Thanks to an educated eye, 21st-century science, and the inquisitive instincts of an archaeology lover, the Darien Historical Society has completed its rescue of an 1820s barn, reconnecting it to the historical house it once accessorized.
On Sunday, September 20 at 4 o’clock, the Darien Historical Society will dedicate the Scofield Barn in a ribbon-cutting ceremony, followed by a reception and tour. The celebration will take place in the historic barn itself, which was disassembled from a site across the street, then reconstructed and adjoined with the society’s Bates Scofield House museum, in a visionary project that took four years to achieve.
“It truly was meant to come to us,” said Judy Groppa, the Historical Society’s Executive Director. “It’s just one of those providential things.”
For 150 years, the Bates Scofield House and Barn sat side-by-side on a hilly site now occupied by Sedgewick Village Condominiums, opposite the Goodwives Shopping Center.
In 1967, the 1736 Bates Scofield House was donated to the Historical Society. The saltbox was moved on rollers several hundred yards to its present location, and following elaborate restoration, the house has served as the society’s museum, library, research center and administrative office.
The Scofield Barn still stood on the hill, and in 2005, the Historical Society learned of plans to develop the property. The owner, Dick Sanford, offered the barn to the Historical Society in exchange for help moving it to another location.
Groppa went to investigate the state of the barn to assess whether it had historical value.
From the front, the barn’s looks were not prepossessing, she said. Large bays had been carved for parking and commercial storage, and the barn had long ago given up its agricultural identity.
But Groppa noticed that the rear of the barn, with its visible skeleton of 19th-century post-and-beam construction and unique finial revealed unique historical value. The Historical Society quickly proceeded to verify the historicity of the barn and to secure the funding necessary to rescue it.
HISTORICITY VERIFIED - THREE TIMES OVER:
The Historical Society first engaged James Sexton, a well-known architectural historian, who examined and analyzed the barn’s construction. He discovered that the builder (likely Ezra Scofield, a farmer and blacksmith who bought the then 45-acre farm in 1825) had applied both post-and-beam and square-rule framing. Post-and-beam construction was in vogue prior to 1820, when the more efficient square-rule framing became popular. From this information and other visual clues, Sexton concluded the barn was built between 1820 and 1830.
Proceeding to date the barn from another perspective, the Historical Society engaged Professor William Wright, a dendrochronologist from Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Laboratory. Wright’s specialty, the science of tree-ring dating, called for drilling small core samples of wood from the walls of the barn. The results, compared with a database of building material, revealed that the trees used to build the barn were felled in 1826 and 1827.
For further verification, the Historical Society brought in Professor Ernest Weigand, a professional archaeologist who teaches at Norwalk Community College. He and his students, joined by a Darien Boy Scout troop, dug 20 test pits around the barn. They found nothing earlier than 1820.
“It was so fun!” recalls Groppa of the process she oversaw to establish the date of the barn’s creation. “It all worked out. How often does that happen?”
With no question that the barn had retained much of its historical integrity, the Historical Society secured a gift from the Fairfield County Bank to cover the cost of dismantling the barn.
Major fundraising has raised $1,768,000 to date, which will cover the costs of the Scofield Barn project and allow for some overdue improvements to the society’s library and museum.
DISMANTLING AND RECONSTRUCTION:
Brett Brierley, a specialist in taking old barns apart and putting them back together, was hired to do both.
Darien architect Neil Hauk created the preservation plan, which extended the rear of the Bates Scofield House to open into the Scofield Barn in an elongated and pleasing vision.
“We were just looking into the cost of building a 25 by 45-foot addition to the Bates Scofield House for an exhibition space when the barn offer came along,” Groppa said.
The barn’s high ceilings will enable the Historical Society to mount exhibitions, attract traveling and community events, and secure space to store precious items from the society’s collections. Other improvements include a dedicated research library, an elevator, handicapped bathroom and a small kitchen.
The Scofield Barn’s inaugural exhibit is an impressive display of photographs and captions that trace the history of the Bates Scofield House and its memorable removal on rollers nearly 40 years ago. Included are photographs of Ezra Bates and his family, and a rare photograph taken in 1925, which shows the Bates Scofield House and the Scofield Barn in their original location (the property was in the Bates family from 1825 to 1925). More recent photographs taken by Groppa and other society personnel, chronicle the precise deconstruction and reconstruction of the barn.
The exhibit is aptly titled: “A Preservation Tale: How the House Moved and the Barn Found It.”