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History’s Slippery Mysteries at Gallaher Mansion

Friends of Cranbury Park got lucky last week, thanks to an observant and history-minded Norwalk couple.

When Stephen and Marie Haywood of Rowayton read news accounts of recent developments at Cranbury Park—placement of the park on the State Registry of Historic Places last year, the Gallaher Mansion’s listing on the National Registry this year, and a $20,000 grant from the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation—they realized that their casual tag sale purchase was something more than they had bargained for.

Stephen Haywood recognized the name on a diploma he had bought for its frame. Could it be that same Edward Beach Gallaher? He dug it from his garage and e-mailed the Friends of Cranbury Park’s web site, www.friendsofcranburypark.org,

Holly Cuzzone and I met with the Haywoods at the mansion to receive their gift of the diploma, an honorary PhD from Gallaher’s alma mater, Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken.

It was the first sofa-sized diploma I have ever seen. The gigantic diploma, handsomely framed in oak, seems part of a set. A portrait of Gallaher in doctoral robes is one of the few artifacts that remain of the Gallahers’ life in their home. The diploma must have been its companion piece, once proudly displayed somewhere on the walls of the now-empty mansion.

Gallaher received his super-sized honorary PhD diploma on February 8, 1950, fifty-six years after his graduation from Stevens Institute and three years before his death, just about the time he was arranging a super-sized bequest to his old school–his entire estate, worth millions, including a 22-room mansion, 220-acre property, and an internationally important business, Clover Manufacturing on Main Avenue, then one of Norwalk’s biggest employers. Upon Inez Gallaher’s death in 1965, Stevens Institute took possession, and, despite its promise to create a research facility there, had within the year sold the Cranbury property to the City of Norwalk for 1.5 million.

Great luck for Norwalk –it had gained its largest and most beautiful park. The mansion’s contents, however, had vanished.  Where? Who knows? Into the depths of Hoboken, dumped along the way? The real life of the mansion had vanished, reappearing only here and there in somebody’s basement or the occasional tag sale, to be noticed by lovers of old houses and history.

And that describes the Haywoods, whose 1790 house stood in Stamford until they dismantled it to rebuild it in Rowayton, thereby proving a point: history is slippery. It doesn’t always stay where you left it but resurfaces in unexpected places.

Marie Haywood, once a volunteer tour guide at Norwalk’s Lockwood Mansion, remarked that the Lockwood was luckier than the Gallaher in one sense. A set of stereopticon slides remained at Lockwood, offering historians at least a glimpse of that mansion’s grand interior.

The Gallaher Mansion came to the city stripped to the bone—not a chair nor a letter, no stray snapshot or check stub, not even a cracked plate.

Holly and I have recorded some great stories from neighbors and a fascinating misplaced history of the property in our research, but a sense of this heirless couple’s life in Norwalk remains elusive. In an interview, Frances Murphy Keene, a 101-year-old former employee of Gallaher’s Clover Manufacturing, described Inez Gallaher as a tall striding figure in stylish tweeds who composed witty birthday poems for employees, a handsome, vibrant woman who endeared herself to the staff when she took over Clover management at her husband’s death. Tantalizing. Who wouldn’t want to know more about such a woman—do you see Katherine Hepburn?

But not one single photograph of Inez Henry Gallaher remains.

Hats off to the Haywoods. May their observance be followed by other sharp readers with a memory–or some tag sale relic—that will give new life to the Gallahers, their house, and their moment in our local history.

Celia Maddox