A closer look at Firwood

Waterfront homes in Darien, Conn. photographed on February 18, 2013, a home on Long Neck Point is marked for demolition.

This week’s Trending column looks into the trend of tearing down old homes on the waterfront.

The story idea sprouted when I drove down Long Neck Point in Darien a few weeks ago. Toward the tip of the peninsula, there is a beautiful mansion called Firwood, which I discovered has been marked for demolition. I first came to know the house in 2010, when, as a reporter for the Darien News, I took a tour of the home after it hit the real estate mareket for the first time in more than a century. And I fell in love.

The idea that the house could be torn down stung a bit. After all, it has stood largely untouched for generations (though when the Crimmins family originally bought the house from Hugh Collender in the late 1800s, there were a few renovations done — you can see them in the slideshow). And with 13 fireplaces, and elaborately crafted hardwood floors, created from oak, mahogany and walnut, it’s not a stretch to say the Long Island Sound will likely never know another house like Firwood.

In 2010, Bill Ewing and his sister Sheila Daley shared some memories of what it was like to grow up in the 14-bedroom home:

Ewing and Daley’s great grandfather, John D. Crimmins purchased the house at 203 Long Neck Point Road from Hugh Collender in 1890 to use as a summer home. At that time, it was known as “The Mansion on the Point,” and was part of a 15-acre tract of land; Crimmins paid $32,500 for the entire purchase, according to his diary.

Crimmins had a total of 13 children, though two died in infancy. Over the years, the original estate was split into several smaller pieces of land, and homes for his descendants were erected. Firwood, which he named for the abundance of fir trees on the property, was left to his daughter Evelyn, before passing into the hands of her niece, Mary Crimmins Challinor Ewing, who raised her nine children, including Bill Ewing and Daley, in the home.

With an abundance of cousins growing up in the neighboring homes, and visiting for holidays, there was rarely a dull moment in the mansion.

“Oh, the rainy days with the cousins,” Daley said with a smile on Monday afternoon as she and her brother led the Darien News through the estate along with Nancy Dauk of Halstead Property, who is representing the property.

“When we were growing up in this house, there were cousins in the stables, cousins across the street and cousins all over the place,” Ewing said.

The gaggle of children would join adults for holiday dinners in the dining room, where Ewing said he remembers counting 27 or 28 people at the long table for Thanksgiving, Easter and Christmas dinners. But the real fun took place in the less formal parts of the house, like the attic above the third floor, with enough head room for adults to walk around comfortably, and enough dark nooks and crannies for children to curl into for a competitive game of hide and seek.

“There’s all sorts of dark and creepy places in here,” said Ewing, as he walked through the attic, lit by sunbeams entering through the skylight. “There was all sorts of furniture and stuff in here to hide behind.”

The plans for what will happen to the historic estate are not yet certain, though Halstead spokeswoman Robyn Kammerer said a few weeks ago that the new owner does plan to keep the parcel in tact, and build one new house once the mansion is torn down.

She and her colleague Becky Munro speculated that the house will likely be moved closer to the water to better enjoy the beauty of its location.

“It’s built almost on the road, which is common for those older houses, and there’s more than 100 feet to the shore, so I imagine they’ll want to go in closer to the water,” Munro said a few weeks ago.

There will also be much more light in the newer version, using hurricane glass and other modern technologies to “bring the outside in,” the real estate professionals speculated.

Maggie Gordon