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.
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 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.
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.