The Hidden History Of 18 Indian Hill Road

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.

18 Indian Hill Road, back in the day.

18 Indian Hill Road, back in the day.

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.

Shirley Jackson - The LotteryEveryone 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: poet, drinker, smoker, sexual partner.

Dylan Thomas: poet, drinker, smoker, sex partner.

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, today.

18 Indian Hill Road today.

(18 Indian Hill Road is on the market. For details on this historic home, click here.)

18 responses to “The Hidden History Of 18 Indian Hill Road

  1. Nice story, Dan.
    And really nice tht the house remains.

  2. My 90-year old mother, Sally Thorp Jacob (Kellogg) Deegan so enjoys your blog. Both she and my dad (Donald Kellogg) were related thru the Bradley clan – and her great grandfather was Capt. Thorp who sailed those onions down the Saugatuck, on The Sally Thorp, and who’s picture was unveiled at the Historical Society last year. Oh she will enjoy this one for sure!

  3. Tom Allen '66

    The Folsom family–children John, Bill, Peter, Tim, Jean and Soozi and parents Jack, Saugatuck’s longtime RTM rep, and Jan–lived at 18 Indian Hill for nearly 50 years. Jack and Jan were my parents first and closest friends in Westport. For me, and for so many other neighborhood kids, that house, filled with warm memories, was a second home, Kudos to the Loffredos for a marvelous restoration job and to you, Dan, for revealing a history that was unknown to me.

    • David Loffredo

      Thanks Tom! Over the years Jan Folsom has been very helpful, providing copies of old pictures and original drawings, as well as answering questions every time we’d come across another old house mystery. Several of the “kids” have also returned home, and they all know or should know, that they’re always welcome.

  4. Bonnie Scott Connolly

    Thanks, Tom, I was wondering if that was the Folsom’s house. Jack worked for the same company that my dad did so we knew them through that (and maybe Saugatuck Cong. Church?). Bill was in my class.

  5. I held my breath as I read down the page, hoping to hell that the house, which was the setting for such a fantastic slice of history, still remained. Dan, your line about the original stone wall that still stands gave me quite a start. But there she is…ahhh! Such a lovely home. It’s gonna be a good Monday! Thanks for helping to ‘start’ – in a positive sense- our slightly sleep-deprived Monday off on the right foot.

  6. Interesting short piece about Stanley Hyman and Shirley Jackson by their son Laurence (yes he did survive being hit by that car!)

    Westport was of course home to many literary celebrities at the time including Lionel & Diana Trilling. See this wonderful profile by Sidney Hook:

    Notice that in both cases the WOMEN were as well-known as their husbands, and this in the supposedly reactionary 1950’s.

    • Fascinating, Peter. For those who don’t click on links, here’s the relevant section about Laurence’s parents’ (and his) life in Westport:

      Their house was often filled on weekends with visiting friends: artists, actors, poets, composers, other writers, former students, and it was here that Stanley continued to help his friend Ralph Ellison shape Invisible Man over the many months Ellison lived in their guest room. There were all-night poker games, rowdy softball games on their large front lawn on Sunday mornings, horseshoes and ping-pong tournaments, and long, heated evening discussions, often with Stanley’s beloved Brooklyn Dodgers playing in the background on their small black-and-white television. Decades later, Ellison still loved to tell the story of driving Shirley to the hospital—in a trip out of a movie chase scene—to deliver her fourth child in 1951 because only he was able to drive a car.

      • Also interesting to see that the literary elite of the day lived the sort of wild lifestyle you would expect today of rockstars, not writers — including the early deaths. Dying at 45 and 51, respectively, Jackson and Hyman apparently suffered the effects of excessive drinking and smoking (and in her case, obesity and pills.)

  7. Matthew Mandell

    Great house, and the Loffredos are great people. Thanks for saving the house.

    I believe David told me the yellow Victorian on the corner of Treadwell and Riverside is the sister house and was formerly on Indian Hill, but moved when 95 came through. I also believe these both were kit houses ordered and built. Maybe this can be confirmed here.

    • Jack Whittle

      Interesting possibility (the beautiful Victorian on the corner of Riverside and Treadwell having been moved there during the construction of 95), but my review of the 1934 Aerial Photo of that area show a house of similar scale and orientation (including a separate garage in the same place) on the corner of Riverside and Treadwell. Of course, that’s just interpretive and not decisive. Looks pretty rural (and tree-less) back in ’34!

      • Matthew Mandell

        Does seem to be the same house. Maybe it was moved earlier, or never was. I bet Morley would know or could find out. Hey Morley!!!!!

        • Jack Whittle

          For what it’s worth, the tax card on 18 Indian Hill Road lists the year built as 1901 (consistent with Dan’s article), while the tax card for the Victorian Queen Anne house on the corner of Riverside and Treadwell (462 Riverside) lists the year built in 1890.

          • David Loffredo

            There is a strong probability that Gershom modeled his home after the one at the base of Treadwell – which may be why they are strikingly similar. We have copies of the original plans and I believe he drew them so I do not think the house was from a kit but rather probably from detailed study of his neighbor’s house.

  8. Peter Barlow

    Is this the house at the end of Indian Hill? It must have had a lot more land before the Connecticut Turnpike was built. Exit/entrance 17 left a steep cliff at the edge of the property. I guess Indian Hill Road once went all the way down to Route 136, going toward East Norwalk. I do see a similarity of this house to the one at the foot of Treadwell, something that hadn’t occurred to me until I saw the picture here.

  9. Jill Turner Odice

    I couldn’t get the link at the end of your story to work, but found the house on Zillow.
    What an incredible home, really beautifully restored! I am so glad that it was given a new life instead of being another “Tear Down of the Day”…

  10. So often historic structures have these rich, imbedded narratives. And yet, equally as often, no knows about them. Thank you, David, for being not only a custodian of this beautiful house but for sharing the rich social history hidden within it that you have uncovered and curated along the way.

  11. Hi Dan
    Loved the Indian Hill Story and others of the past. Bill