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Staples Students Journey 6 Miles — And Far Outside Their Bubble

“Education is the seed to the tree of success,” writes “S.”

Yet, she notes, Bridgeport schools lack many of the resources of those in Westport, just a few miles away. One example: While classroom teachers here enjoy the assistance of multiple paraprofessionals, in Bridgeport there may be only one for an entire school.

And while the Staples High School cafeteria is open for breakfast, snacks and lunch — with options ranging from frozen yogurt to sushi — youngsters at Luis Muñoz Marin are served “horrific” meals, like 5 chicken fingers and an “unidentifiable fruit cup.” When Staples students brought the Marin kids pizza, the children saved the chicken and fruit in their bags, for a meal later at home.

S. was stunned to see the differences in education between the 2 nearly neighboring communities. She wants Connecticut to make a difference for the future — “one seed at a time.”

Luis Munoz Marin Elementary School

Luis Munoz Marin School

S. is close to the educational disparity issue. She’s a Staples student — and a member of Linda McClary’s Child Development class.

Working with Christie Barcelona — a former Staples student who now teaches 5th grade at Luis Marin — McClary organized a pen pal project. In addition to writing each other, they arranged for the Westporters to visit the Bridgeport school this past fall.

This month, the elementary schoolers will come to Staples.

Recently, McClary asked her students to write essays about their experiences. The topic was “disparity of education in Connecticut.”

For many in McClary’s class, it’s been an eye-opening semester.

“I have been able to see outside of the ‘Westport bubble,'” S. wrote. She called herself “blessed” at the opportunity to meet the Luis Marin 5th graders.

Staples High School

Staples High School

Other essays were equally fascinating. “L” said:

Over school breaks, dozens of Staples kids take a trip somewhere exotic like Ecuador or Nicaragua to help families living poorly by building schools, homes, etc.

I am not trying to take away from their experience, but it blows my mind the amount of people who go on these service trips plane rides away, versus the amount of people who go a few miles down the highway to help families.

Ten miles down the road, we can help. We can make the difference.

“L” contrasted her time at Luis Marin with her visit to Coleytown Elementary School — another part of McClary’s curriculum.

Coleytown Elementary School

Coleytown Elementary School

Coleytown classrooms have rugs, a smartboard, plenty of cubbies and “hundreds of books, based on genre and authors. An amazing environment for the students to learn.”

In Bridgeport the desks were all paired, with a few pencils for pupils to share.

“The kids who need comfort and stability at school are the ones who aren’t getting an equal education,” L. wrote. “How is this fair?”

L. called the visit to Luis Marin “honestly life changing. It made me deeply appreciate the teachers, janitors, principals, etc. in my school who make this environment a place I love going to every day. I just hope that one day, each child has the opportunity to value and enjoy education like I do.”

“E” admitted — “much to my absolute dismay” — that she has been stuck in a “rich kid bubble.” She assumed everyone had dolls, piano lessons and other expensive things. Surrounded by laptops and other affluent students, she asked herself: “How many times have I driven past Bridgeport and not even had a second thought to the shattered windows and empty buildings?”

An abandoned factory near downtown Bridgeport.

An abandoned factory near downtown Bridgeport.

She called the “complete imbalance” of Connecticut’s schools “absolutely unacceptable.”

How can we possibly make these kids excited to learn without proper supplies? How can we expect American children to achieve amazing things, and improve our country, when they aren’t provided with enough materials to better their education?

Individual meetings proved instructive. “G” learned that her pen pal faced enormous struggles at home. Spending time together helped the young girl — and made the older one feel like an important role model.

“I feel so fortunate to be able to give her advice on friends,” G. said. “Also, to try to positively affect her future by telling her to do well in school and never slack off.”

Other students shared their own, powerful insights.

I was especially moved by “W”‘s unique perspective. Growing up in Fairfield, she was chosen through a lottery to attend the Bridgeport 6 to 6 Magnet School. She hated to leave her childhood friends, and dealt with enormous culture shock.

Bridgeport's 6 to 6 Magnet School

Bridgeport’s 6 to 6 Magnet School

But as the year went on, W. learned about her classmates’ “cultures, neighborhoods, families and background stories.” That led her to “a new world full of fresh faces and experiences that changed my perspective to helping others.”

She stopped judging others — “which was hard for a middle school girl” — and felt transformed into someone who was “open-minded to accept all of the new experiences happening around me.”

In 8th grade, her family moved into her grandparents’ Westport home, to take care of them. This time, it was “culture shock in reverse.”

W wrote:

I have learned so much in the past several years, and recently from my Child Development class, about educational disparity. Every child deserves an equal opportunity at a good education.

As my inspiring teacher, Linda McClary, said to my class: “Get up in the morning, go to school, and thank your lucky stars your parents moved to this town and this school.”

WestportREADS Together

Westporters like to read. Hardcovers and paperbacks; on Kindles, iPads, even iPhones — we’ve often got our noses buried in books.

Once a year, many of us do it together.

That’s the premise behind “Westport READS.” Every January since 2001, the Westport Library picks a book for the entire town to read — and think about. There are school discussions; clergy weave it into sermons, and the Library plans special “Westport Reads”-themed activities for an entire month. The idea is to strengthen the community through the shared experience of a book or author.

George Hodgman

George Hodgman

This year’s selection is Bettyville. George Hodgman’s powerful memoir tackles his identity as a gay man, writer and son, whose complicated relationship with his mother comes to a head when he leaves New York to care for her in his Missouri hometown.

A keynote presentation by Hodgman himself at the Library (Thursday, January 19, 7 p.m.) is the capstone of this year’s “WestportREADS.” But there’s much more in store.

A screening and discussion of the movie “In & Out” — in which a high school drama teacher questions his sexuality, in the midst of preparing for his wedding to a woman — is set for Saturday, January 28 (4 p.m., Town Hall, in conjunction with the Westport Cinema Initiative).

The month-long program incorporates events connected to other themes in Bettyville too. For example, to honor the role an adopted dog plays in the book, Westport Animal Shelter Advocates showcases their work — and sponsors a pet food drive (Sunday, January 29, 3 p.m.)

To celebrate the kindnesses shown in the memoir, artist/author Elaine Clayton hosts a workshop for artists of all ages, to “draw, collage and color kindness” (Wednesday, January 11, 4:30 p.m.).

Several companion books have been selected for younger audiences. I’ll Give You the Sun is an award-winning story of first love, family, loss and betrayal. Lily and Dunkin (for middle grades) and George (for upper elementary schoolchildren) focus on how and why children label themselves. Red, meanwhile, is a light-hearted picture book about a crayon with an identity crisis.

bettyville-bookAll month long, an exhibit in the Riverwalk hallway looks at our town and its people during the 1970s. There’s an “identity wordle” (visual depiction of text) in the MakerSpace, and an artist-in-residence challenge to show 2 parts of your personality (featuring a how-to family workshop today — Saturday, January 7 — at 2 p.m.).

Want more? Check out these other WestportREADS events:

  • Sunday, January 8 (2 p.m.): Discuss Bettyville at Barnes & Noble.
  • Sunday, January 8 (2:30 p.m.): Bring a grandparent or older friend or relative to make a keepsake book (Grades 1 and up).
  • Tuesday, January 10 (2 p.m.): “The Music Man” classic movie — plus a Shake Shack custard.
  • Tuesday, January 10 (7 p.m.): Experts discuss the emotional, legal and practical issues you might face as your parents age, whether they live close by or far away.
  • Wednesday, January 11 (7 p.m.): Nancy Moore — who uses art to express her thoughts about gender identity, in loving response to her transgender son — shows and discusses her work.
  • Thursday, January 14 (2 p.m.): Dr. Mark Schenker discusses the themes raised in Bettyville.
  • Tuesday, January 17 (11 a.m.): A discussion of the book at the library, in partnership with the Senior Center.
  • Tuesday, January 17 (2 p.m.): The past merges with the present in the hit movie “Sunday in the Park with George.”
  • Saturday, January 21 (1 p.m.): Robin McHaelen, director of True Colors, leads a family-friendly, free-wheeling discussion on today’s changing gender norms. Light lunch and refreshments too!


  • Sunday, January 22 (2 p.m.): Discussion of I’ll Give You the Sun, at Barnes & Noble.
  • Tuesday, January 24 (2 p.m.): Showing of the 1971 movie “The Boy Friend.”
  • Thursday, January 26 (7 p.m.): Discussion of I’ll Give you the Sun.
  • Thursday, January 26 (7 p.m.): Neighbors & Newcomers and PageTurners discuss Bettyville.
  • Monday, January 30 (6 p.m.): Discussion of Lily and Dunkin.
  • Tuesday, January 31 (2 p.m.): Showing of the movie “Funny Girl.”

That’s a lot. It seems there’s something for everyone.

And you read all about it here.

(For more information on WestportREADS, click here. To schedule a facilitator for a book discussion, email



Rolling Stone/Staples Music Connection Continues

This morning, “06880” highlighted Pussy Mannequin. In case you missed that story — or skipped it entirely — the hook was that Rolling Stone magazine named that band’s “Romantic” album the 3rd best of 2016 (sandwiched between David Bowie and Leonard Cohen).

Oh yeah: Half of the band — Marisa Dabice and Thanasi Paul — are 2005 Staples High School grads.

Turns out it’s not the only Westport group Rolling Stone is jazzed about. Charly Bliss just made their “Favorite Songs Right Now” page.

Charly Bliss — that’s the band’s name — includes Eva Hendricks, her brother Sam Hendricks, and Dan Shure. All are recent Staples alums.

The song that’s cited is called (unfortunately) “Turd.” The magazine describes it (helpfully) as “a great punk-rock banger about getting catcalled (‘In your dreams, turd!’).

But before you quickly scramble away from this page, know this about “Turd”: All proceeds go to Planned Parenthood.

Go figure.

(To learn more about Charly Bliss, click here. Hat tips: David Roth and Pam Barkentin Ehrenburg.)

Bridgewater-DC Connection?

Today’s Norwalk Hour reports that the frontrunner for Deputy Secretary of Defense in the Trump administration is David McCormick.

That’s “06880”-worthy because he’s the president of Bridgewater Associates — the Westport-based firm that just happens to be the largest hedge fund on earth.

Interesting. But even more intriguing is seeing if anyone makes a connection between McCormick and another Bridgewater guy: the former general counsel.

He too once lived in Westport. Guy by the name of James Comey.

For a hedge firm with a low profile, a current and former Bridgewater employee have been in the news lately.

For a hedge firm with a low profile, one current and one former Bridgewater employee have been in the news a lot lately.


Westport Library’s Iconic Eikon

It’s been there in the Westport Library — right near the reference desk — since spring.

You might not have noticed it.

But plenty of business executives, investors, entrepreneurs and job seekers have.

(Photo/JP Vellotti)

(Photo/JP Vellotti)

It’s a Thomson Reuters Eikon database. And Westport is the only public library in Connecticut to have one.

The financial analysis tool enables users to track market, company and economic data. It’s sophisticated, strong — and completely free.

For Westport Library patrons, that is.

If you installed one of these babies in your office or home, or on a mobile device, — according to published rates — it could cost up to $1,800 a month.

Thomas Reuters donated both the hardware and software to our library. They’re looking to expand their market, and thought making it visible — in a community that cares very much about the markets — would be a smart move.

Feedback has been great. Eikon is used often, by a variety of folks for a host of reasons. It’s already led to positive results for job seekers, as they’ve researched potential employers before interviews.

But this is not our library’s only just-one-in-the-state database. For the past few years, LexisNexis has provided legal and business research — also free. That’s a donation too, from the Berchem, Moses & Devlin law firm.

Our library is amazing. In fact, there’s none other like it in Connecticut.

You can take that to the bank.

Last Loaf For Panera Bread

Bad news for Panera Bread fans: The bakery/cafe on the Norwalk border closes on December 20. Sources say a rent hike is to blame.

That’s a shame. It’s often packed. Workers, seniors, moms and many others like it. Some grab a quick snack or lunch. Others linger for a loooong time.

Where will they go now?  Well, there’s one a short ways away, on Norwalk’s Main Avenue.

And there’s a Panera near the Southport border.

Sure, it’s all the way across town. But if you really love that focaccia bread…

The Panera Bread near HomeGoods.

The Panera Bread near HomeGoods.

(Hat tip: David Loffredo)

Drew Coyne: The Day After

Drew Coyne is one of Staples High School’s most popular and beloved teachers. The US History Honors and Advanced Placement Economics instructor graduated from Cornell University, then earned a master’s in education at Harvard University. He was nominated for Westport Teacher of the Year.

The day after the presidential election, he was overwhelmed with emotions. In his classrooms, students had a variety of feelings — despair, excitement, anger, fear, elation, defensiveness and more.

Like any good teacher, he seized the teachable moment. He asked them to write down their thoughts. 

They asked if he would do the same. He did. Here’s what he wrote:

I remember a time when I Asked Jeeves if being gay would pass. Would liking boys just go away, or could I will it away?  Was being gay wrong?

Drew Coyne

Drew Coyne

I asked. I waited. And waited as Jeeves moved at a glacial pace. The more pressing the answer, it seemed, the longer Jeeves needed to search for that elusive response.  

Jeeves came back with some answers. This is “normal” one site said. Most boys experience this for 3 months. It will pass.

“Awesome,” I thought, feeling relief that it was just some speed bump on the road toward normalcy for a kid from small-town, upstate New York.  

But I kept reading. The church website, a reliable source to a teenager in the ’90s, said that if the “symptoms” lasted any longer I would need medical help. There were cures. Medicines and “therapy” promised normalcy. There were ways to make me “healthy,” to make me straight.

My defense mechanisms kicked in. My walls went up. I would hide this and protect myself. And, so, a great 10-year masquerade began.

—– —– —–  

Flash forward to this week. I’m numb. As Florida turned red, Ohio flipped, and the Blue Wall of Michigan and Wisconsin rusted over into an ominous red hue, my stomach sank.  And in that moment, unexpectedly and unconsciously, my walls — emotional defense mechanisms from my youth — resumed their guard.

As I drove to school, even NPR’s words couldn’t reach me. My walls, designed for protection, were back. They took energy and focus. I lost the ability to listen as America’s new trajectory was announced to people like me.

Entering Staples, I braced myself to lead.  My students responded to reflective prompts: This morning I’m feeling… or The Westport Bubble…

Most Staples High School students could not vote last Tuesday. But that did not mean they were uninvolved in the outcome of the election.

Most Staples High School students could not vote last Tuesday. But that did not mean they were uninvolved in the outcome of the election.

As we shared, my oft-optimistic students were different. One wrote, “This morning, I’m feeling scared and worried for our economic systems.” Another said, “I woke up and panicked. I got in the shower and cried.” One scribbled, “I am thankful that I am a wealthy, white male because, realistically, I’m going to be OK.  But for others, even checks and balances won’t protect them.”  

While a majority of my students were despondent, others found joy. One reflected that “I am feeling optimistic, yet somewhat surprised. I can’t wait to see these changes.”  

During the day, teenagers wept openly. They cried because they were afraid for their rights as women. They cried because a student’s adopted black brother saw racism triumph in his eyes. They cried for a lost cause after canvassing in Pennsylvania.

I cried because for the first time in their lives, their walls were up.

—– —– —–  

Only later did I recognize my coping mechanisms, reflect on my identity, and understand the election’s repercussions.

In 2007, still closeted as a college junior, I ventured off Cornell’s campus and, for the first time, lived beyond upstate New York.  In Washington, D.C. I took classes and began my first internship for then-Senator Clinton. The Hill transformed me by helping her address systemic problems with the VA, navigating the appropriations process, and seeing her tireless work ethic. Those moments and the people have forever informed my vision.  

In college, Drew Coyne interned with then-Senator Hillary Clinton.

In college, Drew Coyne interned with then-Senator Hillary Clinton.

But it was another moment that helped me tear down the walls that kept me in that dark, lonely closet. On P Street a gay couple pushed a stroller with their child past me. That’s it. For so many, this isn’t the event that catapults a gay man out of hiding. But it did for me. It was profound because it was the first time in my life that being gay was viewed as normal. Piece by piece, a wall began to fall.

—– —– —–  

Arthur Golden writes that “Adversity is like a strong wind. It… tears away from us all but the things that cannot be torn, so that afterward we see ourselves as we really are, and not merely as we might like to be.” The 2016 campaign symbolizes those winds that have left me whiplashed.  They have revealed a vulnerable, jolted and, at times, insecure gay man.  

And in this moment of vulnerability, I think I know why.  

Last summer, Drew Coyne accompanied Staples High School students to the Haw Cong Asia-Pacific Young Leaders Summit in Singapore.

Drew Coyne in Kyoto last spring.

Back in those Jeeves years, I learned to protect myself, to shield myself from politicians who told me I was wrong. I learned that this was far from a wholly partisan issue. In 1993 the Religious Freedom Restoration Act had 170 congressional co-sponsors. While originally intended to protect religious minorities, conservative politicians used those laws to carve out methods to discriminate LGBTQ Americans.  

Candidate, eventual congressman and future vice president Mike Pence embodies a political generation that told me I needed to be fixed. During his 2000 campaign, he was one of many who encouraged federal funding for conversion therapies, including shock therapy.

His website stated that “resources should be directed toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior.” The website continued, “Congress should oppose any effort to put gay and lesbian relationships on an equal legal status with heterosexual marriage.” And “Congress should oppose any effort to recognize homosexual’s [sic] as a discreet [sic] and insular minority” that can be protected by similar laws afforded to women and ethnic minorities.  

Today, Mr. Pence and like-minded leaders have swept into power in a wave of angst at the status quo. I understand their suffering — and am privileged to not worry about where my next meal is coming from, or if my heating bill is paid. But those leaders who have promised economic change for America’s downtrodden will also advance alt-right social policies that destabilize minority group protections. Indeed, the right-wing National Organization for Marriage is already spelling out a wish-list for President Trump, including repealing marriage equality.

These efforts that are unfolding remind me that, to many Americans, I am less of a citizen. As such, it does not make this transition easy. Indeed, it is a transition not toward a new America, but one that I knew as a teenager. Only now do I realize that Mr. Trump has already built a wall. It is a wall I knew for years and one that caused great suffering. Today, while not nearly as high, my wall is up.

And I fear that Mr. Trump’s accession is doing the same in my classroom.  How many students who are questioning their sexual identity will see the nation’s role models telling them they should be fixed or undeserving of equality? How many young women in my classroom will have to know that a man accused of sexual assault was supported by 53% of white women?  How many immigrants will feel like they are not welcome, regardless of their status?  How many religious minorities must fear hate?

So, as I cope, I am tasked with choosing how to dismantle the emotional wall that Mr. Trump’s campaign built with such ferocity.  Today, I don’t know how to surmount his creation, but I will be resilient. I will treat all of my students with kindness and love. Still, I worry, as an educator and gay man, that his campaign has already succeeded in building a wall in so many of us even before he has assumed the mantle of the presidency.  

Westport Transit: What Do You Think?

Cut back on Westport Transit District service. It’s a waste of money!

Add to Westport Transit District service. We need more buses in town!

Those 2 polar opposite opinions — and everything else in between — are what you hear when Westporters talk about our public transit system.

If they talk about it at all.

For those reasons — to get an accurate read on needs and usage, as well as to raise awareness that we actually have a Westport Transit District — local officials have launched a survey.

Working with Westport-based Beresford Research, WTD directors Patsy Cimarosa and Marty Fox designed questions aimed at 4 key constituencies. Westport commuters who use shuttle buses to the train station; those who don’t; non-commuters, and people who work in Westport all have a chance to weigh in on current and future transit options.

Commjuters using the Westport Transit District shuttle service.

Commuters board the Westport Transit District shuttle service at Imperial Avenue.

The survey will include questions about current services (including train shuttles and the lesser-known door-to-door rides for elderly and disabled Westporters); priorities going forward, and public awareness of what’s offered.

The survey — one of the best designed and most comprehensive that I’ve seen like this — is being emailed to residents on the railroad parking and waiting lists, as well as other citizens. A hard copy will be available at the Senior Center.

But you can take the survey now. Just click here.

To encourage participation, the Vine Room and 323 restaurant offer $100 gift certificates in random drawings.

westport-transit-district-logoThat’s nice — but every Westporter should participate without being pushed. Given the current traffic in town, more changes coming near the station in Saugatuck, and the budget decisions we always face, all of our voices should be heard.

Jim Marpe: Volunteers Help Make Westport Work

The other day, Jim Marpe was talking about volunteerism in Westport.

He should know. His paid gig is first selectman — after a long career as a senior partner in Accenture — but before his election, Marpe served this town in a wide variety of capacities.

He was a 2-term Board of Education member (including vice chair); chairman of the Westport Weston Family YMCA board of trustees; Homes With Hope and Westport Rotary Club board member, and president of Greens Farms Congregational Church.

First Selectman Jim Marpe sports a Sunrise Rotary Great Duck Race hat. He himself is a member of the noontime Rotary Club.

First Selectman Jim Marpe sports a Sunrise Rotary Great Duck Race hat. He himself is a member of the noontime Rotary Club.

Marpe is also an active member of the Y’s Men, League of Women Voters, Longshore Men’s Golf Association, Minuteman Yacht Club, Saugatuck Rowing Club, Senior Center and Near & Far Aid Spring Gala Committee.

His remarks about volunteering were made at the Westport Woman’s Club. For over 100 years, members have made their mark: laying sidewalks, greening the Post Road, initiating a visiting nurse service, pioneering classes for children with learning disabilities, organizing emergency food distribution, granting scholarships — the list is long and proud.

But volunteering takes work. And as Westport changes, the face of volunteerism does too.

Last week, I asked Marpe to expand on his speech at the Woman’s Club. The topic is important to him. He was eager to do so.

Marpe said that many long-standing membership organizations here are “more challenged” than they were just a decade or so ago. Quite simply, it’s harder to find helping hands.

The Westport Woman's Club -- shown here in the Memorial Day parade -- has been helping Westport since 1907. (Photo/courtesy of Dorothy Curran)

The Westport Woman’s Club — shown here in the Memorial Day parade — has been helping Westport since 1907. (Photo/courtesy of Dorothy Curran)

Government bodies — elected and appointed town boards and commissions, from Education and Finance to the RTM and TEAM Westport — depend on volunteers too. Like clubs and organizations, they sometimes scramble.

But, Marpe said, at the same time there’s a great outpouring of volunteers for special projects.

The first selectman cited a recent “06880” story on the decrepit state of Sherwood Island’s 9/11 Memorial. Immediately, Westporters offered time and energy to clean it up. Some did it on their own; others joined a low-key but hard-working group called Friends of Sherwood Island.

Just in the previous few days, Marpe said, he’d seen scores of Westporters working hard at Lobster Fest, the Wakeman Town Farm Harvest Fest, and a food allergy and education walk.

Marpe pointed too to the many Westporters helping a Syrian refugee family adjust to the area, the numerous parents involved in children’s sports and arts activites, and Staples High School students who belong to groups like SLOBs (Service League of Boys).

Among their many efforts, SLOBs (Service League of Boys) sponsors an annual spring clean-up day.

Among their many efforts, SLOBs (Service League of Boys) sponsors an annual spring clean-up day.

“There’s still a volunteer spirit in town,” Marpe said. “But different things attract people today. They’re more willing to jump into short, defined activities, that have an end point.”

Town government service does not usually have an end (unless it’s the end of a term). Marpe admitted that there was a period when it was tough to find folks who would serve. But he thinks the pendulum is swinging back.

Recently, he said, 8 candidates interviewed for a vacancy on the Board of Finance. All were “very, very accomplished people.”

It’s not easy — particularly in these days of glaring social media — to ask men and women to “put themselves in the public eye,” Marpe said. “But in a town like ours, we rely on volunteers to make government work.”

Westport’s commitment to volunteerism remains strong, Marpe noted. In fact, he said, “we’re still in the forefront of communities where individuals give of themselves. Volunteers are the people who make Westport, Westport.”

Click here for “06880+”: The easy way to publicize upcoming events, sell items, find or advertise your service, ask questions, etc. It’s the “06880” community bulletin board!

Westporters Renovate 2 Historic Structures. Now Neighbors Want Them Torn Down.

Most Westport preservation battles follow the same pattern.

A historic house is sold. The new owner wants to tear it down. Outraged residents object. Others point out that preservationists could have bought the home, but did not — and the people who did, can now do whatever they want.

In rare cases — like 93 Cross Highway108 Cross Highway, or the one across the street at #113 — the home is saved. It’s a handsome stretch on an important main road.

Further down Cross Highway though, something bizarre is happening.

Near the Fairfield border sits 188 Cross Highway. The gorgeous 2.9-acre property includes a saltbox built in 1728,  a barn circa 1790-1810, and 2 legal pre-1959 cottage apartments.

When the British marched past in 1777 en route to Danbury — taking brothers Benjamin and Daniel Meeker prisoner, and sacking the house — it was already half a century old.

The "Meeker house" in the 1930s, as photographed for a WPA project. After the Revolutionary War, Benjamin Meeker built the barn in back. It -- and the house -- still stand today.

The “Meeker house” in the 1930s, as photographed for a WPA project. After the Revolutionary War, Benjamin Meeker built the barn in back. They still stand.

The Schilthuis-Meeker house — Sally Schilthuis was influential in preventing construction of Merritt Parkway Exit 43 in the area, resulting in the current “No Man’s Land” between Exits 42 and 44 — is one of 5 remaining nationwide of original medieval structure Colonial revival construction.

In 2003, Mark Yurkiw and Wendy Van Wie purchased the property. It was in foreclosure. The houses were in distress, ready to be plowed under. But the couple saved the historic homes.

For 2 decades, they have poured time and energy into their renovation project. The result is gorgeous.

The exterior of 188 Cross Highway.

The exterior of 188 Cross Highway.

But it’s been costly.

And one couple can’t live in 2 houses. They live in the barn, and rented out the saltbox. The tenants wanted to buy. Mark and  Wendy would love to sell to them — as a practical matter, and to make sure the historic structure is loved, cared for and maintained as it deserves.

They’re even willing to add covenants to keep — in perpetuity — the historic house as a single-family dwelling; forever maintain the facade, and do whatever else is necessary to maintain the house where it is. In other words, no future owner could move — or demolish — the structure.

Right now though, they can’t sell. Planning and Zoning regulations don’t permit 2 homes to exist on 1 piece of property.

Sounds like a win-win: for Mark and Wendy, and the neighborhood.

But a small cadre of Cross Highway neighbors object.

At a Planning and Zoning Commission hearing on Thursday, they (and their lawyer) cited traffic, safety, density, the fact that the house is currently unoccupied, and the sight of dandelions on the lawn as reasons to reject the application.

A recent, sun-dappled fall day.

A recent, sun-dappled fall day.

After 2 hours of heated testimony — during which Wendy and her supporters countered most of the objections, then offered even more covenants and encumbrances to save the historic building and properties — the real issue came through.

Robert Yules and a few other neighbors opposed the subdivision because it would save the historic houses.

He said essentially that the state of the property did not reflect his McMansion, and others nearby. The grounds — period gardens and stone walls, with cobblestone walkways — did not match his extremely well-kept lawn.

One more view of 188 Cross Highway.

One more view of 188 Cross Highway.

“Trash” and “eyesore” are usually not associated with painstaking historic rehab projects. But they were Thursday night.

It’s astonishing. Yet in this through-the-looking-glass tale, there’s something even more eye-popping.

In 2006, Robert and Susan Yules wrote to the P&Z supporting the efforts of their “friends and neighbors,” Wendy and Mark, on the “renovating and improving of the main house and free standing cottage/barn.”

The Yuleses added, “Their efforts have transformed the buildings significantly. Please permit them to continue to remodel the buildings as they will enhance the beauty of the neighborhood.”

An interior view of the bright, high-ceilinged renovated barn.

An interior view of the bright, high-ceilinged renovated barn.

They were not the only neighbors to appreciate Mark and Wendy’s work.

Others described how Mark and Wendy had “lovingly restore(d) these irreplaceable architectural treasures” to their “deserved place” in Westport and American history.

Now the Yuleses and a few neighbors have changed their tune. They believe a new, large construction better fits the neighborhood than a plan that would save 2 structures — lovingly restored, and paying homage to the days when history quite literally marched past the front door.

“Houses are only kept alive by their owners,” Mark says.

“This is very discouraging. We’re not trying to ‘win.’ We’re trying to give the town something.

This could be one of the most topsy-turvy tales I’ve ever told.

But don’t take my word for it. Drive by 188 Cross Highway. (That’s the official number. The mailboxes have always said 178 and 180). See for yourself. Then — if you want to contact the Planning & Zoning Commission — click here.