The barn is built of randomly set cobblestone and mortar on all sides, with decorative brick as quoins on all but one back corner and around the front, arched double doors. Brick lintels are over first floor windows. These doors each swing on a heavy wrought iron strap hinge placed high on the side. An exterior wrought iron door handle and longer horizontal, exterior cross bar secure the building. The roof is cedar shingle but unlike the base is octagonal. Underneath is a partial cellar originally for root vegetables and ice storage and is accessed by an exterior door.
Dimensions for the width of each of the seven facades are as follows, beginning with the front doorway façade and moving left: Façade A - 17 ft. 9 in. with an 8 ft. wide double, round-topped door; B - 10 ft.; C - 10 ft. 4 in.; D - 10 ft. with a vertical board cellar door 5 ft. high; E - 10 ft. 6 in.; F - 10 ft.; G - 17 ft. 9 in. with an exterior door measuring 5 ft. 5 in. by 3 ft. and 2 ft. off the ground.
Windows consist of either larger 12 over 8 or 2 over 2 larger panes. Facades A, C, and E have the smaller window on the 2nd story while facades B, D, and E have the larger window on the 1st floor. Façade F has no windows or doors.
Inside the stone walls and framing are exposed. The conical roof structure was built in a radiating pattern of rafters, secured to one another at the central peak of the roof with wooden pegs. Each rafter terminates into a heptagonal-shaped “thrust” plate of steel that was fabricated to rest on the top of the masonry walls. This plate was bolted down to the stone and the rafters are bolted into the plate. This was not the original design but necessary to meet modern structural requirements. So that the steel plate would not be visible it is faced with similar wood to the rafters. The walls of the barn completely carry the weight of the roof, leaving the entire interior of the barn open.
The heavy, second floor joists are set into the masonry and originally supported a loft for storage. The stairway to this floor was redesigned for safety but is similar and made of wood.
Round and multi-sided barns are characterized by having a footprint other than the traditional rectangular one. While one of the earliest polygonal barns is associated with our first president (and dated 1796) neither polygonal or round barns ever captured the imagination of American farmers, even though they were repeatedly touted as being the most efficient shape for the job. There is a belief that the round barn was based off the “prayer circles” of certain religious sects such as the Shakers, the Quakers and the Holy Rollers. The Shaker community of Hancock, Massachusetts, pioneered the round barn design in New England in 1826 with their Round Stone Barn.
Most surviving round and multi-sided barns in New England, however, were built on dairy farms during the early 1900s. These later examples function similarly to high-drive barns. A covered ramp leads to the top-story hayloft, cows are stabled in stanchions on the middle level, and manure storage is in the basement. In the center of some early-twentieth century round barns is an ecnlosed wooden silo for storing fodder, while other round barns use the center for hay storage.
The circa 1846-1857 heptagonal base, 2-story stone barn, known officially as the “Bradley-Wheeler Barn Museum of Westport” is owned by the Westport Historical Society and is located on the same property near the downtown. The originally Federal, now Italianate style home, known as the “Coley-Bradley-Wheeler House” has a built date of 1795 and houses administrative offices, a museum, exhibit space, an archives/vault area, and educational instruction rooms for children. The barn’s construction is attributed to the owner, Farmin Patchin, who was also a stonemason and blacksmith. He flattened one side of the barn, removing the 8th façade, so that a rectangular, wood frame barn (no longer standing) could be joined. The barn is believed to be the only extant authentically restored heptagonal barn in the Northeast. All materials and fabrication methods are said to be original or replicated precisely. The mortar was chemically analyzed and reproduced and wood was imported from Holland for the rafters. Multiple views of the stone barn can be seen at http://www.westporthistory.org/museum. The barn is open to the public daily April 1 – Nov. 30 and by appt. through the Westport Historical Society 203-222-1424.
Charlotte Hitchcock, reviewed by CT Trust
Photography, research, and field notes by Betsy Wacker, Maggie Feczko, 05/18/2011.
Aerial views from:
http://www.bing.com/maps/ accessed 8/02/2011.
Ohno, Kate, Bradley-Wheeler House National Register Nomination No. 84000791, National Park Service, 1984.
Sexton, James, PhD; Survey Narrative of the Connecticut Barn, Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation, Hamden, CT, 2005, http://www.connecticutbarns.org/history.
Visser, Thomas D.,Field Guide to New England Barns and Farm Buildings, University Press of New England, 1997, 213 pages.
Local Historic District - New Town Common