Curtis Wilcox House
554 Boston Post Road
c. 1815, Federal
Curtis Wilcox and his younger brother Jonathan Samuel Wilcox, who lived next door in the house to the east, used their adjoined properties for their tannery. Curtis, and later his son John R. Wilcox, kept a workroom and shop near the roadway where they sold the harnesses and satchels Curtis made, and their tanning vats were kept at the back of the property.
Before this house was built, Curtis and his first wife, Wealthy Hill, lived in an older structure on the property, so the home we see today is Curtis’s second house on this land. He built this house, valued at $1500 on the 1820 tax records, after he was appointed postmaster in 1814. (His annual salary was only $71.41, so most likely he built the house with his recently inherited share of his father’s estate.) The post office was located in the shop, the barnlike structure that used to sit close to the road, east of the house, but was later moved back to its present-day location to the west of the house. Two mail slots still exist in the wall and door of that building.
After Curtis Wilcox’s death, brothers Reuben and Henry Shaler purchased the house and lived in it with their sister, Mary Ann, and Henry’s wife, Tamson. Reuben was noted for having helped lay out the churchyard, including a heart-shaped section of grass near the church steps. Commonly known as “Reuben’s Heart,” Reuben watched it carefully from his dooryard across the green. Reuben was also well known for his creative inventions, and he gained favor with the children of Madison for his toys. One of these creations was known as the “handsome roller coaster,” a large toy that children could ride upon.
Reuben also held patents for such innovations as a carpet sweeper, a type of inline roller skate (1859), and a deadly three-piece bullet used in the Civil War. An artisan of elaborate weathervanes, he also invented an underground scale (1865) that was used to weigh horse-drawn loads. One of these scales was installed at the edge of the green. Kept clean of leaves and snow so that it could easily serve its intended purpose of weighing commercial loads, it was also a local play spot for children. These types of scales are still used today. You may have used the one at the Guilford Transfer Station!
George Wilcox bought the property after Mary Ann Shaler died. His daughter Constance Wilcox Pignatelli, locally famed for her marriage to an Italian prince as well as for her flair for the dramatic arts, inherited it from him. Then, for a long while in the twentieth century, the house was owned by the First Congregational Church and served as its parsonage. One of the FCC’s most-beloved and longest-serving ministers, the Reverend Franklin Bower, moved in with his wife in the summer of 1964. Later the Reverend Dwight Juliani lived there with his wife Linda and their family—and the house often rang with the sounds of children learning to play the piano with the help of Mrs. Juliani. Currently, the home is owned by Madison’s First Selectman Tom Banisch and his wife Eileen Banisch, president of the Madison Chamber of Commerce.
You might notice that this house, like the one next door, has been carefully restored and maintained. It too has a two-story bay window that was added at a later date. It has a coffin door in the east parlor, and it originally had a false wooden chimney to match the brick chimney in order to give balance to the roof. Among its interesting and unique features are a smokehouse in the attic, a summer kitchen in the cellar, and four Dutch doors in the house and barn. A beam in the attic is chalked with the signature of John R. Wilcox. The fanlight window above the front door has a classical emblem of a Greek muse holding a lyre