The Stamford Historical Society Presents
Marion Castle: History Preserved
April 28 to September 28, 1985
A Concise History of Shippan
by Rosemary H. Burns
From the brochure
Marion Castle: History Preserved,
An Exhibit at the Stamford Historical Society
Marion Castle, built in 1914-16 to the designs of the prestigious architectural firm Hunt and Hunt of New York City, exemplifies the era of Shippan's coming alive as both the summer and year-round residences of wealthy New York and Stamford families. It is but one of the many large and beautiful houses built on Shippan Point after the turn of the century. However, Marion Castle is particularly significant because it is the only Shippan structure listed on The National Register of Historic Places. Perhaps even more significant is the fact that the house perpetuates the theme set nearly 175 years earlier by Moses Rogers, perhaps the most important man in Shippan's history, when he built his European style mansion surrounded by lavish landscaping, with sweeping lawns down to the sea.
Shippan's history is as old as the history of Stamford, but its name is even older, as it dates in writing to July of 1640 when the area then known as Rippowam (two years later renamed Stamford) was sold by the Indians to the English settlers. Ponus, Sagamore of Toquams, and Wascusse, Sagamore of Shippan, placed their marks on the deed. Shippan is, no doubt, an Indian place name—its translation unknown.
For the next fifty years, the beautiful peninsula, extending south into Long Island Sound, served the new owners as corn fields, just as it had served the Indians for years before. The Stamford landowners shared the fields in common, each planter responsible for a five rail fence to protect the crops from animals. By the end of the 17th century, Shippan, like the rest of Stamford, was given to individual owners in very precise quantities, as determined by the Stamford proprietors in their town meetings.
Early owners of Shippan included the Amblers, Browns, Beldings, Hoyts, Jaggers, Pettits, Waterburys and Weeds on the Point, while the Scofields and Newmans owned the land north of the Point in the area known as Wescotts. One of the earliest mentions of a house on Shippan appeared in 1741 in the will of Benjamin Belding, when he left his house at Shippan, valued at £350, to his children. Part of his 100 plus acre farm, Belding's Bluff, covering the southeast tip of Shippan, was retained by his children, and the rest sold to John Lloyd, a shipowner, who operated a general store at the mouth of the Mill River. Lloyd's residence was on today's West Park Place, next door to Abraham Davenport, however, he also owned a house in Shippan, reached by way of “The Field Highway”. A glimpse of the house is seen in a list of expenses for repairs in 1763, found among Lloyd's papers. Materials were ordered for four window frames containing a total of seventy-two sash lights.
In 1775 Lloyd sold the farm to Isaac Brown, who had married a Belding daughter. John Lloyd's father owned the large section on Long Island, known as Lloyds Neck, which was occupied by the British during the American Revolution. Early in the war, Colonel Benjamin Tallmadge used Shippan as a departure point for a small flotilla attacking the enemy troops on Long Island. A few years later, Tallmadge was informed of a loyalist troop movement to the east end of Long Island, and he requested permission from George Washington to cut off the detachment, once again choosing Shippan for embarkation. However, two days and nights of stormy December weather confined the troops to Shippan's shores and thwarted Tallmadge's operation.
As the new nation emerged from the war, several large farms of 100 acres or more flourished on Shippan Point, mostly farmed by the landowners themselves, while others were leased for share-cropping. In 1804, John Waterbury leased 100 acres, plus the buildings, on the southeast shore to Elisha Leeds. Only four of the acres were for Leeds' exclusive use, while the profits from the rest of the produce was to be shared with Waterbury. At the time, Leeds was granted permission to erect a ropewalk—a long narrow shed where ropes were made.
Within two years, the Waterbury farm was purchased by Moses Rogers for $10,000, increasing his land holdings in Shippan to over 400 acres— the entire south portion of the Point. In 1799, he had paid $8,000 for 102 acres, and in 1800 he bought 74 acres for $2,791. In other instances, Rogers bought small parcels of two acres or less.
Moses Rogers, born in 1750, spent part of his youth in Norwalk. Following the Revolution he and his brothers, along with many other Loyalists from the Stamford and Norwalk area, made their home in St. Johns, New Brunswick. Returning to the United States, Moses Rogers moved to New York City, where he quickly became a prominent and successful businessman. He formed a partnership known as Rogers & Woolsey Company, and was a director of the United States Bank. In 1812, Rogers built his “mansion house” on the east side of Shippan Avenue. Exactly where the house was built and exactly how long it remained there is currently under investigation. It probably stood close to Shippan Avenue, a few hundred feet south of today's Ocean Drive East. A description of the magnificent estate is available in a book called TRAVELS IN NEW ENGLAND AND NEW YORK, written in 1822 by Timothy Dwight, late president of Yale College and the brother-in-law of Moses Rogers. Arriving in Stamford, Dwight wrote:
Another is a peninsula on the east side of the harbor, mentioned above under the name of Shippan, the property of Moses Rogers, Esq., of the city of New York. This also is an elegant and fertile piece of ground. The surface slopes in every direction, and is encircled by a collection of exquisite scenery. The Sound, and Long Island beyond it, with a gracefully indented shore, are directly in front, and both stretch westward to a vast distance and eastward till the eye is lost. On each side also lies a harbor bounded by handsome points. A train of groves and bushy island, peculiarly pleasing in themselves, increase by their interruptions the beauty of these waters. The farm itself is a delightful object, with its fields neatly enclosed, its orchards, and its groves. Here Mr. Rogers has formed an avenue, a mile in length, reaching quite to the waters edge. At the same time, he has united plantations of fruit tress, a rich garden, and other interesting objects, so combined as to make this one of the pleasantest retreats in the United States.
Rogers brought Royal L. Gay from Stafford Springs, CT, to manage the estate. Gay served Stamford for years as a selectman and treasurer and was also representative to the state legislature. In 1825, Moses Rogers died, and in a very long, detailed will, he left his estate to his two sons, one daughter, several grandchildren, brothers, and nephews, who administered the estate in Shippan until the end of the century.
Almost immediately after Rogers' death, the mansion house, surrounding outbuildings, and 18 acres were rented to Isaac Bragg for $400 annually. The leasee was strictly warned to protect the gardens and specimen plantings, giving special attention to the fenced area south of the house known as “The Park.” Bragg conducted a boarding school on the estate, but the property gradually fell into a state of disrepair until it was properly restored by a new tenant, S.E. Lawrence, in 1845. In 1828, Silas Scofield leased the farmhouse on the Rogers estate, later building a large picturesque home for himself on Elm Street.
After Sarah Elizabeth Hopkins, the last surviving child of Moses Rogers, died in Ontario, New York, in 1866, the first of many public auctions of the Shippan land took place. On March 30, 1867, Sally Scofield placed the highest bid, $980, for a 10 acre parcel in the middle of Shippan. HARPERS WEEKLY printed a few scenes of the hundreds of people attending the auctions of 1869, and in 1870, Rogers' estate distributed a several page booklet, lavishly describing the property. By that time, parts of the area north of Rogers estate had changed hands, and Hugh McClean, a dairyman only recently arrived from Ireland, owned a large section of the land which is today Magee Avenue.
In the 1870's, the Rogers estate was subdivided into nearly 400 lots and new streets appeared on the map, including two named for Moses Rogers' grandchildren: Verplanck and Van Rensselaer. It was not until 1913 that the name Rogers was used as a street name. As part of the promotion of Shippan, a large hotel was built in 1870, called The Ocean House. It stood where the Woodway Beach Club is today. To encourage New York City residents to visit the area, a new steamer, THE SHIPPAN, was built in 1866. However, the financial “Panic of 1873” intervened and real estate sales slowed drastically, not resuming again until the 1880's.
Shippan served as a popular summer picnic spot for residents of Stamford and surrounding communities, and histories tell of one day in 1845 when over 500 people enjoyed a picnic on the point. It would appear that the property of the Moses Rogers estate was the site of these outings since Shippan was privately owned and no public parks were available for use. A public highway reaching to the shore, today's Shippan Avenue, existed at the time, as it had since the early 18th century.
Several large plots of land were sold in 1885 on the southeastern shore for $2,000 or more each, and that same year, Colonel Woolsey Rogers Hopkins, grandson of Moses Rogers, bought several parcels south of the hotel for $8,000 and in 1887 erected the large mansion on Ocean Drive East. Colonel Hopkins was the first president of the Stamford Historical Society and he often entertained the members at his “Holiday House”. Early in the 20th century the house was sold to the Andrus family, and it is still in their possession. Smaller parcels of land along the western shore (near today's Yacht Club) averaged $800 each, and several summer cottages were erected there at Silver Beach, including those of the Gillespie family who closed their houses in town and moved to Shippan for the summer.
By 1890, Reverend Daniel Potter, the wealthy pastor of The Tabernacle Baptist Church in New York City, bought what is believed to be the old Rogers mansion house south of Ocean Drive East, about where Rockledge Avenue is today. He built several houses in the area, leasing one of the older houses as The Manor Hotel. Reverend Potter's large yacht, PEARL, was an impressive sight anchored in Stamford Harbor.
The waters on all sides of the Point filled with boats each summer—some of them ferrying passengers from the Waterside docks to the newly-opened Shippan resorts of McDeavitt and Ennis. Getting the large crowds to the Shippan shores and to the race track at the northeast end of the point was becoming a problem and all sorts of suggestions were given, including a drawbridge over the meadows and a bridge over the canal. In 1892, the situation was eased when the Stamford Street Railway initiated trolley service to Shippan.
Michael McDeavitt became the proprietor of the 1870 Ocean House, renamed the Shippan House, and by 1890 he also had a pavillion and bathing houses, plus a casino 2 stories high on the property. In May of 1890, John Muzzio bought a merry-go-round from Asbury Park, New Jersey, and operated it on McDeavitt's grounds. (In 1905, Muzzio purchased the grounds of the East Side Rod & Gun Club, near the horse race track, the site of Marina Bay condominiums today, and moved the carousel there. The carousel building remained on the grounds until the late 1970's).
Another commercial enterprise opened in Shippan in 1887, when John Ennis purchased acreage at the southwest end of the Point and erected a unique bathing pavillion in the waters, where patrons could enjoy the saltwater beneath a roof. Ennis cleared the area for ball fields, and his shed for 150 horses proved far too small for the many patrons using the facilities.
The pleasures of Shippan intrigued many, especially the increasing numbers of yachtsmen, and in September 1890, The Stamford Yacht Club was formed. Early in the spring of 1891, William A. Lottimer was elected its first Commodore, and four acres of land were purchased on the western shore at the curve of the bay. Within three months the new building was completed by N.W. Barrett of Bridgeport, and the next year adjacent land and buildings were purchased. The club advertised “…equal facilities to the families of members in all sports and pleasures—yachting, bathing, tennis courts, croquet grounds, concerts, receptions, etc.” In the years that followed, a fleet of Stamford Schooners raced the Sound waters, while youngsters of the club enjoyed the Red Wing class, built locally at the Luders boatyard, located west across the harbor from the yacht club. In 1913, a tragic fire swept through the clubhouse buildings, but within a year a beautiful new structure took its place. Another boating group, the Halloween Yacht Club, was organized in 1926 and flourishes today on the west edge of Cummings Park.
Between 1891 and 1893 many meetings were held and many cross words were spoken, when the sale of Ennis's Enniston Park to the town of Stamford was being considered. Town meetings voted for, then later rescinded, its decision to purchase the beautiful southwestern tip of Shippan as a public park. The object of the largest town meeting to that date, the property was finally turned down in 1893 and quickly turned into private property. It was not until 1902 that interest was shown for a public park for Stamford residents to enjoy in Shippan, and on Halloween night, 1906, Homer Cummings cast the deciding vote to buy 95 acres of land for a public beach. The park was developed under the direction of civil engineer George Stadel, a Shippan resident. In 1916, a nine-hole golf course was built on the property which was first known as Halloween Park and later renamed Cummings Park.
In 1899, local press reported the purchase of the "old manse" (probably Moses Rogers' 1812 house) by the Fosdick Syndicate, later known as Shippan Manor Company, and a Mr. Marriot opened the Manor School there. A 3-story tall dormitory was built in 1902, which later housed the Stamford Military Academy and still later the Massee School. In 1911, the Stamford school of Miss Low and Miss Heywood moved to Shippan and a new building was built on the west side of Shippan Avenue. At about the same time, Leonard Barsaghi bought and refurbished the Shippan House and the Casino on Shippan's east shore.
In 1890, F.R. Gillespie built a small chapel at Ocean Drive West and Fairview Avenue, where he and other local residents preached at Sunday evening services and conducted Sunday School classes. To accommodate the growing numbers of Roman Catholics, a new parish, St. Mary's, was created and in 1907 a wooden church was built on Elm Street to house the congregation until the magnificent stone structure overlooking Shippan Point was dedicated on June 17, 1928.
Real estate activity continued to flourish, and the Shippan Land Company, headed by James Jenkins, purchased and began to develop over 100 acres of Shippan property early in the 20th century, opening the new Saddle Rock and Rogers Roads in 1913. The Atlantic Realty Company, headed by Thomas Cooke as president and Frank Gurley as secretary/treasurer, held a large public auction of lands in 1914 at Lanark, Auldwood, Downs, and Whittaker avenues, offering three minute airplane rides to attract prospective buyers. To reinforce the page-long list of restrictions of the Rogers estate to protect the beauty of the lands and also to prevent industry in Shippan, the Shippan Improvement Association was formed in 1902 with 25 members present. Constant battles were fought with the Stamford town government for more consideration of Shippan's needs. In 1916, a request was once again issued for the permanent paving of Shippan Avenue, but it was not until 1931 that the road was concreted. In 1924,
the Association fought for their own zoning rules and against the dump site on Magee Avenue near the Stamford Rubber Company factory built in 1908. Complaints about the high taxes paid for few services offered in return went unheeded. Dissatisfaction reached such a level that the many threats to secede from the town of Stamford and become the town of Shippan finally took effect in a petition to the state legislature to recognize Shippan as a private entity.
The request to secede from Stamford was denied, and Shippan remains today one of the jewels in Stamford's crown. Frank Marion chose well when he chose to build his castle in Shippan.
April 28, 1985
Rosemary H. Burns
Exhibit Co-curators: Rosemary Burns, Jane Convessore
Exhibit Design: Gordon Micunis Designs, Inc.
Cover Drawing by William Carriero, Norwalk, CT
The Marion Castle in the 2004 Exhibit Gracious Living in Stamford
Illustrated Sales Brochure
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