Tag Archives: Hockanum

39 Cross Highway: Past Meets Present

Alert “06880” reader — and proud homeowner — Deborah Howland-Murray writes:

In 1985, my husband and I purchased our antique home at 39 Cross Highway. Like any house over 200 years old, the walls held undiscovered mysteries.

Decades later, they are beginning yielding their secrets. Sifting through original hand-calligraphed parchment documents, my son Galen and I are learning that our cherished home of 33 years was equally cherished by generations of one family, all the way from pre-Revolutionary times until 1927.

We are realizing that the story of our house is interwoven with the story of Westport. We are also finding out how precarious is the fate of our antique repository of history, and of those like it in Westport.

Our house tells a tale of a people birthing a country. Captain Phineas Chapman, farmer and carpenter, built his home on land acquired in 1742, the year of his marriage to Sarah Ketchum. The home housed their family of 10 children: 7 sons and 3 daughters. We have come to know the part they played, and the price they paid, in our nascent democracy.

39 Cross Highway

Capt. Chapman’s forebears arrived in 1635. His father, Rev. Daniel Chapman, was the first pastor of Greens Farms Congregational Church.

The minister’s male descendants were highly respected for their accomplishments. Phineas was made lieutenant in the Connecticut Militia in 1755, then promoted to captain for distinguished service in the French and Indian War.

His son Joseph was this area’s first physician. Sons Daniel, Albert and James bore arms in the American Revolution. James and Albert were highly decorated; Major Albert received the paramount honor of admission to the Society of the Cincinnati.

The oldest part of 39 Cross Highway is lovingly maintained.

Our home bore witness to Gen. Tryon’s wrath during the Danbury raid in 1777. His advance toward Danbury took him along Cross Highway, arresting patriots along the way — including Captain Phineas and his brother Dennie. The same fate befell Daniel in Ridgefield.

Upon his return, Tryon was thwarted from crossing the Kings Highway bridge by Benedict Arnold. Instead, he forded the river upstream and flanked Arnold by marching through Chapman farmland.

The 3 Chapmen men were transported to a New York City sugar house turned prison. The 2 older ones were eventually released. Daniel died there. His health broken by the dank, horrifically overcrowded conditions, Captain Phineas died 5 years later.

The 1784 distribution of Phineas’ estate shows that he left a parcel of land a bit over 1 acre and 20 rods, with “dwelling and barn.” As we followed the land deeds throughout history, this parcel and dwelling — the “old homestead” — remained constant in description.

At some point, Phineas Jr. (1766-1823) was instrumental in building a school diagonally across from his house. The Chapman family valued education. Many relatives — including some of his 11 children — graduated from Yale.

The Cross Highway schoolhouse. The back of the photo says “Cross Highway near Daybreak Nursery on green.”

Through marriage, the Chapmans became linked to one of the most influential families in Westport. Their cousin and admirer, Morris Ketchum, was a financier and locomotive manufacturer who brought the railroad to Westport. His meetings with friend Salmon P. Chase, Lincoln’s Treasury Secretary, led to the issuance of war bonds and the printing of our first paper currency.

Three Westport homes built by Capt. Phineas still remain: our own; the house built for Albert, comprising the oldest part of 150 Compo Road; and Dr. Joseph’s home (incorrectly called Charles Taylor House) at 268 Wilton Road, beautifully preserved and expanded.

268 Wilton Road

Ketchum’s Hockanum and others are nearby. Not located in a designated historic district, they are in peril of meeting the same end as the Redding home Daniel built with Captain Phineas, unceremoniously demolished in 2006.

Our research took on new meaning as I placed our home on the market. We met with representatives of the Historic Commission and the Westport Historical Society to determine what protections would keep our home safe from the developer’s bulldozer. I was astonished to find that there were virtually none.

Dedicated organizations have the power to forestall, but not prevent. Registering the house as a historical landmark will take more time than I have. And the restrictions are so severe that even an antique lover is dissuaded from purchase. There does not seem to be a middle ground.

I support progress. But there are uncountable new builds for sale in Westport. Is it progress to destroy homes that speak to us of our ancestors, of their sacrifice to create the democracy we enjoy? Shall we lose the opportunity they afford to teach our children about the entrepreneurial spirit that created our town, and country?

As a native Westporter, I sincerely hope not.

Photo Challenge #117

Last week’s photo challenge was different. It was a portrait of an old guy, hanging in a private home.

Some people thought it was unfair. They guessed every famous Westporter — except Morris Ketchum. (The photo — circa 1850s, which you can see by clicking here — comes from Bob Ketchum. He’s Morris’ great-great-grandson, living far from Connecticut. Bob sent it to me, saying, “very little family lore was passed down” before his father — also named Morris — died.)

Finally, Pam Romano zeroed in on him.

So who was Morris Ketchum?

Bob’s great-great-grandfather helped bring the railroad to Westport. According to Woody Klein’s book he lived a couple of miles away, on a 500-acre estate called Hockanum. Consisting of parks, farmlands, wheat fields, vineyards, forests and gardens, it was considered one of the nation’s most beautiful estates. It was designed by Ketchum’s friend, Frederick Law Olmsted (who also designed Central Park).

Born in 1796 in New York state, he came to Westport as a youth. Married to a member of the Burr family, Ketchum made his money in the cotton trade. He founded one of the first cotton commission houses in the country, in New York City. That led to his interest in the newly developing transportation network of railroads (with another wealthy Westporter, Horace Staples). That led to his role as a titan on Wall Street.

Hockanum — known now most as the place Abraham Lincoln allegedly slept at while here to raise money for the Civil War — still stands, on Cross Highway. Ketchum’s land — from Roseville Road all the way north to the Merritt Parkway and Lyons Plains — has been largely developed.

Morris Ketchum Jesup — who provided funds for the Westport Public Library building on the Post Road in 1908, shortly before his death — was Morris Ketchum’s godson. Morris Ketchum had been a close friend of Jesup’s father, who died when Jesup was young.

Got all that?!

Now you can smile at this week’s photo challenge. And stop complaining: It’s as Westport as Westport gets.

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(Photo/Lynn U. Miller)