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History of the old Benedict property

By Henry Timman • Aug 22, 2019 at 10:00 PM

The plot of land behind the Main Street School in Norwalk has always been numbered as 80 E. Seminary St. News accounts concerning the proposed sale of this plot by the city of Norwalk a few months ago referred to it as the “deForest property,” but in reality it is Benedict property. 

The first dwelling on this property was built about the time Jonas Benedict married Fanny Buckingham of Norwalk in 1829. Jonas was a son of Norwalk’s first settlers Platt and Sally deForest Benedict, and came here with them in 1817 at the age of 11.

That original house was of frame construction and after Jonas’ death in 1851 its ownership passed to his son David D. Benedict. Jonas and Fanny also had a daughter Fannie (sic), who married Louis Severance of Cleveland in the original St. Paul Episcopal Church on West Main. When married on Aug. 13, 1862, she was considered to be “the most beautiful bride ever to leave Norwalk.”

Louis Severance eventually became part of the Standard Oil Company in Cleveland, as did his son John. John and his wife eventually donated one million dollars for the construction of Severance Hall in Cleveland, which still serves the Cleveland Symphony orchestra and other groups.

Meanwhile David Benedict had attended Kenyon College and became a physician. During the Civil War he was captured and held prisoner by the confederacy for a time and when he returned to Norwalk he had lost interest in practicing medicine, and instead operated a drug store and manufactured a “home remedy” for a time. 

Apparently life was good for Dr. Benedict and plans were made for a grand new residence to replace his father’s old home at 80 E. Seminary St. At first a part of the old house was moved away and a two story brick building was built in its place. This was a temporary home for the family and eventually was the rear portion of the new mansion, which was built in 1875.

The accompanying photo shows the Benedict House as it looked in 1883 after the porch had been added to the west side. No doubt the bricks for this house were made in the brickyard which Dr. Benedict operated on the south side of East Elm Street just east of South Linwood Avenue. The house, with its magnificent interior woodwork, remained in the family until the death of granddaughter Eleanor Wickham in 1970. In 1997 the upper part of the house was seriously damaged by fire. A Norwalk builder told me that the house could have been restored; instead, it was torn down and the lot has remained vacant since that time. 

The original Jonas Benedict house was moved (possibly in two separate parts) to the east side of North Hester Street across from McGuan Park, and some part of that old house may be standing there yet.

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REMEMBER: My “Just Like Old Times” books are on sale at New Directions Design, 20 W. Main St., in downtown Norwalk. These contain my earlier columns fully indexed and in permanent book form.

Henry Timman, an authority on Firelands history, resides in rural Norwalk.

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