Stepping from the living room to the kitchen of one Ridgefield home is like stepping between centuries. Constructed in 1780 and gut rehabbed in 2003-05 — with an addition and other updates and renovations in between — the two rooms are divided by a massive stone fireplace of locally quarried materials. Both large, open spaces, the living room retains the feel of old with its exposed beams, wood floors and the fireplace with its six-inch thick concrete mantel. The kitchen has long granite counters, craft cupboards and modern appliances and amenities.
While the stones on the kitchen side (back) of the fireplace are similar to those found digging in any area yard, it is interspersed with sizable chunks of granite mined in Branchville. It is the front of the fireplace, however, that really shines — literally. It is faced with granite heavily flecked with quartz, feldspar and mica; on a sunny day, it seems to sparkle.
“Between that and the view out the French doors to the pond, I fell in love with the place when I walked through the front door,” the owner recalls.
In addition to all the new newness blending with the old, the two-story, 2,400-square-foot shingle-style house has 10 acres of property, seven of which comprise a pond about six feet deep. The property slopes down to the pond, giving its occupants “the sense of living in a tree house,” says the owner. A wide deck the length of the house wraps around the kitchen side and can be accessed through the two sets of French doors as well as from the kitchen.
A sturdy stone wall that can nearly be touched from the side-entry porch separates the house from the road. “I have been told, but cannot document, that the house was once a carriage house to another property, but the house in the past was often called ‘the cottage,’” she notes.
Political past…and present
After she had signed the contract, the prior owner told her, “Oh, by the way, a couple of women stopped by recently and told me a famous person used to live here.” The women were from the Alice Paul Institute in New Jersey, established in Alice Paul’s birthplace in Mount Laurel; they had come to confirm the location and see the house in which Alice lived for about 30 years. A suffragette, Alice Paul (1885-1977) led the final fight to get women the right to vote — the 19th Amendment — and wrote the Equal Rights Amendment, drafted in 1922, reworded in 1943 and passed by Congress in 1972, but never ratified.
“The owner was utterly unaware of the home’s provenance,” she says, “and they told him some of the colorful aspects of the oral history, about the notables and movie stars who visited Alice. Not only was she a suffragette, she was quite active in all the civil rights movements, but she kept coming back to the Equal Rights Amendment. When Congress passed it, she felt setting the seven-year time limit for ratification — something no other amendment was subject to — was a deliberate strategy for its failure to pass.
“Once I learned about the Paul connection, I starting to talk to people knowledgeable about local history and sought out the property records — sketchy — as well as members of the League of Women Voters and other political activists for details. I got on the website for the University of California’s Suffragette Oral History [http://bancroft.berkeley.edu/ROHO/projects/suffragist] to see what I could learn about the house and her time here.
“The convergence of her life’s work with my passion and political involvement with the Democratic Party, Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign, the Women’s Campaign School at Yale, and women’s rights was uncanny. Here I was, a person devoted to democratic principles and women’s rights, living in the home of an author of both the 19th Amendment and the Equal Rights Amendment. It was too good to be true…but it is.”
Alice Paul and her sister, Helen, purchased the house and multiple acres, eventually totaling about 50, beginning in the 1940s, at one point owning all of the land that surrounds a pond; they subsequently sold off parcels and today eight houses abut the pond, which has no public access. Alice lived in the house into the mid-1970s, when she moved to the now-defunct Altna Craig Convalescent Home on High Ridge Road.
The current owner created the garden along the wall and one side of her house, which comprises “probably 200 perennials — three kinds of hydrangeas, five varieties of roses, three kinds of irises and lots of astilbe. A creeping hydrangea runs along the stone wall and is ablaze in color in June,” she notes. It is supplemented by numerous containers on her covered front porch. “The garden is my passion and my therapy; I grow herbs, tomatoes, vegetables and a variety of flowers on the porch. It’s convenient and avoids the marauding herds of deer,” she adds.
In addition to living room and kitchen, the main level has a dining room and den/family room and a powder room carved out of a corner of dining room. “I was told there were once three bedrooms on the level,” she marvels as she looks around.
Alice added the den, which has windows on three sides and its own basement, today used as a garage, not connected to the original basement.
The second story has cathedral and angled ceilings in the three large bedrooms and two full baths, one en suite. The shared bathroom with double vanity has black and white floor tiles and an angled skylight. The spacious master bath has a deep tub beneath windows that overlook the pond, as well as a shower stall and double vanity.
“We moved in in October 2005 and have been living here happily ever since,” says the owner. “I feel like we were meant to live here; I feel privileged to live here.”
The massive stone fireplace, constructed of locally mined materials, separates the living room and kitchen. The opening to the rear is to the family room/den that was added by Alice Paul.