Driving along the stone walls and old colonials of Redding Road in Easton, it's easy to forget that one of the most compelling women of the early 20th century made her home here. Helen Keller, author, champion of rights for the deaf-blind, wounded soldiers and others in need — herself deaf-blind — called Aspetuck "a place nearer Heaven."
According to historical records, Helen Keller was born in 1880 in Alabama to a well-to-do family. While a toddler, a severe illness deprived her of sight and hearing. Her family responded by hiring Anne Sullivan to tutor "the young Keller, who responded with such extraordinary prowess" that she not only completed her high school education, but went on to study at Radcliffe College, according to National Park Service records.
After graduation, Helen lived with Sullivan (then Mrs. John Macy) and began to advocate for many social causes, such as women's suffrage, unionization and veterans who had been blinded during World War I, in addition to working for the American Foundation for the Blind.
In 1929, Helen wrote "thousands of letters" soliciting funds for the foundation. One reached Gustav Pfeiffer, then the owner of the small mill on the Aspetuck River adjacent to Route 136, and a future toy factory.
Pfeiffer began by contributing $500, but then followed up with many subsequent donations and eventually became an active member on the foundation's board of trustees.
In 1938, Pfeiffer convinced Helen to move herself and two assistants to Aspetuck. "He provided the land, donated much of the building cost and helped to raise the rest," according to the Park Service.
Keller named the home "Arcan," Gaelic for "teacher," after Macy.
In a letter expressing her deep gratitude to the Pfeiffers, Helen exclaimed:
"How wonderful it all is!...It means a home in New England to which affection and memory have ever bound me, a place nearer Heaven where Teacher is, a sanctuary where rural solitude will again sweeten my days."
In another letter:
"We have never loved a place more than Arcan Ridge."
Sadly, while working in Europe, Helen's beloved home burnt to the ground.
Electing to stay in Easton, another home was built at 163 Redding Road, thanks to donations from friends and neighbors. Helen remained in this home for the rest of her life, and there wrote Teacher, her biography of Macy.
The residence, a colonial revival, is on the National Register of Historic Places, despite not not having met the basic 50-year age requirement at the time the application was made. The Park Service opined that the building merited an exception to the rule because of its "association with Helen Keller."
"The exception is justified because of Keller's transcendent significance in 20th-century American life," the Park Service noted.