Barn And Houses Fall Under Weight Of Weather, Neglect
By Kendra Bobowick
Many of Newtown’s older, rustic structures are crashing beneath the weight of this winter’s icy accumulations.
Beginning with age-weary barns — relics still standing until two-feet of snow toppled the markers of an agricultural past — the winter has also claimed the industrial BlueLinx buildings, and most recently the first of two state-owned farmhouse along Wasserman Way. Once the roof caved beneath the snow’s weight at 121 Wasserman Way, contractors immediately applied for permits last week and razed the building on February 10. The house dated back to roughly 1850, said Town Historian Daniel Cruson.
Mother Nature was not finished sweeping the landscape, however. Winter storms pulled down a large barn at 94 Wasserman Way, prompting the state to draw another demolition permit, First Selectman Pat Llodra said Tuesday. The remaining farmhouse surrounded by a crumbled barn and collapsing outbuilding dates to the Civil War period in the early 1860s, according to Mr Cruson.
Signs of demolition preparations were visible earlier this week. The firm AAIS of West Haven, which leveled the structure at 121 Wasserman Way and also took down Litchfield House in Fairfield Hills, has already cleared a path toward the buildings, making room for a backhoe to take down the remainder of the barn and house.
“I am saddened. I wish the state was poised to rehabilitate [the houses] before they fell down,” Mrs Llodra said. A believer in remembering the town’s origins, she said, “Our feet need to be as firmly planted in the past as in the future,” she said. “It saddens me to lose that.
With a sense that the state is “moving away from protecting properties” or “rehabilitating structures that are artifacts,” she said, “the state has not made a commitment.”
Also stressing his frustrations with the historic landmarks’ neglect, Mr Cruson said, “Excuse me if I speak harshly on the state, but they let [the farmhouses] go. It’s demolition by neglect.” He feels the state “slipped in its duty to take care of them.”
He said, “It’s a sad loss. We’re losing rural heritage and part of the agricultural landscape.” Stressing the town’s loss, he said, “Those two [farmhouses] were the last remnants of farms that were once on Mile Hill.” What is now named Wasserman Way was once called Mile Hill Road.
Offering some background into 121 Wasserman Way, Mr Cruson confirmed that the home once belonged to a local farmer named B.D. Beardsley, and that 94 Wasserman Way, which will come down in a matter of days, was once owned by another farmer, P. Gaffney. “The family had it until the 1930s,” he said. The state purchased the land and many adjoining properties when it established the Fairfield Hills state hospital.
The town owns a strip of land behind the house at 94 Wasserman Way, but had not accepted the front half, which includes the house, due to environmental concerns, Land Use Director George Benson said. Regarding the barn that fell recently, with just partial walls surrounding the sunken-in structure, he said, “This has been a bad winter for all the older stuff.”
Saving What Is Left
Connecticut lost approximately 130 barns and outbuildings “due to ice and snow” this winter, said Todd Levine with the Connecticut Trust For Historic Preservation. The organization has nearly completed its effort to inventory the state’s barns. As the group completes its historic resource document, he anticipates that the directory will include as many as 8,000 barns. Preservation grants are available for various work, including stabilization, architectural assessments, and studies for reuse.
“We hate to see barns go and hope people apply for grants,” Mr Levine said. “As soon as a barn falls, it’s lost.”
He said, “Barns are an identifying feature in Connecticut. People think of Connecticut and they think of covered bridges, rolling hills, and barns.” Worried that history is succumbing to weather and neglect, he said, “If we don’t do what we can, we won’t have [barns, etc] 100 years from now.”
While his organization has limited funds for existing structures, it does not have the money for rebuilding collapsed barns. Learn more about the trust at www.CtTrust.org.
According to the website, the trust “offers assistance, guidance and programs to those seeking to promote historic preservation and protect our cultural and architectural heritage…” The trust has information about rescuing buildings, available assistance, or contacting professionals. The trust promotes a specific barns grant, “to support efforts to preserve the iconic historic barns of Connecticut. The Barns Grant is offered to nonprofit 501(c)(3) organizations and municipalities and to private owners of significant barns.”
Applications for grants, requirements, eligibility, and conditions are listed on the website.
121 Wasserman Way
On February 10, a backhoe finished in 40 minutes a demolition job that Mother Nature and neglect had begun years ago. After snow and ice buckled the roof and bowed the walls on the old vacant farmhouse’s upper story early last week on the state-owned property at 121 Wasserman Way, demolition equipment toppled the building.
Standing in the driveway alongside a stone foundation that once supported an adjoining barn, crew chief Mike Briggs oversaw snow removal so his team could move a backhoe close enough to tear down the building. Mr Briggs is with AAIS.
Between heavy snows accumulating on the roof and a thaw-freeze-thaw series of days, this winter proved to be too much for the Beardsley family farmhouse.
While passersby could see the chimney beginning to sink into the roof and the eastern wall buckling, what was more difficult to see without a walk around the property was the caved in rear roof. By the afternoon of Wednesday, February 9, yellow caution tape had been stretched across the property, blocking curiosity seekers from turning into the farm’s driveway.
The following day, with the noon sunlight casting the two-story farmhouse in silhouette, Mr Briggs speculated on whether the job would be done by the end of the afternoon.
“We’re shooting for it,” he said.
They succeeded. By 2:30 that afternoon the structure was just a pile of debris waiting for removal. In coming days, 94 Wasserman Way will look the same.
A Safety Issue
“Unbelievable,” was State Representative Christopher Lyddy’s word regarding the farmhouses this week. He has been speaking with state departments and local officials throughout the last year regarding the structures. Also sad to see the landmarks go, he noted that the funding dollars “just weren’t there” to allocate to saving the buildings. As much as he would love to see them saved, he said, “The state just doesn’t have the money for cultural preservation.”
Considered “surplus” properties, the state “let them sit,” he said. “It’s not that the state did not care — those [farmhouses] are an important part of our town — but, it was a dilemma. The state did not have funds or use.”
The governor’s office also recognized safety concerns for the buildings that were in disrepair, he said. “As a result, they’re coming down.” Mr Lyddy said, “It’s a shame.” If funds were available to preserve or restore the structures, “I would love to do that,” he said.