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‘It’s sad, very, very sad.’ After 350 years, a Connecticut family is auctioning off its historic farmhouse

Before there was Miss Porter's School, Church of St. Patrick or even the American Revolution, there was the farmhouse set back atop a hill at 107 Main St. in Farmington.

The nearly 350-year-old house is notable for its longevity but even more so for its ownership: one family, the Wadsworths, has lived on the property for 11 generations.

But that remarkable pedigree could now come to an end: the house – once part of an expansive dairy farm – goes up for auction Nov. 6 after the Wadsworths could no longer find a way to keep it in the family.

"It is sad, very, very sad," Kathy Wadsworth Delano, said, during a recent tour of the house. "We didn't have anyone to take it all over. I've been very emotional about it, but there are are others who are like, 'What else are we going to do?' "

Local historians say they can't think of another house in town that has such a lineage tied to one family. While painful for Wadsworths, a change in ownership eventually comes to virtually all properties.

"The Wadsworths are one of the original proprietors of Farmington, and it's an amazing story," Jay Bombara, a board of member of the Farmington Historical Society, said. "There's something nice to think about this continuity in such a world of change. But these things do happen."

What is more worrisome is what will happen to the structure, a tangible piece of the town's history, tied to its earliest agrarian roots.

The Main Street house is situated in an historic district. But in the 1960s, when the district was being formed, the Wadsworths living in the house at the time chose not to join the district. The district places restrictions on some exterior alterations, particularly those visible from the street.

"That's why preservation is critical to helping us preserve memory and experience," Bombara said. "Look, the house is going sell eventually, one way or another. You just hope the buyer is going to keep the house. I would be surprised if they wouldn't. It seems to me there is a lot of value in the house."

WADSWORTH NAME RUNS WIDE AND DEEP

The Wadsworths name runs broad and deep in greater Hartford and, indeed, Connecticut history.

A Wadsworth was a member of Thomas Hooker's band of settlers that founded Hartford, and it was his son, John, who built the farmhouse around 1680.

One of John Wadsworth's sons was, as the legend goes, responsible for stuffing the Connecticut colony's charter into Hartford's Charter Oak in a dispute with the British monarchy.

Another descendant became a wealthy benefactor of the arts, founding Hartford's Wadsworth Atheneum in 1842, the country's first public museum of art.

And still another descendant built the classical revival-style Wadsworth Mansion in Middletown in 1900, now owned by the city.

The Wadsworths were active in local, state and national politics as well as in industry.

In the mid- to late nineteenth century, Winthrop M. Wadsworth – the seventh generation occupant of the house at 107 Main St. – was first selectman of Farmington for 28 consecutive years and a president of Farmington Savings Bank, all in addition to running his farm.

Delano is a cousin to the generation of the Wadsworths that most recently lived in the house. Delano said she spent a lot of time there as a youngster.

Her cousins, brothers John and Adrian Wadsworth, have been closely involved in mapping a future for the house in recent years. The brothers and four other siblings grew up in the house and worked on the farm until it closed down in the 1970s.

The sale of the farm gradually dispersed the Wadsworth family far beyond Farmington.

John Wadsworth, now 66, ran a dairy farm for two decades in upstate New York until turning to commercial and agricultural lending. Adrian Wadsworth, now 71, followed a similar path in Maine before becoming a real estate agent.

The house's future became more uncertain after John and Adrian Wadsworth's father, Jeremiah, died in 2014. Then, their mother, Lois Reede Wadsworth, now 92, moved out of the house three years ago, no longer able to live on her own.

None of more than a dozen cousins – most scattered all over the country – could take over the house. The family considered forming a limited liability company. The would have needed about $450,000 from family members to buy the house from Lois Wadsworth and turn it into an Airbnb or a rental. The plan went nowhere.

The plan, John Wadsworth said, would have been only temporary until a museum of Wadsworth artifacts could be established or the house would again pass into the hands of a new generation of Wadsworths.

"If you did something in the interim, to buy the house and there is no long-term end game, no children or grandchildren are going to move back there, you got to face the fact eventually, I guess," John Wadsworth said.

The situation became more urgent after Lois Wadsworth entered a residential center in Farmington about a year ago. The house was put up for sale for about $500,000 last summer and later reduced to $350,000, after portions of the yard were sold off to neighbors.

"We had quite a bit of looking at it but no offers," John Wadsworth said. "Everyone said they liked it, but it's a lot of work."

During the tour with Delano, the charm of the house is on display with a carved wooden bannister in the house's front hall and barrel ceilings in two second-floor bedrooms.

But the challenges also are apparent: graceful arched pocket doors on the first floor don't slide because the hewn beams below them in the basement are sagging.

The events building up to next week's auction also show the stark realities for children in paying for the care of an aging parent.

"She needs help," Adrian Wadsworth said. "She can't live alone. None of us live there. She wanted to be in Farmington so that's where she is, and it costs money. Then, there is the carrying costs of the house. Down in Farmington. it isn't a cheap place to have a house."

EVOLUTION OF A FARMHOUSE

Even with a steady stewardship by the Wadsworths, the house at 107 Main has morphed through the centuries.

The Wadsworth brothers say the oldest surviving part of the house – a rear ell – probably dates to 1680 and may be the site of an earlier, perhaps thatched roof house.

In the early 1700s, the house appears to have been fortified with brick and was designated as one of six "sanctuary" houses in town amid fears of Native American raids.

Just as the American Revolution was ending, four rooms were added to the front of the house, including a spacious dining room that could have doubled as a "laying out" room when someone died.

In the 1860s, the facade of the house took on the Victorian flourishes visible today. A prosperous Winthrop Wadsworth would add an ornamented bow window, floor-to-ceiling windows and a wraparound porch and balustrade.

The house suffered from calamities, too. In 1926, a kitchen fire nearly destroyed the entire structure, forcing a reconstruction at the rear of the house.

Bombara said a barn on the property, where there are still perches from when a Wadsworth kept homing pigeons there, and a tool shed are equally important.

"The buildings talk to the house and talk to what the area was," Bombara said. "Those outbuildings are almost, to me, as valuable as the house itself, you don't see a lot of the old barns on Main Street."

As the reality of a potential sale looms, both John and Adrian Wadsworth say there are off mixed emotions.

"I will be shedding tears, I can assure you of that," John Wadsworth said. "I have shed tears already."

Adrian Wadsworth observed: "The harder part for me. The house, we could have lived in that house for another 100 years without doing anything major to it."

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