Ridgefield notables: George M. Olcott, the man from Casagmo
George Olcott left Ridgefield with a strange legacy: A stone wall, a barn and a name, plus the destruction of a treasured historical building.
Olcott came to Ridgefield in 1892, buying the ancient Stebbins farm at the north end of Main Street. The house, built in 1727, had stood in the midst of the Battle of Ridgefield in April 1777 and served as a hospital for the wounded. “For many generations tourists came to see the bullet-scarred walls and the bloodstained floors of the west room, which were reminders of the conflict which took place around it,” historian Silvio Bedini wrote.
However, Olcott tore down the house, saving only the front door, and replaced it with an Italianate mansion. He called the place Casagmo, a word created from his initials, GMO, and “casa,” the Italian word for house.
And 75 years later, a wrecking ball laid waste to Casagmo.
George Mann Olcott was born in 1835, in Brooklyn, N.Y. His father, Charles Mann Olcott, was a founder of Olcott & McKesson, a drug firm that, after Charles’s death, became McKesson & Robbins, a name that lasted into the 1960s for a company that is today the McKesson Corporation, a pharmaceutical distributor and health care systems conglomerate that had $122 billion in sales in 2012.
Young George attended Columbia College Grammar School. “However,” wrote his daughter, Mary, in a family history, “a youthful delight in caricature terminated his school life, for the headmaster … failed to appreciate a portrait of himself done by the young Mr. Olcott, and a caning was ordered. The boy’s father gave him his choice, either to undergo the caning or leave school. George M. Olcott left school and entered the world of business, where he achieved notable success.”
At age 16, Olcott became a clerk in a wholesale drug firm. By 21, he was a partner in a drug and chemical importing company, soon called Dodge and Olcott, of which he eventually became president in 1904. His products were not all pharmaceuticals; a big portion of his business was the ingredients in perfumes and food flavorings. He retired when he went blind at the age of 78.
Dodge and Olcott continued in business until 1952, when the Fritzsche Brothers purchased the firm, eventually calling it Fritzche, Dodge & Olcott. In 1980, it was acquired by chemical giant, BASF, which 10 years later, sold it to Givaudan, an international flavor and fragrance company.
Olcott became involved in the local social and business life of the town,
serving as president of the library association. He was a founder and second president of the First National Bank and Trust Company of Ridgefield (which through many mergers is now Wells Fargo). He also maintained a residence in New York City, and was on the boards of a half dozen banks and other institutions there.
A popular tale involving Olcott was related by Ridgefield Press publisher Karl Nash in 1975. “On one occasion Mr. Olcott tangled with Samuel S. Denton, the coal and wood merchant who later owned much Ridgefield real estate. Denton had acquired the Paddock house, which stood south of St. Stephen’s Church, and he started moving it up Main Street to a planned site north of Mr. Olcott’s property.
“When the house wouldn’t go between Mr. Olcott’s stone wall and the high bank on the other side of the street (now the Coffey homestead), Denton asked Olcott’s permission to remove a section of his wall temporarily to let the house pass through. Olcott refused.”
— Jack Sanders