Nod Hill home traces 400 years of Wilton history

At the 430 Nod Hill Road property that holds an old barn, a farmhouse, and a cottage, it is possible for a curious visitor to trace the vast changes that have occurred in Wilton over the past 400 years.

Known by longtime residents as the Rock House farm, or the Betts family home, the property has been inhabited for centuries, if the reasons for its original name are to be believed.

Town legend says the original home was built in 1765 by Reuben Olmstead I near an area known as the Rock House. The Rock House, a large cave in an unknown area of the original property, is said to have been used by Native Americans as an area of shelter as long as the earliest Wilton settlers could remember. If a report filed in The Wilton Bulletin in 1961 is correct, many believed the natives who camped there would have belonged to the  tribe.

By 1770, the property was sold to another famous Wilton family when Michael Middlebrook Jr. took ownership. He eventually transferred the deed in 1774 to Ebenezer Church, who drew ire from the town when he spoke out against the rebel cause during the American Revolution.

Nonetheless, and in true Yankee fashion, Mr. Church held on to his property throughout the conflict, only selling to Elijah Betts III in 1810.

Mr. Betts eventually expanded the structure to include two homes divided by a large, home-encompassing wall. One home was for the original owners, while the other was for their daughter and her husband.

The two-home building stayed in the Betts family for more than 100 years until it was sold in the 1920s to a Wilton doctor, who added a slipshod, one-story portion of the home during that time.

Just a decade later, as interest in Wilton as a country escape from New York City began to draw high society into the town’s borders, New York socialite and speedboat racing champion George Leary Jr. moved into the farm with his young wife, Eugenia Leary.

The wealthy family installed the first indoor plumbing in the building around the time they purchased it, current owners Jay and Margaret Ahstrom said on a recent tour of the house. Eugenia was nothing but blunt in her placement of a shower, Ms. Ahstrom said, as it was placed directly next to the entrance to the house.

“Any time George came in from working the fields and was muddy and sweaty,” she said, “he had to take a shower before he came in the house.”

Around the 1940s, a local architect was tasked with designing a cottage-style building on the property that was originally intended to be a museum of agricultural New England life. The museum, it is believed, was to be supplemented by Mr. Leary’s extensive collection of antique farm equipment.

Mr. Leary’s plan was so serious, Ms. Ahstrom said earlier this month, that when the couple and their daughters bought the property, a gigantic brick vault with a high-security door frame still sat unused in the back of the cottage.

However, when Mr. Leary died unexpectedly, his widow had different plans for the cottage, and turned it into a proper guest house.

Eugenia was a bit of a local legend herself, the Ahstroms said, and lived in the property until her death in the late 1990s. In fact, one of her legendary stories regarding a missing plywood cow named Buttercup eventually found its way to the pages of a 1989 copy of The New York Times.

According to Ms. Ahstrom, Sotheby’s sales records of the antiques that once sat in Ms. Leary’s rooms could be valued today in the “millions of dollars.”

For three years after they bought the home, Mr. and Mrs. Ahstrom lived in the guest cottage along with their two young daughters as they began the tiresome process of complete renovation.

They removed the wall that once divided the home in two, and created a usable front door for the first time in the history of the building.

“We were sure everyone would use the front door” for the first time, she said, “but none of our friends ever did.”

They removed much of the home that lacked true historical value, choosing to preserve the original structures built in 1765 and 1810, and the 20th-Century guest cottage. While caring for a home with elderly bones can be a chore at times, the Ahstroms’ unique renovation of the building’s interior makes it flow like a much more contemporary space.

The couple and their architect were careful to save as much broad plank flooring and framing as possible when demolishing old buildings on the property so it could be used on the new additions the couple built.

The result is a beautiful, modern home that is unafraid to remind its visitors of its age and character. With the recent influx of modern construction and McMansions popping up in Fairfield County, the historic home with a modern feel is a refreshing reminder of all that is Wilton — both past and present.

The property and homes at 430 Nod Hill Road are currently listed by William Pitt Sotheby’s Realtor Barbara Martin. Information: