I came across Topsmead by chance, during an online search of notable landmarks in Litchfield County. Located in northwest Connecticut, Litchfield County has long been a picturesque getaway for urban dwellers, with New York City being just a couple of hours to the south.
Litchfield County locals understand and appreciate their region’s rich pastoral background. This historic area is known for farming, a trade made successful by fertile soil and ample rain. The rolling hill landscape is covered in trees — maple, birch, and pine being the most popular. New England may be famous for its colorful autumnal leaves, but evergreen trees adorning the sparse winter terrain are a much needed reminder of the lush spring to come.
I have lived in Litchfield County full time this past year, and eagerly wanted to explore my surrounding area more in depth. On an unseasonably warm day this February, I drove the half hour to Topsmead.
I turned past a subtlety hidden, wooden state park sign marking the tree-lined entrance. The muddy gravel road was riddled with tire tracks from visitors who arrived earlier in the morning. A cleared pasture extended far to the left, marked by forest in the distance. A stone wall, for which Connecticut is know, dictated the border between the road and the field beyond. I turned into the parking lot, hoping to catch a glimpse of the cottage through the fragrant pines.
Topsmead State Forest is a 500-plus acre property, bequeathed by owner Edith Morton Chase to the state of Connecticut upon her death in 1972. “Topsmead” means ‘top of the meadow’, the name given to the cottage for its situation at the highest point of the property, overlooking the land below.
Stepping out of the car, I felt an overwhelming sense of calm, not wholly undue to the unexpected high temperature, beckoning me toward her estate, welcoming me into her world atop the hill. Continuing on foot between the trees, I began to see the cottage off slightly to the right, maybe a hundred yards ahead.
There were few other visitors to the property, and for the most part, the grounds felt private and serene. Edith Morton Chase used this cottage as her summer house, which she shared with her two close friends, sisters Lucy and Mary Burrell. The land immediately surrounding the cottage is kept cleared of trees. Visitors are encouraged to picnic informally on the grounds, or to walk the marked trails into the woodland.
Turning from the paved path onto the gravel drive, the first thing I noticed was that the cottage seemed to be plucked from a fairytale, taken from a bucolic Cotswolds cottage, which are playfully referred to as ‘storybook style’ cottages. Edith Morton Chase built Topsmead in 1925. The cottage was designed by notable New York architect, Richard Henry Dana Jr. to mimic an English Tudor house, which gained popularity during the late 19th Century. The exterior incorporates brick, stucco walls with cypress beams, half-timbered gables, and a steeply pitched slate roof.
Inspired by formal country gardens in England, Edith Morton Chase created her own corner of bliss in which to pass the warm summer months among the fruitful blooms and fields. Even in February, without the advantage of floral embellishment, the estate was lovely. When I first walked up the driveway, I felt a jolt of excitement to circle the outside of the cottage, so I could take in the details from every angle. Being off-season, tours were not running for the inside of the house, but seeing the exterior in person was well worth the visit.
Edith Morton Chase was born in 1891. She attended Miss Porter’s School for girls in Farmington. Sometime after her graduation in 1910, she embarked on a tour of Europe, where she was able to admire English Tudor architecture in person. Her father, Henry Sabin Chase gave her the original 16 acres of Topsmead State Forest, then known simply as Jefferson Hill, when she was twenty-six years old. Over the course of her lifetime, she acquired adjacent parcels of land, bringing the estate to its current 511 acres.
Perhaps because the property has been preserved “in a state of natural beauty” as prescribed by her will, it is easy to imagine what the grounds were like during Edith Morton Chase’s residence. From all accounts, she was a woman of philanthropy, who harbored a great interest in taking care of Connecticut’s parkland. Topsmead stands as a testament to her love for environmental beautification. Edith Morton Chase embodied the essence of a quaint life, and through her estate’s lasting legacy, that essence continues to enriched Lichfield County into the 21st Century.
For the complete article with more images, download our Spring Issue No. 01.