17th century house honored as Westport's oldest
Published 3:05 pm, Thursday, July 29, 2010
While some Westporters take pride in being members of the Fairfield County Hunt Club, Morgan and Susan Wynkoop, who live across the street from the equestrian facility, belong to an even more exclusive club, as they, along with their daughter, live in the oldest known home in town -- the only one that dates back to the 1600s.
The Wynkoops' little piece of Westport history on Long Lots Road was approved as a local historic landmark property by the Representative Town Meeting last week. The owners, however, didn't know until recently that they live in Westport's oldest home. The marker on their home says it dates back to 1775.
But Morgan had doubts about that date, because his parents, who previously owned the structure, once had an expert on old homes inspect the building, and after taking a look at the basement, estimated the home was built sometime between 1680 and 1700. More recently, when someone suggested the Wynkoops get their home listed as a local historic landmark property, Morgan said, "I'll consider it if somebody could get the right date on the house." The Historic District Commission took him up on his offer and Bob Weingarten, the Westport Historical Society's house research director, began a research and study report for the HDC. His investigative work revealed the house was built between 1683 and 1687.
Morgan's mother had tried to do similar research years back, but hit a stumbling block when she came upon documents written in old English. To her, it might as well have been Spanish or Korean.
Susan Wynkoop said her late mother-in-law would be pleased to learn of the home's certified historic status.
The home looks modest from the street, but there's more room than one might think. The structure houses four bedrooms, three baths, a dining room, a living room, two studies and a crafts room. Two rooms, said Susan, were added in the 1800s. Some of the aforementioned rooms are in the attic, where a reasonably tall person cannot stand upright in some areas, with the risk of scraping the ceiling. A trap door reveals the space in the attic.
The Wynkoops make an effort to maintain their home in keeping with its heritage. You won't find modern-looking furniture from IKEA in the maroon-colored dwelling.
"What makes it interesting is that when you walk into the house, if you didn't know it was 2010, you'd think you were in the 1600s," Weingarten said. The home is in good shape, but there are things that give away its age, such as uneven flooring in the hallway between the living and dining rooms.
Weingarten loves the home. He called it a "portrayal of the history of Westport."
There are exposed wooden beams along the ceilings (one beam looks like it could have been a ship's mast), wide pine flooring in the dining room area, a central chimney with two fireplaces, one in the living room, one in the dining room. Weingarten said one would have been used for cooking and the other for heating.
Weingarten said the RTM's 28-0 vote to approve the parcel and its accompanying home as a local historic landmark "protects our history." The designation aims to help preserve the property's historic character by preventing alterations to the appearance of the house as visible from the road, unless permission is granted by the HDC, according to Morgan.
The Wynkoops have never had a desire for the large, sleek homes in vogue today. The old house at 187 Long Lots Road -- now known as the John Osborn House, in tribute to its builder -- was just fine.
"When I got married I had a small house in Wilton, and my wife had a small apartment in Manhattan," Morgan said. "You've got to really like an old house to live in an old house, otherwise you'll tear your hair out. There's not a straight line in my house anywhere."
There are some modern amenities that don't lend themselves to such an old house, Morgan said. One of them is central air conditioning. And, he said, "If we're going to have a lot of people over, we have to put jacks underneath the supporting beams in the basement."
Susan grew up in Virginia, where she saw many old homes, but none quite like the John Osborn House.
"It's a beautiful, unique home and one that I'm very proud to live in," she said.
"This house has a lot of charm," her husband added.
Renovations have been done on the house over the years -- everything from painting to wallpapering to re-staining the pine flooring -- but structurally, it's as sound as ever.
"I haven't had to replace any of the beams," Morgan said.
It's not going anywhere, and with the RTM designating it as a local historic landmark property, the home's future seems even more secure.
"It will be here for generation after generation," Weingarten said.