Iconic New England structures on display
Before the railroad crawled its way up to Elm Street in 1868, New Canaan was a bucolic agricultural town.
Though it's true that in the intervening years, the town's primary product of output may have transitioned from yogurt to frozen yogurt, some remnants of the old New Canaan remain standing in the form of barns.
"We wanted to highlight some of the living heritage and lost barns" of New Canaan, Carriage Barn co-Directer Arianne Kolb said.
The Carriage Barn itself has a historical past. The barn was originally constructed in 1895 by wealthy businessman Thomas Hall, who owned the 175-acre Prospect Farm in the southern part of town. In the 1890s, Hall had a business wagon, a carriage for his wife, and his son had a donkey cart, Kolb said. In 1904, Hall sold the property to Lewis Henry Lapham, one of the founders of the oil company Texaco.
The Laphams owned the property until they sold it to the town in 1967. In 1978, the town offered the barn to the New Canaan Society for the Arts, which cleaned it out, and founded the Carriage Barn Arts Center.
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"It really was this community effort, they cleaned it out and turned it into an art gallery," Kolb said.
New Canaan's resident barn expert is Kip Farrell, who has documented every structure in town.
"I saw an old historic barn being torn down one day, and I decided I'd go to the historical society and research barns. I found there were 81 landmark houses with barns (houses built between 1775 and 1898). I drove to all 81 and there were 30 barns that dated between 1794 and 1898," Farrell said.
Twelve of Farrell's photographs appear in the Carriage Barn exhibit, along with some of her historical research.
She said a barn on West Road used to be the workspace of the famous sportswriter and author Red Smith.
"He used to write his articles in the barn underneath a light in the open doorway and neighbors could see him writing his articles at night," Farrell said.
Another resident with an interest in barns is Dan Weed.
"There's a barn on Laurel Road, just before Soundview Avenue on the left hand side of the road. It's the former Findlay farm and before that it was the Norwalk Poor Farm. In the house, there used to be holding cells for the men that were out of line. The poor people lived there and farmed it," before New Canaan was an incorporated town and was part of the Norwalk area, he said.
On Cross Ridge Road sits a rebuilt barn. Marilynn McMennamin has lived in her house since 1967, but said the barn there predates her ownership of it.
"Charlie Smithers, he was a financial investor. This was all his property," she said. "They sold the land and this house was built in 1964 and the barn was a shed for Smithers' sheep. It had a dirt floor and the side was open. When we came, we put a floor in it and closed it to keep our tractors and lawn mower."
According to Farrell, there is only one active farm remaining in town, a horse farm on West Road.
"It has a stable and horses and enough property to ride all around with kids and horses," she said. "It has a big beautiful old stable, goes back to 1840. It might be the cover of my book."
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