What is the town’s history?
New Canaan’s humble beginnings date back to 1731 when Connecticut’s colonial legislature established Canaan Parish as a religious entity in northwestern Norwalk and northeastern Stamford. The right to form a Congregational church was granted to the few families scattered through the area. As bona fide inhabitants of Norwalk or Stamford, depending on where their houses stood, Canaan Parish settlers still had to vote, pay taxes, serve on juries, and file deeds in their home towns. What no one foresaw in 1731 was that the boundaries of Canaan Parish 70 years later would become the boundaries of a new Connecticut town.
New Canaan was incorporated in 1801 and the first town meeting was held on June 29 of that year. Because Canaan Parish was not planned as a town, upon incorporation, New Canaan found itself without a village, a main street, a town hall, or a central common or town green. Until the Revolutionary War, New Canaan was primarily an agricultural community. After the war, New Canaan’s major industry was shoe making. As New Canaan’s shoe business gathered momentum early in the 19th Century, instead of a central village, regional settlements of clustered houses, mills and schools developed into distinct district centers with the addition of a general store. Some of the districts were centered on Ponus Ridge, West Road, Oenoke Ridge, Smith Ridge, Talmadge Hill, and Silvermine. The village of New Canaan was to grow later from a similar district setup that proved to be located more strategically than its peripheral counterparts. In 1825, the first town house (now the historical society’s library) was built on Oenoke Ridge.
With the advent of the railroad to New Canaan in 1868, many of New York City’s wealthy residents discovered the quiet, peaceful area and built magnificent summer homes. After World War II, the housing boom brought more residents and many of the summer visitors settled year-round, commuting to their jobs in New York and creating the residential community that exists today.
In 1916, the first carol sing took place on God’s Acre and in 1928 the first traffic light in town was installed. The now iconic Moreno clock, standing at the intersection of South Avenue and Elm Street, was installed as recently as 1997 in honor of the late First Selectman, Louis Moreno, and in 2003, New Canaan elected its first female selectman.