Home to history: Quest for Compo North designation
Updated 2:40 pm, Saturday, February 25, 2012
The plan by a Compo Road North resident to have her house designated a local historic property shows her respect not only for the structure, but for the neighborhood in which it sits, according to one member of the Westport Historic District Commission.
HDC member Bob Weingarten said Claire Everhart, the owner of the blue, two-story Colonial saltbox at 42 Compo Road North, across from Winslow Park, clearly cares about her own house and the character of its surroundings.
"Her idea was to preserve the house and to make sure it stays within Westport forever and became a local landmark property. I know she's very serious about it," said Weingarten, who is also house chairman of the Westport Historical Society.
Everhart said she wants the designation for her house because it would require any future owner to maintain the façade. "Anyone can do whatever they want to modify the house, but they have to maintain the view from the road. Anything done would have to conform to the neo-colonial style of the building," she said.
"It's a gift to the town because it's helping to maintain the history of architecture down through the years," Everhart said, adding that she was motivated by a personal reason as well. "I would like my granddaughter to take her children by the house and say, `I spent my early years there with my grandmother.' "
The process to obtain historic property designation in Westport is a lengthy one and requires approval from Westport's Representative Town Meeting and the State Historic Preservation Council. A proposal to amend the town's ordinances to include the 42 Compo Road North house as a historic property is on the RTM's agenda for its March 6 meeting.
Everhart first requested historic landmark designation for her property in June 2010 and the HDC approved her property for study at a public hearing the following month.
One role of the HDC, as spelled out in the state enabling legislation, is to assist a homeowner through the process. After a homeowner initiates the process research must be conducted to determine the historic significance of the structure. There are many levels of historic significance and a property's eligibility is based on the information from documented records.
In the case of Everhart's house, however, records are limited. "It's very hard, looking at the deed record, figuring out who built it and when they built it," said Weingarten, who did preliminary research. Additional research was conducted by Tod Bryant of Heritage Resources in Norwalk in collaboration with Weingarten, HDC Chairman Francis Henkels, HDC Staff Administrator Carol Leahy and Everhart. The accumulated information was compiled into a study report for the proposed designation.
The commission voted unanimously earlier this month to approve the final study report for the proposed historic property designation of Everhart's house. The study report, which was sent last October to the State Historic Preservation Council for its review, and will next go to the RTM, includes a statement of significance, a survey map of the proposed local historic property, a site map and current photographs, an historic property inventory form, a town ordinance with boundary description, and Everhart's letter of petition.
In his letter to the State Historic Preservation Council Henkels said the HDC supports this designation because it is the wish of the homeowner and because "the 2007 Westport Plan of Conservation and Development states that in order to maintain the town's historic character and qualities ... the Historic District Commission should propose, as appropriate, the establishment of additional local historic districts and local historic properties as defined by state statute."
In his report, Bryant said Everhart's house was originally part of the Westport Sanitarium property. He said it was purchased from the sanitarium by John and Avilde Hunt in 1939. The Hunts remodeled it in 1940. Everhart and her husband, the late Rex Everhart, a professional Broadway, film and television actor, purchased the house in 1964.
Bryant called the house "an interesting example of a late Colonial Revival house." It was not originally a saltbox, according to Bryant's study report. The oldest part of the house dates back to about 1900. Bryant said the Everhart's have been "excellent stewards of the house and property. The interior and exterior of the house are in excellent condition and its systems have been updated."