISTORIC!

 

The story of how our architecturally exceptional 1913 library was created captures an important moment in New Canaan’s history.  It was planned and built during the confluence of two progressive reform movements that changed American and local culture: the public library movement promoting literacy and extending educational opportunity beyond formal schooling, and the city beautiful movement improving civic centers with classical architecture.  New Canaan was ripe for both, with the library’s books and reading room ill-housed in a cramped second floor mid-block building above the Advertiser’s printing presses and neighbored by stables and saloons.

New Canaan was also then undergoing major demographic change, its declining industrial economy being transformed by the arrival of a large colony of summer residents attracted to the town’s scenery and train connection to New York.  Among the summer residents here by 1911 were at least six accomplished architects who shared a classical approach to design derived from the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, a belief that architecture could dignify civic life, and deep experience in library design.

By 1911, an architectural design competition was a well-established means for communities to envision important public buildings.  Originating in the Italian Renaissance, competitions produced the U. S. and Connecticut Capitols, the New York Public Library, and New Canaan’s Town Hall, to name just a few.  Two things set the 1911 New Canaan library competition apart from the norm.  First it was limited to the community’s “Beaux-Arts Six” —an extraordinary number of architects residing in any single Connecticut community at the time.  And it countered the norm that the winning architect would be rewarded with a paid commission.  For the New Canaan library, the invitation to compete was voluntary, waiving payment—an unusual, generous, civic-minded gesture by highly talented professionals.

The Library’s building committee, whose members reached deep into the community, was a major player in this process.  It included a broad spectrum of year-round and summer residents--bankers, merchants, contractors, and civic activists, chaired by a Stamford industrialist with New Canaan roots.  The committee selected Alfred Taylor’s winning colonial revival design with the advice of William Boring, the architect of the Main Immigration Station at Ellis Island who would swell the group’s number to seven in 1914.

Within the Beaux-Arts Six, the scale and charm of the colonial revival style was considered to be the kind of classicism especially well-suited to civic architecture in a rural place like New Canaan.  Taylor’s design was far from formulaic, drawing instead upon sophisticated design motifs originating in English country houses, in particular Chiswick outside London and Houghton Hall in Norfolk.  Within rugged walls of carefully set local stone for colonial effect, Taylor composed variations of a neo-Palladian Venetian window in three places: formal and academic in today’s Salant Room; functional and utilitarian in the original stacks; and abstracted creatively at the entrance and flanking windows and blind openings on the front façade.  These well-preserved features, fresh, inventive and rare in American architecture in their day, remain so today.

Capsule bios of 1911 NC Library Board and Building Committee 

The people who made the library completed in 1913 were an interesting mix of individuals, a few from families long in New Canaan, but the majority new arrivals to the community.  Their stories encompass much of New Canaan’s social history from its early settlement, through 19th century industry, and the first and second waves of summer residents.  One common thread, not unexpected, is that most were engaged in civic interests beyond their family and business lives.

Francis E. Weed, President was a Civil War veteran and founder of Weed & Duryea.[1] He was also an inventor with at least one patent and a founder of New Canaan Historical Society.

Charles E. Hubbell, Secretary of NCL and member of the Building Committee, was a building contractor/residential developer in 1911 who had been in New Canaan for six years and had built the Town Hall in 1909.[2]  He is credited with painting the murals in the Salant Room.[3]  A resident of New Canaan until 1916, Hubbell, bought “Frank Reynold’s farm on Ponus Street nearly opposite Grace House” through F. E. Green in November, 1905,[4] improved it with a new house and barn the following year,[5] and sold it in May 1916 to a Mr. Cheney of New York when he relocated to New Haven.[6]  While in New Canaan the Advocate reported on Hubbell’s involvement with several local properties in different capacities as buyer, builder and architect.[7]  In 1908 “Charles E. Hubbell, of New Rochelle who has been in the contracting business in New York for several years has been in town [Stamford] for a couple of days with a view of moving his office here and making Stamford his headquarters.  Mr. Hubbell has been operating extensively in suburban homes along the New Haven Road, and Stamford impresses him as being about the center of the region of greatest development.  His firm is the C. E. Hubbell Co., 4 East 42 Street.”[8]

Hubbell appears to have undergone a change in profession from contractor to artist/architect during his New Canaan residency.[9] In December 1909, when the Town Hall was under construction, Hubbell travelled to Europe for an extended stay in Rome and Paris, returning in late January 1910.[10]  On March 26, 1914, Hubbell gave a lecture in the library “Historical Room” on “The Buildings of the City of Rome” illustrated with slides borrowed from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.[11]  The themes of the lunette murals in the room, ancient Egypt on the north wall and ancient Greece on the south, are consistent with the cultures assimilated within firs century imperial Roman identity and celebrated at Hadrian’s Villa in Tivoli, the source of the Palladian motif.[12]  Hubbell exhibited what was described as “a well-composed decoration” produced for New Canaan at the Architectural League of New York’s 1915 annual exhibition.[13]

John H. Behre, (1862-1956) Treasurer, a Brooklyn native, was Warden of the Old Borough, second selectman of the town, and President of the New Canaan Savings Bank in 1911, five years after arriving in New Canaan.  The retired New York wholesale grocery merchant had risen quickly within the political leadership in the town, and after 1911 was re-elected borough warden elected first selectman subsequently serving four terms, appointed to the State House of Representatives in the CT General Assembly in 1916 to replace Lewiston Provost who had died in office and elected on his own in 1919 serving two terms, and in 1922 was elected State Senator from the 26th district.  Behr was a long time treasurer of the New Canaan Cemetery Association and remained a director until his death, and at the time of his death was the director of the association.[14]

Henry J. Warren (1863-1926), Chair of the Building Committee, was more than an outsider “Stamford stove manufacturer” as described in A Practical and Useful Enterprise.  His roots were in New Canaan with his grandfather, Joseph D. Warren, a native leather-worker who had moved to Stamford to work in George Waring’s foundry, eventually becoming an early and the last surviving partner in the Stamford Foundry Co., one of the region’s oldest cast iron businesses.  Henry was a year-round New Canaan resident from 1905 to 1926 after assuming the presidency of the foundry in 1900, then known for its wood and coal fired kitchen ranges, and spinning off the Stamford Gas Stove Co., a pioneering manufacturer of gas ranges (awarded the gold medal at the St. Louis Exposition in 1906) and other gas appliances.  Educated at Stamford High School, the 30-year old Henry Warren had attended the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition that launched the city beautiful movement, where he could not have missed McKim Mead and White’s New York State pavilion featuring a giant Palladian main entrance.  The exposition impressed him enough to organize a “fair and entertainment” modeled on the event in 1894 under the auspices of Stamford’s Second Universalist Church, where he served as clerk for the rest of his life.  Beyond his business, Warren assumed leadership roles in civic reform efforts in both communities, including public health and harbor improvements in Stamford, and town water supply in New Canaan.  In addition, he was a director of Stamford’s First National Bank and active in the Sons of the Revolution.  In relocating to New Canaan in 1905, he rented the “late Capt. Purdy residence” before building a five bedroom, two bath shingled frame house in 1907 alternately described on Prospect Street or St. John Place, which he shared with his mother and sister Katherine.

Henry Day Atwater (1875-1940) a member of the Building Committee,[15] was a summer resident from Brooklyn and an electrical contractor “well known among the summer colony” who became a local businessman.  He was present by the winter of 1905-1906 when he supervised two crews for Fred S. Clute & Co. of New York wiring a number of summer residences[16] and was elected to the Fire Department.[17]  The following spring he opened an electrical supply store in the Weed building at the corner of East Avenue and Main with an office representing the South Norwalk Railway and Lighting Co.[18] By 1908 Atwater was also an agent for “the Ford Motor” with a garage at the rear of John . Bliss’ place, Railroad Avenue.[19]   He relocated to Sound Beach (present day Old Greenwich) in the 1920s.

Herbert H. Knox (1865-1944), a member of the Building Committee, was a summer resident who was a member of the New York Stock Exchange with the firm of Vernon C. Brown & Co. in 1911.  Born in New York, he began his career with Milmine Bodman & Co. on the Produce Exchange in the 1890s.  His wife, Edna Doughty Knox, was a leading organizer in the local suffragist movement.  The Knoxes sold their Lambert Road summer home soon after his retirement in 1925, relocating to Peru, VT.  Knox died in Stonington Connecticut survived by his wife and four children.[20]

Katherine. R. Rogers (1869-1956), a member of the Building Committee, was described in her death notice in the Stamford Advocate a “New Canaan civic leader and daughter of famed sculptor John Rogers,” who was “a charter member of the New Canaan library in 1911[who] was a leader in financing construction of the building in 1913” and “was a leader in the formation of the former [at the time of her death] Women’s Club of New Canaan and the [local] Red Cross.[21]  She appears to have been an important player in the major community fundraiser, La Fiesta.

Alan Paterson appears to have been a realtor in 1911, present since at least 1898 when he had purchased a bicycle.  Marrying into the Hoyt family in 1901, the couple purchased a residence on Cherry Street in 1904.

Francis E. Green (1871-1935) was a major force in attracting a second wave of New Canaan’s summer colony beginning in 1900.  The headline of his obituary – “Veteran Real Estate and Insurance Agent Came to Town as a Poor Boy, Owned Many Properties at Death” – summarizes his business success but does not account for the impact his boosterism made on New Canaan.  Green was considered to be “…the Dean of real estate operators and fire insurance representatives of this town. Coming to New Canaan as a youth in moderate circumstances, he was extremely successful in business. He owned many properties in New Canaan's residential and business sections. He was born in Pound Ridge, February 14, 1871 and attended the schools of that town and the Eastman Business College in Poughkeepsie. He came to New Canaan and for a number of years was employed as a clerk in Charles Raymond's drygoods store.  He became interested in the real estate and insurance business and left the employ of Mr. Raymond to begin a career that continued over a long period. He was a director of the First National Bank and Trust Co. and a trustee of the New Canaan Savings Bank.  He was selected a member of the Board of Education in 1902 and had served successive terms since then, being reelected in the town election early this month, for another three year term. He was president of the board for many years, up to 1931. He was a charter member of the Poinsettia Club, the only organization of which he was a member…. Besides his wife, who is Miss Claire E Hodges, he leaves two daughters, Mrs. Beatrice Lawrence and Mrs. Blanche Waters, and two grandchildren, all of New Canaan.”[22]

Edward B. Lawrence (1870-1936) was a local furniture manufacturer in 1911 who would become a banker, undertaker and warden and member of the Board of Selectmen.  Born in South Salem NY, his parents were Edward and Jane Brady Lawrence.  Beginning his business career in Stamford, he relocated to New Canaan in 1893 to establish the furniture business “that was owned by Herbert L. Scofield” in 1936 when he died. He sold his furniture business to devote his time to the First National Bank and Trust Company, where he was elected president in 1924 after serving as vice president for two years.  At the same time Mr. Lawrence conducted the undertaking business in which his son Edward Lawrence would take over from him. He was president of the Lakeview Cemetery Association, served as town treasurer, as moderator of the town meeting, and as a member of the school committee. He was a member of the Masonic organization, Odd Fellows, Heptasophs, New Canaan Fire Company, Order of United American Mechanics, the Knights of the Maccabees, and was a charter member of the Poinsettia Club. Besides his wife the former Miss Fannie D. Davenport, he was survived by his son Edward Lawrence of Darien and two daughters Mrs. Gerhard Behre of New Canaan and Mrs. Earl Gillespie of Stamford.”

George F. Lockwood (1851-1936), was a native of Stamford and a relative of the circus Baileys who “became affiliated with the circus” and “following several seasons” came to New Canaan, married Miss Emma Benedict, a daughter of the owner of the Benedict Shoe Factory, at that time the town’s largest business organization” becoming active in the management of the factory.”  He also rose to become Treasurer of the New Canaan RR Co., President of the First National Bank, and treasurer of the New Canaan Saving Bank. [23]

Mrs. George F. Lockwood was the former Emma Benedict a daughter of the owner of the Benedict Shoe Factory in the 1870s or 1880s,

Mrs. J. C. Wycoff, wife/widow of Rev. J. C. Wyckoff who had taught at the academy.

Olive L. Reamy (d. 1931) had been affiliated with the Wright Humason School for the Deaf in New York --an institution from which Helen Keller had graduated in 1895—prior to residing in New Canaan by 1908.[24]   Although not a New Canaan native, she rose to leadership positions in many local organizations.  By 1908 she was president of the Woman’s Club, and in 1911 she was Vice President of the Civic League[25] and Regent of the Hannah Benedict Carter Chapter of the DAR.[26]  In 1919 she was elected President of the Historical Society.  After selling her house at 242 South Main Street and its furnishings in October that year she ventured out to explore the American west for several months.[27]   On her return she appears to have moved into “her house on wheels” called “Comport Cottage” in one account during the summer while wintering in Florida. Her obituary notes that during her “many years as a New Canaan resident” she also served as “an ardent worker in Red Cross work.” She died in Clearwater FL and was buried “in the family plot in Centerburg, OH.”[28]

Katherine Warren (no dates) was the sister of Henry J. Warren who moved with him to New Canaan in 1905 and remained there at least until 1926, when she appears to have relocated to Noroton.  She served on the NCL library committee from 1906 until at least 1913, and was also active in the Women’s Club.  She was also a director of the Stamford Foundry.

Ida Davidson was the Librarian.[29]

[1] Brian Bodick, “Biz on Biz: Weed & Duryea,” New Canaanite, July 5, 2016. https://newcanaanite.com/biz-on-biz-weed-duryea-on-favorite-new-canaan-foods-40263  cached 10/31/20, 5:32 am.  .

[2] “New Canaan,” Stamford Advocate, July 10, 1909.

[3] Need citation for this.  Not mentioned in Stamford Advocate, but his wife was described as artistic in several articles.

[4] “Ponus Ridge,” Stamford Advocate, Nov. 21, 1905.

[5] “Ponus Ridge,” Stamford Advocate, May 28, 1908.

[6] “New Canaan,” Stamford Advocate, May 11, 1916.

[7] Hubbell sold “C. H. Hubbell’s place” to Mrs. R. B. Wilmot, April 25, 1907; poured a barn foundation, broke ground for a house cellar, and regraded an unspecified property, perhaps his own house, May 28 1908; contracted to build a house designed by Kirby, Petit and Green of NY for George B. Maynard of New York opposite Dr. Wood on Cascade Road, August 6 and 17, 1908; unsuccessfuly bid to build  a new school house designed by architect R. K. Shepard of New York, October 20, 1908; bought the “farm known as the old Palmer place on the north side of Talmadge Hill Road,” Nov 21 1909; erected another good sized barn on his place for storage, August 25, 1910; and was identified as architect of the Ponus Ridge Chapel built by Mahon and Smith, August 25, 1910, all in the Stamford Advocate on those dates..

[8]Hubbell gifted land for the chapel; Taylor was also active in the Ponus Ridge Community Association which used the building, and as photographed in a 2018 New Canaanite article, the chapel appears Tayloresque in character, with Arts and Crafts fieldstone instead of quarried stone trimmed with brick. https://newcanaanite.com/we-are-really-happy-about-it-long-neglected-ponus-ridge-chapel-to-be-restored-75302  cached 10/31/20, 5:551 am.  .

[9]  The Ponus Street Protective and Improvement Association met in his barn in its early years.  In 1912 Hubbell sold a much of his construction equipment stored at his residence, and by October 1913 the Association referred to its meeting place as Hubbell’s “studio.”  “Ponus Street,” Stamford Advocate, October 6, 1910; February 21, 1912, p. 5; September 4, 1913.

[10] “New Canaan,” Stamford Advocate, December 23, 1909, January 8, 1909.

[11] “New Canaan,” Stamford Advocate, March 19, 1914 p. 7; March 25, 1914, p. 7.

[12] Hubbell may have been from Syracuse. After leaving New Canaan he divorced his wife, who had an artistic bent and she remained in New Canaan for a while.  Hubbell also had a connection with Mathesius who designed an addition to the Trident Apartments in New Rochelle for Hubbell in 1910, and the two later travelled together to Savannah and shared a Manhattan office address in the 1920s.   Hubbell may also have practiced as an architect for a while in New York prior to leaving New York in 1936 for Hollywood CA where he practiced as an architect.

[13] J. William Fosdick, “The Architectural League of New York,” The International Studio, vol 53, 1915, p. xxv.

[14] Brooklyn born Behre (1862-1946) was a New York merchant who relocated to New Canaan around 1906, rising quickly in the community who by 1911 was treasurer of NC Library,  Warden of the Old Borough, and president of the New Canaan Savings Bank (founded 1859).

[15] Atwater was another transplant from Brooklyn who was in a social circle with the Leemings and Dows; Mrs. E. Greene was a Dow.  Obituary, New Canaan Advertiser, May 2, 1946.

[16] “New Canaan,” Stamford Advocate, Nov 29, 1905, p. 6.

[17] “New Canaan,” Stamford Advocate, Jan 16, 1905, p. 7.

[18] “New Canaan,” Stamford Advocate, May 17, 1906, p. 6.

[19] “New Canaan,” Stamford Advocate, Dec 3, 1908, p. 6.

[20] His children were John A. Knox, Lieutenant Commander David D. Knox USNR, and Lieutenant Commander Samuel D Knox USNR, and a daughter Mrs. Alfred M Bingham. “Herbert Knox Dies at Stonington Home,” Stamford Advocate, Aug 19, 1944, p. 5.  “Herbert H. Knox, Member of New York Stock and Produce Exchanges,” New York Times, August 18, 1944. Pre-broker Knox or another New York H. H. Knox attended Cooper Union in the 1880s and may have been a mining engineer and General Manager of the Tonopah [NV] Extension Mining Co. https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84022472/1915-01-02/ed-1/seq-8/ocr.txt

[21] “New Canaan,” Stamford Advocate, Mar 23, 1956, p. 12.

Has the Rogers collection at NYU been looked at? Box 5A, Folder 5 is related to Katherine R. Rogers.  http://dlib.nyu.edu/findingaids/html/nyhs/rogersfamily/dscref53.html

[22]Stamford Advocate, Oct 31, 1935, p. 5.  He was  also active in other aspects of civic life, serving in the  Volunteer Fire Department, and Library and Cemetery Associations, Samuel Hart, ed. Encyclopedia of Connecticut Biography Vol. 7.

[23] “George Lockwood of New Canaan Dies: Former Banker and Borough Official passes at 85,” Stamford Advocate Feb 24, 1936, p.1.

[24] She represented the school at a national conference in 1899.  The Volta Review, 1899, p. 172.

[25] “New Canaan,” Stamford Advocate, Apr 27, 1911, p. 9.

[26] “New Canaan,” Stamford Advocate, June 22, 1911, p. 9.

[27] “New Canaan,” Stamford Advocate, June 11, 1919, p. 16; paid notice of auction sale, Stamford Advocate, Oct 17, 1919, p. 11; “New Canaan,” Stamford Advocate, Oct 28, 1919, p. 7.

[28] “New Canaan,” Stamford Advocate, Nov 24, 1931, p.16.

[29]State Board of Education,  List of Town school committees, Boards of school visitors, Boards of education, Library directors: Connecticut School Document No. 7, Hartford CT, 1912, p. 28.