Every GOOD story starts with, ‘Once upon a time…’
This is a story filled with ‘Once upon a time…’
Once upon a time there was a very well-respected dentist named Dr. James Aris, who built a thriving Wilton practice over the last 22 years. Aris worked hard, earning recognition by his peers as a “Top Dentist,” lecturing at conferences and earning awards of distinction. He was joined by his wife, Pamela Aris, who was just as devoted to building a practice they say focuses on providing the best, patient-centered dental care possible.
Pamela had spent a few years of her childhood living in Wilton, going to elementary school here in the mid-1970s. She grew up with a love of the area’s history, admiring local architecture and historic buildings. She had seen the stately Wilton house at 436 Danbury Rd. on the corner of Rte. 7 and Cannon Rd. over the years, and had appreciated its uniqueness. She knew only a bit about the house, that it was an antique and that it was part of a neighborhood she loved going to as a child.
One day, like many other people in Wilton, she saw a sign appear on the front of the house that read, “INTENT TO DEMOLISH.”
“I drove by the property and saw, like everyone else did, the ‘Intent to Demolish’ sign and my stomach just sank and I had a physical response to that sign,” Pamela recalls. “It brought me back to when I was a child, at 10 or 11. That stayed with me–you snooze, you lose, because Dr. Aris and I would drive by that and think what a lovely place that would be for the dental practice.”
Much to her surprise, just a few days later she saw something that raised her hopes, when she opened her daily email from GOOD Morning Wilton. We had published a story about how the sign actually read “INTENT not TO DEMOLISH,” with ‘not’ in tiny letters. The house’s owner, John Paul, had hoped the sign would spur interest in a potential buyer who would want to save the house from destruction.
“Then I read your article, and I saw it wasn’t too late! We were one of the first phone calls, and John Paul–he saw the same love and enthusiasm for the property in us that he had had 40 years earlier. It’s a mammoth undertaking but one that we’re humbled to embark on,” Pamela says, adding something special for GMW: “Together, we saved this historic property.”
The 2.5 story, gable-roofed, clapboard Greek Revival house carried with it the common name of “Cannon House” (Historic name “Mary Cannon Jones House) and had been registered with the State of CT Historical Commission as one of the most architecturally significant houses in Wilton, mainly thanks to the ionic portico with doric columns.
They closed on the house and officially became its owners last summer, with the intent to move the dental practice there. Both Dr. and Mrs. Aris love that they’re now caretakers of a piece of Wilton’s history.
“You look back and find out about the wonderful people that owned it and then you think about your future how your name is going to be part of that,” he says.
Cannon House–Deep Wilton Roots
Once upon a time, there were two influential Wilton families who were key characters in the history of the town–the Cannons and the Millers. The Cannon family patriarch, John Cannon, had founded the Cannon Store at the start of the 1800s, believed to have been located where the DALE cannon is at intersection of Cannon and Danbury Roads. His son, George Cannon, took over the store and eventually left 3.75 acres (valued at $470.34) to his eldest daughter, Mary Cannon. She and her husband built the five-bedroom house at 436 Danbury Rd. in 1835.
In 1878, Mary left her estate to her brother, Charles Cannon, a prominent town leader who was involved in politics and responsible for much development in the Cannondale area–acquiring a US Post Office for Cannon Station and subcontracting the right to expand the Danbury/Norwalk Railroad through the Pimpawaug/Cannondale area. Charles’ daughter Esther Cannon inherited the house along with her husband Samuel Miller, who became president of Gilbert & Bennett.
Samuel and Esther’s children, David Henry Miller III and Mary Catherine Miller, inherited the property. David built the historic, Colonial Revival home next door at 426 Danbury Rd. (now the Wilton Sport Shop) and followed his father as president of Gilbert & Bennett; Mary married Lewis Ambler. David’s daughter, Esther Miller Allen (as in Allen’s Meadow) inherited the properties and kept them until 1982, when John Paul purchased the Cannon House property.
Pamela spent time with town historians Bob and Carol Russell at the Wilton Library to learn about the history, and looked at pictures of the house through the years. She says the fact that the two important Wilton families are so intertwined in the history of the house is what makes it so significant for her.
“It stands for the roots of the area and of the town. They were involved in the post office, the roads, the railroad, the agriculture and commerce,” she says.
That deep family history has only made her more passionate and dedicated to refurbishing and renovating it as accurately and faithfully as possible.
“We’re building on this powerful historic foundation–they just don’t make houses like that anymore,” Pamela says.
The Work Begins, Making History Adapt for Technology
Before being able to move Dr. Aris’ practice there (the name will change from Wilton Center Family Dentistry to Advanced Dentistry of Wilton) the house had to undergo some pretty intensive work, even though everything was structurally sound and in good shape. Pamela says the house was very well maintained by the last owner, and while the last occupant of the house was a hair salon (Fraiche), that was actually a plus, because a lot had already been put into the plumbing and the water and expanding the septic system.
They went over every nook and cranny and worked to lovingly restore it over the last six months. The Arises felt it was important to put together a team that shared their vision: architect Rob Sanders who specializes in historic properties (and coincidentally was a tenant on the property); Wayne Fontaine, who oversaw construction work; Eyvind Heggland of Wilton’s CT Floor Supply, who specializes in restoring antique floors); and Cesar Services, who oversaw landscaping, masonry and drainage.
The house was in great condition, but bringing a healthcare facility in there meant attention to detail was even more important. “Everyone is inspired and awed by how this house is built. We’re all on the same page of bringing state of the art dental office within the foundation of this beautifully restored house,” adds Pamela.
All of which took time. For example, Cesar Chacon of Cesar Services meticulously re-cemented the basement floor.
“He takes such pride in his workmanship–he went around the perimeter of the house and dug down two feet. He did not disturb any of the historic stonework and just looked for any spots and sealed it so we have a nice dry basement. The number one thing any historic home owner can do is just secure that foundation–that’s the key to any structure,” Pamela explains.
It all had to be completed with an eye to making it a modern health office. First and foremost, the office will offer the highest level of sterilization–hospital grade. Pamela says everything they’re building is to make the patient have a better experience, from installing the latest in dental chair design to how the operatories (patient areas) are organized and cabinets are positioned. They will have six chairs, and more room to move around.
“Yes we’ll grow, but we’ll be the same dental team, the same philosophy of patient care. Same heart and soul, just in a larger space,” she says.
The renovation became Pamela’s obsession, and she devoted herself to every detail.
“Pamela even agonized about the color of the house,” says Dr. Aris. “It’s called ‘Pamela Aris Yellow.’”
He’s not joking either. She narrowed down to two shades of yellow that she loved. “I went to Ring’s End and they said to just combine the paint. I really wanted a formula so it can be consistent, so they worked with me and created a beautiful, beautiful formula of two historic colors.”
She also consulted frequently with the Russells, who approved of the color choice. “We went back and looked at some early pictures of the house and we know it was a color, it was not white. A lot of people think it was white because of the black and white photography, but they think this yellow was close to the original color.”
Everything they uncovered brought new joy, whether it was gorgeous original flooring underneath carpeting or even plant roots.
“Each day we go to the property we love it more and more. It’s just beautiful–not just the structure but the grounds too. The trumpet vines and the wisteria on the pergola, the root must be 150 years old! There are pictures of the beginning of the pergola with the vines just starting. It’s so beautiful! Everything has to be really taken care of,” Pamela raves.
They’ve been so inspired by the property that they plan on sharing it in some ways with the town. They hope to host small gatherings and Victorian-era themed celebrations at the house, which Pamela calls “Four Seasons at the Cannon House.”
“We’re really trying to bring alive all these Victorian traditions in honor of when the house was built. It was such an amazing era–the music, the literature, the art. We’ll have croquet, we’ll have tea, we’ll have a summer picnic with whitewashing and painting the fence in honor of Samuel Clemens, we’re going to have card parties and invite some of our friends from The Greens. For Winter Solstice, Dr. Aris has a wonderful voice, so we will have Victorian caroling and a gingerbread house competitions, she says.
They know that just as the property has captivated them over the years, so too has it held a special place for other people.
“I have some older patients from Wilton who have said to me, ‘I’m just dying to go into that place because I’ve passed by it so many times. Even as a young child I always wanted to go into that house,’” says Dr. Aris.
They’re eager to help keep the history alive and moving it forward maintaining that respect for the history.
The Love Story at the Heart of It
Once upon a time, there were two people who shared each other’s dreams.
Watching the Arises talk about this huge undertaking, it’s really amazing to marvel at how this project embodies each of their dreams come true. By taking piece of history and bringing in advanced, cutting-edge dentistry it is truly the melding of their individual passions combined in a way that makes them both happy–for themselves and for each other.
During the interview, their partnership is very sweet to watch. Dr. Aris sits back and watches as his wife thrills in talking about making something she has always wanted a reality. Even though it’s his dental office, it’s their business that they both work hard to make the best it can be. They finish each other’s sentences as they talk.
“We’ve been best friends since we were in our early 20s, since our undergraduate years,” Pamela says.
“Do you want to tell her about the plaque I bought you?” he smiles.
“It says, ‘A man who did not believe it could be done, should not interrupt the woman who’s doing it,’” she says with a smile.
Wrapped up in her dream about the property was her desire to make his practice even better. “I’m going to get emotional just saying it–I want an operatory and surrounding that’s reflective of his level and quality of dentistry. We have beautiful operatories now but these are going to be much more comfortable and better serve our patients.”
As much as the project is amazing for their business and a continuation of what they’ve given to the town over the years, as well as something they’re doing to preserve a historic structure in town, the true moral of the story is about their mutual love and respect, and how they’re finding the sweetness in what they are doing in order to realize each other’s dreams. What’s most beautiful is the evident motivation to make each other’s dreams become reality.
“For me, our dreams coincide with each other. We really have a dream of serving each and every patient with the finest dental care available, and with a team approach. It’s not just Dr. Aris, it’s our entire team–our associate dentist, Dr. Trinh, our hygienists, Laura, Sue, Natalie and Angela; our dental assistants, Amanda and Tanya, Rachel; our office manager Adrienne. From the moment the patient walks in the door, their dental experience has begun,” Pamela says, adding, “For us the dream really is about keeping healthy smiles for life. We really love what we do.”
Dr. Aris says that the new office will go a long way to making that dream come true.
“It’s going to be so warm, welcoming and state of the art. It will have that ‘wow factor’ as soon as you walk in the door.”
Pamela echoes the excitement they both feel.
“We feel very fortunate to be part of this vibrant community. We feel connected in many ways and this is just one more connection for us. Between this and our family, we live and breathe what we do, and we are very excited about this new undertaking.”