After purchasing the “Lindenfield” estate in 1899, Catherine Bliss lived there, unmarried, for sixteen years. Those years saw the property on Oenoke Ridge develop into a beautiful, English-style estate. In addition to the greenhouse complex, the updates to the mansion, and all the horticultural work, Miss Bliss added a large cow barn, a laundry building, a house for the property’s caretaker (our current Executive Director’s home), and a three-bay “car barn” with an upstairs apartment.
Miss Bliss died in 1915, with no direct descendants to inherit the property,
Lindenfield passed briefly into joint ownership of seven relatives. However, six of them soon agreed to surrender their claims – for the price of $100 “and other valuable considerations” to the other inheritor, Susan Dwight Bliss, the only child of Miss Bliss’s deceased brother, George.
Susan had visited her Aunt Catherine’s property numerous times as a girl, and thus already knew the estate well. She moved into the house in 1916; over nearly half-century to follow she imprinted Lindenfield with her own style and love. During the ensuing years of World War I, Susan began huge vegetable gardens at Lindenfield. According to Salvatore (“Sally”) DiBarnada, who worked for Miss Bliss from 1923 until 1961, nine or ten men were employed to maintain these bountiful gardens produced a variety of fruits and vegetables, including potatoes, corn, and asparagus.
It was also during the First World War that Miss Bliss had the dairy house built, with an interior of white marble to help maintain sanitary conditions for the processing of milk and cream. This beautiful stone building still stands, serving the Nature Center as our “Cider House”. In addition to Lindenfield’s small herd of cows, there were also horses, pigs, dogs, and cats. Miss Bliss even had a small but unmarked animal cemetery, located near to our present-day campfire ring in an area now grown back to woods.
Susan also maintained the greenhouses, which were functionally separated into grapery, a palm house, a rose house and a chrysthanthemum house. These greenhouses were located in the current herb garden and community garden area. If you look close, you can still see the foundation of the three structures. After the War ended, Susan expanded the estate greatly by purchasing eighteen acres of meadows and woods just to the north of the main house. This tract had originally been the property of Dr. Willard Parker, Jr.
When Parker’s affairs fell into financial difficulties in the late1800’s, the land began a long series of transfers that eventually saw ownership pass into the hands of first Dr. James McLane and then his son, Thomas. At approximately the turn of the century, the property was used by Oenoke Ridge residents for a “Field Club”, which eventually grew into today’s New Canaan Country Club. Finally, in 1920, the land became part of the Bliss estate, adding the portion that now comprises the Nature Center’s “butterfly field”, several acres of adjacent woods, and the Presbyterian Church’s parking lot.
The New Canaan Nature Center Association was established in 1960 on the former estate of Miss Susan Dwight Bliss. This 40-acre site was given to the Town of New Canaan for the study of nature, horticulture and related sciences. The Town continues to own the land and buildings, and provides maintenance support. The New Canaan Nature Center Association is continually grateful for the support and services the town provides ona a yearly basis. The Nature Center’s wide array of innovative environmental education programs, generate more than 60% of its annual revenues. The remaining is raised through membership, private donations from individuals, foundations and corporations as well as through special events.
“It is doubtful if there was ever before so much happiness and thanksgiving in evidence in any Town Meeting as there was on that September evening when the magnificent gift of Miss Susan Bliss was accepted with a joyous shout. May we prove worth of her generosity”
– GENEVIEVE SALMON –