Taghkanick, the estate built by Wadsworth Lewis in Ridgefield in the 1930s
Eighty years after his death, Wadsworth Russell Lewis continues to benefit Ridgefielders through the Wadsworth R. Lewis Fund, which was created to support organizations that benefit the Ridgefield community. The Ridgefield Historical Society is grateful to have received a 2022 grant from the fund, which is administered by Fairfield County Bank.
Born in Tarrytown, N.Y., Wadsworth Lewis spent his early years at Upagenstit, the grand West Lane estate of his parents, Frederic E. and Mary Lewis. Following his father’s death and the sale of Upagenstit in the 1930s, the younger Lewis built his own estate, which he called Taghkanick. Located between Limestone and Great Hill Roads, the property was later the home of Henry and Clare Boothe Luce, and remains in place today. Wadsworth R. Lewis, known to friends as “Waddy,” lived in grand style at Taghkanick, with a house staff of six, including a chauffeur, butler, three maids and a cook listed in the 1940 census. Lewis was an award-winning grower of orchids, helped along by the premier orchid expert, John W. “Jack” Smith, who was his estate superintendent.
A Navy veteran of World War I, Wadsworth Lewis became an active participant in Ridgefield community life, serving on a number of boards and committees and supporting various endeavors, including a baseball team, “Waddy’s All-Stars.”
In his “Notable Ridgefielders” essay about Wadsworth Lewis, Jack Sanders recounts how Lewis helped keep the local weekly newspaper afloat:
In the late 1930s, he came to the rescue of The Ridgefield Press which, a couple years earlier, had been purchased by the brothers Karl and John Nash.
John, a longtime friend of Lewis, explained what happened: ‘My brother and I had the Ridgefield Press and in the early days, we were really struggling. The previous owner of the building sold it to us with a mortgage of $9,000. Rather unexpectedly one day, they approached us and wanted us to close out the mortgage.
‘We, of course, didn’t have the money. We managed to negotiate them down to $3,000, but we didn’t have that either.
‘Somehow, Waddy heard about it, probably through our mutual friend, Joe Donnelly, who was the attorney on the original deal. One day he showed up with a chauffeur-driven Lincoln, and told us that he was going to take care of the problem. He drove us down to New York to his bank. He asked the bank manager to arrange a loan at a favorable rate for his friends. The bank manager said, “Of course, Mr. Lewis. Would a rate of 2% be okay?” That solved the problem for us and saved the paper.’
Wadsworth R. Lewis died suddenly at 53 in 1942, leaving a bequest that continues to benefit the town where he spent much of his life. Distributions began in 1950 and have totalled more than $4,000,000 in the years since.