Future of Reclusive Copper Heiress’ New Canaan Estate Uncertain

Wildlife in Crisis seeks to preserve the 52-acres of undeveloped land.


While Madame Huguette Marcelle Clark retreated to the hospitals of New York during the last two decades of her life, 104 Dan’s Highway lay empty, tucked away on 52 acres of sprawling space in New Canaan, Connecticut.

Now, just over a year after the copper heiress passed away at 104 years old, the land is on the market for a hefty $17 million and in the hands of the Public Administrators Office of New York City.

Wildlife in Crisis, an organization catering to Fairfield County that is dedicated to the conservation of wildlife and land, has grown concerned for the land’s future and is in no hurry to see another suburb or shopping center erected on the undeveloped land.

“There are so few like spaces this left in intact,” said Wildlife in Crisis Director Dara Reid, “Fifty-two acres in New Canaan is a very large chunk of land in this day and age. Many wild animals live on that land and it’s a very diverse habitat - from hemlock to deciduous trees and fields to dense woodland; and it’s right on the river.”

Such a rich environment has also become home to an abundance of woodland creatures.

“It has become a refuge for a diverse array of wild species,” said Reid, “Everything from hummingbirds, several species of owls, rare amphibians, wood ducks, fox and many other native species call this estate home. If that land is developed, there’s really no place for them to go. It’s not adjacent to any reserves - just subdivisions - and they may not survive.”

Ideally, Reid says Wildlife in Crisis would like the land to be donated and preserved; however, she says that Public Administrators of New York are in no position to do such a thing; therefore, the not-for-profit organization is hoping to raise money from like-minded individuals who wish to see the land remain undeveloped. No funds have been raised thus far.

Another concern for Reid is heirs to the Clark estate.

“I have no idea how we’ll get in touch with them,” said Reid

, which left nothing to her family, became heated in the months after her death with family members attempting to contest Clark's wishes. 

Clark Estate neighbor and Preservation Committee member Jeff Stevens made his stance clear on the situation, stating, “Please help The Wildlife in Crisis Land Trust preserve this unspoiled land which is a refuge for countless wild animals.”

"Time is running out to save this property from development," said Reid.

The price tag on Clark Estate has gone down several times, said Reid, however there are still no iminent buyers. 

Interested parties should contact Dara Reid via the Wildlife in Crisis email or by phone at 203-544-9913.

For more information on the life of the mysterious Madame Clark, read the investigative report by NBC News' Bill Dedman. 

Elsa Kydes July 24, 2012 at 03:16 PM
it's a great idea because it's the last of the great open spaces left in New Canaan! WIldlife in Crisis is an incredible organization which would be an asset to the town and in addition to preserving this land they would provide the town with an incredibly unique service.
Emily Constance (Editor) July 24, 2012 at 03:51 PM
I stayed up quite late reading once I found out who owned this property. Huguette Clark certainly has an intriguing story.
Glen K Dunbar July 24, 2012 at 04:38 PM
I would LOVE to buy it and keep it as the beauty of nature.
Mary Gagliardi July 24, 2012 at 04:58 PM
What an incredibly beautiful piece of land and a great idea to preserve. It would be a shame to lose this wonderful open space to another subdivision. Way to go Wildlife in Crisis. You have my complete support and I think it's a wonderful idea put forth by an incredible group!
Erich Bruhn July 24, 2012 at 05:22 PM
While I completely agree with the goals of Wild Life in Crises, what would be the tax lose to the Village if this property went off the list? I think we, at least, should factor that into any such discussion so the public is totally informed.
Let the Demolition Proceed! July 24, 2012 at 06:37 PM
The town should purchase for open space. 17M is not that much to perserve this land. Sounds like winsome farms all over again. A developer will buy it, and then threatin us with a massive sub-division, if we don't buy it back. The good news, that a major portion of the property is wetlands, so at the most, 4-5 houses would fit.
Glen K Dunbar July 24, 2012 at 06:43 PM
Erich. Not sure I understand Sir. Do you mean if we developed the land all our taxes would go down?? By how much?? Significant? I tend to agree w/"let" $17M is not all that much. Get if form the State or Feds. As I said...I would LOVE to have it and live in Nature and share it w/my fellow towns folks...well most of them....the ones I like and agree w/me. Not the ones who are mean to me and tell me I am wrong when I am NEVER wrong. GLEN
S Tadik July 24, 2012 at 07:49 PM
$17 million is not that much? 5 houses times mininum $15,000 /yr in taxes over 50 to 100 years is another couple of $million. Put another way, you are looking at the taxes of something like 50 houses to finance this boondoggle over a period of 50 to 100 years. If you bond it, 60-70 houses will need to be built on land elsewhere. Bad idea.
Ken D'Ademo July 24, 2012 at 08:35 PM
This is a gorgeous property, I hope that it will remain as it is, and maybe someone could purchase the property, update the mansion and keep the property as is. Hey Tom Cruse, I heard you are looking for a place of refuge, this would be it.... From what I understand, no one has lived in the house since 1942..... Anyone interested in purchasing this property to preserve it as is, I'm 100% for that idea! I'm a REALTOR and would love to be able to be a part of this transaction to save it.
Gregory A Smith July 25, 2012 at 01:22 AM
The house needs a total update. Very least, tear down and re-build. Even at 17M. It would take a couple million in legal fees, zoning, and approvals which could take years. Then after all that, you are looking at 5 homes at well over 5 million each. Good luck in this economy. Not much profit there
Elmcrest July 25, 2012 at 03:02 AM
Hope there's a way to save this 52-acre forest from development. I really don't think there's any chance of -- as the article suggests -- a "shopping center" being built out on Dan's Highway, but as reported in Patch over a year ago, the property has already been approved by New Canaan's P&Z for a legal 10-home subdivision. Now that the asking price has dropped in half, from $34 million to $17 million, that development is a far more profound threat to this bucolic place.
Jeff Stevens July 25, 2012 at 03:34 PM
I am a neighbor of this estate and it is truly a paradise. Many of the neighbors and I are in complete support of the effort to preserve this great 52 acre property and applaud Wildlife In Crisis for their efforts. This is a wonderful non profit group that was established in 1988. To subdivide this property would be a horrible loss to us all. There is no other piece of land like this left in New Canaan, it simply must be preserved from development.
J Bauer July 25, 2012 at 04:21 PM
10 homes paying $30k/year in taxes versus non homes paying $0. Let me think about this... and some advocating the town buying it to boot! The cost in present value terms to the town would be more than $6mm in lost tax receipts alone! Add to that the cost of actually acquiring the land for $17mm and we are looking at something clearly NOT in the economic interests of the people of this town. Maybe Rob Malozzi should be talking to Clarke's estate about a bequest.. but otherwise I cannot see any other way to make this work. As for the neighbors who want to preserve the estate... of course they do. Right now they live next to 50+ acres of quiet, instead of 50+ acres under development.
Dimitri July 25, 2012 at 07:56 PM
I live on Dan's HWY and our property is NOT connected to the Estate. I cannot even imagine what it would be like if a developer bought the property and built 10 homes on it. It is a known FACT that the land has been approved to have 10 homes built on it should a developer purchase the property. The Clarke estate is truly a magnificent piece of land that should remain the way it is. Let’s just stop for a minute and think about all the wildlife that will be killed, moved, hurt, etc should some developer buy this land and build on it. It will be a shame for the property as well as for our town. There has to be someway for this property to be kept as is
Siwanoy July 25, 2012 at 08:29 PM
It would be nice to have "another" waveny park, just without playing fields and more trails. Surely waveny makes money from renting out its main building, could the same be done at this estate? Seems like a nice place for a wedding...
Four Jacks July 25, 2012 at 09:53 PM
Perhaps the town can approach the estate and request that they consider donating the property. If we acquire it, we will have all of the legal issues that we had with Irwin, and the neighbors that want it acquired but then don't want anyone to step foot on it. On the topic of building 10 houses on that land, I seriously don't see the demand right now or in the forseeable future.
Big Willy July 26, 2012 at 12:05 AM
J Bauer, is that the way you value open space, by the tax revenue if the land was developed? Have you attended any town financial meetings? We are not exactly begging for additional tax revenue. Maybe we should turn over all open space to developers so we can attain additional tax revenue to appease you.
S Tadik July 26, 2012 at 12:36 AM
J Bauer and I approached the problem identically, as a capital expenditure. We may have differed on the tax revenue or discount rate, but the approach is the same. The funds expended to acquire plus the tax revenue foregone are the biggest pieces going into the present value estimate. Bonding costs more. An optimum expenditure process matches the objective against the constraints. In this case, can the taxpayers afford free rent and maintenance for the animal squatters on this private property? I join J Bauer in saying no. If the leadership of this town wants to see if they can convince the new owners of the property to donate it to a trust, or some other tax-neutral entity, that is fine. There are 2 separate issues. One is whether most of the citizens of New Canaan want to preserve this land without development. The second issue is whether most of the citizens of New Canaan want to spend the money. The latest news is that more big banks are announcing layoffs, too. Welcome to the new potential referendum. If you spend tens of millions on land preservation, you may be giving up the installation of miles of new unnecessary sidewalks. What a choice. Let the games begin.
Esprit de Corps July 26, 2012 at 01:09 AM
Mr. Mesics, sometimes Americans need to approach situations carefully. Here is an approach from one of your sports heroes. ""I knew I was going to take the wrong train, so I left early." Yogi Berra Civility is important at all times. Yogi has spoken well here, do you not think?
feo mesics July 26, 2012 at 01:37 AM
MS. Mesics to you MR. de Corps ... obviously you are one of those people who when faced with the truth deny everything ... and, why just Americans ... and Yogi Bear is certainly NOT one of my "sports heroes" If "civility is important at all times" then why is Mitt Romney continually dissing OUR AMERICAN PRESIDENT??
Let the Demolition Proceed! July 26, 2012 at 01:43 AM
Animal squatters? That says it all. Those dam polar bears squatting in the North Pole. Those whales and. sharks. squatting in our oceans. The entire wildlife killing in Africa? Kill all the elephants, so we can sell ivory in Asia? Have you witnessed shark finning? How many Bengal tigers are there remaining in the wild. It’s all a viscous cycle that starts will the overdelopemt of open space
J Bauer July 26, 2012 at 02:13 AM
Ah, so what you are saying is 1. we can afford it and 2. I am obviously misinformed because how in the world could I ever look at another Irwinesque boondoggle and think it was a bad idea?!?! By the way, the answer to your question is yes, I have. But, even more importantly, I am pretty quick around a financial statement. The town has roughly $130mm in long term debt. Debt+interest will be $170mm and with around 5,300 families in this town, that works out to be $32,000 per family. Is that not a lot of money to you? Our town officials think "we can afford" a shiny new town hall. Depending on who you believe, the cost will be between $11mm and $30mm. Our pension fund is likely to be underfunded in years to come. Good thing "we can afford it" huh? Sure, why not toss on top of that debt and interest on a $17mm estate plus millions in lost tax revenue. Afterall, "we can afford it" Now, as for how I value open space. I cut out the romantic notion of an old sleepy estate with bambi playing in the woods with her bunny friends. I judge it based on utility - how much value does the open space contribute to the people of this town vs how much it will cost the people of this town. In NC, there is no shortage of open space, but there is a shortage of tax dollars given our deficits. Reality check - the economy is hurting and most (although not all) people in this town are feeling it. Our government owes it to all of us to be more frugal during such times.
S Tadik July 26, 2012 at 03:17 AM
Failure to pay their taxes. Times are tough. Many people are having trouble. Why do non-humans get a free ride? Let them go clean up parks or recycle beverage containers or do something positive to protect the environment. Some of them are not even citizens. Look at the Canada geese. We don't need their kind around here. Let them go back where they came from or pay up. They just pollute things, anyway. Good riddance. Nogood freeloaders.
Esprit de Corps July 26, 2012 at 08:45 AM
OK, Ms. Mesics, please excuse the fact that I have confused your gender. You seem to have misspelled Mr. Dunbar’s name, too. Let’s forgive ourselves. I think you have confused two American icons, Yogi Bear and Yogi Berra. The only thing that I have heard Yogi Bear say is, “Remember; only you can prevent forest fires.” This does not seem to relate to Mr. Dunbar. I am trying to uncover truth here, as you request and using famous Americans as examples. Yogi Berra does speak about denial, politics and criticism and he does it with civility when he says: “If you ask me anything I don't know, I'm not going to answer”; “Even Napoleon had his Watergate” and “Half the lies they tell about me aren't true.” Mr. Berra has his own eloquence as does Mr. Dunbar, don’t you agree? Mr. Dunbar seems to be a New Canaan treasure, so let’s encourage him. American politics seem to be a contact sport. Maybe both candidates should “chill” and we can watch Olympic sports instead.
Big Willy July 27, 2012 at 03:34 PM
"The latest news is that Lowes is looking at the property so they can establish a foot print in Fairfield County. Currently seeking zoning approval to widen the road for deliveries. That should make Jane Bauer happy."
J Bauer July 27, 2012 at 03:58 PM
Yes, I am sure that Lowes would like to open a mega store on a side street in a small town miles from any major highway. And, of course, our planning and zoning commission would jump at the chance to grant them permission for it. Uh huh... you selling a bridge too?
Charlene July 27, 2012 at 06:39 PM
Esprit- Yogi Bear said "what have we got in the picnic basket?!" Smokey Bear said "only you can prevent forest fires"
Esprit de Corps July 27, 2012 at 08:24 PM
Ms. Sessa, you are certainly correct. I have confused Yogi Bear with Smokey the Bear. Here’s a verse dedicated to Glen Dunbear from an old Country and Western song: “On top of Old Smokey, all covered with hair Of course I’m referring to Smokey the Bear.” All the best to Glen and thank you, Ms. Sessa, for your correction and civility.
Hollywood2 July 29, 2012 at 12:51 AM
The attorneys for the estate are a bunch of crooks. Don’t be surprised if the site becomes a Mosque


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