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History sewn into Stamford’s Buttonwood Manor

March 30, 2017 GMT

STAMFORD — A huge sycamore tree towering over a federal-style colonial in North Stamford is a lasting piece of the 200-year-old home’s rich history.

The Briar Brae Road home is nicknamed Buttonwood Manor for the huge backyard tree, which is also known as a buttonwood. The tree now offers a picturesque accent for the home, but in the Colonial era, it was more than a piece of landscaping.

The seeds from the trees — with hard shells and cottony innards — were used as buttons, making the buttonwood tree a source of considerable income for the early owners of the land. The 8-acre parcel was farmed as early as the mid-1700s, when it appeared to be owned by the Davenports, a founding family of Stamford.

But the origin of Buttonwood Manor is a bit unclear.

The land was deeded from the Davenports to Amos Stevens in 1796. A study of the home’s lineage in a thick file dedicated to 284 Briar Brae Road at the Stamford History Center suggests the first iteration of Buttonwood Manor was built by Jacob Stevens in 1808 or 1809.

An article from The Advocate in 2010 said the original part of the main house dates back as far as 1760. City tax records date the home back to 1890.

No matter its age, Buttonwood Manor hasn’t changed hands often in its lifetime. One family, the Raymonds, kept the home for several generations, farming the land for nearly a century.

By the 1930s, Buttonwood Manor was owned by Olympic gold medalist William Stevenson, who anchored the 4-by-400-meter relay at the 1924 Paris summer games, and his wife, Eleanor “Bumpie” Stevenson.

Rene and Elena Kraenzlin moved into Buttonwood Manor with and their three daughters in 2007, and have woven their own family history into the home’s genealogy. One of their daughters got engaged in the driveway, another had her bridal shower in the home, and the barn has hosted many parties.

Rene Kraenzlin said the history was palpable the first time he and his wife crossed the threshold, as owners who came before them left behind a warm feeling of family and togetherness. He says it’s a home built to house many generations.

“This is more than a house,” he said. “It was love at first sight for us, and when we discovered it had such a rich history, it all made sense. We could feel those other families here.”

The Kraenzlins have taken their role in the home’s history very seriously, keeping the six-bedroom main residence, guest house and former equestrian barn in pristine condition while carefully preserving the estate’s many artifacts.

Even with the many changes and additions the Kraenzlins have made, historic integrity was always a top priority.

A fireplace in the living room, framed in field stone and equipped with a wrought-iron pot crane, was hidden behind drywall when the family first moved into the house. In the kitchen, which was recently remodeled, a huge, rustic wood beam frames the sink and countertops.

In the backyard, a newly-built terrace and pathway to the guest home were built entirely with stones recovered from the property.

On a shelf in the living room, also framed by wooden beams, they keep an old book of family photos and a brief history of the home, passed down from each owner. The Kraenzlins even re-created one of the Raymond’s family photos in front of the house from 1890, perching on a large rock that still sits stoically below the front walkway.

With their three daughters now grown and out of the house, the couple is ready to start a new chapter. They plan to move to New York and have listed the 8.72-acre estate for $1.79 million with William Pitt Sotheby’s.

They have compiled their own book of Kraenzlin history at Buttonwood Manor in preparation for the move, and hope to sell the home to another family who will carry on the legacy.

“There is such strength in a place that has this much history, especially in a home like this where so many people achieved their dreams,” Elena Kraenzlin said. “It would be a shame if that history were forgotten.”

nnaughton@stamfordadvocate.com; @noranaughton