Bennett’s Pond State Park has been a favored location for beauty and viewscapes for decades. This 460 acre park is less than half of what once was the estate of Louis D. Conley. Conley, a New York City native, retired from his lead position in the family tin foil manufacturing business in 1914 at the age of forty. He and his wife moved to Ridgefield where he, as did many well-to-do residents of New York City, assembled his estate. At an elevation of over 700 feet above sea level he captured breezes and enjoyed wonderful views from his 34 room mansion and grounds which he called Outpost Farm. It truly was his outpost from the hot and crowded New York City summers.
Conley’s farm, which began as a hobby, grew to attain outstanding commercial success as a nursery. By 1922 he was providing trees and shrubbery to corporations, municipalities, colleges, including Yale and Harvard, other estates, most notably Franklin Roosevelt’s Hyde Park, and scenic roadways such as the Berlin Turnpike, turning his Outpost Nursery into one of the largest on the east coast. His great financial success enabled his philanthropy. Of principle interest was the creation of a summer camp on his estate for underprivileged boys from the City.
Like many of Connecticut’s exclusive estates of the time, Outpost Farm was mostly self-contained. Food crops and livestock supplied the mansion with necessities and the 90,000 gallon water system guaranteed water throughout the seasons. This infrastructure enabled Conley to house scores of nursery workers on the property.
But by September of 1930 Conley had contracted meningitis. On the seventh of the month he died. By today’s standards his age of 56 years would be considered young.
Outpost Nurseries continued operations for 15 years before it was sold by the family. By the 1960’s the mansion building was part of a private, though failing, boys school. In 1968 the structure and remaining grounds were sold at auction. Formal plans and proposals bore no fruit and by 1974 the mansion was razed.
Today Conley’s legacy of beauty and open space continues. In 2002 the mansion site and hundreds of acres of former fields became Bennett’s Pond State Park. It is a refuge from the seemingly inevitable growth that continues to advance upon it borders. Within the park peace and quiet dominate. Primary trails lead north from the parking area through the hills and past the shallow 56 acre Bennett Pond where wildlife viewing is nearly guaranteed for those with a light step.
Almost nothing recognizable remains of the estate. The mansion, houses, and barns are gone. Here and there vestiges of stonework can be found, but little else. The hundreds of farmed acres are now predominantly re-grown as a mix of deciduous trees with occasional stands of conifers, though many tree species from Conley’s nursery days can be found as well. And thus, perhaps fittingly, the greatest tribute to the man whose nursery dominated the east coast for two decades is the thousands of trees that remain on the grounds and throughout the community he called home for sixteen years.