As Westfield’s Town Historian and since we are approaching our 300-year anniversary in 2020, I think this presents a good time to reflect on the town’s history focusing on how it has changed during these past three centuries. Formed as the West Fields of Elizabethtown in 1720, this farming community has undergone significant transformation from inception to a thriving, bustling center of 21st Century suburban activity. Despite constantly changing physical appearances with a more developed downtown center and ongoing rejuvenation and modernization of neighborhoods, there has always been an essential appreciation for Westfield history which residents have supported and passed down from one generation to the next.
A quite visible example of this history, but likely unknown to many, is a lovely Pre-Revolutionary War home at the north end of East Broad Street owned by a gentleman who fell in love with its history and happily raised his family there for many years. Unfortunately, while currently struggling against the ravages of time, this home, like many others of this bygone era, could be brilliantly restored to its former glory and thus become a the family home for a new generation. However, the family now faces the economic realities of a competitive real estate market and a community that may, perhaps, be losing its historic sensibilities. Present “worth” doesn’t necessarily value the historic, unvarnished nature of one of Westfield’s original homesteads, established in 1758.
Westfield’s introspective culture has been exemplified by a healthy respect for the past through celebration of its history and a focus on the Main Street America atmosphere, while managing the delicate balance between economic development and reverence for the past. Westfield’s leadership and its active citizens have succeeded in the past in aligning these competing interests despite the economic pressures of today’s world. However, in recent years, there appears to be increased pressure and divergence from its 300 year old core principles.
For example, when our family first moved into town in 1991, there were more than 20 Pre-Revolutionary homes that were inhabited and lovingly cared for by Westfield residents. Unfortunately, today we find our community with only a limited number left. The richness of architecture of these Revolutionary War era homes developed over the next 150 years, and transitioned into the whimsy of the Victorian age with Queen Anne turrets and decoratively painted clapboarding. We are beginning to lose the Victorian homes to “progress” as well.
Every old house cannot be saved nor should be saved. However, a significant part of the fabric of this community has always been a healthy respect for our historic past. The character which historic legacy provides becomes the launch pad for our town’s future development. Historic homes give color and vibrancy to our town’s “cultural and historic home quilt” that we may pass to the next generation. The “sense of place” that drew so many of us to Westfield will fade with time if we do not purchase, protect and restore our historic homes in this community. It may not make economic sense in all cases, but I appeal to the present generation and citizens of Westfield to help save the remaining historic homes in this special community so we may point to these structures as the last vestiges of our country’s historic struggles against autocracy. As we march into our technologically vibrant future, our historic architecture will serve as a reminder of a more simple form with balance and a pureness of materials that we can take with us for years to come.