The best teachers model their passions.
English teachers read and write. Culinary teachers cook. Phys. ed. instructors work out.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”