As GOOD Morning Wilton recently reported, the property at 254 Danbury Rd., the former site of the Wilton Baptist Church, has a new owner.
The 1.68-acre property was sold for $500,000 to a business entity, 254 Danbury Road EAT, LLC, in which longtime Wilton resident William D. Earls is the principal.
GMW spoke to Earls, an award-winning architect and author of The Harvard Five in New Canaan: Midcentury Modern Houses by Marcel Breuer, Landis Gores, John Johansen, Philip Johnson, Eliot Noyes.
Earls is also a trustee of the Wilton Historical Society.
He quickly settled the big question of the church’s fate.
“What I will definitely say, for the record, is that the appearance of the building will remain exactly as it is.”
Earls emphasized, “The building is going to be saved.”
As his credentials would suggest, Earls is enamored with the church’s historical importance and architectural significance.
“The building is beautiful, obviously very beautiful, and an important historical landmark,” he said. “It’s imperative, I think, that it be preserved.”
Indeed, when the property was up for sale, representatives of the Baptist Church told GMW they hoped to find a buyer who would not tear the building down.
Referring to some “deferred maintenance”, Earls added, “It’s a jewel that needs to be polished” and even “shown off” to passers-by.
When asked about the recent flurry of development projects in Wilton, Earls simply said, “This is not that kind of project.”
Earls was reluctant to discuss specific details of his plans at this early stage, but he offered the assurance that there would be full transparency with any future plans.
“I’ve been in Wilton over 20 years, and I care about these old things,” he said affectionately. “To me, saving the building was the primary motivation.”
“What’s remarkable is there are so few old buildings that still have their old function. It’s been a church for so long,” Earls commented. “Even the additions were very well done, very sympathetic to the old building. They’re equally as beautiful as the old church.”
“If anything, I’d like to make that history better known,” said Earls.
Documents on the Wilton Historical Society website reveal some of the church’s history.
It wasn’t always a Baptist church. Construction of the church was completed in 1864 by the Wilton Episcopalian church, St. Matthew’s, which was formed in Wilton in 1802.
At the time, it neighbored the historic Sloan-Raymond-Fitch House, which dates back to the 1700s and is now part of the Wilton Historical Society complex.
According to the “Historic Resource Inventory — Buildings and Structures” from the Historic Preservation Office (part of Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD), the church is “one of the finest ecclesiastical structures” in the area.
“The distinctive English Tudor fieldstone and brick church… is an excellent example of the picturesque ecclesiastical structures that were promoted by the Episcopal church during the second half of the 19th century. Superbly massed and detailed with a steep roof, flat buttresses and a rose window at the end of the nave, the church is very well preserved.”
The parish hall was added on the north side of the church in 1940. A two-story wing intended for Sunday school was completed in 1954. The Historic Resource Inventory described the additions as “equally as well designed” as the church itself.
A fire in 1971 destroyed the original church windows. That same year, the church was sold by St. Matthew’s (which had outgrown the space and relocated to the WEPCO complex on New Canaan Rd.), to the Baptist Church, which occupied it until it closed in April 2021.
Over the years, the church has been important to many people in the community, beyond just church members. The facility served as a longtime location for AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) meetings for women’s groups. In addition, a number of faith and cultural groups have regularly utilized the property. Even Walter Schalk has held dance classes in the property’s facilities.