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Newtown Rural Properties Named To State Register Of Historic Places

Two Newtown properties were accepted into the State Register of Historic Places, at the April 3 meeting of the Council of the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation.  As part of a thematic nomination of 200 barns, in the third monthly installment of properties to be considered, the Blackman Farmstead at 12-16 Blackman Road, Newtown, and the Morris Farmstead on Berkshire Road, Sandy Hook, are among the newest to be included in the Trust project.

According to an article in The Connecticut Preservation News, July/August 2012, by Kristen Young, project assistant for Historic Barns of Connecticut, “Since 2004, the trust has been surveying historic barns across the state. The trust also offers barns grants and educational outreach and workshops and is creating a statewide barn trail… Connecticut currently has the most comprehensive survey in the country, with more than 8,000 barns documented throughout the state, thanks to a corps of volunteers. The project is still ongoing, and the Trust hopes to document every historic barn in the state. Survey information on all the documented barns is available online at www.connecticutbarns.org, one of the most accessible and complete bodies of information about historic barns in the country. In addition, staff members have completed inventory forms on 2,300 of the barns and are currently working on State Register nominations for 200 of the most significant.” The Newtown properties were among those 200 nominations, said Charlotte Hitchcock, researcher for the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation.

Ms Hitchcock had surveyed the Newtown area. “I had my eye on those two barns,” she said, but sent out letters to a number of local property owners. “Not all of them responded, or were interested [in being part of the project],” said Ms Hitchcock.

Being named to the State Register of Historic Places is strictly honorarial, she said. “There is some advantage, in terms of grants,” she said, “But the main benefit to the owner is the appreciation of history.”

Eventually, the town will receive a list of any farms or barns on the State Register, which Ms Hitchcock said she hopes will be useful in future planning processes in towns, and when land preservation is considered.

The historic import of the Blackman Farmstead in the nomination form notes “This site is significant as an exceptionally intact complex of farm buildings in its rural landscape setting, located at a highly visible location.” The 18th century double farmhouse, square rule-framed English bank barn, and other outbuildings add to the architectural importance of the site. Additionally, Jane and Robert Cottingham are the only owners outside of the historic Blackman family since 1759. The Blackman Farmstead has been owned by the Cottinghams since 1977.

The Cottinghams were working and living in London when they decided to move their young family back to the United States in the late 1970s, said Jane Cottingham. The antique dealer and her husband, a well-respected fine artist, sought a property that could accommodate Mr Cottinghams’ art studios and all of the antiques they had accumulated.

Mr Cottingham looked at 93 area houses without finding the right one. Then a Newtown realtor contacted them about the Blackman property, which had only come on the market that day. “He said it had lots of buildings that would be good for art studios,” Ms Cottingham said, and when they saw it, they agreed that the barns were perfect.

No longer a working farm at the time they purchased it, the Cottinghams converted what was originally the stables and hayloft into a garage, and the goat barn adjacent to it became a storage area for Ms Cottingham’s many antiques. Beyond the current garage, two smaller buildings were most likely borning sheds.

The largest barn attracted Mr Cottingham as the ideal main art studio, with its soaring ceiling and “raw” barn attributes. The farm’s equipment barn, separated by only a foot of space from the main barn, has been joined to that building and provides additional space for the artist. Off of what was the equipment barn, was the building that appears to have been a blacksmith shop.

Underneath the main barn, relatively in the same condition as when the farm was a working dairy farm, are the wooden stanchions and troughs, where the cows were milked.

The house and barns were in excellent condition, Ms Cottingham said, and the Cottinghams have worked to preserve the quality. Local farmer Andy Sedor hayed ten of the acres for many years, Ms Cottingham said, and are still leased for haying.

“It was definitely an arts and antiques buy. We are caretakers until the next people are here. There is a sense of responsibility to the past and to the future,” Ms Cottingham said.

“I’m happy [to be accepted to the State Register of Historic Places],” Ms Cottingham said, although it had never occurred to either of them to seek out the honor. “I’m happy this little farm is getting some attention.”

The Morris Farmstead in Sandy Hook is significant because of the “association over a period of 150 years with the Morris family, whose members were prominent in politics, civic affairs, agriculture, women’s history, and culture.” Members of the Morris family included Governor Luzon Morris in the 1890s, Charles Gould Morris, an attorney, and Elisabeth Woodbridge Morris, a pioneering woman academic, teacher, and writer.

The structures on the site are “significant as intact examples of construction from multiple periods including the 18th-century house, a 19th-century square rule-framed English barn, an early 20th-century carriage barn, and a range of ancillary structures illustrating the evolution of a farm over time.” It is also an “intact example of the evolution of a farmstead over 100 years from a subsistence farm to a gentleman’s working dairy farm,” according to the nomination form for that farm. “The main agricultural structure is a 1½-story gable-roofed English barn which modified by several additions.” The second barn is a 1½-story gable-roofed three-bay structure, and a one-story gable-roofed wing extends to the north. Two other barns on the property are included in the nomination form.

The main house on the Morris Farmstead dates from approximately 1799 or 1800, and was in the Morris family until purchased by the current owners. The owners declined an interview with The Bee.

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