'Survive and thrive': New owners plan to restore historic Darien house to former glory

The Pond Weed House is one of the finest examples of 18th century original Colonial style architecture in Darien, and also Connecticut. It was recently sold and the new owners, local builders, intend to restore it.

The Pond Weed House is one of the finest examples of 18th century original Colonial style architecture in Darien, and also Connecticut. It was recently sold and the new owners, local builders, intend to restore it.

Tod Bryant Photography /bryantphoto.com

DARIEN — The town’s iconic, centuries-old Pond Weed house has been sold and, in the answer to many history lovers’ prayers, has been saved.

Real estate agent Barb Hazelton, of Houlihan Lawrence, said local builders David L. Prutting and his son, David X. Prutting have purchased the house with the intention to honor its history. In a recent comment, the builders said the Pond Weed house will “survive and thrive.”

“They committed to restoring and enhancing the 1694 Pond Weed home back to life. Having started with salt box construction on the Cape, this is like coming home to them after years of more contemporary work,” Hazelton said.

Prutting & Co. was founded in 1975, according to its website, and its portfolio ranges from award-winning modern homes to historic restorations. It is based on Camp Avenue in Stamford, near the Darien line, and Millerton, New York.

Hazelton said the Pruttings are working closely with the town to understand the opportunities and the limitations for that property.

When the Pond Weed house, which is on the National Register of Historic Places and where George Washington reportedly once visited, went on the market recently, town historians and officials feared the buyer would tear down the centuries-old building. In partnership with the Museum of Darien, a campaign for a buyer interested in preserving the home, originally an inn and tavern, was launched.

At the beginning of April, when the closing happened, those fears were put to rest.

The three-bedroom, two-bath home was listed for $699,000 but sold for $605,000. It takes up 2,240 square feet on a 0.60 acre property.

According to Darien historian Marian Castell, the now faded and neglected house on the corner of Post Road and Hollow Tree Ridge Road hides a “museum-quality, rare Colonial home with an 18th-century interior still in place.”

“This treasure is one of the finest examples of 18th-century original Colonial style architecture in Darien, and also Connecticut,” she said.

The home has had history pass by its Post Road location for more than 200 years — the American Revolution and the Civil War. It also has elaborate garden beds in its yard.

“Under the right new owner, a revived exterior will make this an eye-stopper with an amazing, treasured interior,” Castell said.

The first president is believed to have once visited the original inn and tavern, which was then converted to a trade shop, and finally to a private home.

Castell and Liz Geiger, chairwoman of Darien’s Architectural Review Board, were part of the campaign to ask residents to help find a buyer for the house who is interested in preserving its history.

“Together we can celebrate Darien’s bicentennial by spreading this news to find a new owner so that one of the most important historical houses in Darien will survive,” Castell said.

Geiger, whose passion is to preserve Darien’s historic homes, said while the age of the Pond Weed house might not mean much to average passer-by, the impact is greater when viewed with the historic perspective.

“If you think back to what was happening in late 1600s — the minimal tools available, and 100 years before the Revolutionary War — then look again at the house on Post Road, you realize how magical the structure is to still be standing,” she said.

The new buyers plan to restore the house and all its intricate details under the secretary of the interior’s standards for preservation, which oversee that national landmarks maintain the original elements and integrity, Geiger said.

Geiger said the new owners also plan to expand the site by adding a new, contemporary addition that complements modern day functionality.

“The juxtaposition of the two styles should hopefully produce a similarly historic property the stands to last another 300 years,” she said.

The most recent owners were “artistic visionaries in their own right,” according to Castell.

Timothy D. Miller, who owned the house for 33 years, was a supervisor of puppet design at The Jim Henson Company. He worked on more than a dozen shows and movies in that position, including “The Muppet Show,” “The Dark Crystal,” “The Muppets Take Manhattan,” “The Muppet Christmas Carol” and more. Miller and his team were nominated for four Emmy awards, including two for “The Muppet Show.”

Since Miller’s death in August 2019, his estate representative, James Wojtal, has been working with the town and the Museum of Darien to study the structure to determine the best options for preserving as much of the house as possible. Wojtal also worked as a puppet designer for The Jim Henson Company.

Wojtal said he is “just happy that the home will live on, into the future.”

“It was a long a difficult journey and this is a happy ending for sure. I’m glad to have been able to be a small part in the preserving of that home’s history,” he said.

Several months ago, the museum hired one of the nation’s renowned experts in early New England architecture, Yale historian James Sexton, to study the house.

Sexton’s report concluded that the house was built later than originally thought — the 1970s study determined the date to be around the 1690s, while Sexton dated it a circa 1730s structure.

According to Sexton, the next step in the preservation process would be to hire an engineer specializing in historical wooden structures. However, the significant cost of the specialized engineering study proved to be a stumbling block for officials studying the privately owned structure.

The land was first purchased in 1696 by Nathaniel Pond, “blacksmith of Branford” and later sold to Nathaniel Weed, also a blacksmith. It remained in the Weed family for nearly two centuries.

Located near the historic Noroton Burial Ground, where many original settlers — including members of the Pond and Weed families — are buried, much of the interior of the house is original and remains in tact.

Castell said preserving this rare 200-year-old building is “the perfect way” to conclude Darien’s bicentennial celebration in 2020.

The Pond Weed house is one of many in Darien that have stood the test of centuries, which Castell says residents should consider a privilege.

“Few towns in America have the luxury to have that distinction to have buildings of 300 years still standing that have been expertly blended into our rare environment of meadows, rock walls, beaches,” Castell said.