Get to know...Morley Boyd, a town historian whose roots go back 11 generations
WESTPORT — Just by walking into his Dutch colonial revival-style house — built in 1928 and situated on Violet Lane, a historic district — it is apparent that Morley Boyd, who has family ties in Westport dating back 11 generations, cares about preserving history.
“Most of my family descends from most of the founders of Fairfield. The Sherwoods, the Jennings, the Barlows, the Meekers, the Gorhams all arrived in this general area on or before the middle of the 17th century,” he said.
Daniel Meeker, of whom Boyd is a direct descendant, was captured by the British in 1777 from his house on Cross Highway and put in one of New York’s sugar house prisons, makeshift jails where the British incarcerated Revolutionary War soldiers.
“(Daniel) was thrown in jail along with his brother — spent 18 months in the notorious sugar house prison in New York for being a patriot — and they fought in the revolution,” Boyd said.
The majority of prisoners did not make it out of such prisons, but Meeker came out alive.
A deep connection to stories like that of his ancestor helped shape the 52-year-old’s passion for preserving the town’s history. “I suppose my roots in this area, which go back to its founding, certainly drive my interest in the town’s welfare and the conservation of many of the things that define it,” he explained.
When he was 10, Boyd decided to have a unique birthday party aimed at preserving an old and rickety 18th century barn across the street from his home, one he describes as “the best birthday ever, even to this day.”
“I’d become obsessed with it. For my birthday, me and my friends tried our hand at restoring the barn, made a zip line, took all the debris out,” Boyd said. Eventually, his parents acquired the barn and hired professionals to restore it.
“The experience of it coming back to life, better than new, was so riveting. I never forgot it,” he said. “To this day, the idea of something that’s just about to be lost can maybe be turned around is what drives me.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Boyd went on to study art history at Bates College in Maine. After that, he earned a master’s degree clinical counseling from the University of Bridgeport, followed by an MBA from Sacred Heart University.
Putting his training to use, Boyd worked as a psychotherapist in private practice from 1995 through 2007. After that, however, he pivoted back toward history, spending his time as a research consultant specializing in historic preservation and architectural history, in addition to his volunteer work for the town.
Boyd’s drive for preserving town history has resulted in the formation of four historic districts: Violet Lane, Gorham Avenue, Evergreen Avenue and Morningside Drive South, some of which were designated while he served as chairman of the town’s Historic District Commission from 2004 to 2006.
“So much of the way we understand our history is tied up in what we see and it becomes so difficult to interpret our history when all you see is a plaque about what was there,” he said.
A constant fixture at town meetings, ranging from the Historic District Commission to the Planning and Zoning Commission, Boyd’s mark on the town continues to be seen.
In 2014, he played a large role in saving the Kemper-Gunn House, a Queen Anne-style building dating back to the 1880’s, from demolition and moving it to its current foundation in the Baldwin parking lot. Just last summer, the state named a 1.8-mile stretch of Route 136 as a scenic roadway, thanks in part to Boyd’s efforts. In addition to preserving the history along the road, the designation serves to further protect the Bridge Street Bridge, built in 1884, and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The historic bridge could possibly be replaced by the state Department of Transportation, but Boyd and members of the Westport Preservation Alliance have been working to save the span.
“At its roots, preservation is an intellectual pursuit. It’s not about aesthetics, it’s about the meaning of something behind its appearance and making that a case,” he said. “That’s what we did with Kemper-Gunn. We said this house means something. It means something to the town.”