86 Cross Highway: Another Preservation Success Story

There’s something about Cross Highway. For some reason, it’s become the epicenter of preservation in Westport.

“06880” has chronicled the stories of #93, the former home of noted artist George Hand Wright; #108, an 1805 dwelling that may have been built by a free black man; #113, where several outbuildings included one of the first gas stations in Westport, and — most recently — #180, a 2.9-acre property with a 1728 saltbox and 1790s-era barn.

All were saved from almost certain destruction by owners who loved the history, charm and livability of those homes — and found ways to save them.

Meet the latest addition to the Cross Highway saga: #86.

Eight years ago, Bill and Sarah Dransfield moved to Westport. They left Manhattan for the usual reasons: schools. Their 1st child was entering kindergarten. The couple are both teachers — he’s at The Allen-Stevenson School on the Upper East Side, she’s a fitness instructor (now with Total Training & Endurance) — they could not afford New York’s astronomical tuitions.

They rented on Long Lots Lane. They painted, cleaned up the yard — and watched as nearly every home nearby turned into a teardown.

Sarah and Bill Dransfield, on the property they now own.

Sarah and Bill Dransfield, on the property they now own.

This past spring, they learned their own rental home would soon be torn down too. They began looking for one to buy.

It was not easy. They had a limited budget. They wanted to stay in the Bedford/ Long Lots district, where their 2 kids were in school.

And they really wanted an older house. “One with character and charm,” Sarah explains.

They were outbid on a Roseville Road farmhouse. November 1 — the day they had to be out of their rental — loomed.

While Sarah was looking at a place on Main Street — she was literally inside the house — a friend who lives on Victoria Lane sent a text. Her neighbor’s house had just come on the market. “It’s a gem,” the friend said.

Sarah’s realtor quickly replied: “It’s out of your price range.”

But she agreed to show it to Sarah. The moment she walked in the door, Sarah says, “I knew this was it. It’s exactly what we wanted. I cried!”

A springtime view of 86 Cross Highway, as seen from the road.

A springtime view of 86 Cross Highway, as seen from the long driveway. The house is set back from the road.

She particularly loved the 2 fireplaces, and the office overflowing with books and papers. “I realized how much the owner had enjoyed being there,” Sarah says.

The house was built in 1910. Since 1962, it was owned by Sarah and Steve Herz. She too was an educator — a longtime and much-loved English teacher at Bedford and Staples, who died 2 years ago — while he earned renown in a 2nd career as a poet.

When Bill saw the home, he noted a problem with the ceiling: The house had a flat roof. But the couple saw plenty of potential. “The inside just needs to be loved again,” Sarah says.

They wrote a letter to the Herz children, who were selling the home. The Dransfields said they were both teachers, and wanted to raise their children in a home that had so obviously meant so much to Sarah and Steve Herz’s children, Mark and Kate.

“They got it,” Sarah Dransfield says. “They know it’s hard for teachers to live in Westport.”

They agreed on a price. The buyers’ landlord allowed them to stay in their rental property until mid-December.

On December 19, the new owners moved in. Bill cut down a small fir in the yard, for their Christmas tree.

A rear view of 86 Cross Highway.

A rear view of 86 Cross Highway.

There’s a lot of work to be done. The Dransfields will put in a sloped roof. They hope to expose some of the old beams in the kitchen. They’ve found some old photos, and plan to bring back the landscaping as it was when the Herzes bought the house.

Sarah and Bill are thrilled to own their first home. They’re even happier that it’s the type they always coveted: an older one, with character and charm.

Sitting in their new kitchen, they talk about the home next door. It’s a teardown — and it looms over that stretch of Cross Highway, which has managed nonetheless to maintain several older properties.

“Not everyone can move into a ready-made home,” Sarah says. “And not everyone wants to.”

For now, the streetscape of Cross Highway remains less changed than many others in Westport.

Those who care about preservation can thank Ed Gerber (#93), Jeff Porter and Rachel Ember (#108), the Ronemus family (#113) and Mark Yurkiw and Wendy Van Wie (#180) for that.

And — though #86 sits back a bit from the road — we can now add Bill and Sarah Dransfield to the list.

With, of course, an assist from Steve and Sarah Herz, and their kids.

16 responses to “86 Cross Highway: Another Preservation Success Story

  1. Thanks for conserving a bit of our traditional streetscape, Sarah and Steve. I have always admired this house – particularly the way it’s sited on the property. A nice counterpoint to our ever growing inventory of clumsy, clinical and otherwise forgettable McMansions.

  2. This is wonderful news indeed. . Thanks to Mark and Kate Herz for enabling this happen. Welcome to the Dransfields ! I will be sure to stop by to introduce myself as the owner of the neighboring 1764 Sturges / Wright House and to discuss the possibility of protecting their new house in the future as I have done by having it designated a local historic landmark property with the aid of the Historic District Commission.
    One other property owner to thank for the Cross Highway Preservation story would be the new owners of 113 Cross Highway who proved there is life after historic designation by recently purchasing this local historic landmark property. As always Dan thanks for highlighting good news for Westport !

  3. Score another one!!

  4. Don L. Bergmann

    More good news on the preservation front. Thanks to all involved and of course to Dan for 06880.
    Don Bergmann

  5. Bob and Julie Fatherley

    Hooray for all who honor our history through some of our remarkable
    antique homes which they cherish and care to preserve.
    It is such a wonderful contrast to the as Morely Boyd stated so brilliantly
    “inventory of clumsy, clinical and otherwise forgettable McMansions”.
    Cheers to you, also, Ed Gerber, for serving on the Historic District
    Commission. Julie Fatherley

  6. Wonderful news! I’m looking forward to meeting our new next door neighbors. Welcome to the neighborhood!

  7. Wendy Crowther

    What refreshing news. Bravo, Bill and Sarah. Thank you for your willingness and desire to purchase, care for, and love an older home. These days, this kind of house is almost always tear-down bait for demo-developers and those looking to capitalize on Westport’s zip code. Therefore, folks with incomes on the more modest end of Westport’s bell curve are rarely given a chance at owning one of these smaller gems because they rarely make it to market. Tear-down developers, and/or private individuals with considerable means, swoop in first. In this case, a neighborly tip, an open-minded realtor, and a buyer who was willing to dream, created a synergy that saved this beauty from being eaten alive.

    Thanks also to the Herz children who were willing to negotiate this deal. In doing so, the legacy of their own teacher/poet parents will be appreciated and embraced by another family of educators. They, in turn, will add yet another layer of history and story-telling to its comfortable bones.

  8. Awesome news, nice to read about a Westport buyer interested in owning an older home – we know it happens but we don’t get a chance to read about it too often.

  9. Great news! Thank you both for saving it from the landfill.

    • Mike Fredrickson

      Congratulations on preserving your home! I am still shocked at what happened at 63 Turkey Hill. Have you guys seen what’s happened there?!?!?

  10. Sarah and Bill – welcome to our venerable Cross Highway, so-called because it was the “highway across” the “long lots” in the late 1600s. And thank you for keeping the house! There are still about 25 properties on Cross Highway listed on the Westport Historic Resources Inventory and Dan, it is so wonderful of you to let future owners know how much they will be appreciated as good stewards. It’s always important to know that people care. Among the other properties that make Cross Highway special, I’d like to add: Hockanum, Christie’s Country Store, Wakeman Town Farm, and the lovely farmhouse and barn at 148 Cross Highway (corner of Woody Lane.)

  11. Nancy Hunter

    Did Peter de Vries live on Cross Highway?

    • Yes, Peter de Vries lived in a 1950’s ranch that is still at 170 Cross Highway.

      • Nancy Hunter

        Thank you, Wendy. My mom’s memory is spot on!

        • When I was double-checking the address, I came across this letter from James Thurber to Mr. & Mrs. Peter DeVries at 170 Cross Highway, dated May 11, 1961. Apropos to this blog post, history doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme:

          “We have both had recurring attacks of angst, the new world plague, which everyone seems to catch from the despondent zeitgeist. Almost every other letter we get from anywhere reveals a new victim of anxiety of the 1961 variety, which spreads like a virus. I have a theory of my own that it is spread by mass mental telepathy, and that this is what affects the stage and literature and everything else. My only solution is a high heart and a brave spirit, however hard these flags may be to flaunt in the stormy weather of today. I truly believe that a new mass frame of mind is the only answer . . .
          As ever,
          James Thurber”

  12. Jennifer Tedesco Alfano

    I cannot even begin to tell you how happy this makes me. When I saw that my former teacher, mentor, and friend’s home was for sale, and then the sold sign appeared, my heart literally sank. I was sure it would fall victim to yet another teardown. This is a very special house, and had we had the available resources, would have tried to purchase it ourselves! 🙂 Best wishes to the new owners, and a huge thank you to the Herz family! (And Sarah was also a beloved teacher at CMS, too!!)