Then & Now – Finding the Lost Birdsey Beers House

One of the glaring inequities of the splitting of Weston into two separate towns in May of 1845 was the state’s decision to allow the much smaller of the two towns — Weston which had about half as many houses — to retain all the land records that had been amassed since the original town had been incorporated in 1787. The long-term result of that decision has meant that anyone searching the history of a home built prior to 1845 that now sits in Easton needs to also travel to Weston to look at the land records there. To make matters even more difficult, if the home was constructed prior to 1787, a third excursion is required to examine the records in the town of Fairfield, the original Connecticut town that both Weston and then Easton were once part of.

While most folks seem to enjoy our “Then & Now” series on historic Easton properties, few likely realize just how daunting our task becomes when multiple towns are involved in our research. With this week’s house, an added twist is that the house in the vintage photo was sold and then moved to another location.

About two years ago, I came across a photograph of an old saltbox house that was labeled on the back: “c.1910 Birdsey Beers — house moved to northern Easton.” That wouldn’t mean much to most people, but I knew that name, if not the house. Birdsey Beers was my 3-times great grandfather. He was born in 1811 and died in 1893. And the more I looked at that photograph, the more I thought I had seen that structure somewhere before. It turns out, I had. It was used in Dan Cruson’s Images of America — Redding and Easton. The caption read in part, “This mid-18th century, one-and-a-half-story house was once located on Park Avenue, just south of Flat Rock Road. It was moved to the northern part of town when the Easton Reservoir was built in 1927.”  There had been no mention of Birdsey Beers in that caption, but the original photo we have at the Historical Society of Easton provided me with that valuable piece of information. Well, that was a start, but who bought it and who moved it, and more importantly, where did it end up?

c.1910. The Birdsey Beers house when it sat near the intersection of Flat Rock Road and Park Avenue just above the Narrows.

As early as the 1880’s, the Bridgeport Hydraulic Company and its predecessor, the Citizen’s Water Company, began taking property in Easton by the eminent domain powers granted each of them by the state legislature. There were two dams and two smaller reservoirs built in the section of Easton known as the Narrows long before the present reservoir was constructed. Much of the land that had been taken had once been farmland. Many of the houses and barns were razed, but many were also spared — their purchases having been made for the land, not the structures. The house I was concerned with was likely taken for the construction of the present reservoir. That reservoir had been planned as early as 1910, but WWI ended up delaying the start of its construction until 1925. I wasn’t so much interested in knowing when the company acquired the property as I was in knowing when they sold the house and to whom.

Many of Easton’s historic homes taken by the Bridgeport Hydraulic Company in the Narrows were razed by fire and forever lost

Many of the houses not lying in the basin that would eventually be flooded by the new, larger reservoir were used as housing for some of the workers and engineers during the construction of what the BHC often referred to as Number Three — the third and final dam built in the Narrows. It was my guess that is what happened with the old Beers house.

It was another chance finding about six months later when I came across an old newspaper article that showed the house being moved. Unfortunately, the article had been cut from the paper and the masthead with the newspaper’s name and date was missing. But the most valuable piece of information was the name of the new owner — Minnie Edwards. This would turn out to be the most crucial piece of information in the eventual solving of the puzzle. Not knowing who bought the old house would have meant an absolute dead-end. Since the BHC retained the land on which the house once sat, there would be no land recordings for the sale of that structure. There was no deed needed because the sale involved no transfer of land. There would have only been a simple bill of sale issued to the new owner. With no zoning in Easton prior to 1941, there would be no records of moving it, nor any construction permits on file at the Town Hall because none were required.

Minnie Edwards was one of Easton’s premier entrepreneurs — perhaps the best female entrepreneur in Easton during the mid-twentieth century. She bought and sold houses and farms, held mortgages, and developed large parcels by dividing land into smaller building lots. Her family still owns and operates Maple Row Farm. Knowing that Minnie had purchased the old Beers house would go a long way in discovering where it went and if it was still standing.

Much of the land north of Route 59 was owned by the Edwards family in the early and mid-twentieth century — a lot of it still is. Moving the old Beers house to a new location likely meant placing it somewhere on property that Minnie and her husband Irwin already owned. By my best estimation, the most likely location should have been on Sherwood Road. But this is where it got tricky.

Dan Cruson had mentioned the move coming when the reservoir was built in 1927. Without the masthead on that old newspaper article, and with certain years of the local papers not yet digitized and in a searchable database, I mistakenly assumed the house had been moved sometime close to the 1927 date. That would have meant it should have appeared on the 1931 map of Fairfield County, and certainly in the 1934 aerial survey of Connecticut. It didn’t. And that’s because as it turns out, it wasn’t moved until sometime closer to 1937.

I spent more than few hours driving around northern Easton hoping to catch a glimpse of a house that appeared similar to the one in the 1910 photo. No luck. I searched property cards looking for construction dates — perhaps from the 1920’s or ’30’s when the house would have been moved, or perhaps from the late 1700’s when I know for a fact that the house was originally built (I had all the Weston land records back as far as 1797 when Ephriam Beers first purchased that property and the house was listed as part of that transaction). Again, no luck.

And then, about five months ago, I got lucky. I was talking to Adrienne Burke, the owner of the new Greiser’s, and she mentioned an old home she had recently visited on Sherwood Road. We talked a little, and I began to get the feeling that the house we were talking about might have been the one I had long been searching for. It wasn’t visible from the road, so that meant I wouldn’t have seen it while driving. The address was number 20, Sherwood Road.

I pulled the house card from the town records. An 1820 build date was indicated. That was definitely incorrect. The house I was looking for was much older, at least by 30 years. But I also knew that build early dates listed on those property cards were wrong almost as often as they were right.

I then began looking at the small photo attached to the record — there were now dormers, but the rest of the side view sure looked correct. I then managed to pull up the last property listing on Realtor.com and those photos confirmed beyond any doubt that I had finally located my ancestor’s house. The windows on the first floor were a perfect match, correct location, correct numbers, exact number of window-lites top and bottom. Also listed on that property card, the owners of the property date back to Minnie Edwards.

The Birdsey Beers house at 20 Sherwood Road as it appeared in 2015

It took me a while, but the mystery of the fate of the Birdsey Beers’ house has finally been solved, and I can now get on with the more pressing — and hopefully less time-consuming — endeavors of the historical society.

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