A Final Farewell To Fredericka House

All that remained of the historic Fredericka House on Friday, July 25, was a pile of concrete and bent pipes heaped next to a giant industrial screener in the Newtown United Methodist Church parking lot. Darin and David Renihan of Site Services in Danbury stood nearby, surveying the packed surface where the house had once stood.

It has been many years since Fredericka House opened its doors onto Church Hill Road. Built around 1810 by one of the early Sanford family members, it was given to Elizabeth C. Sanford upon her marriage to Edmond Trowbridge Hastings Gibson, a New York broker, by her brother, David Sanford, in 1842. (Among the Gibson relatives was Charles Dana Gibson, creator of the iconic Gibson Girl drawings of the 1890s.)

The Gibson House was purchased in 1926 by Florence Schepp and given to the First Presbyterian Church of New York City, to provide a summer refuge for needy city children, in memory of a woman who in separate Newtown Bee articles is identified as either her mother or grandmother, Fredericka Bauer Schepp. The Fredericka House functioned as a summer camp for girls, and later for both boys and girls, throughout the 1940s and 1950s.

In 1967, the Fredericka House was torn down to make way for the 1972 move of the Methodist Church building from Dayton Street to its present location at 92 Church Hill Road.

The house continued to make its presence known, though, for many years. As was the common practice in the mid-20th Century, when Fredericka House was demolished, its wood, lathe, plaster and foundation were allowed to collapse into the basement. The debris was paved over to create a parking lot. But each spring, the church community has found itself paying to fill in sinkholes that occur as the debris decomposed and settled.

This past spring, Rev Mel Kawakami announced to his congregation that two families had donated half the estimated $40,000 cost for digging up, removing, and properly refilling the Fredericka House site. The NUMC Senior Pastor challenged his congregation to fund the remaining $20,000.

“We are close to the $40,000 needed,” said NUMC substitute secretary Marcia Moore, July 25, adding that minor incidents — such as a large truck sinking in the lot earlier this summer as it moved a slab of granite into place for a memorial — may have expedited the work.

Church member Richard Kovacs oversaw the project, beginning with the first test hole two years ago. The principal of Kovacs Construction in Danbury for 40 years, Mr Kovacs said the it was his “cup of tea,” and expressed great regard for Site Services.

“We held a fundraiser and raised enough money to start the job,” Mr Kovacs said, Monday, July 28. Because the amount of debris and wood pulled out of the hole was not as much as expected, he expected demolition disposal to be less costly than first anticipated.

The Renihans began work Tuesday morning, July 22, said Darin Renihan, finding timbers, masonry, and a stone foundation beneath the rippled pavement.

“We probably took out 30 tons of debris,” commented Mr Renihan.

The screened wood and masonry ended up in a large dumpster. The filtered good material, consisting of soil, was placed back in the hole, one foot at a time, up to subgrade, the Renihans said.

That material was compacted and an additional foot of process — mainly crushed gravel — was placed over that.

“Then it will be ready for repaving,” Mr Renihan said.

By using twice the amount of process gravel required to top off the newly compacted surface, Mr Kovacs said that the problematic sinkholes should be a thing of the past. Paving is expected to be com-pleted by early August, he added.

And, with the completion of the project, the final chapter of Fredericka House is written.

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