Just when you think every old house in Westport has been sacrificed to the teardown gods, you hear this:
The Westport Historical Society recently awarded its 300th house plaque.
And you realize sometimes there is hope.
The WHS historical home plaque program began in 1978. It’s a way for homeowners to honor the heritage of their house (and town). Plaques identify the original owner, and date of construction.
They’re available (for a $300 donation) for any house at least 100 years old; any house within a local historic district (regardless of age), and houses less than a century old if either a special event occurred there, a prominent person lived in it, or it was designed by a noted architect.
53 plaques honor homes that are more than 200 years old. The 1st one dates to the 1680s, marking a structure built by John Osborn. The newest is on a 1941 house owned by famous jazz pianist, lecturer and critic John Mehegan.
The most recent plaque — #300 — goes to an 1803 home at 268 Wilton Road. In 2014 that house was featured on “06880,” as an example of renovation rather than demolition.
The awarding of that plaque coincides with the opening next Sunday (November 8, 3 p.m.) of a special WHS exhibit. “Window to Westport’s Past and Present: WPA Images of Historic Houses” is a collection of 131 photographs of local homes. Taken in 1935 — during the depth of the Great Depression — they were largely the work of WPA photogapher (and Westport resident) T. O’Conor Sloane.
The WHS show pairs those photos with current images of the same houses. Most were taken by WHS house historian Bob Weingarten.
If the concept sounds familiar: It is. Last spring, “06880” ran a weekly series — “This Old House” — in which readers helped identify some of the structures that are now part of the exhibit.
The featured photographs portray a wide range of Westport history. There’s the Kings Highway North residence of Pulitzer Prize winner Van Wyck Brooks, and that of George Hand Wright, a founder of our “arts colony.”
The former homes of Paul Newman and Martha Stewart were photographed for the WPA project — decades before their later owners became famous.
One of the show’s crown jewels is the Wynkoops’ Long Lots Road home. Dating to the mid-1680s, it’s considered Westport’s oldest structure. And yes, 268 Wilton Road — the one with the 300th historical plaque — is in the exhibit too.
So, of course, is 268 Wilton Road — lovingly preserved, restored and renovated (and moved back from the busy street) by Able Construction partner Peter Greenberg.
There’s much more on the walls of the Westport Historical Society — fittingly, one of Westport’s most treasured old homes itself. As a plaque near the door proudly notes, Bradley-Wheeler House was built in 1795, and remodeled in 1867.
(The Westport Historical Society exhibit opens with a reception this Sunday, November 8, 3-5 p.m. It runs through March 26. For more information, click here.)