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Old, Borrowed, And New

Fairfield Burr Mansion wedding––a woman steps into her grandmother shoes



Rev. Susan Minasian, chaplain of Franklin & Marshall College, officiated at the ceremony of Brianna and Ryan on July 25, 2015.

Photos by Taylor Lenci photography

One of Brianna Altieri’s favorite photographs as a child was of her grandmother in her wedding dress, standing in front of a full-length gilded mirror. That generations-old looking glass graced the “long room” of the home where they both grew up and where Altieri dreamed of getting married one day.

Fast forward to Altieri’s junior year at Franklin & Marshall College, where a modern love story begins. Altieri meets Ryan Bell and the two become inseparable. After an unfulfilling semester in graduate school in Indiana, Bell joins Altieri working at Bridgeport schools through Teach for America—he at Bassick High School and she at Central High. When Bell is offered an analyst position at the website Niche, they set off for Pittsburgh—a young millennial couple moving ahead in the world. 

Before embarking on their next chapter, they decide to plan their wedding. The pair agreed it should be personal and understated. Yet the personal part for Altieri is imbued with a history she longs to honor. A life-long resident of Fairfield, Altieri is the direct descendent of Fairfield charter settlers William Hill and Jehue Burr.

(Photos: Brianna Altieri’s grandmother on her wedding day in 1951, and Brianna in front of the same gilt mirror she grew up gazing into July 25, 2015.)

Hill’s great grandson, Ebenezer Hill, a captain in the Continental Army, built the Altieri’s home 251 years ago for his wife Mabel Sherwood and their nine children. Located at the lower end of what is now Burr Street, the home was just far enough from the Long Island Sound to have been spared during the 1777 burning of Fairfield. There, Altieri spent her childhood, immersed in reminders of generations past.

Altieri is also the great-granddaughter of Florence Jennings Burr and Philo Sherwood Shelton.

Altieri’s mother found a little treasure inside an attic trunk: a poem written by Altieri’s great-great-aunt Lucy Shelton that answered bridal-themed questions with floral names as answers, i.e., “Who gave the bride away? Poppy. What did the bride wear on her feet? Lady’s slipper,” and so on.

“When we found this poem a few months into wedding planning, it all kind of came together,” explains Altieri. “We didn’t have a theme but realized we wanted to use florals to unify different elements.”

A garden-themed wedding needed a bigger space than their historic home, and the perfect choice awaited them on the Old Post Road: The Burr Mansion. This “grande dame” of Fairfield was the perfect stand-in—an important building, not just in the history of Altieri’s family but also in the history of Fairfield.

As it did centuries ago at the marriage of John Hancock and Dorothy Quincy, the Burr Mansion welcomed Brianna Burr Altieri and Ryan Maxwell Bell last summer as husband and wife, contributing yet another chapter in a story of old and new, past and future.


FLOWERS ABOUND Stunning bouquets with lysimachia, blue thistle, green hypericum, poppy pods, dusty miller, Queen Anne’s lace, white snapdragon, pink lisianthus, and Italian ruscus were created by Coreen Pace of Coreen’s Bridge Floral Shop in Greenfield Hill. Great-great-aunt Lucy’s poem served as an  inspiration for the floral theme. The bride and her maid of honor Maura Bell. On the Marc prepared the delicious cuisine. Mr. and Mrs. Bell pose at the  historic  entrance. Brianna’s grandfather celebrates with her.

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