Isthmus be the lucky day for residents of Darien!
After six years on the market, with an asking price as high as $175 million, Connecticut’s Great Island is in contract to be sold to the town of Darien, of which it is a part. The property attracted multiple bids from developers and private buyers and, according to selling agent Jennifer Leahy of Douglas Elliman, will close over its last ask of $100 million. Once closed, the sale will smash all records for a single-family property in New England. Not only was the 60-acre island the most expensive home for sale in the region, it was also the largest private island for sale on the East Coast. But, about this “island” thing — Great Island technically isn’t an island, it’s connected to the mainland via an isthmus.
What the town, a wealthy enclave in tony Fairfield County, plans to do with the property is up in the air. Darien First Selectman Monica McNally, in a board meeting, pointed out that Great Island is the last and best property of its kind available in the eastern United States. Quoted in the Connecticut Examiner, she said, “There will never be another opportunity for the town to control this property’s destiny, or to add an asset to benefit all of us like this, for us and for generations to come.” Some local residents favor the idea of designating the property as a park, but then questions arise about the uses of the existing buildings and how they will be maintained.
The property’s numerous residential structures include a 13,000-square-foot, 10-bedroom Mediterranean style main house, a guest house, a caretaker’s cottage, a 19th century farmhouse, and a seaside cottage. There’s also a pool, a private beach, and boat docking. The compound’s equestrian facility was designed by Rafael Guastavino, the building engineer who developed a method of building strong, self-supporting arched walls using terracotta tiles. (His signature method was also used in Grand Central Terminal and Carnegie Hall, among many other Beaux Arts buildings.) In addition to an 18-stall stable and indoor and outdoor riding rings, there are paddocks, a polo field, and riding trails.
The sprawling estate was originally put together by William Ziegler, a baking powder entrepreneur, in 1905. Rather unfortunately, Ziegler died in 1905 as well. His obituary in the New York Times read, in part, “William Ziegler, who sent, at his own expense, three large expeditions to find and plant the American flag at the North Pole, devoting a larger sum to the cause of Arctic exploration than any other man in the world, began life as a printer’s apprentice. At his death, it is estimated, he was worth more than $10,000,000.”
Ziegler was extremely interested in polar exploration, and the 1902 book “Prominent and Progressive Americans” pointed out that he’d organized and paid for several attempts to reach the North Pole. The book quoted him as saying, “It has been my lifelong desire to know that the American flag was the first to float over the North Pole. If I were not so old I would go thither myself. As it is, I can only supply the means for another to make the attempt.”
The property has stayed in the family of his descendants, now known as Steinkraus, ever since. Whatever plans Darien has for the island, it’s a huge benefit to the community that it becomes scenic public space rather than the heavily fortified demesne of a billionaire. Lucky day, indeed.