Westport is filled with stories of charming old houses that turn into teardowns. “06880″ reported one of them just yesterday.
This is not one of them.
Two years ago Ed Gerber heard that the home at 93 Cross Highway was for sale. He knew it well.
Built in 1764 by the spectacularly named Eliphalet Sturges, it was owned for the next 144 years by the Sturges family.
In 1908 George Hand Wright — an illustrator, watercolorist and pastel artist who was a founder of Westport’s artists’ colony — bought the house and 30 acres of land, for a mere $300. He turned a small outbuilding into his studio. He and his wife Anne lived at 93 Cross Highway for nearly 50 years.
In 1947 Wright helped establish the Westport Artists Club, and later served as president. He died in 1951; Anne followed 3 years later. Wright’s nephew Frank Boylan inherited the property, and lived there another 50 years.
Boylan was Gerber’s godfather, and his father’s best friend. Growing up in New Haven and Fairfield (in his teens and 20s, he ushered at the Westport Country Playhouse), Gerber spent many happy days at #93. Two years ago, when the Boylan estate prepared to sell the house, representatives asked if Gerber was interested.
For 40 years, Gerber had lived in Washington, DC. But he was ready to retire from the FDIC. He knew if he did not act, 93 Cross Highway could be Westport’s next teardown.
He bought it.
Then he went to work.
Walls and ceilings needed painting and plastering. The maple floors needed refinishing. Gerber remodeled 2 baths, and the kitchen.
But the house had great bones. With massive stone fabrication, a handsome hearth and wonderful Wright-era furniture, it’s been lovingly restored to its past glory.
And it’s earned historic landmark status.
The Historic District Commission has little authority to deter teardowns outside of the town’s 6 designated districts. “What we have is moral suasion,” he says.
But many people in houses at least 50 years old can hardly wait to knock down anything old and charming, to build something new and big.
“Everyone asks us to waive the 180-day waiting period (for demolition),” Gerber says.
He points to 108 Cross Highway, an 1805 home built by a free black man that was headed for destruction. The HDC has met several times, by phone and in person, with the owner and his agent, to provide options to demolition.
Ed Gerber turns back to #93. Thanks to his hard work, reverence for the past and passion for the present, it’s assured of remaining a lovely landmark on a well-traveled road for many years to come.