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Historic house holds history for family, town

Published 1:04 am, Thursday, April 29, 2010

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  • This postcard, provided by Richard Casey, shows Peacehaven after it was moved to Appletree Lane in the early 1920s. 
Click here to check out more postcards from Darien's past. Photo: Contributed Photo / Darien News
    This postcard, provided by Richard Casey, shows Peacehaven after it was moved to Appletree Lane in the early 1920s. Click here to check out more postcards from Darien's past. Photo: Contributed Photo

 

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Editor's note: Ms. Lane contacted the Darien News after seeing her home featured in a recent package we published titled "Postcards from the Past."

Elizabeth Lane's home on Appletree Lane is inextricably linked to the history of Darien. But after living in the house for 64 years, and raising eight children within its walls, it has become part of her personal history, too.

The post-revolutionary home was built by George Mather, a great-grandson of Rev. Moses Mather, on a half-acre lot next to the Congregational Church on the corner of Brookside Road and Post Road in about 1845, according to documents from the Darien Historical Society. The house changed hands several times, before the church sold it to Eva B. Deming, of New York City in 1922, under the provision that she would move it to a new site within 60 days.

So the house was strapped to sleds and shuffled along the streets to its new home on Appletree Lane.

Journalist Harriet Sisson Gillespie described the move in a 1924 article published in the magazine Arts & Decoration:

"As the old house was lifted from its moorings, the neighbors stood by to watch what seemed like the passing of an old familiar friend. Traffic rules were temporarily suspended to give the old landmark right of way and everyone lent a hand. At one point in the road, when it seemed barely possible to get it around a curve in the road, a little old lady living in a two-century dwelling graciously permitted a limb to be severed from a giant forest tree before her place to allow it to pass."

While Deming's original plans were to move the house to Brookside Road, its final destination was an old orchard on Appletree Lane. Once the home was relocated, Deming employed Ralph F. Warner, an architect from New York and Rowayton to renovate the Colonial home. When he was finished, Deming named the house Peacehaven.

"I laughed when I saw the postcard and it said `Peacehaven,'" Lane said while standing in her dining room Monday morning. "My goodness, it hasn't been [called] that since we moved here."

She remembers children bounding around the house, hiding in the Dutch ovens inside the main fireplace in the dining room, and scribbling their names and initials on the walls at the top of the staircases.

"These days, my grandchildren will get to the top of that staircase [which leads nowhere] and yell, `Grandma how do I get down?" she said.

"My 67-year-old daughter still has her marker on the wall," she said with a laugh.

She even pointed to the back wall of an upstairs closet, where one of her children once carved a hole to climb through, so the kids wouldn't have to walk through the halls to visit each other.

The house was always full of children when Lane's family first moved there. Between her eight kids and the friends they had in tow, there was a constant stream of children flowing in and out of the house, she said.

"My son is going to have his 45th high school reunion here this fall, and most of the kids remember being here in this house since Royle School back in the third grade," she said.

In fact, she can trace back her family's decision to buy the house to a handshake between her husband and the father of one of her children's friends in 1956.

"We were in a house on the Post Road, and Billy Glass who lived here was friends with our number-four kid," she said. "The Glass family found a bigger house they wanted, and they thought we needed a bigger house," she said. "There were no realtors involved, just two guys shaking hands. How much cash passed between them, I don't know. It was probably the last time a handshake meant anything.

"I didn't even know about it until my husband came home and said, `I just bought the Glass House,' " Lane said. That was in June of 1956; the family moved in that August.

In the years since, Lane has hosted countless Christmas parties and even some weddings on the property. She has watched her children grow up there, along with their friends tagging along, as well as her 12 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren. There are pencil markings lining the doorframe at the entranceway where the kitchen meets the dining room, marking how tall the kids stood at various dates.

"This will go with me," she said, pointing to the etchings. "It's more important than all the silver."

She's celebrated in the house, and mourned the loss of her husband as well as three of her children.

The house, which has lived through renovations, additions, transfers in ownership and even a relocation has stood strong for more than 150 years. It's transferred ownership and even purposes; it is believed that a wing of the building was a store as far back as 1806, according to Historical Society documents.

Parts of it have stayed the same, like the Dutch ovens, which still accent the main fireplace, and the front hall, which still features the same "graceful staircase" pictured in the 1924 magazine article. And parts of it have changed. Deming had an addition put on the building, and another was added in 1936, according to Lane. Her family also tacked on to the building after they purchased it, expanding it from five bedrooms to eight as their family continued to grow.

The house has grown to fit the needs of its owners and inhabitants over the years, becoming as much a part of Lane's personal history as it is a part of the town's history.

"I just love this place," said Lane, who is going to be 91 next month. "It's part of me. Part of my family."