Following below is an excerpt from an article, “A History of Waveny and the Powerhouse,” which appeared in the 2006-2007 Town Players of New Canaan Playbill. It was edited by Tanya Bickley, using material written by the New Canaan Historical Society, Nancy Scott, and Sheri Dean.
Nestled in the outskirts of New Canaan, Waveny Park is home to Fourth of July fireworks, family picnics, summer concerts, wedding celebrations, athletic competitions, kite-flying enthusiasts and artistic endeavors.
In 1896, Thomas Hall put together ten tracts of land and transformed them into a summer estate of 280 acres. Calling his land “Prospect Farm,” Mr. Hall constructed a large home and several other buildings, including a power plant and a stable. He also built the stone gateposts that still guard the entrance on Lapham Road.
According to the Historical Society, “Thomas Hall erected a Power Plant north and east from the main house…here were the electric generators to light the houses and barns, the boilers that supplied steam for heating, and a pump to boost the water pressure… Except on special occasions, Frank Pearson, the engineer, would momentarily dim the lights at 9:00 p.m., warning everyone that bedtime was half an hour away, and at 9:30 the power went off.”
In 1904, Lewis H. Lapham bought the property and added 170 acres. Mrs. Lapham named it “Waveny Farm,” after Waveny River in England. It was at first strictly a summer home with extensive farming. On April 11, 1912 ground was broken for the mansion now known as “Waveny House.”
The Lapham family made the property available for purchase by the Town of New Canaan in 1967, for future use by its residents. In the early 1980s, the Town Players renovated the power plant and called it The Powerhouse.
Community theatre in New Canaan has an extensive history, with productions dating back as far as 1880. The Town Players of New Canaan was formed in 1946 with broad support in the town and with the financial backing of the Lion’s Club. For 38 years, auditions and most rehearsals were held at Town Hall, and performances were given and churches and schools all over town.
From the beginning, many productions were directed by experienced theatre professionals such as Bob Dixon, Gordon Allison and Tony Bickley. Their dedication saw the Town Players through the early years, and set a pattern for attracting professional and semi-professional talent. “The core of the group, however, was from the community,” explained legendary props mistress Eleanor Brinkerhoff. “The mix of experienced professionals and dedicated amateurs has worked over and over again.”
For years, the Town Players built sets and stored scenery and costumes in Tony Bickley’s barn. Not certain of where life would take her after her husband’s death, Mrs. Bickley advised the Town Players it was time for them to start looking for another space.
At the time, the Powerhouse stood empty and purposeless, falling prey to vandalism and deterioration. The Town Players made a proposal to the Town of New Canaan to transform the dilapidated building into a fully functioning community theatre. After over a year of attending every manner of meetings, the Town Players’ rejoiced when the Town Council accepted their proposal.
The task of raising all the funds privately, restoring the powerhouse, and converting it to a theatre was monumental and required the efforts of hundreds of volunteers. Architect Richard Bergmann and Theatrical Designer H. Edward Spires developed a magnificent plan, which was implemented over the course of four years by volunteers, professional contractors, and Master Builder Clifford Webb. The Powerhouse opened as a Performing Arts Center on March 18, 1983.