Westport Museum for History & Culture Completes Restoration of Historic 7-sided Cobblestone Barn, Unique in the State, Groundbreaking Begins on Garden Revitalization in December 2022

In Summer 2023, a new green space will be coming to downtown Westport. Visitors will be able to enjoy lovely grounds, meet friends and simply take a break at Westport Museum’s Revitalized grounds and gardens. Work will begin in December 2022. 

The site design was inspired by an archival plan developed by Silvia Erskine Associates in the early 2000’s. Lyonsplain Architecture, Growing Solutions and Fairfield County Engineering advanced the design to further enhance and complement the property and to ensure the walkway system is accessible to all. Growing Solutions’ selection of plantings is deer resistant, incorporates plenty of CT-native and historically significant species, and is attractive throughout the seasons. 

The plan includes winding paths through native flower beds and shrubbery that welcomes pollinators. Walkways will be fashioned from the original, antique bluestone pavers that were originally on the property but were removed in 2017 and replaced by engraved and plain bricks. The bricks—purchased by donors as part of a Historical Society fundraiser—will be reset as decorative edging around the new pathways and in other designated areas. 

“The garden revitalization is integral to creating a welcoming, beautiful campus anchored by the historic cobblestone barn and the Bradley-Wheeler House,” said Hanna Przada, owner, and lead architect of Lyonsplain Architecture. The firm’s work includes high-end residential as well as commercial and cultural projects. “New plantings, walkways, and benches will vibrantly activate the space to create interest and engagement at the far end of the town.” 

The new garden design is part of a larger project by Lyonsplain Architecture, a woman-owned firm specializing in the cultural design and the restoration and revitalization of historic spaces. Lyonsplain oversaw the heritage restoration of the Museum’s 7-sided Cobblestone Barn, which is the only one of its kind in Connecticut and one of the few in New England. The project included restoration of original windows, replacement lighting, floor and roof replacement, and interior climate conditioning to protect the building from climate-change provoked extremes of heat, cold and moisture that are very different from when the structure was originally built. 

“It’s been an honor to direct this important mission to save a building that is unique to the town, state, and the region,” said Przada. “Westport Museum has preserved a treasure for generations to come. It’s a feather in the community’s cap.” 

While the Museum is private property and not a town entity the organization looks forward to welcoming the public to enjoy the grounds during open hours. The Museum plans to use the barn and revitalized garden space for Museum programs and as an event venue as well. Rentals will be available for weddings, conferences, photo shoots and other special events. 

“The Westport Museum for History & Culture engages the public with innovative and exciting approaches to history. The barn and garden revitalization further that public interaction. These projects have been made possible through the efforts of our Executive Director working with our dedicated donors,” said the Museum’s Chairperson, Darcy Hicks. “Our goal is for people of all ages to linger, talk, make art, read, have meetings, or just sit and enjoy a coffee or a lunch break.” 

The restoration of the Cobblestone Barn and garden revitalization has been made possible by a generous gift from the Daniel E. Offutt III Charitable Trust. Richard Orenstein, Trustee of the Daniel E. Offutt III Charitable Trust said he was pleased to have delightful open space “smack in the middle of downtown Westport”. 

“The Trust is proud to partner with Westport Museum and support its mission of creatively engaging the community in inclusive history and civic discussion,” he said.

There are additional donor opportunities for benches, plantings, and lighting and those interested should contact Jessica DeRosa at jderosa@westporthistory.org. Further plans for the garden improvement project include restoration of the antique iron fence and stone pilasters as well as removal of diseased trees and shrubbery from the grounds. 

Episode 2: The War at Home

Ration cards, Air Wardens and pinup girls. Hear the hidden stories of daily life during World War II in Westport, Connecticut and towns like it, with a special focus on untold stories of local teens and their contributions to the war effort. For more info and to see original documents and photos see the resources below.

Images of Ms. Greta Peterson from the Museum’s Collection

On Pearl Harbor

On Pin-ups

Episode 1: The True Story of Thanksgiving

Westport Museum Executive Director, Ramin Ganeshram is joined by special guest Greg Porretta for the TRUE history of the first Thanksgiving. For more info and to see original documents and photos see the resources below.

General Resources

Thanksgiving as a Native Day of Mourning

For Teens and Kids

  • Grace, Catherine O’Neill. 1621: A New Look at Thanksgiving. National Geographic Society, 2004. 

Statement on Potentially Offensive Language in Westport Museum’s Finding Aids and Resource Descriptions

Little Turtle Saug
Portrait of Little Turtle

Westport Museum for History & Culture is in the process of a multi-year cataloging of its archival holdings with the aim toward making resource guides and finding aids available for research use. It is the museum’s goal to describe our historic records and holdings in a way that both accurately reflects the historic record while remaining respectful to those represented in the collections particularly those from underrepresented communities including Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) and other marginalized groups. Despite this, researchers may come across language describing period records and within them that today we consider racist, xenophobic, homophobic, sexist and ableist in nature. 

It is our goal to represent history precisely while describing our holdings we do not alter the names of agencies, organizations, titles of published works etc. that may contain offensive language because changing or removing the content would alter the historical record or one’s understanding of it.  There may additionally be descriptive resources, created in the past, that in themselves because of their vintage provide historical context about their period but contain language today viewed as inappropriate. In no way does the presence of these descriptive resources within the collections imply agreement or support, tacit or otherwise, of the language in question. When writing abstracts, finding aids, summaries and item level meta-data we may use modern, culturally appropriate language to describe material that would otherwise be harmful or problematic, when it is not needed or without providing context. 

As Westport Museum for History & Culture’s archival resources continue to be cataloged and organized, new descriptive material including Resource Guides, Finding Aids, Abstracts and more will strive to use terminology to describe communities reflected in the records as they describe themselves. We continually audit our methodology to reflect input and feedback from various BIPOC leaders and organizations so that we may make informed decisions about the terms we use. 

Freedom Fighters

In May 1964, Temple Israel’s congregation hosted the Baptist Minister and Civil Rights Leader, Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King came to Westport on the invitation of Rabbi Byron T. Rubenstein and spoke to an audience of over 600 people noting that “It is possible to stand up to an unjust system without hate.”  Under Rabbi Rubenstein’s leadership during the 1960s, Temple Israel hosted other activists including writer James Baldwin, becoming a forum for aggressive social progress. 

Just a month after Dr. King visited Westport, the Mississippi Project began. This was a voter registration effort by civil rights groups including the Congress On Racial Equality (CORE) and the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). During the next few months, which became known as ‘Freedom Summer,’ volunteers and activists were beaten and jailed. Two white students, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman, and an African American student, James Chaney, disappeared. Their beaten bodies were not found for six weeks. Westport artist Tracy Sugarman was in Mississippi bearing witness to the movement. He said later, “We knew immediately that they’d been killed.” 

That June, Dr. King went to St. Augustine, Florida in response to citywide violence following an attempt by student protestors to integrate the Woolworth’s lunch counter there. The civil rights leader was arrested on the steps of Mason Motor Lodge Restaurant and wrote a letter from jail to his friend Rabbi Israel Dresner of New Jersey, asking him to recruit others to aid the movement. 

Dresner arrived in St. Augustine with sixteen fellow rabbis including Westport’s Rabbi Rubenstein. All were arrested on June 18, 1964 and from jail they penned a three-page letter entitled “Why We Went” detailing what they had seen in St. Augustine and calling upon fellow Jews to support the civil rights movement: 

“These words were first written at 3:00 am, in the sweltering heat of a sleepless night, by the light of the one naked bulb hanging in the corridor outside our small cell…We do not underestimate what yet remains to be done…In the battle against racism what we have participated here is only a small skirmish. But the total effect of all such demonstrations has created a Revolution.” 

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