New Canaan Historic District

View of the Old Town Hall, now New Canaan Historical Society; Source- Historical Society website.
Historic/Common Name:
God's Acre; God's Acre Historic District
Town:
New Canaan »
Year of Establishment:
1963
Notes on Establishment:
The Historic District of New Canaan, an outgrowth of Church Hill, perhaps better known as God's Acre, was established on June 27, 1963.
Historic Designation:
LHD, SR
District Authority:
New Canaan Historic District Commission
Nature of Authority:
Regulatory
District Character:
Town Center, Green
Eligible for Historic Home tax credits:
Yes
General description:

New Canaan's humble beginnings date back to 1731 when Connecticut–s colonial legislature established Canaan Parish as a religious entity in northwestern Norwalk and northeastern Stamford. The right to form a Congregational church was granted to the few families scattered through the area. As bona fide inhabitants of Norwalk or Stamford, depending on where their houses stood, Canaan Parish settlers still had to vote, pay taxes, serve on juries, and file deeds in their home towns. What no one foresaw in 1731 was that the boundaries of Canaan Parish 70 years later would become the boundaries of a new Connecticut town. New Canaan was incorporated in 1801 and the first town meeting was held on June 29 of that year. Because Canaan Parish was not planned as a town, upon incorporation New Canaan found itself without a village, a main street, a town hall, or a central common or town green. Until the Revolutionary War, New Canaan was primarily an agricultural community. After the war, New Canaan–s major industry was shoe making. As New Canaan–s shoe business gathered momentum early in the 19th Century, instead of a central village, regional settlements of clustered houses, mills and schools developed into distinct district centers with the addition of a general store. Some of the districts were centered on Ponus Ridge, West Road, Oenoke Ridge, Smith Ridge, Talmadge Hill and Silvermine. The village of New Canaan was to grow later from a similar district setup that proved to be located more strategically than its peripheral counterparts. In 1825 the first town house (now the historical society–s library) was built on Oenoke Ridge. With the advent of the railroad to New Canaan in 1868, many of New York City–s wealthy residents discovered the quiet, peaceful area and built magnificent summer homes. After World War II, the housing boom brought more residents and many of the summer visitors settled year-round, commuting to their jobs in New York and creating the residential community that exists today. In 1916, the first carol sing took place on God's Acre and in 1928 the first traffic light in town was installed. The core of Church Hill remains the same as it was at the beginning of Canaan Parish in 1731. Here stand three beautiful churches, two of which have been continuously used for more than 125 years. [3]

Significance of the district:

The New Canaan Parish was established in 1731 to serve families who lived some distance from the coastal towns of Norwalk and Stamford. On November 4th of the same year it was agreed to construct the meetinghouse where St. John's Place presently intersects Park Street, south of the present-day Congregational Church. But it was not until April 1732 when the meetinghouse was partially constructed that the Proprietors of Norwalk officially granted the "inhabitants of Canaan Parish all the common land where their Meeting House standeth and thirty rods from the meetinghouse that is common and highway there." In 1773 a common was formally established on land set aside for the church by a deed that describes property "lying near unto the Canaan Meeting House for the Proprietors of the Parish of New Canaan to be used and improved for the benefit of the whole community."The use and appearance of God's Acre changed over the years. At least some of it was initially used as a burying ground until the 1840s when the gravestones were removed. At that time it started to develop the park-like appearance that it has today. There are reports of a town whipping post and signpost being maintained south of the meetinghouse, near the road. The present First Congregational Church build in 1840 is the third Congregational Church constructed near the Green. The second one was built in 1750. The importance of the green as a religious center was reestablished in 1834 when St. Michael's Church was built across from the northern tip of God's Acre, and again in 1953 when the Christian Science Church was built at the southern tip. As well as being the religious center of the community, God's Acre has also been the center of civic and educational activity. In 1825, a building for town meetings was constructed not far from the green at 13 Oenoke Avenue where it still stands. Until that time, meetings were held at the Congregational Church. The first public school was erected near the southern point of the green where it stood from at least 1800 to 1835. In addition, an academy was operated just north of the Congregational Church. The Federal-style house at One Park Street was part of the academy complex.God's Acre was established in the 1730s and has remained the religious center of the community. [4]

District Boundary:

The historic district encompasses 21 buildings along Main Street, Oenoke Ridge, Park Street, and St. John–s Place, as described in the district ordinance. Included in the historic district are St. Michael–s Lutheran Church, the Congregational Church, and the Town House, built as New Canaan–s first town hall in 1825.

Features:

Buildings, Park, Open Space

Use:

Residential, Religious, Museum

Architectural Style:

N/A

Era:
18th Century, 19th Century, 20th Century
Sources:

[1] District information retrieved from the town http://www.newcanaan.info/.
[2] New Canaan Historic District, Report of the Historic District Study Committee, 1962, SHPO Library, Hartford.
[3] Additional information retrieved from the website http://www.acorn-online.com/joomla15/ncadvertiser/community/answerbook/5139-history--new-canaan-answer-book.html.
[4] Additional information retrieved from www.towngreens.com.
[5] List of addresses obtained from the Historic District Commission Approved Regulations, http://www.newcanaan.info/filestorage/9488/9220/785/795/historic__district__comm_regulations__approved_080628.pdf.
[6] Assessors information and Parcel IDs retrieved from the online database accessed from the town website, http://propertyappraisal.ci.new-canaan.ct.us:8080/search.php?e=1.
[7] Additional information/photograph retrieved from New Canaan Historical Society, http://nchistory.org/index.html.

Notes:

The district has been determined eligible to be listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Links:
Map:

Map of the local historic district retrieved from the town website (http://www.newcanaan.info/filestorage/9488/9220/785/795/historic_district_map.pdf).

View PDF
Disclaimer:

The street addresses of the designated properties have been obtained from the Historic District Commission Approved Regulations, town website. For further information, the user is urged to contact the respective Historic District Commission.

Date of Compilation:
11/30/11
Compiler:
Manjusha Patnaik, CT Trust for Historic Preservation