It was no easy matter locating the New Canaan, Conn., summer home of Julius Kruttschnitt, Sr., the former very wealthy chairman of the executive board of the Southern Pacific Railroad. One can only imagine what it must have been like for visitors arriving in horse-drawn carriages or early automobiles in 1910.
All we could glean from a local historic preservation website was that the Kruttschnitt House, which underwent a major renovation three years ago, was located on Oenoke Ridge Road. Without an address, our smart phone did us little good.
We learned from the website that the current owners had returned the home to its appearance in 1922, a time when the Kruttschnitts lived there. They preserved the home’s original fireplaces, bath fixtures, door casings, hardware, carved cornices, and wood work. This was going to be exciting, if we could find the house, though without an appointment we didn’t expect to go inside.
As we entered New Canaan, the wealthiest town in the United States, late on a Saturday afternoon, we looked for a geographic feature that would qualify as a ridge. We quickly found Oenoke Ridge Road. But it was going to be hard to locate the house, working only with an old drawing of its original front facade, which might have changed. Many of the largest homes were set back behind hedges. Plus, the road was about three miles long, and we were being tailed by several type-As who were probably late for picking up their children at ballet practice. They made rubber-necking difficult.
We decided that we’d need some help. We drove back into town. The preservation office was predictably closed. We looked for a coffee place with a real estate guide. The line at Starbucks was out the door. Thankfully, we spotted a real estate office across the street. Better hurry. It was getting late and the office might close.
We got their just in time. Bob, who was gathering his briefcase and turning out lights, kindly listened to our quest. After we took him online to the historic preservation website, a bell sounded in his head. Bob had lived in New Canaan most of his life. “I know the house. We used to play football in the backyard,” he said. “I remember going to dances there as well.”
Bob also recalled that the home had been sold in recent years. That meant that locating its address would be a simple matter of going through a stack of real estate cards that included hazy pictures. “That’s it,” Bob said, pausing at the record of a light-colored home whose architecture was difficult to distinguish. “See the porte de cachere?” There it was, behind some trees.
“You need to drive around back,” Bob said, as he gave us directions to the house. “The backyard used to be much bigger. At some point, it was subdivided. There are a couple homes back there now.”
We got back in the car. Now it was relatively simple to find the house, which was located only a few blocks out of town. In fact, the ease of finding it — it was clearly visible from a major corner — raised questions about why we didn’t see it in the first place. We parked in the drive and took some pictures of the front. My father had visited this house, his grandfather’s house, as a young child.
We drove around back, where my father had played. The current owners, according to the historic preservation website, had added a new rear addition to the footprint of the original wing, matching the original materials and brackets. It was all very nicely done.
Our quest complete, we drove back into town and got some coffee a locally owned shop. A group of extremely serious women at the next table were mixing talk of their advanced degrees with a conversation about psychological testing and getting their kids into exclusive schools. It was time to go.