Glory of the Gardens
The never-ending love of Stone Manor mansion
Stone Manor gardens are lush are a restoration, maintaining 100-year-old species.
Imagine it is early 1900 and you have set out for a weekend away to Stone Manor, a turn-of-that-century mansion perched so high on West Mountain that it offers far-reaching views of Long Island Sound. The gardens created by influential landscape architect Warren Manning, fit naturally into the hilly terrain gently rolling down from the house toward the polo field and stables below.
Your host is Arthur C. Fraser, a wealthy New Yorker reputed to be one of the best patent attorneys in the country. At that time, the Fraser family joined many other wealthy New Yorkers in choosing Ridgefield as the place to build a grand summer retreat. Between 1911, when the Frasers first purchased 31 acres, and 1934, when Arthur died, he amassed 180 acres as part of his estate.
Subsequent and notable homeowners put their own stamp on the property. There was Joseph Shapiro, creator of the Simplicity Pattern Company. Paul Arnold, founder of Arnold Bakers, owned the property for seven years. But it was developer Jerry Tuccio, purchaser of the estate in 1959, who made the most radical changes when he carved out 100 acres to create the subdivision of Eleven Levels. Owners who followed made more changes and in the late 1990s, the house even became a bed and breakfast.
Transport to 2016 and your hosts today would be Stefan and Cori Abbruzzese, who purchased the estate 12 years ago at a time when the finely engineered stone house and gardens were in dire need of restoration.
To restore the interior of the home, Cori says they followed clues—an uncovered piece of old molding helped them to replicate the original on the staircase. Hints here and there guided them to duplicate original designs as closely as possible. Wiring and plumbing were replaced. Small rooms were opened up to create a space for a new kitchen, one that blended into the antique home. Accented by such features as the solid-cherry fireplace mantel in the “blue room” and the now enclosed sleeping porch built with exposed stone, the house has plenty of visual interest.
As much as bringing the house back to its “original glory” excited the Abbruzzeses, it is truly the historical gardens that are their passion. The Abbruzzeses have pored their energy into mirroring the beauty of the gardens that in 1929 attracted the attention of the Garden Clubs of America. Members of the Ridgefield Garden Club are currently in the process of researching and documenting the gardens for possible submission within the next year or so to the Smithsonian Institution, Archives of American Gardens which highlights and preserves significant aspects of gardening in the United States for the benefit of researchers and the public. “We try to keep with the originally intended placement as much as possible although it is necessary to enclose areas because of the deer,” says Cori.
Strolling the property you will find copper-beech trees, a weeping cherry, crabapple, maple, magnolia, dogwood, and oak dotting the landscape, all a century old. Stefan, the family-tree enthusiast, has added apple, pear, peach, and sugar maple. Cori, a garden-club member, is a fervent planter and caretaker of everything, especially the 100-year-old hydrangea and wisteria that still cover the pergola of the enclosed patio. An organic garden is ripe with vegetables. At least five outdoor entertaining spaces, lush with flowers and shrubs, some with fireplaces, fire pits, and koi pond are painstakingly cared for. Even the vines climbing the stone house are gently pruned on a regular basis.
While the polo fields are long gone and trees now obstruct the view of the sound, the house and gardens today remain as significant as yesteryear. Says Cori: “Stone Manor is a gem that just needed a lot of love.”