How Casagmo Started
Between 1892 and 1893, the land now referred to as Casagmo, was sold to its’ second owner, George M. Olcott. The current barn, now referred to as the Clubhouse, was erected.
In 1897 the George M. Olcott Italianate Style Mansion was constructed and called CasaGMO. Casa, Italian for home, followed by and paired with Olcott’s initials. The mansion was positioned just to the left of the current driveway entrance with its stone pillars which still remain today as the gatekeepers to our community. The mansion itself was found to be buried at the site where it stood, by former State Archaeologist Nick Bellantoni, while searching for revolutionary artifacts a few years ago.
In 1909, as part of the massive stone wall George M. Olcott was having built, he commissioned a plaque to be placed in the stone wall on Main Street commemorating the Battle of Ridgefield and the soldiers, both American and British, who had lost their lives there.
Mr. Olcott was a merchant, manufacturer, and banker. Born in Brooklyn, on August 23, 1835, he was the son of Charles Mann and Maria Cornell (Underhill) Olcott. Educated in private schools in Brooklyn, he finished with Columbia College Grammar School in 1851. He married Jennie Arnold of Arnoldton, NY in June of 1858.
Olcott joined the wholesale druggists, Osgood & Jennings, as a clerk. Three years later he left Osgood & Jennings and was hired by Dodge & Colvill in 1856. D&C were manufacturers of flavor and fragrance materials used in cosmetics, essential oils, chemicals, and drugs. Olcott made partner with D&C in 1859, and D&C changed their name to Dodge, Colvill & Olcott.
Olcott was also a founder and president of First National Bank of Ridgefield; Dodge & Olcott of New York, VP of Lloyd’s Plate Glass Insurance Company, Director of Markey & Fulton National Bank, Federal Insurance Company; Franklin Trust Company; Franklin Safe Deposit Company and the Bowery Savings Bank. He was also a member of the Brooklyn Institute of Sciences, New England Society of Brooklyn, Metropolitan Museum of Art, American Museum of Natural History, and Board of Trade and Transportation.
George M. Olcott died in September of 1917 at the age of 82. Originally interred in Ridgefield the family is believed to have moved him to his final resting place in Brooklyn, NY as per the decision made by Mary Olcott after a “tiff” with the owners of the Ridgefield Cemetery.
Mary Louisa Beatrice Olcott, was born into wealth and privilege on June 24,1864, in Brooklyn, NY and was the middle daughter of George M. And Jennie Olcott.
Destined at birth to make her mark, she was a significant player in Ridgefield society. She organized many events, having performed some type of role in each and every one from speaker and fundraiser to volunteer. In 1899, with the help of only the Head Librarian, Miss Olcott asked that the Ridgefield Library close for three weeks, and the duo successfully cataloged and converted all its contents to the Dewey Decimal System!
History illustrates Ms. Olcott as a true feminist and ardent supporter of the right for women to vote. She was often described as strong-willed, determined, creative, and certainly a leader. Stories and accounts of Miss Olcott paint her as having a “colorful and imposing personality” and was often described as formidable, outspoken, opinionated, imperious, and, apparently true to her form, difficult at best!
The Ridgefield Garden Club portrayed the kinder, gentler side of Miss Olcott. As a founding member, meetings were held in member’s homes—tea served.
Passionate about flowers and fauna, the Casagmo gardens provided her with the ability to put on spectacular displays of color and texture directing a staff of gardeners every step of the way. Accounts of whether or not she participated in the actual gardening simply point to the fact if something was done incorrectly, she’d let the gardener know!
In 1902, Miss Olcott found the time to write and publish a book of poems. Astonishingly, she also penned “The Olcott's and their Kindred From Anglo-Saxon Times, Through Roncesvalles to Gettysburg and After”. This massive piece of publishing numbering 315! Pages were recently re-discovered tucked away in the Ridgefield Library. It now safely resides inside the climate-controlled vault of the Ridgefield Historical Society. Incidentally, Miss Olcott published this tome... at the age of 92! Having masterfully managed this estate after the death of her father, she was known for employing many Ridgefielders over the years. Miss Olcott died May 22, 1962, at the age of 97 at her beloved home... Casagmo.
Penned in Mary Louisa Beatrice Olcott’s own handwriting, “What a Garden Means to Me”, she describes Casagmo’s infamous Rock, positioned on the third terrace of the gardens with its’ inscribed quotations and two holes for the dynamite. All still remain today!
“And there is last and all the time, like the ringing of the bells, the rock in the garden – “the great rock in a strange land”, which it almost seemed, in the dreadful dryness the garden felt during a long part of the long summer this year! It stands, as you know, in the third terrace, undesired, apparently by the architect and by the stonemason, whose tap-tap, my blind father heard—” “What is that?” He cried, “that noise?” “They are going to blow up the rock, the architect's plan shows no rock”, I said. “They are almost ready to dynamite it!” “No, NO!” he cried. “Never! Let it stay! Tell them to let it stay!” So, it stayed. And over it floats the white dogwood and coral lilies surround it.
And on its south side, the mason carved:
Laetus Sorte Mea (Happy in my fate) and on the top those other splendid words from the great Cardinal Neuman’s book: Apologia pro vita Sus: Stat et Stabit (It stands, and it shall stand); Man et Manebit (It remains and it shall remain); Spectator Orbis (A watching of the generations (Watching the world). Think of it! Infinite Riches! See the gardens we have seen and can take with us—ours! Our very own! Infinite riches in a little room.”
Charles Downing Lay, American Landscape Architect (September 3,1877- February 15,1956) Born and raised in Connecticut, Lay inherited his much-loved grandmother’s estate in Stratford, CT, a place he spent his summers fishing, sailing, swimming, and enjoying nature as a young boy.
The Housatonic River as well as the Long Island Sound, greatly influenced Lay’s passion for landscape architecture. He designed many private gardens as well as numerous parks, educational institutions and even consulted in 1939 on the New York World’s Fair.
In fact, he was known to be the first landscape architect to use a ramp style of walkway in gardens, which is represented in the design commissioned by George M. Olcott and his daughter, Mary Louisa Beatrice Olcott.
Beautiful stonework, pea gravel ramp walkways, and even a fountain such as the one pictured still remain to this day in Lay’s Tea Terrace design of the Olcott garden. In 1947, shortly before Lay retired, he purchased 85 acres of property in Lyme, CT. With experience designing the most beautiful gardens in America, Lay referred to the Lyme property as “farm grown to woods which I subconsciously had been longing for.”
Pictured below are the Olcott gardens designed by Lay from the book Gardens of Colony and State.