Monday, January 09, 2017

Ebenezer W. Keeler: 
A Remarkable Man
Beyond having a rather remarkable beard, Ebenezer W. Keeler was a rather remarkable 19th Century man —  an admired farmer, an avid reader, a town leader, and a builder who worked on major mansions and led construction of a landmark church.
A descendant of one of Ridgefield’s founding families, Ebenezer Wood Keeler was born in 1840 on the family farm along Branchville Road, land that had belonged to Keelers for four generations. 
He was educated at the Rev. Dr. David Short’s private school on Main Street where he became “a great reader,” according to a contemporary biography. His love of reading led him, along with other community leaders, to serve on an 1871 committee that put together the first public library in Ridgefield. His wife, Emma, was also active in the project, and helped care for the first collection of 2,500 books.
Like his ancestors, Keeler was a farmer and he was quite good at it. “Ebenezer Keeler approached the operation of his farm with the same tenacity of his forebears and he could make that farm work where others just could not make it go,” said town historian Dick Venus. (Today’s Twin Ridge development is part of the old Keeler farm.)
But Eben Keeler pursued other vocations as well. He was a surveyor and did much  surveying work in the south part of town. Perhaps more noteworthy, he was involved in the construction of several mansions, at least one of which still stands today: The house of book publisher E.P. Dutton on High Ridge. He worked on Casagmo, the mansion that once stood at the northern end of Main Street. During his building heyday, he employed crews of 20 to 30 men.
A member of the First Congregational Church, Keeler put his knowledge of construction to work there, serving as chairman of the building committee that in 1888 erected the current stone church at the corner of Main Street and West Lane.
He was also a public official. In 1865, he was elected a state representative from Ridgefield;  at 24, he was the youngest member of the House. He then became the town’s chief executive. However, election wasn’t always easy. Venus tells it this way:
“Eben was elected first selectman of Ridgefield back in the days when it was necessary to elect
a board of selectmen each and every year. He won in 1877, in 1878 and again in 1879. After losing in 1880, he came back to win in 1882, in 1883, and in 1884. He lost again in 1885 but came right back and was returned to office in 1886 and 1887. Once again he lost in 1888 and by so doing, missed the ‘pleasure’ of serving the town during the great blizzard that year. However, Eben stormed back to win in 1889, and again in 1890, truly a remarkable man.”

Keeler died in 1900 at the age of 59. His wife, who died in 1934, was the daughter of Dr. Archibald Y. Paddock, a noted New York City dentist who committed suicide in 1889 after accidentally shooting her brother, Harry.

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