History Matters: A Look at The New Canaan Historical Society

March 3, 2020

Tucked in a cluster of historic buildings off Oenoke Road north of downtown New Canaan is the New Canaan Historical Society.

Founded in 1889, the historical society serves as New Canaan’s official record keeper of historical events, the genealogies of the families who have lived in the town, the collection of relics and curiosities to form and fill museums and the maintenance of a research library that contains more than 3,500 volumes. The library also houses manuscripts, deeds, newspapers, photographs and other significant documents that date to the colonial era.

The historical society owns or operates eight museums and buildings on the property, including the John Rogers Studio and Museum. Originally located on the property of St. Mark’s Church, the Rogers studio was saved from demolition in 1960 and moved to the grounds of the historical society.

Rogers, who lived in New Canaan during the summer, built and worked in the studio for many years, creating his signature “Rogers Groups” sculptures that featured scenes of the Civil War, church-goers sitting in pews during services or organ grinders with their monkeys.

Many of Rogers’ sculptures were made of plaster and made his pieces more affordable for working-class people. It led to him becoming known as “the people’s sculptor.”

Tours of the Rogers Studio can be arranged by contacting the Historical Society at 203.966.1776, visiting https://nchistory.org/events/, or contacting Historical Society Assistant Director Donna Dearth at ddearth@nchistory.org.

Other historic buildings located on the property include the Hanford-Silliman House and the Gores Pavilion. The Hanford-Silliman House was built in 1764 by Stephen Hanford, a weaver and New Canaan’s first licensed tavern keeper, and was home to several generations of the Silliman family. Gores Pavilion is a former pool house designed by Landis Gores that was saved from demolition by a group of New Canaan residents in 2005 and is open to the public on weekends.

The Historical Society hosts a full schedule of events during the year, including lectures, tours, exhibitions and educational workshops. Because of the closures in the constitution state and throughout the United States caused by the COVID-19 health crisis, the Society recommends checking https://nchistory.org/ for updated hours of operations and social distancing restrictions.