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JUST LIKE OLD TIMES - The storied history of 123 West Main Street

Norwalk Reflector Staff • Oct 29, 2015 at 12:47 PM

In writing about Dr. William Merritt last week, I find that more information about him might be in order. The family was a vital part of the Norwalk scene for several decades and the Merritt House is an integral part of the West Main Street Historic District.

Merritt was born in North Fairfield and came to Norwalk about 1890 to practice dentistry. He was married to Mary Ford in 1896. She was a daughter of Dr. James Ford, a physician whose home and office stood at 10 and 12 Benedict Ave., opposite the courthouse. They lived at 203 W. Main St. for 10 years until building a new house at 123 W. Main St. in 1906.

The Merritt House is now the Georgian Manor Bed and Breakfast, and is one of the highlights of the West Main Street Walking Tours every summer. Mansfield architect Vernon Redding designed this house in the Georgian Revival and it was built by John M. Vaughan, a master builder who produced a number of fine Norwalk area homes.

Merritt lived just six years to enjoy his new home. He died in 1912 of heart trouble. Some people attributed his early death to his being so active and energetic in his career and in his community. He was active in the Presbyterian Church, the Chamber of Commerce and other local groups.

Mrs. Merritt and their children, Cornelia and William, lived on at 123 W. Main St., and Mrs. Merritt died there in 1944. She had lived alone for many years in her home, except that she almost always had a maid or "hired girl." It is said that the maid would serve Mrs. Merritt her meals in the dining room and would then eat her own meal alone in the kitchen, because she was employee and Mrs. Merritt was the employer.

The Merritt House is next door to the Gardiner Place where the two doctors from Cleveland had requested their noon meal during Dr. Merritt's trial in 1907, as I discussed last week. It seems somewhat ironic that these potential witnesses in the Merritt trial came close to inquiring at Dr. Merritt's home. Would that have caused a mistrial?

The 123 W. Main St. property is one of the oldest inhabited sites in Norwalk. A house was built there about 1830 by Judge David Higgins, who traded it with John Whyler after a few years for the house still standing at 108 W. Main St.

After the Whylers sold the property at 123, it was owned by Norwalk merchant Horace Beardsley and then was the home of retired merchant Nathan G. Sherman. A highlight of the Sherman years was the marriage of their daughter Mary to Birchard Hayes, a son of former President Rutherford B. Hayes, of Fremont. This took place in the Sherman home on Dec. 30, 1886, with the front yard illuminated by a single electric bulb. Incandescent lighting was in its infancy in 1886, and people flocked to see this single bulb cast its great illumination over the front yard.

By the way, another vestige of early Norwalk thrives in the front yard of No. 123. I'm speaking of the native oak tree which grows near the sidewalk. This is one of the many oaks that grew along the sand ridge on which Norwalk was founded, when the first Americans came here to settle. Many of these trees can be seen in that neighborhood. If I had enough time, I'd tell you some of the many events those trees have witnessed in the past 200 years.

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