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. 

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. 

A Note From The Executive Director About Re-Opening

Like you, we thrive on the personal interaction that comes with a face to face museum experience. We love nothing more than sharing our passion for history—and bringing it to life—for our patrons from this community and beyond. As museums and cultural institutions around Connecticut are beginning to re-open our visitors have asked us: When will I be able to visit Westport Museum again?

The exciting news is that our Virtual Museum initiative—created to respond to COVID– has allowed us to focus on engaging the public in a way that we never have before, reaching thousands of people weekly and growing. The sad news is that we will be remaining closed—not because we want to, but because we have to.


The reasons are several:

 Even though our state has happily seen a decrease in COVID cases, our museum is housed in an antique building with small rooms and an aged HVAC system. While we follow strict guidelines for surface decontamination, mask and glove protocols, and staggered scheduling for staff working in the building, our space is without air filtration or the cross-ventilation needed to host more than one or two visitors at a time.

Another, equally pressing, reason to remain closed relates to the internal structure of the Bradley-Wheeler House in which the museum is maintained.  At the current time, there is a major structural failure in the center of the building that was left unaddressed for many years and exacerbated by aspects of the way the building was used. This failure was re-identified one year ago during a grant-funded building and collections assessment and we have spent the last twelve months working toward remediation. It will take will take a lot of time and a lot of financial resources to ultimately fix. We will be sharing more details about this soon.

Despite these developments we remain positive. While far from ideal, the COVID closure has allowed us to work under the guidance of professionals to fix both the structural failure and work to save collections and archives that had not been properly assessed, catalogued or preserved for many decades.

We are confident that once we are able to open the Museum to the public, we will do so with a house that is truly in order and prepared to receive guests in safety and security.

In the meantime, we look forward to continuing to engage with you in the virtual realm where it has been gratifying to see attendance—and excitement for our work—grow. Also, this summer: keep an eye out for small-group outdoor tours of historic sites around Westport, that we hope to add to our program offerings.

As always, we thank you for your continued support of Westport Museum for History & Culture and look forward to the day when we can meet again at the Bradley-Wheeler House.

Stay safe, stay well

Ramin Ganeshram

Executive Director

At This Crossroad of History, Which Path Will You Follow?

As modern historians, we try to examine history in a holistic way, looking at all sides, examining all perspectives. To do this, we use primary source information for fact-based story telling. Unlike in the past, where history was the story of the victors, we strive to present history in neutral terms presenting artifacts from an earlier time to objectively inform our decisions in the future.  

The recent protests over the murder of George Floyd–an unarmed Black father—by Minneapolis police has made it clear that in order to gain a truly holistic picture of the past we must now put neutrality aside.  

We must examine our failures in achieving a just and fair society both as a nation and in each and every town within that nation.  We must admit to these failures and to the fact that they have informed the times in which we live today—times that are too often unjust and inequitable especially for communities of color. 

Black Americans continue to have dramatically fewer educational, economic, housing and healthcare opportunities than their white counterparts.  According to the NAACP, although African Americans and Hispanics make up approximately 32% of the US population, they comprised 56% of all incarcerated people in 2015. The New York Times reports that data from Minneapolis indicates that the police force used brutality against Black people seven times more than it did for whites. It is a pattern that exists nationwide. 

In 1968, following a year of dramatic protest and unrest in the demand for Civil Rights, The Kerner Commission, empaneled by President Lyndon Johnson, noted the failure of the American system in its treatment of its Black Citizens.  The report clearly and unequivocally stated: 

 “Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white—separate and unequal… What white Americans have never fully understood but what the Negro can never forget — is that white society is deeply implicated in the ghetto. White institutions created it, white institutions maintain it, and white society condones it.” 

These are not facts of a murky past. They continue to be rules of a playbook outlining the systemic and institutionalized racism that is an indelible stain upon the American Republic. 

We often invoke the lessons of history as a way to understand the present and future.  But as we work to engage the community we’ve learned a specific truth: It is the myth of “over there” and “back then” that provides covert shelter to the tree of injustice and sustenance to its poisoned fruit. 

It is not enough to simply present the facts that, in 1939, a health survey commissioned by the town of Westport said “housing of Negroes” was a disgrace contributing to “insanitary conditions” in the town.  It is more accurate to explain that this kind of pernicious bias is but one example of how institutionalized racism in the healthcare system has today resulted in Black Americans being disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 health crisis. 

It is not enough to tell you that, in the 1940s,  Westport’s RTM considered “Negro Housing” at 22 ½ Main Street an embarrassment to the town that was conveniently set ablaze by an arsonist in a conflagration to which the Westport Fire Department did not rapidly respond. The building was completely destroyed and its residents largely left Westport thereafter. It is more accurate to say this appalling history is the forefather of today’s ongoing battle in Westport to block fair, affordable housing opportunities for those considered “lower income”—a population that is disproportionately represented by people of color. 

It is not enough to provide evidence that programs like Project Concern and the Intercommunity Camp—1970s programs to offer the benefits of the Westport school system and town amenities to children of color from under-resourced neighboring towns—were bitterly fought by some Westport residents. Ultimately, the programs proceeded for several years because of the work of dedicated volunteers—many of whom where teenagers. But, it’s more historically accurate to identify the spirit behind the opposition as one of the many reasons why Black children in Westport Schools continue to face micro and overt aggression that prove psychological barriers of entry to the benefits of this “superior” educational system.  

The time has come to not just reveal these facts with the dispassion of an objective observer from many decades hence but to condemn them as unacceptable and incorrect. It is one way we may stand with those who protest injustice against the Black community and communities of color in America today. 

America is a nation born from civil disobedience. Protestors against unjust acts are the standard-bearers of this republic.  History proves this to be true. Colonial governors considered the Boston Massacre and the Boston Tea Party to be uncivil riots. Yet, we know and teach them as the first steps to freedom.  

More than the early actors of the American Revolution or the protestors of the 1960s, the justice warriors of 2020 represent a broad coalition of multi-ethnic Americans, including scholars, journalists, educators and historians. We understand that the events of our shameful collective history must be named in order to change.  This is true in every town and every state across the nation–including Westport.  

As historians, it is our obligation to use our considerable skill and knowledge for the side of right–in order to help rebuild this Republic into what it should have been from the start. We hope you will join us in this commitment by tuning in, and participating in our programming and sharing your own stories via our Oral History platform: Westport In Focus.  

We are at the crossroads of history and we are staring at the signposts above us. One points backwards down a horrible and untenable road. The other points to a better future down a path that is not smooth: It is  a path with twists and hairpin turns. It will, at times, double back and slow our progress.  Still, we must take that path, using the truth of history, fully, as a roadmap for the difficulties behind but also those ahead as we find a way forward. 

We hope you will join us on the journey.

Ramin Ganeshram, Executive Director 

Alicia D’Anna, Operations Director 

Nicole Carpenter, Director of Programs & Education 

Mariet Griffiths, Marketing Manager 

Kathy Nixon, Guest Services 

Catherine Graham, Museum Associate 

Cheryl Bliss, Chairperson 

Char Lukacs, Secretary 

Dannell Lyne, Treasurer 

Sara Krasne, Director 

Greg Porretta, Director 

Kimberly Wilson, Director