Westport Historical Society's HQ 'officially' historic
A protector of Westport history is now protected itself.
The property that serves as headquarters for the Westport Historical Society at 25 Avery Place was granted designation as a local historic landmark by the Representative Town Meeting this month. The designation is necessary to protect the property's buildings, the Bradley-Wheeler House and the cobblestone barn, from ever being razed.
"It should maintain its integrity and now it can," said Susan Gold, executive director of the historical society, guardian of the historic property. "It's been recognized as a local treasure. As a community Westport wants to hold on to its rich architectural buildings, buildings that tell a story about our past and the Wheeler House tells a story about our past," Gold said.
Westport Historical Society officials wanted to emphasize the organization's commitment to Westport property preservation by requesting the designation, said Susan Walton Wynkoop, the society's president. "One of our missions is to protect historical structures," said Wynkoop, who wrote a letter to the town's Historic District Commission a year ago, setting into motion the designation process.
The HDC created a Study Group, under the leadership of Bob Weingarten, an HDC member and the historical society's house research director. The group's report was completed in December and was accepted by the HDC, the Selectman's office, the P&Z, and the Connecticut Historic Commission. It then required approval at two RTM meetings, the second of which was held on June 4.
Both structures were added to the National Register of Historic Places and the Connecticut State Register in 1984, but neither designation protects them from demolition. The WHS has no intention to abandon the property, but if it were ever sold the new owner could do as he or she pleases, including tearing down the historic buildings, absent the local designation.
When Weingarten realized that he initiated the request for certification as a local historic landmark property. He suggested the WHS board consider making the request at its June 2012 meeting, prompting Wynkoop to write the letter to the HDC.
The Bradley-Wheeler House is one of the oldest surviving residences in the town's center area, Weingarten said, adding that there are other reasons to protect the house and barn. "We believe there are only eleven Italianate-style buildings in Westport. The protection of one of them is very significant," he said.
Wynkoop said the cobblestone barn is the only barn of its type in Connecticut.
The barn has an octagonal roof but the barn itself is only seven-sided. When it was built about 1847 one wall was anchored to an adjacent wood barn, which then made it impossible to construct an eighth wall. The wood barn, built on the side of the property closest to Veterans Green, was eventually torn down.
The house was originally built as a five-bay colonial in 1795 and was remodeled in 1867 in the Italianate style. The WHS purchased the property in 1981.
Weingarten said the local designation places the Bradley-Wheeler House in the company of a small number of protected homes in town. Among Westport's more than 10,000 houses, only 1.6 percent are protected by the Town, he said.