As Topsmead evolved over the years, the buildings were an integral part of its operation. Today several remain while many are now gone. Some were built to meet specific needs; others were acquired along with property purchased. This month and in the next two months, I’ll describe most of Topsmead’s structures so you can get a better sense of what the estate was like during the time Miss Edith lived there.
Topsmead is the name Miss Edith gave to her estate and the area where the main house, (as we referred to it), is located. It all started with a cabin built in 1918 that was designed by William E. Hunt. This was a rustic retreat for Miss Edith on the “top of the meadow.” In the early 1920s plans were discussed for a more substantial and comfortable home. Richard Henry Dana was chosen to design the building to be in the Cotswold style of architecture. Miss Edith loved her rustic cabin and wanted it to somehow be incorporated into the new building. It was only through many letters back and forth with Mr. Dana, that he persuaded her that the cabin would not fit with the overall design. In the end, the fireplace, which was in the cabin, was kept and now serves as the focal point in the living room.
The second building to be constructed at Topsmead was the dovecote built in 1934. This was designed by Fred Webster, a Waterbury architect. Mr. Dana had passed away. The dovecote matched and complimented the design of the main house. It has a bedroom upstairs, and on the first level is a half bath and a gardener’s shed. The two entrances to the living quarters are a main door off the driveway and also on a paved walkway from the kitchen, while the entrance to the gardener’s workplace faces the garden on the North side.
The third and final building at Topsmead was an open three-sided garage built in late 1941 and early 1942. It was designed by Fred Webster and again complimented the design of the main house. The garage was added for convenience. Prior to its building, Miss Edith would have to call down to the chauffeur, John Orintas, to bring up a car for her use, or she would have to walk down to the farm to get a car herself.
In September of 1921, Miss Edith purchased approximately 5 acres from Albert Schramer. This property bordered the northern edge of her property and was along East Litchfield Road. I believe that there was already a barn on the property. A guest house was built in 1926 to accommodate the number of friends who visited and could not be comfortably housed at the main house. The house is now gone. There was, and still is, a mowed path from the guest house through the field to the main house. Underhill was also the location of the main garden. A building called the loft was added to the barn, and to that was added a greenhouse, approximately 25 by 15 feet in length so that the vegetables could be started earlier. This area was serviced by its own well. The wellhead can be seen, and the barn still remains though the greenhouse is gone.
In June of 1923, Miss Edith purchased about 65 acres from Frank Turkinton. This acreage was in 3 parts, the largest of which housed an old barn. Later another barn was added, connected to the old barn to house the haying equipment. The old barn also housed the buggy and a horse-drawn sleigh.
In 1938, a picnic pavilion was built along the west side of Jefferson Hill Road South along with a fireplace and a hand-pumped well. A grove of trees surrounded the pavilion to provide shade. These barns were vandalized by thieves in the late 1970s and burned down to cover their crime. Vestiges of the old stone barbeque can be seen at the site.