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Firwood on the Sound Historical house on the market for $16.75 million

Published 1:03 am, Thursday, April 8, 2010

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  • This photo shows the Firwood Mansion as it stood in 1877, before John D. Crimmins' renovations. Photo: Contributed Photo / Darien News
    This photo shows the Firwood Mansion as it stood in 1877, before John D. Crimmins' renovations. Photo: Contributed Photo

 

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The floors of Firwood are intricately crafted diamond patterns, made of oak, mahogany and walnut by billiard table craftsmen in the 19th century. They're timeless and unique, much like the rest of the house and its property, which was recently put on the real estate market for $16.75 million.

Climbing up the stairs to the second and third floors of the house shows a slightly different atmosphere.

On the third floor, there's a red runner down the long hallway, which Bill Ewing and his sister Sheila Daley used as a racing straight-away with their seven siblings as they grew up in the house.

"We would roller skate through the halls," said Daley.

"It wasn't really good for the floor, so we did it here on the red runner, not on the actual floor," said Ewing.

Growing up in the 14-bedroom home was an adventure, they said.

Ewing and Daley's great grandfather, John D. Crimmins purchased the house at 203 Long Neck Point Road from Hugh Collender in 1890 to use as a summer home. At that time, it was known as "The Mansion on the Point," and was part of a 15-acre tract of land; Crimmins paid $32,500 for the entire purchase, according to his diary.

Crimmins had a total of 13 children, though two died in infancy. Over the years, the original estate was split into several smaller pieces of land, and homes for his descendants were erected. Firwood, which he named for the abundance of fir trees on the property, was left to his daughter Evelyn, before passing into the hands of her niece, Mary Crimmins Challinor Ewing, who raised her nine children, including Bill Ewing and Daley, in the home.

With an abundance of cousins growing up in the neighboring homes, and visiting for holidays, there was rarely a dull moment in the mansion.

"Oh, the rainy days with the cousins," Daley said with a smile on Monday afternoon as she and her brother led the Darien News through the estate along with Nancy Dauk of Halstead Property, who is representing the property.

"When we were growing up in this house, there were cousins in the stables, cousins across the street and cousins all over the place," Ewing said.

The gaggle of children would join adults for holiday dinners in the dining room, where Ewing said he remembers counting 27 or 28 people at the long table for Thanksgiving, Easter and Christmas dinners. But the real fun took place in the less formal parts of the house, like the attic above the third floor, with enough head room for adults to walk around comfortably, and enough dark nooks and crannies for children to curl into for a competitive game of hide and seek.

"There's all sorts of dark and creepy places in here," said Ewing, as he walked through the attic, lit by sunbeams entering through the skylight. "There was all sorts of furniture and stuff in here to hide behind."

There's also a hatch in the attic that leads to the roof, and an access way to the turret, where the children used to explore.

"You can get into the top floor of the turret, and in there, there were all these family photos on the wall and a musical stand, which may still be there," he said. He speculated that that's where Crimmins children in generations before him would go to practice their musical instruments.

There's a lot of history in the house: some of is documented in John D. Crimmins diary; some has been lost; and some survives in Daley and Ewing's memories.

Some of Daley's favorite memories come from Fourth of July parties, which boasted a massive bonfire each year for the family, friends and neighbors, a tradition which continued until the early 1980s.

"There was the bonfire, softball, three-legged races and a parade that the whole family would participate in," she remembered.

"Our younger brother would be commissioned to drive down to Virginia and buy fireworks. Dad would be like Santa Claus, handing out all the firecrackers to the kids," Ewing said. "But the fireworks would sit upstairs, and they would swell and wouldn't fit in the tubes.

"So we would put them in bigger tubes. There were some moments of terror," he said with a laugh.

Ewing and Daley still live in town; Daley lives in a smaller house next door to Firwood, which her great grandfather built as a recreation building for his children, but much of their extended family has left the area.

"There were lots of cousins, but they've sort of dwindled, and gradually, I think we're the last ones standing," Daley said. Her mother lived in Firwood until she passed away in September; she was 86 years old.

"None of our children could really live here. All of our kids have houses elsewhere. It's a big, expensive piece of property," Ewing said.

The property was listed about two weeks ago, and has garnered mostly local interest, but the net is likely to be cast wider as time goes on, she said.

Dauk said the land is subdividable, according to the way it's zoned, and prospective buyers "are looking with a variety of things in mind."

"We've never had anything with this amount of acreage on the Long Island Sound come on the market. This is really something special," Dauk said.

But while 14 bedrooms, 13 fireplaces, nine full baths and more than 325 feet of shoreline may seem special to house hunters, it's the memories and the house's character that stand out for Daley and Ewing.

"This is very difficult," Daley said. "I grew up in this house, then spent 40 years in the house next door.

"And this was my mother's house. It was very dear to her. She had a great sense of family, and cherished the idea that it was her grandfather's. It was just sort of in her bones."

"Our dream buyer would be somebody who wants to keep it intact, not subdivide it. Our fears go the other way," said Ewing.