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Preserving the Bradley-Wheeler House, home to Westport history

Published 7:01 am, Monday, September 3, 2012

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  • The Victorian Italianate Bradley-Wheeler House on Avery Place, home of the Westport Historical Society, is the subject of study designed to ensure its preservation in years to come. Photo: Meg Barone / Westport News freelance
    The Victorian Italianate Bradley-Wheeler House on Avery Place, home of the Westport Historical Society, is the subject of study designed to ensure its preservation in years to come. Photo: Meg Barone

 

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The Bradley-Wheeler House is one of the oldest surviving buildings in the center of Westport, and while the structure is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the Connecticut State Register, it has no formal protection from demolition.

In an effort to ensure its long-term presence in the town's historic landscape, the Historic District Commission created a study committee in July to pull together the property's credentials and write a report to convince state and local officials that the house and its octagonal cobblestone and red brick barn -- now the home of the Westport Historical Society -- are worthy of a local historic landmark property designation.

The four-member study committee, with members of the HDC and Susan Walton Wynkoop, president of the Westport Historical Society, met Thursday morning at Town Hall to comb through the draft statement of significance, which was prepared by Bob Weingarten, a committee member and house chairman for the Westport Historical Society.

"Designation as a local historic property would afford the house and barn greater protection, and it demonstrates that the town officials and owners of the house are willing to preserve it for future generations, Weingarten said.

The Bradley-Wheeler house and barn, at 25 Avery Place, are currently safe in the hands of the Westport Historical Society. But were the historical society ever to abandon the property and it fell into the hands of someone who so desired, the house could be razed.

Wynkoop said the historical society is not in danger of closing its doors, nor are its officials considering a move elsewhere, but she initiated the lengthy application and consideration process as a way of protecting the structures well into the future and to address unforeseen events.

"If for some reason we (the historical society) dissolved and someone bought it, this will provide us protection from possible tear-down," Wynkoop said. "One of our missions is to preserve and promote the historic landmarks in our town and it is a national landmark, but we need to protect it as a local historic landmark to preserve is forever."

Additionally, she said, by going through this process, the public will become more aware of it. "We'd love for other historic homeowners to follow along," she said.

In Weingarten's draft report, he said: "The house exemplif(ies) the taste and values of the 1860s period. The Bradley-Wheeler House is one of eleven documented Italianate houses in Westport." The structure, built in 1795, was initially a saltbox, but about 1867 it was converted to a much more decorative Victorian Italianate, Weingarten said.

Over the years, the Bradley-Wheeler House has been the residence of several prominent Westporters, including Ebenezer Coley, a local merchant who built the house for his son, Michael Coley; Farmin Patchin, Morris Bradley and Charles B. Wheeler, all local businessmen, who lived in the house during the 19th Century, according to Weingarten's report.

Its history served as a qualification for the nomination to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places and Connecticut Register of Historic Places, and should influence its consideration as a local historic landmark.

The barn is of particular note, Weingarten said. It has an octagonal roof but the barn itself has only seven sides. Attached to that seventh side at one time was a wood barn, which no longer exists.

"This barn was built in circa 1847, restored in 1994 and currently houses the Museum of Westport History, displaying a diorama of the town as it looked toward the end of the 19th Century," his draft report reads. The barn was also identified in the designation of the National Register of Historical Places and the Connecticut Register of Historic Places as the Bradley-Wheeler House barn.

"This barn has been documented as the only structure of its type built of stone in Connecticut, Weingarten said.

HDC Staff Administrator Carol Leahy said the study report should be completed sometime in October when it will be sent to the state Office of Historic Preservation and the town's Planning and Zoning Department for review.