On the Market: Antique Colonial in Fairfield with a fascinating history
FAIRFIELD — Imagine the tales that the antique colonial house at 131 South Benson Road could tell. The house has stood at the northeasterly corner of South Benson Road and Old Post Road for 240 years.
The Captain Abraham Benson house has served as a residence, Fairfield’s first post office, and a tavern at which President Andrew Jackson is said to have “lunched … with 12 dignitaries of the area.” That same May 1976 article in the Bridgeport Sunday Post claims Aaron Burr, John Audubon and other notable people patronized the inn. A document housed at the Fairfield Museum and History Center says the inn was also “a popular stop for Daniel Webster and Washington Irving. One of the largest inns in the area, it was a stagecoach stop from New York to Boston.”
The house was built in 1779 to replace the original house that occupied this corner lot. According to several news articles in the Bridgeport Sunday Post from decades past and historical documents, that house was the second one torched by British Redcoats when they marched through the town on July 7 and 8, 1779, during the Revolutionary War. All but six houses burned in that invasion. The owner of the house at the time, General Elijah Abel, rebuilt it and in 1810 sold it to Benson when the latter man married Abel’s niece. The house has remained in the Benson family since that time.
Although the house has seen better days, an architect from Redding with expertise in residential antique preservation and the listing agent both agree it has great bones and it is definitely worth preserving.
“In my decades as an architect, working on historic buildings and doing preservation planning, I have seldom come upon a significant 18th-century house so well preserved ... Over more than two centuries of habitation, the Benson house has undergone many changes, but none that dilutes its architectural integrity,” Glynn says to the listing agent, Sherri Steeneck, in a note posted in the house. “The Abraham Benson house deserves sensitive updating and renewal; this could be accomplished within a reasonable budget. The building is sound, it simply needs well-conceived, tasteful interventions,” Glynn says in the note.
“Glynn’s experience in preservation includes serving as project architect for the repair and the restoration of Springwood, Franklin Roosevelt’s house in Hyde Park; and serving as both project architect and construction manager for the restoration and adaptive reuse of the Heurich House Museum, on Dupont Circle in Washington, D. C. The Heurich project won an American Institute of Architects Merit Award for “design sensitivity and craftsmanship,” according to the website for the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation.
The house is “A history lover’s dream,” according to Steeneck. “Don’t let the outside, which needs paint, fool you. Yes you will need some cash to renovate, but the neighborhood values warrant it! This is not a tear down. It’s a treat for your eyes with a million dollar view of the Old Post Road,” she said. Add on or work within the existing footprint to bring this 3,295-square-foot house into the 21st century, the agent said.
From its placement on a fully fenced 0.44-acre level property, in the In-Town or Center section of Fairfield, the next owners can watch the tail end of the Memorial Day Parade, which concludes at that corner. They can walk to Penfield Beach, Jennings Beach, and Fairfield Marina. Despite its proximity to local beaches, the house does not require flood insurance, the agent said. The house is just a block away from shops and restaurants along the Post Road (Route 1), and it is within walking distance of the train station, Town Hall and the Fairfield Museum and History Center.
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Inside, the nine-room house features high ceilings, grand and spacious rooms, original wide-plank floors, fine period details, many built-ins, ample closet space, and seven fireplaces. There is actually an eighth one but it is no longer exposed. “With some repair and/or gas conversion all eight may be able to be made operational,” the agent said.
Outside, there is a stone columned pergola with wisteria, a rock garden, perennials including lilacs, and a non-functional outhouse and well.
This is a rare opportunity to own a fascinating piece of Fairfield history. A “blank slate” with many opportunities to incorporate history with the comforts of 2019, the agent said.
“This is a rare opportunity for a person who finds joy living in an old building of character and beauty. And note that it does not have to be treated like a museum, it could be furnished with contemporary furniture and art and reach a high note of aesthetic sophistication. For instance, modern Scandinavian furniture would look perfectly at home in these classically proportioned rooms,” Glynn said.
ABOUT THIS HOUSE
TYPE: Antique Colonial
ADDRESS: 131 South Benson Road
NUMBER OF ROOMS: 9
FEATURES: historic house in a historic district, water community, fully fenced 0.44-acre property, corner lot, patio, garden area, stone columned pergola with wisteria, rock garden, enclosed porch, new 200 amp electrical service, pre-wired for cable, storm doors and windows, only one block from Post Road (Route 1); easy walk to local beaches, South Benson Marina, downtown Fairfield shops, restaurants and train station, the Fairfield Museum and History Center and Town Hall; close to Roger Sherman Elementary School, eight fireplaces (seven of them exposed), disability features include 36-inch wide hallways, unfinished basement, walk-up attic, oil heat, detached one-car garage, public water and sugar connections, four bedrooms, one full bath
SCHOOLS: Roger Sherman Elementary, Roger Ludlowe Middle, Fairfield Ludlowe High
TAX RATE: 26.79 mills
For more information or to set up an appointment to see the house, contact Sherri A. Steeneck of Higgins Group Real Estate at 203-395-2737 or firstname.lastname@example.org.