A Noble Barn

A recent “06880” post about the decaying condition of the former Red Barn restaurant drew plenty of comments.

But it’s not the only barn that readers worry about.

Dave Wilson is concerned about Elmstead Lane. That’s the small street connecting South Turkey Hill and South Morningside, near Greens Farms Road.

Elmstead Lane barn (Photo courtesy of ConnecticutBarns.org)

It’s certainly historic.

Built in 1771 by the Andrews family — original settlers of West Parish — it was apparently spared by British General William Tryon, when he burned much of Fairfield 8 years later during the Revolutionary War.

The property was also home to Bessie Jennings, the Westporter whose historic tours (now memorialized as Jennings Trail) educated generations of children.

According to a website dedicated to historic Connecticut barns, its architecture is significant.

The New England barn or gable-front barn was the successor to the English barn and relies on a gable entry rather than an entry under the eaves. The gable front offers many practical advantages. Roofs drain off the sides, rather than flooding the dooryard.

With the main drive floor running parallel to the ridge, the size of the barn could be increased to accommodate larger herds by adding additional bays to the rear gable end.

Although it was seen by many as an improvement over the earlier side-entry English Barn, the New England barn did not replace its predecessor but rather coexisted with it, as both types continued to be built.

But the Elmstead barn has seen better days. As it celebrates its 250th anniversary, there may not be many more years left.

(Photos/Dave Wilson)

25 responses to “A Noble Barn

  1. Tragic!

  2. Jack Backiel

    My uncle, Adolph Backiel, had his home on South Morningside Dr. and his property, about two acres, bordered all of Elmstead Lane. His property actually bordered Elmstead, Greens Farms Road, South Turkey Hill, and South Morningside Dr. There is only one house on Elmstead Lane with that barn on the property. That was my old neighborhood.

  3. I share the same concern snd sadness — it’s a beautiful, historic structure — hope it can be saved.♥️

  4. My understanding is that the owners have
    relocated to CA. Whether they know or care that this important historic resource is near collapse and is being actively vandalized remains less clear. What I will say is that the Westport Historic District Commission ought to wake up. For once.

    • How can we get them to wake up, Morley?
      Maybe if we promise to have their leader in a photo holding a dated sign and a phony smile?….would that do it?

      • It might work, Dan. They do seem crave attention. Or we could quietly suggest that we’ll tell everyone about some of their more embarrassing public hearings. Don’t say anything but they actually held one on a grave marker. For a pet.

        • John McCarthy

          To be fair, it was George Washington’s pet……right?

          • As a matter of fact, it was George’s pet. Before I adopted it. That could explain why the Commission’s chair demanded, on the record, that the applicant get the ground beneath the grave consecrated as a condition of approval. For real.

            Meanwhile, an actual preservation emergency is unfolding in broad daylight. At the end of the day, the HDC only has one job. And this is it.

        • Hmmmmm; for pet lovers, no so terrible. 🙂

  5. What a shame…… and as a follow-up to the Red Barn story, everyone should drive by there and simply look at the structure. The roof is slowly, but surely, caving in. The Y has no planned future for saving/ using that structure.

    • Russell Gontar

      Let me get this straight. First, the YMCA abandons downtown and now they’re letting the remains of the Red Barn disintegrate into ruins.

      Any other icons they have in mind for their brand of “caretaking”?

  6. Wendy Crowther

    Morley Boyd’s comment above is spot on. Westport’s Historic District Commission (HDC) could easily reach out to the owners to determine their future intentions and to offer preservation/restoration guidance. Unfortunately, the HDC doesn’t seem interested in being proactive though they are empowered to be. They’d rather sit back and wait for owners to come to them. However, owners are often unaware of the pathways toward restoration/preservation or of the historic importance of their own properties. Opportunities are lost and barns fall down as the HDC looks the other way.

  7. Bill Strittmatter

    Haven’t various owners been trying to get rid of these barns for a long time now? It seems to me we looked at that property when we were moving back to Connecticut in 1990. It was “for sale by owner” and I recall talking to the guy about what they used the barns for. Unsolicited, he offered to give them to me if I would just take them away. Apparently he had been trying to give them away for years with no takers. Given how they look 30 years later, I suspect every owner along the way would have been perfectly willing to give them away as well.

    Out of curiosity, why doesn’t some preservationist minded commenter with a large enough property offer to simply take them and reconstruct them on your property? Owner might even be willing to contribute what it would otherwise cost them to bulldoze them and have debris taken to dump.

    Historical buildings have been relocated all the time. Pretty much everything in Westport was a farm once so it wouldn’t even be out of character historically. With the new zoning rules, maybe even turn the inside into an accessory apartment. Not to mention disassembling and reassembling the barn would be a great volunteer project for the Westport Historical Society. A good old fashioned barn raising.

    • !-very, very expensive; 2-barns of that size not allowed as of right; 3-the condition of that barn prohibits “moving or lifting” it and so much would need to be replaced that the “historic” designation would no longer apply. Just sayin’.

    • The historic importance of this barn complex has much to due with its history at that particular site. Separate it from its original setting – and the contextually related dwelling – and you drain it of its interpretive value. As it happens, Westport has a special zoning incentive which was brought about in direct response to the public interest in conserving historic barns and other, related historic accessory outbuildings which may have outlived their intended purpose. Guest quarters, home office, income producing rental are a few of the options for which this barn complex would easily qualify via a Special Permit. In the hands of a skilled preservation architect and the right tradespeople, this building would absolutely stop traffic.

  8. What a shame. Its seems this country always has literally billions of dollars for projects to satisfy people’s egos or political aspirations but never enough for really meaningful agendas.

  9. Our last house in Westport was a barn, built in 1800 that had been converted into a dwelling in 1935. I asked the Historical Society if we could get a plaque and was told that they didn’t give plaques to barns because many of them had burned down and been replaced and they couldn’t authenticate ours. So we made our own plaque with the date and original owner and left off “Westport Historical Society.”

    • Your “barn” was probably more authentic than our Historic District Commission, Bobbie; most of whom have their thumbs up their assumptions of inauthenticity.

  10. Donald Bergmann

    It would be nice if some one or all from the HDC participated in the dialogue, whether in defense, explanation or as to hurdles they feel they confront. I too have been disappointed in the HDC on many occasions. Morley and, especially, Wendy are so right.
    Don Bergmann

  11. Peter Jennings

    I wrote the owners last year and sent pictures of the barns to advise them of the condition which looks perilous. Sent it to the address listed on the tax records -came back “undeliverable”.
    Peter Jennings
    Greens Farms Church Historian

  12. Janice Briggs Smith

    I used to live in a little red house next to Adolph Backiel’s property and just down the road from Elmstd La. My brother and I played in that barn all the time! A young girl lived in the house, believe her name was Louise Whelen and there was an older woman who must have been Miss Jennings?
    Great times, we lived there when I was 5 to 8 yrs old.