NEW FAIRFIELD — Nestled in the trees behind the senior center on Route 37, two white frame houses offer visitors a glimpse of life was like centuries ago.
They now serve as a testament to the town’s past, but a decade ago they were slated for demolition — until a group of residents joined forces to save them.
Preserve New Fairfield was created in 2006 with the goal to preserve the homes, one dating to the 1700s and the other to 1840. Not only has the group achieved that goal, but it also opened one of the homes as a museum in 2014 and raised $400,000 to restore the buildings. The group recently celebrated its 10th anniversary and these accomplishments at its annual Strawberry Festival.
“Everything has felt like a a big accomplishment — getting the houses moved, getting access to them and opening them to the public,” Preserve New Fairfield President Faline Schneiderman said.
The two homes have long sat side by side in the center of town. The Hubbell House, which now houses the museum, was built in the mid-to-late 1700s. It belonged to the Hubbells, one of the first families to settle the town and begin farming.
The other building, known as the parsonage, was built in 1840. It housed the clergy for a local church for a number of years but later was home to several families in succession, said Linda Decker, who has been with the preservation group since its creation.
The preservation effort began about a decade ago, when the two properties were put up for sale. The new owner, who wanted only the land, offered the houses to the historical society free if the group could arrange to move them, Decker said.
“This was all new to us,” Decker said. “It was, ‘How do you move a house?’ and then ‘How do you move two houses?’”
The society decided the task was too big for it and turned to the community.
“Those of us who love historic homes and feel they they are part of our uniqueness, felt they shouldn’t end up in a landfill,” Schneiderman said.
Preserve New Fairfield, with the help of John Hodge, who was first selectman at the time, successfully campaigned to add the two homes to the state Register of Historic Places. It then applied for and won the state’s first endangered structures grant, using the $50,000 to move the homes 1/10 a mile down the road to their current location. That was in March 2007.
“The whole side of the road was lined with townspeople, freezing but with cameras watching the homes go by,” Decker said. “It was quite a day.”
Preserve New Fairfield checked off another goal this year when the homes and their history were incorporated into the third-grade curriculum and became the destination for annual field trips.
While the group is dedicated to preserving the town’s past, it’s already looking to its future. The group hopes to build a barn to house tools and an antique cart. It also hopes to renovate the parsonage and open it as an educational space with rotating exhibits.
This would allow the group to offer more programs to broaden the public’s understanding and appreciation of the town’s history, Schneiderman said.
“I would like them to understand that New Fairfield is an important place,” she said. “We have a very deep and wonderful history that people drive by and they don’t even notice. My goal is to help people understand that history doesn’t happen somewhere else. It happens in your own backyard.”
She also hopes to show others that there are options for older homes other than demolition.
Schneiderman credits the residents for the group’s success.
“This organization is very much a grassroots effort,” she said. “We really appreciate the community.”
Decker said she’s happy to be a resource for the town.
“When people come in and just enjoy it, especially when the children come in to see how different life was back then, that’s so important to me,” Decker said.