The Little Red Gingerbread On Long Lots Road

It’s one of the most recognizable houses in Westport: the red “gingerbread” house at 55 Long Lots Road, just east of Hall-Brooke.

For the first time in 60 years, it’s on the market.

As befits a home built more than 150 years ago, it’s got a back story.

Plus a bit of mystery.

According to Tad Shull — a current co-owner and musician/writer in New York, who spent his childhood there — it was constructed as a caretaker’s cottage or gatehouse, elsewhere on Long Lots.

It was moved to its present site in the 1870s by William Burr, who inherited it from his father. Additions were built in the 1920s and ’60s. From the street, it still looks much like the original.

55 Long Lots Road. The entrance to Hall-Brooke is on the left.

It may (or may not) have served as a 1-room schoolhouse. But it has a definite connection to education: Burr Farms School opened in 1958 a few yards away. (It was demolished in the 1980s; all that remains are athletic fields.)

The most intriguing tale is this: Shull’s parents bought the house in 1957 from Elaine Barrie — the 4th (and last) wife of John Barrymore.

Shull had heard that the actor used the house as a “love nest.” It’s uncertain whether Barrymore lived there; Barrie bought it after he died in 1942.

Shull also heard rumors that Barrymore had an affair there with a married woman,  Blanche Oelrichs, who published poetry under the name Michael Strange. Shull found a book of her poems — with her handwritten annotations — on his mother’s bookshelf last fall.

More lore: Stevan Dohanos’ famous “Thanksgiving” painting may have used the red Long Lots house as its model/inspiration. (“06880” posted that possibility last year; click here, then scroll down for several comments confirming it.)

Stevan Dohanos’ “Thanksgiving” painting. Recognize this house?

And, Shull adds, he heard from Tony Slez — who once owned a gas station at the foot of Long Lots, where Westport Wash & Wax now stands — that his Polish relatives worked as onion pickers on the road.

Shull says that as a youngster he was teased for living “next door to a mental institution.”

But he calls his boyhood “a paradise. There were plenty of kids around. We had a pond with frogs. It was a great place.”

His family hopes that whoever buys the house will preserve it. And — even if only part of its history is true — the red gingerbread that everyone passes on Long Lots has quite a past.

20 responses to “The Little Red Gingerbread On Long Lots Road

  1. Hope is not a super good strategy for preservation in this town. Better make this house a Local Historic Landmark Property or you’ll possibly be in for a rude surprise that involves a few dumpsters and a large power shovel.

  2. Bobbie Herman

    Oh, I hope it won’t be a tear-down.

  3. Looks Like Elaine Barrie bought that property / came into title in 1953 from Conrad and Jean Ulmer; the Ulmers bought it from Burr Farms Inc. in 1950, which seems to have bought the property (and perhaps assembled a larger tract) from Howard and Virginia Smith in 1950, who had purchased it from Warren Rockwell in 1948. Seems Rockwell purchased the property from Morris Burr, Lillian Whitman and Florence Shelton in 1945. Morris, Lillian and Florence look to have inherited the property from William Burr in 1940, suspect they were his children. Whew . . .

    Not sure if any of those names were “friends” of John Barrymore.

    As for the fate of this little gem, fingers crossed . . . .

    • Jacques Voris

      Morris, Lillian, and Florence were three of William Burr’s children. I am curious why it is thought it may have been a school house

  4. Another fun fact from that area – I went to school at Burr Farms Elementary with one Cassie Burr, who lived right out front on the corner of Burr School Road and Long Lots Road. She was a sweet, quiet girl.

    • And I went to Burr Farms School with my 9th cousin Libby Burr who lived in the little salt box.

  5. Michael Pettee

    I remember going to a birthday party there – Tad it must have been your’s – maybe 1961? First grade? And what I remember was an oddity to me at the time: a projection booth with a 16mm film projector. I guess this makes sense now. And I think we watched 16mm film shorts during the party (?) Michael Pettee

  6. Morris Burr, Staples ’47, was at our class reunion at the Red Barn some years ago.

  7. Loved reading about the history of this place, which I now live near. Mr. Boyd is right that hope isn’t a strategy, but I would love to see the house preserved. It’s a Westport gem!

  8. Jean Whitehead

    Thanks for this article. Such interesting history. Passed this house daily on way to Burr Farms—class of 1966! Definitely a landmark.

  9. This house is indeed a Westport treasure (in part because it is visible on a main road). Here’s my proposal: the town should buy it and turn it into two affordable rental units: one for a town employee and one for a tenant at least 62 years of age. This would be consistent (I think) with the spirit if not necessarily the letter of the existing zoning in that area (which would allow a homeowner to have an 800-foot accessory apartment under certain guidelines).

    So, Westport could preserve an historic home and add two affordable units at what would seem to be a reasonable cost.

    • Unfortunately, Fred, they wouldn’t count towards the Affordable Living units mandated by the state. Those units had to be constructed after 1990. This house dates from 1870.

      • They would count if they were deed restricted as affordable. But the bigger issue is that the town is not a good landlord. We struggle to manage the historic properties we own. That’s not to take away from Fred’s thoughtful suggestion.

  10. Spent a lot of time around there as a kid walking to Burr Farms…. also delivered the paper to this house and to Hall-Brooke on my Raleigh chopper (early 70’s) and In the late 80’s, I helped put a roof on it.
    Used to practice hitting golf balls nearby on the expansive lawn in front of Hall-Brooke…was scared away by some guy running across the lawn being chased by 3 or 4 other guys. We assumed it was someone making a daring escape…

  11. Wendy Crowther

    Several years ago, I did research on the little green house that still sits at the bottom of the western end of Long Lots, Road where it intersects with Rt.1. This little green house was formerly known as “Once a Pickle” but, prior to that, it was owned by members of the John Slez family, and prior to that owned by members of the John McGovern family.

    Research on what I called “Little Green” led me to the William Burr property on Long Lots Road because John Slez had worked on the Burr’s Long Lots farm. In the 1920s, the farm produced market vegetables and flowers. Later, William Burr’s son, Morris, was listed on Long Lots Rd. as a nurseryman, florist and wholesale market gardener (circa 1930-1940). John Slez also worked on Morris Burr’s farm but, by the 1950s, he was working further east for the florist that owned the property where today’s Community Garden sits (next to Long Lots Elementary School) on Hyde Lane.

    In the early days, before the Slez’s bought “Little Green”, they were living in a house on the Burr’s property on Long Lots Rd. but I didn’t look into which one – perhaps it was this little red one.

    Later, John Slez’s son, Tony, would open Slez’s Garage located where Westport Wash & Wax is today – right next store to the little green house in which he and his parents had lived.

    Neighborhoods were interactive back then – everyone knew one another (for better or for worse). The connections I find between neighborhood families always amaze me.

    These wonderful stories bring houses, buildings, properties and neighborhoods to life. But as each old house falls to the wrecking ball, their stories die with them. Let’s hope that “Little Red” finds a loving, sensitive owner who will carry her wonderful tales forward. Let’s also hope that “Little Green” will remain standing too. She’s been for sale for a long time – left vacant and in slow decline. .
    I’m keeping my fingers crossed for both of them but I don’t hold out tons of hope. For owners who care enough to preserve Westport’s history, Morley’s suggestion at the top of this thread is the best way to do so. Hope isn’t enough.

    • Funny about all these connections. I’m directly related to the Burr family and I have an artifact from the Slez Garage. Before the garage was demolished to make way for Westport Wash & Wax, I asked the Slez family if I might be able to adopt the cool goose neck lamp with green enamel shade affixed to the east elevation of their building. They kindly said “sure, just help yourself” and so I came back with a ladder. Like the true idiot that I am, I didn’t bother to test the fixture for current with my voltage meter before cutting the hot wire with a pair of lineman’s pliers – I just took the assurance from a mechanic that the lamp was switched off. Suffice to say, there was a bright flash and, to this day, you can see the melted mark on those Klein pliers at the point of contact. God bless whoever invented insulated handles. I was unharmed – just a little freaked. Lesson totally and completely learned forever. Anyway, I put the Slez’s lamp on the side of my 1920’s garage and it’s there today lighting the way and still looking too cool for school.

      • Someone in the Slez family.. either mom or dad.. was one of 27 children, the youngest of which is 65. So they were literally connected everywhere. One mom and one dad!! I sold one of the 27 siblings houses years ago.

  12. Jacques Voris

    In days of yore, it wasn’t just neighborhoods that were connected. It was the whole of Greens Farms that was in many ways one super large meta-family. Burrs were related to Sherwoods, Sherwoods to Jennings, Mills to Barlows, and the Allens were related to everyone. It was truly a small town, which is why I can so often tie posts like this back to me.
    One of a favorite fun facts to give people perspective on how small and rural this area used to be is that they didn’t bother to number the houses on North Avenue until 1958…when they built the school up there.

  13. Mary Cookman Schmerker Staples '58

    Hopefully someone will take all the history and suggestions to heart and start the process immediately to make this home a local historical landmark.

  14. Bruce Fernie - SHS 1970

    I grew up much further up on Long Lots and was a member of the first K-6 class at Burr Farms… This house is a landmark and should be preserved. The Slez and Benos guys were also important to my family always being ready to help my Mom or Dad when something didn’t work on their cars or when a tree jumped out intron of my Dad on the way home from Greens Farms station. Miss the Westport of my youth.