The Benjamin Keeler House
The Benjamin Keeler House on lower Main Street was originally a one-and-a-half-story dwelling, built by Benjamin Keeler about 1756 on land that his grandfather, Samuel Keeler, had obtained as one of the original proprietors of Ridgefield, Lot #25.
Benjamin was born in Ridgefield in 1730 and was the brother of Timothy Keeler Jr., who owned the Keeler Tavern, and Isaac Keeler, whose grist mill was destroyed during an early skirmish of the Battle of Ridgefield. The three Keeler brothers were among the six offspring of Timothy Keeler Sr., also a farmer, and Abigail Osborne (d. 1735).
Timothy Keeler Sr., who died in 1748, left a sizable estate, including four enslaved “servants,” who were named in his will. At the time, Benjamin Keeler was a minor, only 17, so he did not come into his inheritance until a few years later, in 1754.
By 1756, Benjamin had built his house, a one-and-a-half story home typical for the period, and a large barn on Lot 25 and on Oct. 31 of that year married Martha Smith. They had four children before he died in 1769, only 38 years old.
Benjamin, Jr., their only son, went on to join the Patriot cause in the American Revolution, serving with Captain David Olmsted’s company, and then became a ship’s captain, sailing the brigantine Sally between Connecticut and the West Indies. He and his crew died when the Sally hit the Eaton’s Neck Reef off Long Island in late 1790.
Early in the 19th Century, the Keeler House was sold to Thaddeus Keeler, a farmer; his daughter Betsey, at the age of 25, married another farmer, William Northrup Benedict. CT House Histories LLC, which has done extensive research on this property, believes that Betsey and William Benedict “thoroughly reconstructed [the home] in the Italianate style at some point after the 1850 death of Thaddeus Keeler,” creating the two-story building seen today. The next generation, William A. Benedict and his wife Frances Elizabeth Frost, continued farming the property and he was also in the dairy business. They lived in the house for the rest of their lives. By the time he died in 1933, the farm was no longer in operation; she died in 1939.
Ernest Scott acquired the property in 1943. A well-known builder and entrepreneur, Scott had rebuilt St. Stephen’s Church in 1915 and then built the Scott Block on Main Street. He subdivided the Benedict property and sold the house and half the land to the Harvey family of New York City, initially as a weekend home. Marshall and Edna Harvey became active in the community and were members of St. Stephen’s Church.
Among the other 20th Century owners of the Benjamin Keeler House were RIchard and Phyllis Kluger, also initially weekend residents. He was a Princeton graduate and Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Ashes to Ashes, a history of the American tobacco industry. His book Simple Justice, an authoritative account of the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education decision by the Supreme Court, was written while in residence in Ridgefield Phyllis Schlain Kluger earned a degree in art history at Columbia University and wrote two books on needlepoint and is an accomplished fiber artist. They left Ridgefield in 1976 and now live in the San Francisco Bay area.
The Benjamin Keeler House remains a private residence, its history entwined with the many phases of Ridgefield history, from its early settlers to the weekend and summer residents to the 21st Century homeowners who treasure the town’s storied history.
Audio Story narrated by Rob Coloney.