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Spacious Skies

Sea View Farm’s magnificent legacy continues



Photographs by Douglas Foulke, Ann Dahlgren, and Alan Goldfinger

This Congress Street house—8,000 square feet on 18 flat, sprawling acres—was once the home of lawyer Henry B. Stoddard. In the early 1900s, Stoddard purchased 14 acres of land and a barn (for the now enviable price of $5,500) known as Sea View Farm, and commissioned famous tri-state-area architect Cameron Clark to build the home. Clark’s wife Agnes Selkirk Clark, a well-known landscape architect, designed the home’s formal gardens. From the step-down living room to the stone terrace, the Clarks’ vision remains intact. And though the home has undergone top-to-bottom renovations, current owners Joanna and Bert Morris went to great lengths to preserve its original character. It is stately, with formal living and dining areas that evoke the grandeur of earlier times, wide oak floors, and

Victorian-style gardens featuring Italian statues and moss-covered stones that spill over with roses and hydrangeas, inviting reflection and repose.

Melanie Marks, a professional genealogist and historic research consultant who owns the company Connecticut House Histories, has been unearthing old newspaper articles and historical records to trace the history of the Congress Street home and its past occupants. One former owner in particular left the home a mystery: a mass of hundreds of electrical wires in the basement—each representing a separate phone line. It may be that the phone lines belonged to Arthur Pearce, who lived in the home while publishing Fairfield County Publications. Or more intriguing, and more likely, they may have indicated covert government conversations, tracing back to when Eugene “Morehead” Patterson and his wife Margaret lived there. Patterson’s company, American Machine and Foundry, developed military equipment during WWII, including guided missile equipment, and received government contracts during the ensuing Cold War. He would earn the title of ambassador, and was appointed by President Dwight Eisenhower as a special representative for International Atomic Energy Agency negotiations in 1956. It’s quite possible that some highly secretive, calls were coming into this Fairfield home.

It’s likely, too, that the still-working elevator off the formal dining room, as well as the powder room and the butler’s pantry, received more regular use in those early days. Today, the family is more often found reclining in the home’s new spacious living room off the renovated kitchen, with its 20-foot ceiling, fireplace with limestone mantle, and small round windows overtop for peering down from the second floor. Music follows occupants in the home, thanks to built-in speakers throughout; and all the floors, including those in the pool house, feature radiant heat for keeping it cozy. Another favorite escape in the home is on the completely remodeled third floor. “This would have been servant’s quarters,” Joanna says. When the Morrises moved in, only the air conditioning and heating ducts were here. They put the dormers back in the windows, creating several cushioned seating nooks, and added a charming guest room, a billiard room complete with fireplace, and a media room with a built-in flat-screen TV with 7.1 surround sound, leather armchairs, and a small refrigerator and microwave.

Joanna and Bert met while both working at GE, and were initially drawn to the home’s acreage and barn—perfect for their then-12-year-old daughter’s horse. But daughter Erica, now 26, opted to keep her horse at the Hunt Club, and the barn was soon converted into a woodworking shop for Bert and son Drew, 22. Drew is beginning a career in engineering with GE (Erica works for GE Finance in Atlanta) and early projects included building a half-pipe with his dad when he was 10. “I used it twice,” Drew jokes now. Dad adds: “Being an engineer, building it was 90 percent of the thrill.” When he was 16, Drew took auto mechanics at school and his dad brought home a dream fixer-upper—a 1973 Corvette. “He completely rebuilt this car,” says Bert, adding that his son received a transmission under the Christmas tree. The home’s three-car garage features a hydraulic lift, perfect for the mechanically inclined.

The backyard space that once provided a prime spot for go-cart races is now maintained by a caretaker who lives on-site in a 1,400-square-foot two-bedroom guest house. In the summer, the heated pool and Jacuzzi are big draws, particularly with the all-inclusive pool house, which includes a full kitchen, a steam bath, and TV, and an outdoor grill hooked to a gas line so there’s no need to refill a tank. Hydrangeas bloom everywhere in the warmer months. “I have every species,” says Joanna, who relishes gardening, and whose gardens have been featured as part of the Discovery Museum’s Discovery Garden Tour. Colors range from blue, to pink, to white, to lime green. “And I love knockout roses,” she says, some of which are visible from the home’s living room and the sitting room attached to the master bedroom. Each of the home’s six bedrooms is en suite—complete with dressing room and bathroom—and several feature full sun. The master bath is ornate, with a cream-colored onyx vanity, a rose-colored chandelier over the tub, running lights under the built-in cabinets that are activated if someone enters at night and an attached walk-in closet.  This same closet may have once served as a secret office for Mr. Patterson, Joanna suspects.

The couple loves Fairfield, and plans to stay in town, but are selling with an eye toward downsizing and moving closer to the beaches and downtown. “We want somewhere where we can walk to everything,” says Joanna. “And where I can ride my bike to the train station,” adds Bert, an avid cyclist who commutes to New York City. Wherever they move, the couple would like the ability to still garden and share space with their three dogs and two cats, with, if Bert can help it, minimal need for renovation.

 

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January 2019

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