Ridgefield's Lounsbury House weathered changing times for 125 years, hopes for another century to follow

RIDGEFIELD — The Lounsbury House is celebrating 125 years of creating memories in the community and being a prominent landmark in town.

In the century after it was built by former Connecticut Gov. Phineas C. Lounsbury, the estate has bore witness to wars, pandemics, fiscal turmoil and generations of Ridgefielders coming and going. And still, it stands.

In many ways the mansion’s 1896 appearance hasn’t changed much, according to Executive Director Suzanne Brennan. “If the Lounsburys were to walk in the front door ... today, they would still recognize it as their own,” she said, noting that the architecture and layout have been “lovingly preserved.”

Present-day visitors can still spot towering Grecian columns out front and a grand staircase with hand-carved banisters in the lobby, both of which are part of the house’s original design.

Although the structure has remained intact, it is no longer a private residence. Around the mid-20th century it was converted into the local hub it is today, serving as a historic community center, headquarters for Ridgefield’s Veteran Memorial Community Association (RVMCA) and a destination for weddings, conferences and other private events.

“I think what makes Lounsbury House so special is its unique commitment not only to preservation but to partnership and people,” Brennan said.

Liz Goldstone, a previous board member and president at Lounsbury, agreed. “It was the hub of our town for decades, but it really also is just a significant landmark and one that would be seriously missed if it ever had to be converted back to a private home or turned into condominiums,” she said.

As a community center, Lounsbury regularly partners with local organizations to host programs for residents. It has been known to offer senior lunches, holiday festivities and veterans’ events among other activities.

Despite being a town-owned building, Lounsbury House is not funded by taxpayers’ dollars or the Ridgefield government, but, according to Brennan, it is expensive to maintain. The site predominantly sustains itself with profits from events put on there in addition to membership fees and donations from community members.

“The private rental business is really the backbone of our budget,” Brennan added.

But Lounsbury, like others, hasn’t been a stranger to financial troubles and uncertainty during the span of its life.

Lounsbury House history

Author Jeremy Main wrote a book chronicling the lengthy history of Lounsbury House from start to finish several years back.

According to Main, Gov. Lounsbury constructed the mansion in 1896 with neo-classical revival trappings. He referred to the design as “Grovelawn,” its opulent features a stark contrast to the “small farming village” Ridgefield used to be. It even had a servant’s dining room in the basement, he wrote.

As the century progressed, the town tried to industrialize but instead became a summer getaway for wealthy New Yorkers and several others looking to escape city slicking. “They built their mansions, brought their carriages, and hired flocks of servants,” Main wrote.

The house remained in Lounsbury’s hands until he died in 1925, which is when its future started to get rocky. Main wrote that the house deteriorated for 30-some odd years following the governor’s death.

Even though the town acquired the property and surrounding parcels in 1945, Lounsbury remained an empty vessel until 1953. The town paid $59,000 for the whole package.

Around that time a group of Ridgefield women entered the scene to revamped the house into a community center, which they rented from the town for a dollar a year with support from local war vets who established it as the RVMCA. The association opened to the public on Memorial Day 1954, according to Main.

Trials to upkeep the property ensued shortly after and plagued the owners for decades to come. In the ‘70s alone, the building underwent multiple renovations including the addition of a new water heater, roof repairs and excavating rot in the porch’s floors.

A modern marvel

The building underwent restorations again in the early 2000s and around 2015. Goldstone said Lounsbury was struggling to stay “relevant” and financially viable when organizations began meeting elsewhere.

Additionally, the house had “gone into such disrepair” and faced potential closure since serious alterations needed to be made. But with contributions from the community, the staff was able to give the mansion its overdue facelift.

“It’s so wonderful that the community valued it enough to make the investment to save the building because it really was just moments away from having the doors close for good,” she said. “It’s now 125 years, and I believe it will be another 125 years because of how people value this historic landmark that has so much meaning.”

Lounsbury House is at 316 Main St. in Ridgefield. For more information, visit lounsburyhouse.org.