In 1901, Gershom Bradley built a handsome house at 18 Indian Hill Road. He owned a massive onion farm, extending to Norwalk and Treadwell Avenue, and nearly to the Saugatuck River.
The turret on his new Queen Anne Victorian was flat. Gershom stood there, and watched onion barges come and go along the river. The original stone wall still stands, up and down Indian Hill.
In 2000, the house — with 5 bedrooms and a large porch — came on the market. The developer next door wanted to tear it down, and subdivide the lot. But the property was sold within a week, before his financing was in place.
So this is not a typical vanishing-old-house story. Over the next 16 years David Loffredo — a Westport native who moved “home” — spent tons of time and energy researching the home’s history.
He worked with the Westport Historical Society and former owners to find old pictures and blueprints. He recreated what had been stripped and scarred in in the 1970s, when the house was covered in aluminum siding.
But that’s not the real story either.
Everyone knows Shirley Jackson. Her short story “The Lottery” — first published in 1948, about brutal events in a seemingly normal village, and perhaps an inspiration for “The Hunger Games” — is an English course staple. I read it at Staples.
Shortly after her story appeared in The New Yorker, Jackson and her husband Stanley Hyman — a famous literary critic — rented 18 Indian Hill, for $175 a month. Jackson described Westport as “a nice fancy rich arty community.” Eventually, Ralph Ellison joined them.
In Private Demons: The Life of Shirley Jackson — which Loffredo owns — author Judy Oppenheimer writes:
It would be many years before (their son) Laurence would appreciate how rare it was to live in the kind of home where the guy pitching the ball to you might well be J.D. Salinger and the man yelling out the window for you to pipe down so he could work was often Ralph Ellison. “The Invisible Man” was finished with help from Stanley Hyman in this house.
Dylan Thomas was another visitor to 18 Indian Hill. Oppenheimer says that after “liquor and smoke and endless rhetoric,” Jackson and he “met alone outside on the enormous porch that wound around the house….She confided to me that, yes, she was one of those women Dylan Thomas screwed on the back porch.”
But Jackson found Westport “too suburban for her taste, too many picnics and Cub Scout outings, a few too many self-conscious artists around. The elementary school itself could be annoyingly casual, she thought — at the slightest excuse (hurricane warnings, for instance) the children were sent home.”
Jackson also hated “these progressive nursery schools where hitting another child over the head with a block is regarded as a sign of extroversion.”
In October 1950 — 2 days before his 8th birthday — Laurence rode his bike out of the driveway. He was hit by a car. The accident, and lawsuit that followed, “turned Shirley against Westport for good,” Oppenheimer says. The family moved to North Bennington, Vermont.
David Loffredo — the current owner of 18 Indian Hill Road — thought this was a story worth telling.
Indeed it is. And Shirley Jackson herself could not have told it better.
(18 Indian Hill Road is on the market. For details on this historic home, click here.)