The centerpiece of the Tarrywile property is a magnificent twenty-three room shingle-style Victorian mansion built for prominent Danbury physician Dr. William Conrad Wile (1847-1913) in 1897. The son of a Presbyterian minister, Wile grew up in Pleasant Valley, New York and seemed destined for a career in the ministry until the outbreak of the Civil War stirred his youthful imagination and desire for adventure. Though underage, Wile enlisted as a private in the 150th New York Volunteers and served in the Union Army for almost three years until the end of the war in 1865. Wile got his fill of adventure in the war, including service at the Battle of Gettysburg and on General William T. Sherman’s famous March to the Sea through Georgia.
Following the war, Wile knuckled down to his studies and obtained his medical degree from New York University in 1870. Dr. Wile practiced medicine in New Jersey, New York and Newtown, Connecticut before moving to Danbury in 1896. Wile was one of the most prominent physicians and surgeons in Connecticut. In addition to maintaining his private practice, Dr. Wile served as a consulting surgeon to Danbury Hospital, vice-president of the American Medical Association, vice-president of the State Medical Society, president of the Fairfield County Medical Society and president of the Danbury Medical Society. Wile was also a nationally renowned author on medical science and practice. In addition to contributing articles to major medical society journals such as the Journal of the American Medical Association, Dr. Wile established and served as editor of the New England Medical Monthly which was published in Danbury and enjoyed widespread circulation during Dr. Wile’s lifetime.
Dr. Wile commissioned the New York architectural firm of Child and DeGoll to design his new family home in Danbury. Child and DeGoll was a general purpose firm whose work included residential as well as commercial designs. In addition to the Tarrywile Mansion, they are today recognized for their design for the Old Southeast Town Hall in Brewster, NY, as well as two residences in the Prospect Park Historic District in Brooklyn, NY. The Tarrywile design is a classic shingle-style Victorian residence with an exterior dominated by an impressive wrap-around veranda and fanciful gable roof with window dormers creating a romantic, story-book feel. The siting of the house at the top of a prominent hill provided panoramic views of Danbury in all directions. The property included a large carriage house to the rear of the mansion, a picturesque gatehouse at the property’s entrance and several accessory structures.
The first floor of the mansion consisted of public rooms, including a living room, drawing room, library, dining room and kitchen. A grand entrance hall and stairway added a sense of drama and sophistication to the design. The second floor was dedicated to multiple bedrooms for family members, including separate bedroom suites for Dr. and Mrs. Wile. The third floor included bedrooms for servants as well as a billiards room for the entertainment of the family.
Dr. Wile, his wife and daughter enjoyed the charms of Tarrywile until 1910. With his health failing and his wife suffering from physical impairments, Dr. Wile decided to sell his estate to Danbury hatting mogul Charles Darling Park. Danbury Hospital became the indirect beneficiary of this decision when, as reported in a 1910 edition of the Yale Medical Journal, Dr. Wile donated his extensive medical library to the hospital which established the Wile Library for the use of area physicians and medical personnel.
Charles Darling Parks was a worthy successor to the original owner of Tarrywile both in terms of his professional accomplishments and compelling life story. Parks was a classic Horatio Alger rags-to-riches self-made man. Orphaned as a child, Parks was born into poverty but through hard work and determination had risen to the presidency of the Danbury-based American Hatters and Furriers Corporation, one of the largest hatting and fur-making companies in the world. Lacking a formal education, Parks had overcome his humble beginnings to become one of the biggest hatting barons during the height of Danbury’s reign as the Hat City. Parks was renowned as an innovator, being credited with many improvements in the manufacturing processes involved with creating hats and furs. Among his innovations was the development of a curing process that eliminated the use of mercury, the poisonous effects of which had long plagued hat industry workers by causing serious mental disabilities.
According to contemporary newspaper accounts, 1910 proved to be an eventful and bittersweet year for Mr. Parks. While Parks was fulfilling his personal dream of acquiring a residential property fit for one of the kings of industry, he was also faced with the daunting prospect of dealing with the aftermath of a devastating fire at his company’s major factory building on Beaver Street. Parks weathered the business storm and threw himself with characteristic enthusiasm into enhancing his new residence.
The most significant addition Parks made to the mansion building itself was the creation of the beautiful conservatory that now serves as the dramatic backdrop for weddings and other ceremonies held at Tarrywile. Parks’ major changes to the property involved large acquisitions of land and improvements to the exterior grounds. Parks added significant tracts of adjacent lands over the years bringing the total acreage of the estate to around one-thousand acres. One major acquisition involved the establishment of a working dairy farm including a large barn, milking shed, equipment sheds, several silos and a farmhouse. Parks also purchased the nearby Hearthstone Castle and surrounding acreage in 1918. The castle served as the residence for his eldest daughter and her family. Some of the other major projects undertaken by Parks included creation of the Parks Pond, establishment of a formal English garden, planting of an orchard and creation of a stone wall around the border of the property.
The property remained in the family following the death of Mr. and Mrs. Parks and was maintained by their heirs until purchased by the City of Danbury in 1985 through a bond issue approved by Danbury voters. The property is managed by the Tarrywile Park Authority, a volunteer board established in 1989 by the Common Council to develop and manage the site as a public park dedicated to passive recreation. The mansion building was re-opened by the Authority in 1990 as a community and conference center.