108 Cross Highway: The Sequel

Last month, “06880” reported on the proposed demolition of 108 Cross Highway.

The “Henry Munroe House,” I wrote, is one of the few dwellings in town “documented as being built by a free black.”

Henry Munroe, a farmer, bought the land from John Burr in 1802. His descendants were members of Green’s Farms Church. One was the housekeeper for Peter Sturges, at nearby 93 Cross Highway.

As America celebrates the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, Westport prepares to obliterate a house that predates that conflict by half a century. And was built by someone who himself was historically significant: a free black Westporter.

Or not.

An anonymous commenter just posted (on the original story’s “comments” section) that a descendant of the Munroes is disputing the Connecticut Freedom Trail information about the family — the reference to them being black, which led to a townwide controversy over the fate of the house.

108 Cross Highway

The commenter noted the words of the family member, who identifies himself only as “Mike.” On the Freedom Trail website, Mike has written:

I am a decenent [sic] of this Munroe family listed … as African Americans.

This is not correct. The term African American did not exist in that time era. The terms used were Colored, Black, Mulatto, Indian. My family has even been listed as Blackish on the census. People keep changing their race description to African American which is historically incorrect and in fact the family are American Indian.

….This is how history gets changed!

The person who posted on “06880” added, parenthetically, about the fact that the Munroes may have been Indians, not blacks: “Not that it matters or anything.”

But does it not matter? If the Munroes were not black, does that change the discussion about demolishing the 207-year-old house?

If they were Indians — or had mixed blood — does that make a difference?

“06880” readers: What do you think?

48 responses to “108 Cross Highway: The Sequel

  1. The more houses of character that are demolished, trees cut and connecticut rock walls, flattened and filled with concrete the more we look like just another town in long island.

  2. VETDOC at Compo

    Ditto………….would be nice to preserve at least some of our New England charm. Otherwise, we might start looking like New Jersey! 🙂

    • Exactly!

      Some of the McMansions there are so gawdy with their tall columns, fake brick facades, stucco, etc.

      Ugh!

  3. Whether the occupants of the Munroe house were “colored” or American Indian or Caucasians right off the boat from England is a matter of historical interest, but no matter which it is, the HOUSE is an historical structure that adds charm to Westport and is irreplaceable. My parents live in a house built in 1760 in Newport, RI. Most people don’t know that Newport has more true colonial homes than any other town in the country, including Colonial Williamsburg. The very thought of tearing down a colonial home in that town is utterly unthinkable, and were it to be proposed, the outcry would be huge. It ought to be the same here. Whatever new structure would be built at 108 Cross Highway cannot equal the beauty of these old homes.

  4. this is very interesting; this sort of lumping together of the different ethnicities so that those of ‘north american indian ancesty’ become ‘African Americans’. the example could give more respect to that ‘multi-culturalism’ that surged in 1990’s in academic circles and then in the media resulting in our current political correctness that to many feels like calling out the differences in each person’s cultural ethinc backgrounds rather than recognizing our similarities.

  5. NO MORE McMANSIONS!

    This town has enough.

    Preserve our past!

  6. Most things it would seem are not so simple as black and white. The house still stands as a property that has historical value and significance, if only because of its age, and regardless of its exact provenance.

  7. I still say that the house is not visually attractive and has likely served its duty. We can’t live in the past, keeping things just because they are old. It makes us similar to the young woman who doesn’t want to break up with her boyfriend because she has invested too much time. Move on.

  8. Endless whining about the march of time. Why should not owners of property be allowed to use that property to suit their purposes? Those who would restrict the use of property they do not own are freeloaders. A romantic attachment to the past is heart warming but counterproductive; let’s bring back the horse and buggy and lock Westport into the 18th century.

    One person’s beautiful old home is another’s eyesore. If you think it’s beautiful, buy it and preserve it; otherwise talk is chaep.

  9. The house is private property and if the worst thing the owners do is build a McMansion it’ll be a cheap resale for another opportunist someday. Focus on improving the present state of this country and the world the past is water under the bridge. If the owners want to save it, they will, if they don’t, they won’t. Look at Gorham Island, look at Wright Street and the Post Rd. Poor taste and easy money won the battle in Westport years ago. You can’t legislate a conscience.

  10. Move on. Mind your own business, or buy the house yourself!

  11. 157 Riverside is much more important!

    Sort of kidding – the value of anything is what people assign to it.

  12. I would argue that for 108 Cross Highway, the race of Henry Munroe is a very important issue. The HDC is using his race and freed slave status as the main reason for delaying the demolition permit.

    Without that information, what basis does the HDC have to claim historical significance?

  13. Just a lot of poppycock. What the property owners do with their property is their business, not up to an unelected board of ancient mariners living in the past. Is it important whether Henry Munroe was a black slave or Indian descent?? Absolutely. Write a book. Don’t create some kind of historical site that smells like my grandfather’s basement.

  14. Cherie Quain

    sounds like the house should be kept, regardless.

    • For those of you who feel that this “house should be kept, regardless”; please get together, pool your money, and buy it. The house is for sale.

      Otherwise, please allow the owner to exercise his full property rights.

      • When you talk $$$$, all quiet from the peanut gallery of rustic relic retards.

        • I am surprised we haven’t had a mention of the Remarkable Book Store, and Mom and Pop, and greedy developers, and all those evil new people.

        • Agreed! They want the owners of old houses to invest money but not themselves. They will not invest more than words to keep their version of Westport “character” intact.

        • Virginia Gilbertie

          Wow. “Bitter, party of two!”

          As I said, anyone who buys a 300-year old house has to expect some kind of push back when they want to change it. I’m sure their realtor mentioned the historical significance – it may have even been a selling point. Whether you agree with it or not, I’m sure this isn’t the first time it’s happened here or anywhere in New England. Caveat emptor.

  15. This is a beautiful house and a wonderful piece of history no matter who built it,and it makes no sense to me why anyone would want to tear it down!

  16. it’s astonishing to read that not one other comment here expressed consideration for the mislabeling of a family’s ethnicity; didn’t even tuck it in amongst concern for preserving someone else’s house.

    • The Dude Abides

      Astonishing? Are you serious?? Welcome to the wonderful world of materialistic Westport where the topic of conversation at all dinner parties is the market value of one’s house. It IS IRONIC that an issue is made of whether the inhabitants were free slaves or Native Indians when neither race could afford to live here any longer. Thanks to the unpretentious Professor to wander through an intellectual endeavor which most ignored because they were concerned more with the house than the actual history.

      • as for the ‘free slaves’ and ‘native indians’, i know plenty who can more than well afford to live in Westport or at least make Westport home to one of their houses; probably, once they are your neighbors, you just don’t view them any longer according to their ethnicity, and, that is a very good thing.

        don’t forget also in the new england and tri-state areas the ‘north american indians’ or native american indians who are members of casino owning tribes each member of the household aged 18 and older receives a yearly income of $250,000.00, as well as access to extremely low interest rate loans and other supplements.

        it is though ironic and great that this blog brought this information forward within the usual ‘save this other person’s house’ conversation. whether the home was owned by ‘free black’ or ‘free native american/north american indian’ it’s fantastic history and shoud be a point of pride for the town (though not necessarily reason to keep a homeowner from doing what he wants with it).

        • The Dude Abides

          I am color blind but don’t see too many Blacks or Native Indians living here. Perhaps it is the attitude here vice their income? I concur on the historical significance of the house but in terms of education and not presevation of its structure. I do believe that “holding on to our past” or “taking our country back” is one factor in why we are in a clusterfuck now. It is a time for vision.

          • another irony is that of the not so many ‘native americans’ in the area many of them are classified even by police, DMV, and, at first glance by USCIS, as ‘hispanic’.

            • Princeton '82

              Yeah the government gave them the crappiest land they could find and now we gringos are running to their casinos to lose their money. Sort of ironic, hey?

  17. I love Antique homes and actually got into Real Estate because of them. I have lots of information on my website about area antique home and I do get an occasional call from someone about their original family homestead..A few years ago, a descendant called me bout this same Munroe house wanting to buy it, but it wasn’t for sale. Her research said the owner was a freed slave as well. Soon after that I was doing some research on an historic home further down on Cross Highway that was supposedly a Meeker house. My research showed me that it was a Brotherton house. Haven’t heard of Brotherton too much in Westport or Fairfield? (That part of Westport used to be Fairfield) No streets or preserved homes called Brotherton? They were one of the original Long Lots owners so you’d think you’d hear the name somewhere. One of the Brothertons married a Native American woman and was socially shunned so there’s no Brotherton hall, no Brotherton street, or school.. even though the family was here for generations! But, it’s been my experience that a lot of research must be done to verify something like Mr. Munroe being a freed slave.

  18. Virginia Gilbertie

    Buyer beware. If you purchase a house that has historical value, you might come upon some resistance if you want to demolish it. That’s just the way it is. Too bad.

    If you don’t want the hassle, buy a newer house and do whatever you want.

    • That is so true. I bought my antique home back when the historical/hysterical groups in town had less clout. Now it upsets me that these people are pushing down the value of my biggest asset.

      • The Dude Abides

        It is a home!!! Not part of your investment portfoliio!!!!

        • Anonymous3:30

          It is my right to care about the value of my house. I have earned that right by paying a mortgage and taxes.

          • The Dude Abides

            When you care about the monetary value of your house more than the memories of its value as a home, you are probably an asshole and not too happy to boot in a slumping market.

            • Once upon a time, the equity in a house/home was the largest asset in the portfolio of the typical American. They relied on the equity to help finance their retirement. That plan has gone the way of the dodo. If houses/homes do not increase in value the way they once did, the typical owner will be hard pressed to finance his retirement. Is it surprising then that people care about the monetary value of their houses? They have been taught to see a house/home as an investment.

              • Virginia Gilbertie

                I think that you and the dude are missing each other’s point. The dude seems to be talking about the shallow materialism of “my house is bigger than yours” while you’re talking about the problem of shrinking home values we all face no matter how big our house is. Fortunately, Westport homes have not taken as big a hit as in other places.

                • I am not missing the point and there is no need to be so patronizing. More people might be able to view their house as a home were it not source of finacial distress. Now, do you get the point?

                • Don’t count your chickens before they hatch,Virginia. One Westport attorney tells me that most of his clients now are two years or more in delinquency on their mortgages. They are just waiting to be foreclosed or seeking short sales or modifications or a Chapter 7. The bubble burst is still not over.

            • Anonymous3:30

              Dude, I did not say that I cared more about memories than money. Please stop making those type of inferences and please do not call me an a@@#$&e. Thank you.

      • Virginia Gilbertie

        Perhaps the historical groups have more clout now because people are reacting negatively to the type of building that’s been going on around town and the way it’s changing the look of the area.

        As for the value of your house, how do the actions of the historical society bring down the value of your house?

  19. If the town really wanted to carry forth the image of a historic community, it would have done so long ago. The drive down South Compo used to be wonderful with house after house with unique architectural appeal and continuity. Now it has been subdivided to all hell. The same holds true for downtown. The free market certainly is a factor but government can restrict such development and direction. Westport has chosen not to do so. So, in total practicality, the house on Cross Highway is a mute issue as to salvaging it by any judicial mandate. The history of it fascinates me, however. Perhaps Staples or Continuing Education could spear head a course on such?

  20. Take a look at the 1820 census (Fairfield , CT pg 243 M33_1: image 178 enumeration date Aug 7, 1820) for Henry Monroe: there is one person listed as free colored under 14 and 5 listed as SLAVES.
    The family lives on their own.

    1820 United States Federal Census
    about Henry Monroe
    Name: Henry Monroe
    Home in 1820 (City, County, State): Fairfield, Fairfield, Connecticut
    Enumeration Date: August 7, 1820
    Free Colored Persons – Males – Under 14: 1
    Slaves – Males – 14 thru 25: 2
    Slaves – Females – Under 14: 1
    Slaves – Females – 14 thru 25: 2
    Number of Persons – Engaged in Agriculture: 1
    Total Slaves: 5
    Total Free Colored Persons: 1
    Total All Persons – White, Slaves, Colored, Other: 6

    Our history began in the Colonies with a pursuit of freedom. What better way to help preserve a small part of that history than by saving this house, a symbol of freedom.

    • We saved the rock as a symbol of freedom. BTW doesn’t freedom include the freedom to dispose of your property as you see fit?

    • I am not sure that this is referring to the same Henry. The spellings of the last name and the timelines are inconsistent. In 1820 there was one Free Colored Person. That person was under the age of 14. The earliest that this person was born was 1806, 4 years after this house was built in 1802.

  21. This is the census of Henry Munroe’s son. Henry and his brother Alexander recieved the house after his father died.
    Names and spellings changed a lot because of the people taking the censuses.
    From the book Greens Farms Connecticut, the Old West Parish of Fairfield, pg 59 in the chapter
    Slaves

    “Aunt Lazette Hyde (Lyzette Monroe) lived in her own little house on the back road off the Turnpike, now the home of Michael Bowers. Notwithstanding her pipe, which Mr. Birge remembers her smoking as she sat in his grandmother’s kitchen, telling stories with great gusto with his grandfather and Betsy, Aunt Zette had the dignity and manner of a cultured lady, for she had served in the family of the Norwalk Bissels and the Jesups. Her name indicates that she had come from slaves of the Hyde family.”