The Immigrants’ Story
In a very real sense the chain of owners who gave life to the David Scott House represent the story of Ridgefield, indeed the story of America. Original builder David Scott was an Irish immigrant and his successor, Vivus Dauchy, was a Frenchman. Mid-nineteenth century owners Joel Rockwell and William Lounsbury both descended from old English families who sought American shores in hope of religious freedom. Twentieth century occupants Ernest Scott and the Addessi Family hailed respectively from Scotland and Italy.
Since its very founding in 1708, Ridgefield’s broad Main Street has welcomed a continuous procession of hard working immigrants to build her houses, cultivate fields, operate cottage industries, and tend her shops. German stone-layers, Scandinavian farmers, Italian stone-cutters and refugees from a dozen other nationalities all found shelter in our community. As this marvelous three century parade marched down Main Street, there was no better view than from the Old David Scott House.
1. David Scott (1712-1741)
On November 25, 1708, the choicest home lots along “Town Street” (today’s Main Street) were distributed among Ridgefield’s original proprietors by lottery. This particular “home lott” of about ten acres was drawn by Jonathan Stevens of Norwalk, who died before settling here, whereupon the property passed to his mother, the widow Mary Bouton. Mary dealt the still undeveloped parcel in 1712 to Irish-born David Scott — patriarch of the prolific founding family that populated the “Scotland District.”
Although exact details may never be known, historian Silvio Bedini suggests that Scott abandoned his wife, Mary Scott, emigrated to America, then entered into a relationship with Elizabeth St. John, daughter of original Ridgefield proprietor Samuel St. John. Unexpectedly, Mary Scott “of Ireland, of the town and County of Londonderry” arrived and took her husband to court in a case citing Elizabeth as the “pretended wife of David Scott.” According to court records, Mary “obtained a judgment against her husband… and she took 3 acres and 72 rods by execution.”
On the remaining six acres David Scott erected a simple dwelling which evolved over two and a half centuries into the “Scott House” of today. About twenty-five years later in February 1741 for the then princely sum of 500 English Pounds, Scott sold the “home lott” and another parcel to his son-in-law, the Frenchman Vivus Dauchy.
Enslaved People in Ridgefield
Town land records note “a certain Negro woman named Dinah, and a Negro boy, named Peter” were sold in 1740 by David Scott to Vivus Dauchy, and at Scott’s death probate court records reveal a “Negro girl named Ann” valued at 37 1/2 pounds in his personal estate. Scott’s inhumane behavior was not unusual for the time, since slavery was not abolished in Connecticut until 1848. Several prominent Ridgefield families of the period were slave owners, including Congregational Church Minister Jonathan Ingersoll, who in 1777 freed twenty-year old Cyphax. The freeing of slaves was considered a property transfer and duly recorded in town land records.
2. Vivus Dauchy (1741-1781)
Fleeing France at the age of eighteen, Vivus landed in New Rochelle, New York around 1725, then migrated to Ridgefield where he married Rachel Wallace sometime before 1734. In February, 1741, Dauchy purchased the “home lott” from his father-in-law, David Scott, and erected a new dwelling with a connecting link to the original home in which his father-in-law continued to reside for another nineteen years.
How Scott’s daughter gained the Wallace surname remains a mystery, but it is certain that Rachel bore Dauchy seven children under this roof before her 1748 death. The virile Vivus subsequently remarried twice (Hannah Sherwood and Mary Keeler Olmstead) and fathered six additional children, the last of which at the age of sixty-one!
From Fighter of Native Americans to Patriot
As early as 1724 the upper Connecticut settlements sent alarms downstate for troops to campaign against marauding Native American war parties, and in a Town Meeting of September, 20, 1748, Ridgefield voted to pay “six pounds old tenor” to soldiers who responded. During the subsequent French and Indian Wars (1755-57), twenty-two Ridgefield men rode off to fight under the command of Captain Perez Smith of Stamford. One of them was Vivus Dauchy’s son, Vivus junior, who according to family tradition, was subsequently killed in action. Perhaps because of his son’s death, fifty year old Vivus entered the fray in 1756, commissioned by the General Assembly as Captain of the First Ridgefield Company. The following March, his first-born son James also enlisted, but their exploits, alas, have gone unrecorded.
Although a fervent patriot, Dauchy (aged 70) did not participate in the Battle of Ridgefield and must have been horrified when English General Tryon’s troops marched past this house to torch his next door neighbor — Saint Stephens Episcopal Church! From then until his death in 1795, Captain Dauchy became a devoted Episcopalian for according to Robert Haight’s history of Saint Stephen’s Church “Until the new church was constructed, all the church meetings were held in the captain’s home because of its proximity to the church.”
3. Nathan Dauchy (1781-1824)
In 1781, thirty-four year old Nathan inherited half of his father’s house and together with wife Mary (Smith), raised eight children under this roof while operating a shop on the property. Well respected by fellow townsmen, Nathan represented Ridgefield for multiple terms between 1799 and 1815 in the state legislature. Described as “Captain Nathan Dauchy” by historian George Rockwell, he must have also served in some military capacity, perhaps during the Revolution; however Nathan’s most lasting contribution was in service to Saint Stephen’s Episcopal Church located next door to the Scott House.
Rebuilding the Burned Church
At the outbreak of Revolution, outspoken Tory Episcopal minister Epinetus Townsend abandoned his congregation and the church discontinued services. Used as a patriot storage depot, the structure was burned beyond repair by departing British soldiers after the Battle of Ridgefield and rebuilding was not easy since Saint Stephen’s was known as the Church of England. The Dauchy House functioned as meeting hall for Saint Stephen’s determined rebuilders, who after two disappointing fundraisers, decided under this in 1791 to augment reconstruction funding by auctioning off the church pews by lot to the highest bidder. Evidently the closer the pew was to the altar, the higher its fund raising value! Later the church expressed its thanks for Nathan’s forty year support by installing a stone memorial, inscribed in part:
IS ERECTED BY THE VESTRY
IN MEMORY OF
A ZEALOUS FRIEND
AND SUPPORTER OF THE CHURCH.
HE DIED APRIL 14, 1824,
IN THE GLORIOUS HOPE OF A
4. Nathan Jr. & Jeremiah Dauchy (1824-1838)
Following Nathan Dauchy’s 1824 death, the Scott House passed to two fourth-generation direct descendants of original builder David Scott — Nathan’s sons, Nathan Jr. and Jeremiah. Described by the 1850 and 1860 census respectively as “farmer” and “mason”, little else is known about Jeremiah other than his 1816 marriage to Clarissa Keeler. Nathan Jr. struck up an active partnership with Clarissa’s cousin, Timothy Keeler, in a retail operation that was successful enough, according to historian Silvio Bedini, for the pair to open a New York City office. Having achieved some measure of financial success, Nathan Jr. relocated to Troy, New York in 1836, from where he carried on the Dauchy tradition of supporting Ridgefield’s Saint Stephens Episcopal Church by establishing its first permanent ministry with a generous $1200 contribution.
5. Walter & Keeler Dauchy (1838-1852)
Walter was a War of 1812 veteran, Keeler was warden of Saint Stephen’s Episcopal Church for thirty-seven years, and both men represented Ridgefield in the state legislature. As there is no evidence either man ever resided in the Scott House, the dwelling was most likely ocuppied by a series of renters during their fourteen-year ownership. One such renter, in 1846, was local hat factory owner and town postmaster, Russell Jones.
As collateral for his $100 annual rent payment, Jones signed over the contents of his household goods to his Dauchy landlords. Providing a rare glimpse of how simply a period interior was furnished, Jones’ belongings included:
“… one Ingram Carpet of twenty yards, one empire cooking stove, fourteen cane-bottomed chairs, one sett of cherry chairs, one pair of Silver Plated Candle Sticks, one pair of Brass Candlesticks, one sett of China ware, one wire safe, two beds and two bedsteads with bed clothing, one Bureau, one Chest, one Mahogany table with Brass rollers, two work stands, one Brass Kettle and one Clock.”
6. Joel L. Rockwell (1852-1859)
New York City born great-grandson of original Ridgefield Proprietor Jonathan Rockwell, Joel went to sea as third mate on the schooner “Grampus” at the age of seventeen, returning in 1850 to marry Ann Eliza Lounsbury, daughter of a prosperous Farmingville farmer, and sister of two future Connecticut Governors — Phineas and George Lounsbury. Two years later Joel acquired the Scott House from Keeler and Mary Dauchy in a parcel which was only twelve by six rods (about half an acre).
A tailor by profession, Rockwell conducted business for seven years from a small shop (demolished in 1922) immediately to the south of the house. Bass drummer in the newly formed Ridgefield Band, Joel was also active in the local Methodist Church, but apparently for business reasons sold the Scott House in 1859 and moved his tailoring business to New Haven. His twenty year partnership with Phineas and George Lounsbury created a highly successful merchant tailor business and he soon followed the brothers into Republican Party politics, ultimately riding the Temperance Movement wave into a term in the Connecticut Legislature. Joel Rockwell sat on the Ridgefield Methodist Church board for more than thirty years, but is best remembered today as the father of local historian George Lounsbury Rockwell.
7. Sarah and William Lounsbury (1859 -1865)
From the little Catoonah Street shop adjacent to his new home, William Lounsbury operated a small shoe manufactury until 1865 when he moved the business to Bridgeport and according to historian Silvio Bedini “established a large and successful shoe factory under the name of William Lounsbury & Company.” The shoe business must have been in Lounsbury blood because Williams’s father, Nathan, from his Farmingville farm, crafted footwear for the New York market; while in nearby Norwalk, George and Phineas grew wealthy operating the Lounsbury-Mathewsen Shoe Company — a real powerhouse that employed a hundred seventy-five people and turned out three to four thousand pairs of shoes weekly!
When Ridgefield helped Shoe America
A humming cottage industry hot-bed during the first half of the nineteenth century, Ridgefield was highly regarded for its carriage, candlestick, hat and shoe production. Facilitated by David Valden’s huge one-hundred-vat leather tannery, shoemaking became a local specialty. As early as 1800 Reverend Samuel Goodrich noted two Ridgefield shoe factories, forty local shoemakers were listed in the 1820 census, and historian Silvio Bedini observed that twenty shoemakers alone worked out of their West lane homes prior to the civil war. Huge military demands, however, gave birth to large urban shoe factories which overwhelmed local cottage industries with economies of scale. One of the casualties was the Scott House’s new owner, Henry Mead who, as we soon shall see, sought other means of employment.
8. Henry Mead (1865-1901)
A century and a quarter old when purchased by Henry and Caroline Mead in 1865 from William Lounsbury, the venerable Scott house served as Mead’s home for more than thirty-five years. Described as a shoe-maker in the 1860 census, Henry Mead switched professions after buying this house and converted the small adjacent shop (used respectively as tailor shop and shoe manufactury by his two predecessors) into a grocery store.
The shoemaker’s awl and mallet, however, were still plied upstairs above the store where Henry’s brother, Charles, established a shoe repair business. Had Charles been born a century later, he would have made a great Manhattan commuter, for according to historian George Rockwell, Charles always came to work at four o’clock in the morning and bolted for home sharply at four in the afternoon! Mead operated his little grocery for twenty-five years and while never wealthy, the Grand Tax List of 1890 valued his house and store at $2900 and recorded two horses and a $200 bank account among his assets.
Incredible as it may seem, Ridgefield did not have a bank of any kind until 1871, when the Ridgefield Savings Bank opened its offices on Main Street less than a hundred yards north of the old Scott House. Savings Banks of this period were mutual institutions, owned by the depositors and chartered by the State to serve the small investor. Local grocer Henry Mead was exactly the type of small investor the state had in mind and he served three years from 1891 to 1894 as a Director of the young Ridgefield Savings Bank.
The Great Fire of 1895
Around nine o’clock in the evening of Sunday, December the eighth, smoke was observed billowing from the rear of the Bedient building along Ridgefield’s Main Street. As there was no fire department (not even volunteers), and no water hydrant system, the crackling flames quickly spread among the wood framed buildings and soon turned H.P. Bissell’s drug store into an inferno. Despite efforts of a make-shift bucket brigade, presumably including a hastily dressed Henry Mead, most of the town’s central business district was consumed in the blaze. Mead’s store eventually caught fire from wind-born debris, but thankfully was saved. Next door to Mead, the Saint Stephen’s Episcopal Church, rectory and barns also briefly inflamed, then were similarly rescued. The David Scott House, apparently protected by Main Street’s broad expanse and a shift in the wind, emerged unscathed.
Less than six years later, in May 1901, seventy-two year old Henry Mead was declared insolvent and this property attached with a $5000 mortgage from the Ridgefield Savings Bank, was put on the public auction block, while the Probate Court awarded Mead “six dollars a week for six months to support self and family.” The very Town Clerk who had notarized all of Mead’s Probate Court records, Colonel Hiram Keeler Scott, then acquired the property in partnership with his two sons for $7400.
9. Hiram K. Scott & Sons (1901-1922)
After a sixty-one year absence, this pre-Revolutionary post and beam saltbox dwelling returned at long last to the family of original owner David Scott. The new owners, Colonel Hiram Keeler Scott and his sons Hiram Jr. and George, were sixth and seventh generation direct descendants of the pioneering Scott who had arrived around 1712.
Hiram K. Scott was a true pillar of the community, serving twenty-eight years as Ridgefield Postmaster, thirty-five years as Probate Judge, forty-five years as Town Clerk, all the while operating a local drug store for half a century. He also served a term in the state legislature and was quite proud of his role as Vice-Chairman of the town’s bicentennial celebration in 1908, but his civic consciousness came to the fore as early as 1853 when he founded the town’s first circulating library. In his spare time, Colonel Scott was Master of the Free Mason Jerusalem Lodge #49 and for thirteen years High Priest of the Royal Arch Masons.
Son George followed in his father’s huge footsteps, becoming both Probate Judge and Town Clerk for many years, also serving as Master Mason of the Jerusalem Lodge. While Town Clerk, seventy-one year old George Scott fired off a letter on his official stationery to the War Department, offering to serve during the Second World War, proclaiming “… I want to do anything that I can to crush that paper hanger in Berlin. … I don’t think that I would fit in the front line trenches, but I do feel that I could be of use in some other capacity.” Scott’s generous offer was, thankfully, never acted upon by the Pentagon.
Although this property was owned jointly by Colonel Scott and his two sons, it is doubtful that Hiram senior ever lived here, having died in 1909 at the age of eighty-seven of a cerebral hemorrhage. Hiram K. Scott junior may have ocuppied the old Scott House from 1901, until his premature death in 1912. A livery man who operated a large two story stable just off Bailey Avenue behind the Bedient Furniture store, Hiram junior used the small retail building adjacent to the Scott House as his office. Although his livery was damaged during the Great Fire of 1895, Scott quickly rebuilt the stable, and like his father, served many years as Ridgefield Postmaster. Upon Hiram junior’s death in 1912, his brother, George, became the property’s sole owner until he sold the place ten years later. George Scott realized that the old house was ideally sited in Ridgefield’s burgeoning comercial district and shrewdly rented the building to a series of businesses, including a grocery store, tea room, and Ladies garment shop.
The Old Soda Fountain
For restless boys prowling the shady, leafy streets of turn of the century downtown Ridgefield, one of summer’s greatest pleasures could be had for only two cents. The town’s first soda fountain was installed as far back as 1853… by none other than Hiram K. Scott at his Main Street Drug Store. In an incredible stroke of fortunate timing, Scott sold his drug business to H.P. Bissell four months before the Great Fire which completely destroyed the store in 1895. Bissell rebuilt immediately and purchased a shiny new state-of-the-art “frigid soda and mineral water draught apparatus” from the Peeffer & Louis Company of Boston, complete with marble body, oaken top, fancy mirror and assorted light fixtures.
Confronting thirsty young Bissell customers, including George and Hiram Scott Jr.’s teenage sons) was an astounding array of gleaming chrome pumps offering up to twenty-four syrup choices! In addition to old standbys such as vanilla, strawberry, root beer, cherry, grape, and Coca-Cola, a boy could opt for more exotic flavors like maple, sarsaprilla, wintergreen, catawba, pine-apple, or sherbet. For the undecided, there was even a flavor curiously labeled “don’t care.” Bissell’s specialty, however, was a proprietary “vanilla” formula concocted on the premises and proudly offered in a concentrated bottled form and advertised in The Ridgefield Press all the way up to the Second World War.
10. Ernest and Marie Scott (1922-1982)
One might easily assume new owner Ernest Scott had descended from original builder, David Scott. However sentimentally tempting, this assumption would be erroneous, for twenty-four year old construction engineer Ernest Scott arrived here in 1907, fresh off the boat from Aberdeen, Scotland! In another satisfying coincidence, the new Saint Stephen’s Episcopal Church was constructed in 1915 by Ernest’s company — near the very spot where previous Scott House owners Vivus and Nathan Dauchy had helped rebuild Saint Stephen’s after the Revolution!
After a successful Fifteen year run as head of his own construction company, in 1922 Ernest sensed the commercial potential of this central location and promptly demolished the small store, moved the old Scott House down Catoonah Street about a hundred yards, then erected a retail and apartment edifice naturally known as the “Scott Block.” Unfortunately, the original center chimney was removed during the move and never re-installed.
Ernest Scott was a dynamo, operating a Main Street food market as well as a coal business on Prospect Street where the old Ridgefield railway station once stood. Next he acquired the buildings directly across the street from his “Scott Block,” renovated the edifice, and rented the space out as “Scott Block #2.” Following his death in 1958, second wife Marie maintained these real estate rental holdings, including the relocated David Scott House, for nearly another quarter-century.
11. Enrico & Donna Addessi (1982-1999)
After Marie Scott’s death in 1982, the venerable old building was in desperate need of repair. At this point, the five buildings comprising the “Scott Block” were acquired by jewelry store owners Enrico and Donna Addessi, and the block was renamed Addessi Square. The Addessi family tended the Scott House for the next 17 years. By 1999, it became obvious that it was not economically feasible to renovate the Scott House for any further use. When James Tobin approached the Addessi family about the possibility of preserving the structure, the family encouraged the idea, and offered the first $10,000 gift to save the house, and subsequently gifted the structure itself.
12. The Ridgefield Preservation Trust/Ridgefield Historical Society (1999-present)
The house’s final owner, The Ridgefield Preservation Trust, put it to use as a new historical society headquarters.
On Feb. 23, 1999, after plans had been announced to demolish the early 18th Century Scott House on Catoonah Street to allow for parking and new buildings, concerned citizens including James Tobin and Madeline Corbin, raised the alarm. A committee quickly formed to attempt to save one of the town’s oldest colonial buildings. The original saltbox had once stood facing Main Street at the corner of Catoonah, but had been moved to make way for modern construction in the early 20th Century.
Founded under the auspices of the Ridgefield Preservation Trust, the Scott House Committee was led by Jeanne Timpanelli, a former president of the Keeler Tavern Museum and a founder of the Ridgefield Archives Committee, and architect David Scott (no relation to the original owner), who had had his office in the building. Another early member was Kay Ables, now town historian.
Speaking with a reporter for The Ridgefield Press after the first meeting of the eight-member committee, both Ms. Timpanelli and Mr. Scott emphasized the building’s historical and architectural importance.
“It would be impossible to reproduce that unique, beautifully proportioned building today, as the materials are hand-hewn and the wrought iron nails are made by a blacksmith,” said Mr. Scott, adding that the house still had some of its original cedar shingle siding.
The Scott House Speaks
I am a burden to my owners and a worry to my friends.
Some say “shambles” “eyesore” “a blight on the block”
And ask “How can you care about that old wreck?”
It’s true, my beauty is marred
my face is without grace
But look again and hear my story.
I was here from the beginning.
My beams were wilderness trees
cut down by those who came to build a town
in this high, wild, inland place.
They forged my nails, sawed my boards, shaped my shingles
to make a sturdy home in the style of the day.
For 200 years on my Main Street corner
I watched the village grow.
Every man, woman and child passed by me
on foot and horse, in wagons and cars.
I saw Benedict Arnold storm by
and General Tryon advance.
In the great fire of 1895
I feared I would not survive.
There is no parade I didn’t celebrate.
Best was our bicentennial of 1908.
Perhaps you are weary of me
Perhaps you are leery of me
Because I need money and care
But others are coming who will hold me dear
And be grateful to you for keeping me here.
To wreck me, to raze me, will wound you.
I hold your memories and tell your story.
I belong to the soul of your town.
You will be three centuries old in 2008.Jeanne Timpanelli
Let me be with you when you celebrate.
Move me, restore me, use me,
It’s not too late.
Over several months, the Scott House Committee raised awareness and money, and with the cooperation of the Addessi family and their donation of the building plus $10,000 toward its disassembly, the David Scott House was saved to rise again. By November 1999, the Sunset Lane site was selected and a plan was prepared and presented to the Board of Selectmen by architect David Scott, who was president of the Ridgefield Preservation Trust Scott House Committee. Other members of the group were Jeanne Timpanelli, secretary; Madeleine Corbin, vice president; Susan Payne, treasurer; and Wendy Erich, Leslie Ide, Jim Roberts and Kathryn Rosa.
By September 2000, the committee was ready to apply for a special permit to rebuild the Scott House, as the home of the new Ridgefield Historical Society with a climate-controlled basement vault for archival storage. A Founders Day celebration introduced the project to the town and launched public fund-raising efforts to augment the $440,000 that the committee had already raised.
The frame of the building was reconstructed on the new site in November 2001, once again fitted together and joined with wooden pegs. Virgil Rollins of Rollins Restoration was in charge of putting the frame back together; he and his crew had disassembled the building two years before. As the building rose, the new Ridgefield Historical Society was being formally incorporated. Fund-raising continued and many of the town’s craftsmen and tradesmen offered in-kind donations.
The first officers of the new Ridgefield Historical Society, which had its first Scott House open houses in September, November and December 2002, were: Keith M. Jones, president; Jeanne Timpanelli and Kay Ables, vice presidents; Georgianne Kasuli, treasurer; Lee Dickinson and Michele Mahland, secretaries; and Linda Hannah, Leslie Ide, Patricia Kearney, Robert Law, Gerri Lewis, Robin Rohrmann, Kathryn Rosa, David W. Scott, Gary Singer and Patricia Stephens, members of the board.