The area that is now New Canaan was originally settled around 1715 as part of the towns of Norwalk and Stamford. In 1731, the Connecticut legislature approved a new Congregational Parish and named it Canaan Parish. New Canaan was finally incorporated 70 years later in May 1801.
Agriculture and milling were the town’s primary industries. Shoe manufacturing, first introduced in 1818, rapidly expanded to become the town’s dominant industry. Its growth shaped the downtown area. The height of the shoemaking boom was in 1850, but failure to install new automatic sewing machines right before the Civil War did not allow the shoemakers to keep up with the wartime demand. The last shoemaker closed in 1913.
To attract new businesses and new employment opportunities, local businessmen financed the construction of a railroad spur from Stamford in 1866. The New Canaan Railroad eventually became part of the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad in 1890. The increased accessibility made the town desirable as a vacation retreat. Large summer estates were constructed. Many of the summer people decided to become permanent residents and encouraged their friends and families to relocate.
By the end of World War II, the town had developed a vital downtown area with a bustling suburban community. Then in the late 1940s and early 50s, New Canaan attracted a group of modern architects who had studied at Harvard University’s School of Architecture under Walter Gropius, the founder of the Bauhaus School of Design. These young architects, Eliot Noyes, John Johansen, Landis Gores, Philip Johnson, and Marcel Breuer, became known as “The Harvard Five.” Throughout New Canaan, many of these ground-breaking Mid-Century Modern Houses designed by members of The Harvard Five and others still stand, including three in the National Register of Historic Places: The Glass House, The Gores Pavilion, and The Hodgson House.
New Canaan today is a vibrant town of approximately 20,000. Its walkable business district is filled with shops and restaurants that are open year-round. The active Chamber of Commerce publishes a full calendar of events. Visitors will find the locals friendly and welcoming.