“If These Walls Could Talk…” For Drew Coyne, They Do.

The best teachers model their passions.

English teachers read and write. Culinary teachers cook. Phys. ed. instructors work out.

Drew Coyne

Drew Coyne teaches US History Honors at Staples High School. He’s been nominated for Westport Teacher of the Year. His students adore him.

He’s tough, but fair. He makes learning interesting.

And he walks the talk — inside the classroom, and out.

Drew grew up in an 1850s house in upstate New York. His partner Matt O’Connell was raised in a Boston suburb. In September 2017, they started searching for a house to buy. They wanted something historic.

They came close to purchasing in Greens Farms. Then they found an even better property on the Old Post Road in Fairfield — part of that town’s Historic District.

The owners were Paul and Barb Winsor. Paul was George Harrison’s gardener. But that wasn’t what made it amazing.

It was built in 1837 by the Turney family. They owned land by Fairfield beach, and grew peaches.

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church took it over. For nearly 100 years, it served as a parsonage.

In 1936, the church sold the property to the Hermenze family. Four years later, they sold it to Donald and Ann Robbins. The price was $8,000. The Robbinses raised 5 children there.

175 Old Post Road — back in the day.

Drew loved his new home. Walking the halls, he felt compelled to know who walked them before him. And he wondered what stories the walls could tell.

Like any great history teacher, he researched the past. The Fairfield Museum had little information. The church did not have much either.

But searching online, Drew found an obituary for Ann Robbins. It included the names of her surviving children. One — Ann’s daughter Nan Hotchkiss– lived in Fairfield.

Drew called. She’s in her mid-80s now, but was delighted to hear from him. She asked many questions about the house. It obviously meant a lot to her.

So Drew invited her to come see for herself.

Thrilled, she asked if she could bring 2 brothers, and her younger sister. Oh, and also her son’s daughter, who is in her 40s.

The visit — a couple of weekends ago — was wonderful. The former residents walked all around the house, touching things and remembering tiny details like the smell of gingerbread cookies, tricycle races and Nan’s basement “jewelry shop.”

3 generations of owners. Standing at left: Matt O’Connell and Drew Coyne. From the top of the stairs down: Barb Winsor, Carol Robbins, Pat Robbins, Bruce Robbins, Henry Robbins, Anne (Nan) Jackson. Larry Robbins Skyped in with his wife Deirdre.

They pointed to nicks in the wood, and told Drew and Matt how they got there.

“Those are the subtle things we’d never notice,” Drew says. “But they meant so much to the family. They give warmth and beauty, and enhanced my view of our house.”

One of Nan’s brothers lives out of state, and could not make it to Fairfield. So his siblings walked around with an iPad, showing him the 19th century house via 21st century Skype. He added his own memories.

The Robbins children, with their parents, Donald and Ann.

Barb Winsor — who Drew and Matt bought the house from — also came that weekend.

So the couple heard stories about the house, all the way from 1940 to today.

Drew says, “We saw layer upon layer of history. We heard about victory gardens in World War II, and the noise from the Post Road when that was the only highway around.”

As she was leaving, Nan said, “It’s so nice to come home.”

That’s a feeling Drew Coyne has every day, when he walks through the door of the house that is now his. And that he now understands, better than ever.

“This was a great Christmas gift that Matt and I could give them,” he says.

“And a great gift that they gave us, too.”

175 Old Post Road, last winter.

14 responses to ““If These Walls Could Talk…” For Drew Coyne, They Do.

  1. This is a beautiful connection – I wonder if other current homeowners might try this idea? Taking a moment to share stories and memories, to listen to each other, to appreciate how history informs our present – we need more of this today. Bravo!

  2. thanks for this GREAT GREAT holiday story. Old houses “talk”. Mine does!

  3. Drew is truly a great teacher, well deserving of being nominated as Teacher of the Year! Congratulations!

  4. Michelle Benner

    Thanks for this wondeful Christmas story Dan! So lovely. ❤️

  5. Wonderful. So often history starts out being about a place.
    But in the end, it’s usually about the people.

  6. Priscilla Long

    How fun to read this story – I had the pleasure of knowing this home when the Robbins family were the owners. Pat Robbins, classmate and friend of mine from Elmira College lived there with her family. I remember attending her wedding there in 1969 – and loving the feeling of that old home. As I recall, it was a Christmas time wedding – so the house was decorated for the holidays. It is so wonderful to read about the latest owners – true lovers of history – and of all their research. In addition, seeing the picture of Pat Robbins in the group was terrific! Thanks, Dan!

  7. A great story about a storied home…just lovely.

  8. Terrific story. Debbie and I were beneficiaries in a similar vein at our former home on Drumlin by having next-door neighbors who had lived there since the 1950s and early 1960s, respectively, and who were able to fill us in on a variety of details about the house and the property.

  9. Thomas B Hood Jr

    What great story… warms my heart……

  10. Mary Cookman Schmerker Staples '58

    This is wonderful. I am so glad that they reached out and found former owners. Houses do have stories to tell. Now here is another angle for them to research: Is there a family connection between Nan Hotchkiss and the Hotchkiss house on Bridge Street? I have always wondered if there was a connection between Gertrude Hotchkiss Heyn and the Hotchkiss House in Westport. There is a Hotchkiss House In Daytona Beach, Florida. Mrs Heyn’s father founded Hotchkiss Staple Company of Norwalk that later became part of Pitney Bowes.

  11. This just might be the quintessential Christmas story. Brilliant, not to mention heartwarming. In this instance, details (i.e. scratch marks) absolutely matter.

  12. Thanks so much for sharing our story, Dan! Happy Holidays to you and your readers!

  13. J Scott Broder

    Thank you for sharing this touching historical home story for Christmas🎄 . Drew is a wonderful person who we’ve enjoyed knowing years ago when he first was in WESTPORT and started to teach💥
    Our very best holiday wishes to him and his partner!
    Also to you Dan🌲❗️