Bye Bye, Barn

Like many Westporters, alert “06880” reader Wendy Crowther has been watching the departure of Geiger’s with sorrow.

Unlike most of us, she’s done more than just drive past the former garden center property. Yesterday she wrote:

What you see in the photo below represents about 3 days of work, done in fits and starts.

(Photo/Wendy Crowther)

(Photo/Wendy Crowther)

This morning I saw some people on the roof of the main barn. They appeared to be removing roofing tiles. By noon today they were gone.

Several days ago, guys in hard hats removed a small portion of the roof from the smaller, east addition. Yesterday they removed the rest. Now you can see the supporting rafters.

They appear to be going at a turtle’s pace, which could be a good sign. Hopefully they’ll index/mark everything as they remove it (a good deconstruction process).

I’ve put out feelers to Coastal Development a few times (via P&Z hearings and your blog) in hopes of getting answers to 2 important questions.

1. Have they hired a barn expert to guide them through the deconstruction process? Ordinary builders make terrible mistakes if left to their own devices.

2. How is Coastal Development planning to store the deconstructed pieces until new uses are found? Hopefully it won’t end up  in a giant pile under a tarp somewhere.

The Geiger barn in 2013. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

The Geiger barn in 2013. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

My heart sinks as I see this barn come down. It has sat in that exact spot for at least 150 years.

Only a few owners lived or worked on the site during all that time. Those owners ranged from the Coley/Burr family (who farmed in the area), to 2 pastors of Greens Farms Church, to the Winterton/Harris family, who lived on the property for 100 years (long enough that the corner was once known as the “Harris Switch” – a trolley stop). Then came the most recent proprietors: Parsell and Geiger.

Westport loses another part of its history as this barn comes down. For some it was an eyesore. For others it was a treasure – a reminder of Westport’s evolution from the days of early settlers and farmers, to those who left New York City in summer and on weekends to escape the heat and crowds, to budding entrepreneurs who, in quaint ways, brought flowers and shrubs into our own backyards.

Today, commercial developers are the “new entrepreneurs.” Some care nothing of the past and seek only to build their own profit margins. Coastal Development did at least try to save the barn, but zoning regulations made that hard to do.  I hope our zoning regs might change in the future to better encourage preservation.

The former Geiger's Garden Center, just south of the barn.

The former Geiger’s Garden Center, just south of the barn.

I hope that Coastal will treat this barn with care as they dismantle. For me, it is one of their biggest litmus tests. Will they walk the talk?

Whether they do or don’t, my heart will continue to break a little bit each time I drive by. The corner will look drastically different next year at this time.

Westport is losing another piece of its rural, agrarian past. Some will forget that soon enough as they pull in to do their banking.

Not me.

PS. When I pulled in to take this photo, I noticed that all of the glass was removed from the greenhouse. Does anyone know whether someone took advantage of the “free greenhouse” offer? Perhaps those who took the glass are coming back for the structure? If anyone knows, please let us know.

 

22 responses to “Bye Bye, Barn

  1. Chip Strphens - Staples 73

    Wendy and Dan
    The barn is being professionally “deconstructed” It was one of the agreements the developer agreed to in their P and Z approval. The structural pieces will be available to and used by the builders and designers of the new buildings to be incorporated in their efforts. I believe there will be a plaque memorializing this. Had the barn been moved in its entirety, as was proposed in the original submission, you would not have seen much different result as the most historically significant pieces would have been lost , the unique New England stone foundation and all else but the bones.

    • Wendy Crowther

      Chip–I was at the P&Z hearing when the project got its final approval. During that hearing I suggested that the developer use a professional to deconstruct the barn. It was not apparent to me at that hearing that they agreed to this (unless it was already stated in the approval documents). Also at that hearing I requested that the developer post a memorializing plaque on the new building or somewhere on the site. I did hear them agree verbally to this. Lastly, at that same hearing, the developers said very clearly that the old barn’s structural pieces were not going to be used to build the new structures on the site because their structural integrity was too difficult to determine. What they DID say was that the pieces would be stored for possible use by the future tenant (no tenant established at that time) for DECORATIVE purposes IF the tenant desired them.

      I appreciate the developer’s efforts, and those of the P&Z, to work together to attempt to save this barn. If pieces are re-purposed on site, or elsewhere, it is a preservation victory, albeit a small one. It’s better than seeing the barn crushed into a dumpster.

      I’ll be watching as this project moves forward. I’ll also look closely once it’s completed. I’m hoping that Coastal will continue to keep their word.

      The P&Z has a lot on its hands right now – I commend and support the P&Z’s efforts to re-zone Westport’s passive-use parks as Open Space. In the future I hope the P&Z will also investigate how zoning regs might be legally relaxed in certain circumstances to encourage preservation of historic resources.

  2. This probably didn’t have to happen and I credit Coastal for really trying to do the right thing. Although it’s not the only problem, a large part of the blame here rest squarely on the present Historic District Commission – which, among it’s other well known but long unaddressed problems, simply does not understand that it has a legitimate advocacy role to play in matters such as this. Wendy, thank you, as always, for your passion and concern.

  3. Meanwhile at the other end of town, another landmark corner is disappearing. As I drove in to Westport yesterday off Exit 42 on the Merritt that the greenhouse structure and building that were the Harding nursery are standing amid piles of dirt. So sad.

  4. Matthew Mandell

    The Barn is going to be repurposed in a new building on the site. This is good, but not great. The whole barn could have been saved. The last like this one on the Post road in Westport.

    The barn was going to razed, but good people stepped in and had a conversation with the developer. They agreed at some extra expense to rework their plan to save it, but they needed help from P&Z to accomplish that. If you have an historic structure in a residential zone there is flexibility. If commercial there is none.

    P&Z offered no help, the minor modification that we all worked out were not accepted. What was finally approved, without the barn, was not materially different except the barn is gone.

    Once again, we should all call upon P&Z to modify their regulations to match the flexibility in commercials zones with that of residential when it comes to historic preservation.

    • There is nothing stopping the HDC from proposing to P&Z an amendment to 32-18, the reg that gives zoning flexibility to residential historic structures. HDC how about it?

  5. Chip Strphens - Staples 73

    The P and Z has worked hard in subcommittee with this issue because it is not a simple fix. The flexibility suggested is allowing more density, or encroachment on residential zones, or flexibility on affordable housing requirements or…… And what is also difficult and disappointing we have found in giving this flexibility, on a one off basis, we see historic structures moved and “rehabilitated” where all that remains are the beams underneath.
    Anyone who can structure a workable solution that addresses all the challenges we face is welcome to present to the commission. We encourage participation and ideas, at the beginning of the process.

  6. If anyone has technical questions about how this barn is being ( carefully) dismantled, they can contact me. Thankyou.

  7. Cathy Talmadge, Chair of RTM Transit Committee

    To answer the question in the PS. Yes the Greenhouse is being dismantled and moved. As a very interested observer all I can say is that Coastal made a serious and expensive effort to try to save the barn and so far they are carefully fulfilling their promises to our neighborhood.

  8. Cathy Talmadge

    Oh no, I did not check my signature until after the Post which was in reference to a transit article!

  9. Sharon Horowitz

    For me– what I will miss and feel most sad about — are the flowers and plants that welcomed us each season and graced us with their seasonal beauty– in the midst of all that concrete on the post road. I used to love driving up to the intersection and see each season greet me– pansies and daffodils in the spring, pumpkins in the fall, Xmas trees and wreaths as winter approached. It was also extremely convenient to drive up quickly and pick up some annuals, potting soil –whatever I needed with little fuss. Plus, their horticulturalist was a genius. There was nothing he could not diagnose and fix. I’d bring him rusted looking leaf samples– and he would know the exact cause and how to fix it as cheaply as possible. While there are other plant places on the post road higher up– none have the charm, and curb side appeal that Geigers did. I understand all the different needs and dilemmas of the owners, the neighbors, and housing requirements for our town. Times do change. At the same time, I hope the developers will put some greenery in place to preserve some of the visual appeal of that corner.

  10. What happened to the owners of Parsell’s Garden Mart? Why was it sold?

  11. David E Pettee

    Jan;

    See …
    http://www.ctpost.com/news/article/Geiger-s-still-blossoms-after-60-years-4428804.php

    Alan Purcell sold to The Geiger Brothers in 1973. I remember Mr Purcell – my Dad would take me there to buy landscaping supplies in the late 60’s and early 70’s. I believe he retired after the sale.

    David Pettee

  12. Wendy Crowther

    Alan Utter Parsell (and his wife Evelene Couch Parsell) purchased this property on Oct 29, 1953. Both Alan and Evelene were born and raised in Westport, Evelene was a descendent of one of Westport’s original Bankside Farmers. “Parsell’s Garden Mart” was located just down the street from their house on So. Morningside.

    In 1955, Alan hired Frank Geiger to start a landscape design division of Parsell’s garden business. Many years later (1973), Parsell, at the age of 71, sold the property and business to Frank Geiger. Evelene died in 1980. Alan died in 1992. Their only child, a daughter named Louise (Lou), died in 1998 (she never married).

    During my historical research on the barn, I collected lots of fun stories about Alan. Stories about Evelene and Lou were more scarce. If 06880 readers have good memories of the Parsell family, please post them.

  13. Wendy Crowther

    06880 readers might want to see this video filmed just a few days ago at the Geiger site. It shows Joe DeRisi’s company beginning demolition on the barn as they talk about the value of its parts and their salvage operation. I’m glad to see that pros are on the job. However, I hope that some of the barn’s components will remain on the site, even if only for decoration.

    http://www.nbcconnecticut.com/news/local/Urban-Miners-Poplar-Wood-Earth-Day-Salvage–301004121.html

  14. Yes, the plan is that some of the materials will be integrated into the new buildings ! We are dismantling the historic barn and tracking each piece. The newer additions are also being deconstructed and the materials reused as much as possible. The roof section we are working on now is a later addition but we are still recovering roof sheathing. framing and flooring.

    • Westporters interested in reusing building materials harvested from older structures should put Urban Miners on their list. It’s a terrific local source for everything from hardware and sashes to bath fixtures and flooring. I recently found some excellent early 20 century bead board at this place that had been removed from a Sandy damaged cottage in Madison, CT. Instead of going to a landfill, it how has pride of place in my new pantry. Urban Miners is the kind of environmentally responsible choice we need to support – plus it’s cool to mix some materials with a back story into your crib.

    • Wendy Crowther

      Great news. Thank you, Joe.