A Brief History of New Canaan, CT

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A Brief History of New Canaan, CT

Sometimes we forget to look back and admire the unique and accomplished histories of our Connecticut towns. Maybe you’re considering building a new custom home and moving into the area. Or perhaps you’re renovating or building an addition on a special property here. Either way we thought it would be interesting to take a brief look back, to the history of New Canaan, CT.

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New Canaan began as a religious entity situated between the northeastern part of Stamford and the northwestern part of Norwalk. This distinction allowed its residents to handle their own affairs independently from Norwalk and Stamford. They were technically considered residents of these areas, however, and were still required to pay taxes, vote and even serve on juries. When New Canaan’s residents finally decided to incorporate in 1801, the town had no main street, no central common and no town hall.

The expansion of the railroad in 1868 brought an abundance of new residents from New York City. Although they initially built their homes as summer get-a-ways, many wealthy New York residents eventually decided to take up residence full-time and commute back to their jobs in the city.

In 1940 New Canaan’s landscape began to change and quickly became the epicenter for what was known as the modern architecture movement. Teachers and students from the Harvard Graduate School of Design began moving into the area to create uniquely designed, modern style homes. Home features included open floor plans and used building materials and design styles unlike anything the residents of New Canaan had seen.

According to The New York Times, one group of these students became known as the “Harvard Five.” John Johansen, Philip Johnson, Marcel Breuer, Landis Gores and Eliot Noyes were said to have built around 80 modern homes during their time there. One of the more notable homes built in the area was created by Philip Johnson and was known as the “Glass House.” This property is now a well-known local attraction and is operated as a site of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Tours and programs run throughout most of the year. Philip Johnson died in 2005 at the Glass House. He was 98.

Today, the area remains well known for its Modernist architecture. In 2013, CNN Money listed New Canaan the fifth wealthiest town in America based on earnings. The 70-minute train ride from Manhattan continues to make it a popular draw for New Yorkers who remain attracted to its many features that include a walkable downtown, mom-and-pop shops and beautiful green space.