Susan Lloyd: Save Center Street Homes!

Demolition notices are posted on Center Street.

Susan Lloyd is not pleased.

A native Westporter who has spent the last 30 years in Green’s Farms — and whose father grew up in the neighborhood (her mom is from Fairfield) — Lloyd passes 4 structures slated for destruction nearly every day.

Although 3 of the structures are old — very old — she knows that halting the process will not be easy.

One of the buildings dates back to 1700. Once classified as a blight house, she says it has been empty at least 20 years.

This house, at 21 Center Street, was built in 1700. It is one of the oldest homes still standing in Westport.

This house, at 21 Center Street, was built in 1700. It is one of the oldest homes still standing in Westport.

The 2nd house is 233 years old. Built in 1782, it belonged at one point to Joe Avery (a horseman who worked for the Bedford family and Fairfield County Hunt Club) and Marjorie Rippe Avery (a longtime Klein’s employee).

The house at 25 Center Street was built in 1782.

The house at 25 Center Street was built in 1782.

The 3rd home was built in 1880.

This house -- on the corner of Center Street and Brightfield Lane -- dates back to 1880.

This house — on the corner of Center Street and Brightfield Lane — dates back to 1880.

The youngest one — from 1938 — is still 77 years old.

“I realize these houses are not of major historical importance,” Lloyd says. “They’re not on Jennings Trail. George Washington didn’t sleep there.” (He did apparently sleep nearby, in a long-gone house at the intersection of Center Street and Lazy Brook Lane).

However, Lloyd says, “redone right, they would be perfect homes for the empty nesting baby boomers who want to stay in town. Or someone looking for a small, reasonably priced home.”

The developer is scheduled to ask the Historic District Commission to waive the balance of the demolition delay.

Lloyd hopes anyone interested in maintaining the demolition delay, and/or requesting that the developer conserve the oldest house (or at least its bones) for use in the new structures planned for the site, and/or that the structures be professionally and sensitively deconstructed by a company doing professional, historic reclamation work — attend the HDC work session and public hearing on Tuesday, January 12 (7 p.m., Town Hall Room 201).

Some of the houses on Center Street are listed on Westport’s Historic Resources Inventory. “This is good,” Lloyd says.

“But it provides no protection, other than the demolition delay (which can still be waived, so it’s no guarantee either). Maybe if the public spoke up about all the demolition of the oldest houses in town, it would be more difficult to demolish them.”

47 responses to “Susan Lloyd: Save Center Street Homes!

  1. The Center Street House should be saved.

  2. This is a rather personal subject for me, as 25 Center Street is list on the HDC Inventory as the “Samuel Mills House”.

  3. Christine Bisceglie

    Good luck. I would buy one if you are successful. If it truly would be affordable.

    • Personal question on your somewhat unusual last name. Did you have a relative named Elsie living in the Bronx in the 1940’s? She was our elderly seamstress neighbor when we were going up.

  4. Sorry I live so far away in Naples, FL. but my people are the Wakeman & Bradley clan – and it makes me sad when antiquity is traded in for profit. Good luck Susan!

  5. Dan – I’m one of those owners in a historic home. We had it registered on the town’s historic register when we purchased it 8+ years ago. This Greens Farms home was originally built in 1782, but was totally updated and renovated during 2004 & 2005. There had been several additions before we purchased it. Today it’s quite comfortable. We hope it remains for many years after we’re long gone.
    I hope these older homes can always be restored and maintained. But with property values consistently climbing it may be too tempting to redevelop.

    • For the record…

      All buildings in Westport that are 50+ years are part of the Historic Resources Inventory (HRI) maintained by the Historic District Commission (HDC). A building owner doesn’t have their property “registered.” The process is automatic and the inventory is periodically updated to reflect the passage of time and to record previously ineligible structures.

      The demolition delay, which can be implemented for a period of 180 days is designed to foster a conversation about preservation between the property owner and HDC. The hope is that during the delay, an alternative to demolition can be found. If not, the house can be demolished at the end of the delay period.

      The only way to prevent the destruction of any building is to have it designated as a Local Historic Property or, if a contiguous group of buildings, a Local Historic District. Buildings that carry these designations are not eligible for demolition. This designation format is the only way to protect a building from destruction.

      The Westport Historical Society (WHS) is a non-profit and has nothing to do with local government. Although they support preservation efforts in Town through their wonderful plaque program, they can’t prevent demolition. The simple presence of one of their plaques does not protect a building.

      Bottom line. If one wants to protect their home or their neighborhood, contact the HDC to begin the desigmation process. It is the only tool available to preserve the character and architectural heritage of Westport.

  6. Who was Samuel Mills you ask? I suppose a nobody really, but he was interesting enough to be given a paragraph or two in George Penfield Jennings work on Greens Farms (page 104):
    “The Mills family produced husky men, many of them stone masons. Most of the stone walls still remaining in these parts and many of the cellars were laid by them. It was a common practice for a gang of stone masons to walk as far as Greenfield Hill for a day’s work, and back again at night, after handling stone all day. One who has handled heavy stone all day can understand what that means. Samuel Mills with a couple of his sons and his brother David, formed an outstanding wall-building gang; they were just as efficient in cradling grain, threshing with the flail, and butchering hogs in the fall. They had little schooling, but much innate honesty and good common sense that was able to give practical criticism to those who had superior advantages.
    Fifty years ago, Father had a stone wall built along Turkey Hill Road. The Millses built it at a certain price per rod. While talking, Sam paced off the distance and named the price. The deal was made and neither side thought of any written agreement. Their word had been passed. They would cradle a field of rye for Uncle Henry Wakeman by the acre and estimate the acreage by looking at the lot.”

    Sam and his wife Sally Bake raised 12 children in that house, 7 of whom survived to adulthood. His brother David lived done the street at 55 Center street in a home that is long gone. His other brother Ebenezer lived at 355 Greens Farms road in a house that was torn down as well. His sister Charity lived at 29 North Avenue, in that small house perched by the side of the road. In 1874 he sat in pew 48 of the Greens Farms Church, in front of his brother David in pew 49.

    It was through his son Arthur that the house came into the hands of the Avery family. When Arthur died in 1888 his widow remarried to an Avery, and that family owned the house for the next 100 years or so.

    I hope something can be done to save these houses

  7. who is the developer? perhaps they can include the structures into new structures, or create a “farmhouse” where the new structure is attached to the old. “Big House, Little House, Back house, Barn” would a be a great model for what to do with these houses as well as have the developer make a living. just a thought. I would be happy to help. this is what we do.

  8. Cornelia Fortier

    I am sad to read this. I drive that road every day (probably multiple times) and always feel a sense of gratitude that it has retained so many of its original houses. Besides a sense of history, it has character, unlike so many McMansioned roads around town.

  9. At the very least save the oldest house. So sad to see history vanish. Condos and suburbia have invaded farmland in many areas of new England and I think it’s sad that children and grandchildren will never see these old places.

  10. Ms Lloyd, lets not get to thinking that if any of those houses were renovated by a builder that it would be easily available for any baby boomer to buy it, they probably couldn’t afford it, nor would they be willing to pay that much for such a house.
    It might be sad, but some things are best left alone. If the owners are demolishing them, that’s the way it goes, it’s their right. If someone wants to stop it, they can always come forward and buy the houses themselves.
    Just don’t let the town get hold of them, they’d just ruin them anyway over time with their lack of upkeep.

  11. I am always fascinated by these debates. I value older housing stock for style and history, and care about it enough that I own a house that is over 100 years old. I assure you this is substantially more expensive than maintaining a new house of similar size. But I use my own financial resources to do that. I don’t demand that other people use theirs to suit my aesthetics or sense of what’s worth keeping.

    Yet in these debates there are always several people who are dead sure how somebody else should invest his money or deploy his resources. And a number who basically propose an unconstitutional confiscation of those assets. That’s what it is when you prevent someone from tearing down his own building.

    People have lots of reasons for demolishing buildings. They may be unsafe. They may be hugely uneconomic to preserve. There may have no reasonable use for them in the owner’s eyes. The family may need the money from selling the land or the building in order to put food on the table or keep their aging parents in a nursing home. Or they may just want to build something else. That’s not a huge moral conundrum. It’s just the way life works.

    The way to preserve this stuff is for people who want to preserve it to buy it and preserve it. It is not to rob the owner of his property rights. Those of you who want to save these buildings are no doubt free to make an offer to the owner(s) and preserve them if you want to. What then, I wonder, will you do with them? Will you live in these tiny things? How much will you invest in them to make them habitable? How much of your own family’s financial well being are you willing to sacrifice in the interest of preserving small unremarkable buildings? In these discussions I rarely see anyone willing to put up actual money of his own.

    Mr Kaufman, so far alone among the commenters, seems willing to invest something in such an enterprise. What about the rest of you?

    • Iain, of course you are mainly correct in your analysis but for one thing: the Town of Westport long ago formally determined that the conservation of those historic resources which may contribute to our understanding of the history and development of the town should be, where practicable, conserved. This determination falls under the “health, safety and welfare” clause which undergirds such things as our demolition delay ordinance, the historic district statute and, perhaps most importantly relative to this thread, Sec. 32-18 of our zoning regulations. That would be the innovative historic structure zoning incentive that the town developed in the wake the outcry over 113 Cross Highway some years ago. Among other things, this reg allows for more than one dwelling unit on a lot where historic structures are concerned. This was, as you may know, what permitted the little 18th century red house at 38 Compo Road North the be retained (for an office) while the owners built an entirely new home for themselves nearby. With that in mind, there may well be some powerful economic reasons for the developer to consider retaining some or all of the historic structures at issue.

      • As far as I can tell, Section 32-18 is voluntary on the part of the owner, as suggested by Mr. Yurkiw below. (Though to be fair, Section 32-18 calls for an application to be made under Section 44, and Section 44 requires the submission of the name of the applicant AND the name of the owner, and does not seem to specify that those must be the same person, but I could have missed that, and I am happily not a lawyer).

        In any case, I think voluntary preservation efforts by owners make a great deal of sense, and creating room for an owner to permanently limit use of his property, at least for certain legal and non-discriminatory purposes, makes lots of sense. Any diminution in the value of a property by such restrictions is thereby borne by the owner, who has a choice in the matter and is using his own assets for the purpose. That’s a commendable idea.

        I only object to the conscription of assets by the force of government, and am bothered by the frequent insistence that preservationists should control the disposition of assets they don’t own based on their personal preferences rather than those of the owners. I fear that imposing a non-owner’s aesthetic preferences over those of an owner does not well fit within the bounds of the “health, safety and welfare” of anybody.

        • Iain, I’m pleased that you were able to learn about the various voluntary preservation options available to property owners in Westport. As it happens, the historic zoning incentive our town offers is one of the most generous in the state. Many in Westport have availed themselves of this incentive with, I think, great results. I would only add, relative to your expressed concern about the “aesthetic preferences” of non-owners that what is at issue here is not associated with that (subjective) topic. Rather, the thrust of these efforts to conserve significant aspects of our community’s historic fabric and heritage is didactic and cultural in nature. While there is a material difference between these two ideas, it is one that sometimes eludes those who may not be ordinarily involved in such matters on a regular basis. Please be assured that’s not intended as a criticism whatsoever – just an observation and a respectful response to your own thoughtful commentary. Perhaps the new owners of this property, whom I know to be perfectly decent, will consider some level of preservation in their plans for its future. Perhaps not. Here’s hoping.

    • To expand a bit on what Morley said about Westport’s historic preservation regulation Sect. 32-18: it is completely VOLUNTARY – nobody’s property rights are impinged. Also, it is not clear from the post, but apparently the three houses on Center Street are on a single one acre lot.
      Here’s a link to Zillow:

    • What Mr. Bruce said. (Or, as the kids would say: “This”)

      For all the preservationists on this blog, based on the links to the listing noted elsewhere in the comments, it would appear that the properties are all available for $965,000, and if Zillow is correct, have been available since mid-June (not to mention previously listed in Jan, 2015 and sold in March for roughly same price).

      So, you had your chance, and still have your chance to have at it and buy the properties. If you don’t want to do it individually, you might think about a group purchase maybe using Kickstarter or or some similar website.

      Have at it. But please don’t tell someone else what they can do with their property unless you are willing to let me or others tell you what you can do with yours (like maybe I don’t think you should be able to change anything on your house, or drive the car you drive, or cut your hair the same way…).

  12. Mary Schmerker, Staples 1958

    I often hesitate to comment although I really want to. Both sides of my family date back to the 1600’s in Fairfield County or close by in Connecticut. However, since my Dad’s death 18 years ago, none of us live in Connecticut. “Preserving the past”, knowing our history, really does “Protect our future”. The quotation marks are not a mistake. I was recently researching a former Westport resident for my Uncle. That research led me to Daytona Beach, Florida and it’s “Heritage Preservation Trust.” The trusts slogan is: “Preserving the past” , “Protecting the future.” Daytona has preserved what was most likely the winter home of Eliphalet Hubbell Hotchkiss. Eli Hotchkiss founded the E.H. Hotchkiss Company in Norwalk. His wife was Julia Jessup Hotchkiss. In her later years she lived in Owenoke Park next door to her daughter, Mrs. Roman Heyn. I could go on and develop the philanthropic donations that Mrs. Heyn made to the area but I won’t unless asked. I was shocked to learn that Mrs. Heyn’s house in Owneoke park is slated for demolotion. Compared to the history of the other homes mentioned in Dan’s article the Owenoke home is not as important. However, knowing and preserving the past does keep us on track for our future. Growing up in Westport and being educated there was wonderful. In my day we learned so much about the early history of this still great country we live in, the backbone of the early settlers, their integrity, selflessness and dedication to each other and to the future of their children.
    As children In Westport we rubbed elbows and talked with the great and artistic and wonderful people and that helped us all to grow into the citizens we are today. We need to do what we can for our children and grandchildren. Looking at and learning from the examples of the past can point the way to a successful future. Common on Westport, if Daytona Beach Florida can preserve someones summer home you can do it with the homes of the people who made Westport great.

  13. Nancy Hunter Wilson

    Be glad that the Asian market hasn’t moved in, erasing “character” in western cities, because when it’s gone, it’s gone.
    Then again, beauty is in the eye of the beholder/property owner/developer… or, is it the $ sign? Perhaps, as with “weather change”, just adapt.

    • I am with you on that one…some of the beautiful homes in Vancouver have been reduced to the ugliest dryvit monstrosities. Yes beauty is in the eye of the beholder…but many times they are just blind to beauty period.

    • What a disgusting and racist comment. Many Asian families have in fact moved in to Westport. I hope none of them reads through this comment thread and sees the ugliness you posted here Nancy.

      • Danielle Dobin

        Looks like my response to Nancy posted under an old WordPress account so I wanted to re-post under my full name. What a disgusting and racist comment. Many Asian families have in fact moved in to Westport. I hope none of them reads through this comment thread and sees the ugliness you posted here Nancy.

        • While I do not always agree with Nancy Hunter Wilson on a host of issues, I can assure you she is hardly a racist and her comment was not intended as such. Vancouver is my second home at heart and I have spent much time there over the last 40 years. You are obviously not familiar with the architectural shift that has occurred there as a result of the changing demographic. Since the hand over of Hong Kong in 1997 an enormous amount of wealth has found it way into Vancouver changing the cultural demographic. This has resulted in the large scale destruction of pre-1940’s housing stock in the First Shaugnessy District which is Vancouvers only residential heritage area.

          • Oh Danielle….Just in case you didn’t know…Nancy is Canadian… From firsthand experience…I have yet to meet a Canadian with a racist bone in their body…especially from Vancouver.

          • Nancy Hunter Wilson

            Many thanks, Jamie, for your clear explanation.
            I wish Westport well with its preservation of history and heritage, a difficult and delicate study worldwide.
            Happy New Year to you.

        • Nancy Hunter Wilson

          My point is economics, not race!
          My words were poorly chosen. I apologize.

  14. You may recall “Save the Abel Bradley House” from 2005. A September 2008 New York Times article provides some background:

    This endeavor is a great example of a community coming together to save an 1,800 sq ft home built in 1800 from demolition. (Although I was initially in favor of the endeavor, I later found some of the tactics employed to further the cause appalling.) The 7,200 sq ft “big house,” which is attached to the (restored) Abel Bradley house, was tastefully designed by local architect Jack Franzen. It is a lovely home that is set back farther from the street than one normally finds with newer homes. It first sold in September 2009 for $2.2 million.

    What can be done to prevent a home that is owned by someone else from being demolished by the owner? Recently, neighbors in Bethesda, MD banded together to purchase and restore a home slated for demolition:

    In my view, a “cannot demolish” designation should be assigned to a home before it changes ownership. This way, the buyer is fully aware of this significant restriction. Does having a historic plaque issued by the Westport HDC prevent a house from being torn down? My home was built in 1890 according to Town records but I would not call my home “historic” unless being built in 1890 makes it so. I would be interested in obtaining more information about the historic plaque and confirm whether it provides a “cannot demolish” designation. Further, if a home can obtain historic designation by virtue of being built before a certain year, could this designation be challenged in court?

    • Elaine, I’m glad you appreciated the saving of the Abel Bradley House, but just out of mild curiosity, which of the entirely lawful approaches that we employed to bring about that happy result did you judge to be appalling?

      • Morley,

        I am certain you had nothing to do with the tactics I referenced. I believe Eleanor Dickey acted on her own. Fortunately, Probate Judge O’Grady held a hearing to allow Ruby to speak her wishes, where she confirmed that she did not want any further contact with Ms. Dickey and Ruby’s long-lost “loved ones” whom Ms. Dickey had enlisted with the aim to overturn the sale of Ruby’s house.

        • Elaine, you are correct that I was not involved in the matter you cite as it had no bearing on the preservation of the house you mention. But I do have intimate knowledge of this subject. Out of respect, I won’t repeat the shameful, cruel and sorrowful things that were perpetrated in broad daylight against poor Ruby Brotherton, the former owner of the Bradley House and an innocent, fragile woman who never hurt anyone. You and I both know what those were, who was responsible for them, as well as Judge O’Grady’s complete and full knowledge of it all. As it happens, I took steps to make sure that much of this ugly story and the materials associated with it were archived in a publically accessable place that is beyond the reach of some who might have an interest in its disappearance.

      • For what it is worth, what is described in the NY Times article appears more like a gross abuse of the system at the expense of the property owner. Don’t know how much of that was “entirely lawful approaches” (e.g. like the 6 month moratorium on teardown) versus what Elaine commented on but if the bulk of the delay was “entirely lawful approach” something is quite wrong with the system.

        By the way, I was in the “new” house when it was on the market. Attaching a real house to that mess of a “historic building” created a real mess of a house. While the financial crisis certainly didn’t help, the mess probably partially explains why it sold for 60% of asking price.

        • Jerry, please be assured that nothing that either party did in this matter was inappropriate, illegal or abusive. To be sure both worked very aggressively within the framework of that which Connecticut law in general and the state’s Environmental Protection Act in particular affords its citizens. In the end, the controversy was resolved amicably and to the mutual satisfaction of all concerned. It also helped pave the way for much needed zoning reform in Westport – which arrived just a few years later. This offered the assistance that, in fairness to developers and others, was missing from the equation heretofore. Cheers!

    • Elaine,

      As I mentioned in an earlier post the Westport Historical Society (WHS) is a non-profit and has nothing to do with local government. Although they support preservation efforts in Town through their wonderful plaque program, the presence of one of their plaques does not protect a building in any way.

      The only way to prevent demolition is for a property owner to obtain local historic property/district designation for their home or neighborhood. This designation is recorded in the land records and is transferred from one owner to the next. If you are interested in such a designation for your home you should contact the HDC to begin the process. It is currently the only way to insure that your home will not be demolished by a former owner.

      And just in case anyone is going to rush in to claim that designating a home brings the value down I kindly refer all of you to real estate ads for homes listed in the Gorham and Evergreen Avenue Historic Districts. The realtors never fail to include something along the lines of “located in the coveted Gorham Avenue Historic District,” and the houses sell like hotcakes once they are listed.

      One last thing, the listing for the Center Street properties makes mention of condominiums so gird yourselves for an attempt to redevelop this property for an increase in density. It is coming…

      • Grayson,

        Thank you for this information. I appreciate it. My husband, my children and I love our antique home, and would hate to see it torn down one day.


        • Elaine,

          I was one of the people who helped create the Gorham Avenue Historic District and also helped with the Evergreen Avenue Historic District. I also served on the Historic District Commission. I would be happy to talk to you about the designation process if you would like to learn more. I will leave my contact information with Dan and ask that he give it to you if you are interested.


      • At last we get to real issue; increased density. Can’t have that. Someone might build affordable housing. I think words like “historic” and “preservation” are part of a code for something much less benign.

  15. Eric William Buchroeder SHS '70

    It’s sad that communities don’t have the generational continuity that they once had. I once lived just off of Center St and knew the Avery’s and some of the other families that anchored that neighborhood. I never gave a thought to the homes in those days but I clearly remember the people and that they had proudly lived in their homes for generations. When you lose the people you lose the homes not the other way around.

  16. Michael Calise

    Although I consider myself a preservationist as evidenced by the care I have shown for the older buildings I own, I have a completely different take on this particular property and Westport Zoning. As said it is a single acre piece with three small homes sited on it which for many many generations has provided “affordable” housing in a free enterprise model which has become unacceptable in current society. Westport has many small lots and even a few multi-building lots which have been zoned out by “upgraded” zoning rendering all of them “non-conforming” and thereby providing the perfect path to the Zoning Board of Appeals and “relief” from very sensible regulations which ordinarily guarantee the retention of affordable housing. This zoning oversight has done more to guarantee the gradual elimination of affordable housing under our free enterprise system than anything else. If our past lot sizes had been protected rather than made non-conforming the cries for affordable housing and even senior housing would be greatly diminished if not non-existent When the only protective measure we have is a Historic District. (not to disparage this opportunity) we have to know we are doing something wrong!

  17. don l bergmann

    If Westporters want to preserve older homes and neighborhoods, they need to act, not just talk. Many of the people having written are active and, in my judgment, their actions benefit all of Westport. I will certainly add my name to those who do not want the 180 day waiting period waived. Ultimately, the preservation and renovation of all or some of these very old houses will require private sources of funding. I hope that occurs. We renovated our 1920’s home and we found that it was quite cost effective. I would never assume a tear down/rebuild is less expensive. Many tear down/rebuilds are driven by developers who make considerable profits by building large homes. A neighbor and I have successfully sued the ZBA and a developer to prevent such an outcome in the case of one zoning variance situation in my neighborhood. It takes commitment and a willingness to assert legal rights in the Courts. Finally, while many speak about individual property rights, there ae also be societal interests in preserving the past, in protecting neighborhoods and in retaining the character of a community. While I won’t characterize those interests as rights, I do think they are part of any assertion that suggests that property rights should always prevail..
    Don Bergmann.

    • “societal interests” Sounds like a rationalization for forcing people to do what you want them to do.

    • Jerry MacDaid

      Really? “Societal Interests”? I suppose at least you recognize that we are talking about aesthetics and not actual real interests (e.g. safety or health).

      But who decides what these “societal interests” are? Certainly shouldn’t be simply “the majority” given their less than stellar historical track record of decision making. I don’t know, maybe we should make everyone paint their houses a nice cheery yellow to brighten everyone’s spirits. I mean, happy citizens are certainly in society’s interest.

      When I was much younger (say, early high school), I suffered the conceit that most people pretty much thought the way I did. I assumed, for example, that if given the right to have free and open elections, the communist government of China would be tossed out on its ear and replaced with some sort of “western style” democracy embracing Liberal values (in the historical sense of the word). Sort of like the hope around the Arab Spring, I suppose. Turns out, not everyone thinks the way I do, or has the same values, or finds the same things aesthetically pleasing.

      Before you start imposing your view of what is pleasing on others, I’d think hard about what that might mean for you when someone want to infringe on what you do with your property. Don’t get me wrong, if you want to try to block someone seeking a variance, you should do it – they knew the restrictions (and risk that they wouldn’t change) on what they were buying when they bought it. But don’t start changing the rules on folks after the fact unless you are cheerfully willing to have the rules changed on you.

      As an aside, personally, I think Westport should be turned back into farmland the way it was when a lot of these places were built. Much less crowded, less traffic, much more pastoral, wouldn’t have so many trees. Or deer.

      If you like everything around you to be old or unchanging, you have the right to move to some “historic” area with architectural restrictions. There are such places out there and you will know what you are getting into. Or go visit Sturbridge Village or Mystic Seaport. You will probably notice, by the way, that our “preserved” historic structures likely bear little resemblance to what they originally looked like having been updated (for shame) many times along the way. Aside from rough dimensions, even that “thing” preserved on Sturges Highway has little to do with what was really there though I suppose we can imagine and pretend that it does.