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Buckley Branches

Splitting up a family home in order to preserve it



Priscilla Buckley

When settlers from the Hartford area incorporated the town of Sharon in 1739, they carved out sixty sections along the Green and what would be South Main Street. One segment, bought by a lawyer, Ansel Sterling, was distinguished from the others even then by a large elm tree that would a century later be designated the largest elm in Connecticut.

My father, a Texas oilman, searching for a home in which to bring up his family, bought the Sterling property in 1923. It consisted of a two-storey frame home, several barns and stables, a tenant’s cottage, and an icehouse. At the time, Father had only four children but over the years there would be six more, including my brother Bill (No. 6), founder of National Review and of the modern American conservative movement. (I’m No. 3.)

As the family grew, so necessarily did the house. Father added two wings in the early thirties and built an open-air Mexican-style patio between them. A fire in the mid-thirties caused us to evacuate Great Elm, as the property was by then called, for a year during which time Father added a third storey to the house, and glassed in the patio so it could be used winter and summer. Children could run through and around the patio, play tag and hide and seek, causing very little damage. And as we grew older, the patio became the scene of New Year’s Eve parties, weddings, and debuts, one of which attended by Sylvia Plath, a Smith College friend of my sister Maureen (No. 9). Plath would write her mother a long letter about the party, which was later published in one of her books.

Great Elm provided us with everything good and exciting any child could desire. Years passed and the running children became parents themselves with their own homes and responsibilities, and children, but Great Elm continued to be the family heartland. Four of the older five would bring up their 25 children in and around Sharon, causing Father to turn a sprawling barn on the property into a sort of dormitory for his grandchildren—a purely defensive act. My sister Aloise Heath (No.1) and her ten spent summers in the barn; brother Jim (No. 4) and his Ann lived there one winter while converting a farmhouse on the White Hollow Road into their first home; sister Jane (No. 5) and her family moved in when her home, Stoneleigh, the old Van Cortlandt mansion, was destroyed by fire. As time passed, only I, the unmarried member of my generation, continued to weekend in what the grandchildren called The Big House.

In due course, Father died and Mother, in her early eighties was afflicted by a gentle but enveloping vagueness that made the situation untenable. Great Elm was a luxury we could no longer afford.

Some solution had to be found. We thought at first of turning Great Elm into a country inn. But this was the late seventies—the time of the oil embargo and gasoline shortages, and country inns were a notoriously perishable species at best. Then we came up with the idea of a retirement home with the main house and the sprawling carriage house and barn as administrative centers, and a cluster of one- and two-bedrooom units in the nearly 40 acres of hills and orchards behind the big house, out of sight of the main street.

Well, sir, you would have thought that we were proposing to build an extermination camp, or at the very least, a nuclear waste site at Great Elm. Our neighbors erupted with Vesuvius-like fury to the proposition. Petitions were passed around. Every issue of the weekly Lakeville Journal carried vituperative letters outlining the devastation the Buckleys were about to inflict on the community. Not joining in the hullabaloo, incidentally, were the townspeople of Sharon. Perhaps because as children we had gone to catechism class with the Pitchers, Carberrys, Carleys, Kenneys, and Bartrams who by this time ran everything in town, and maybe because Sharon and the Buckleys had lived together amicably for fifty years.

At this point someone suggested we have a feasibility study made of the situation. And the answer came back loud and clear. Look, they said, what you have on your hands is a white elephant, a very old 35-room frame house at a time when the cost of oil is at a premium and interest rates are reaching 18 per cent. The building is going to be torn down, they told us, unless you can divide the equity in it. They proposed that we convert the Big House into five or six condo units. Sell them for roughly $200,000 to $250,000 each—the market rate. Then what you have is five or six owners whose interest is to preserve not destroy the property. 

So we shifted gears, which, incidentally did absolutely nothing to abate the anti-Buckley clamor. By now the neighbors were conditioned to object to anything we did.

A Sir Galahad came to our aid in the person of Tony Peters, who owned the Interlaken Inn in Lakeville and would later build the successful and tasteful Lion’s Head development in Salisbury. Tony loved the idea. He suggested we hire an energetic and effective young associate of his, Larry McGovern, to mastermind the project and he put us in touch with an architectural firm in Hartford that specialized in remodeling white elephants. Tony also built himself a huge home at the top of the property. A genial couple from Westbury, New York, bought the barn, and Jane and I contracted to buy the two larger of the five new units which gave us both of the wings Father had built and joint ownership of the fabled three-storey patio. The three other condos in the Big House each had two bedrooms, a dining room, living room, kitchen, and two and a half bathrooms. With the capital from these original purchases in hand we proceeded with the conversions and the tedious job of obtaining the necessary permits.

When the smoke had cleared away, the town of Sharon was clearly the winner. Where there had been one owner at Great Elm, paying one property tax, there were now 17 owners paying 17 property taxes: eight in the condos and another 11 in buildings on the grounds. Seven new houses went up in three- and four-acre lots, only one of them visible from the main road. The town of Sharon was required, in turn, to educate only three children. Edward Sobol, the master carpenter in the remodeling, got the job as superintendent. He and his wife Sylvia and two boys moved in to the caretaker’s cottage and soon, Rachel, the “Great Elm baby,” joined them (Rachel is now a dietician at Sharon Hospital). And Ed keeps the place, the buildings, the pool and the tennis court in shipshape fashion.

The Sharon-Lakeville-Salisbury area is also an unexpected winner of all this, in that Jeanne and Herbert Wagner, who bought the third-storey condo, would organize the Taconic Learning Center, which to this day provides the elders in the community with courses on a variety of subjects every fall and winter.

With Great Elm, certain facts of historical interest have been preserved. Albert Jay Nock, founder of the original Freeman, was a frequent Sunday lunch guest of Father’s in the thirties; Ronald Reagan joined in a family touch football game when he and Nancy and Ron Jr. spent a Thanksgiving at Great Elm in the late seventies. And just this year, Young Americans for Freedom, which was founded at Great Elm, published a book to celebrate the 50th anniversary of its principles, “The Sharon Statement.”

But for me, personally it is as simple as this. I get the same joy today as I did as an eight-year-old, watching the long summer evenings fade into dusk and splinter into fairy flecks of dancing fireflies. I take it slowly as I drive up the hill to Jim (No. 4) and Ann’s house for supper in the fall because deer will be munching on the crab apples as they did so many years ago when the old orchard was new. And best of all I sleep at night in the old master bedroom my parents occupied 87 years ago, when I was two years old.

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December 2017

The Smithy Store will host a complimentary coffee and chocolate pairing event on Sunday, December 10 from 2:30 to 4:30 featuring Zero Prophet Coffee and Plum Brook Chocolate. ...

Cost: free

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Byrde + the b
10 Titus Road
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Telephone: 212 255 6247
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SHEPAUG TO STAGE THE 1940s RADIO HOUR OPENING NIGHT – FRIDAY DECEMBER 8 WASHINGTON, CT,  November 5, 2017 – Shepaug Dramatics is proud to bring The 1940s Radio Hour to the stage...

Cost: $10 Per Ticket, $5 for Seniors and Veterans

Where:
Shepaug Valley School
159 South Street
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Sponsor: Shepaug Valley School
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Cost: Freewill Offering

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St. Michael's Parish
25 South Street
Just off the Litchfield Green
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Sponsor: St. Michael's-Litchfield
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Sponsor: Oliver Wolcott Library
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The Department of Theatre Arts will present "Happy Holiday from Irving Berlin: A Musical Revue" in the MainStage Theatre of the Visual and Performing Arts Center on the WCSU Westside...

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WCSU Westside Campus
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Cost: Free

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Byrde + the b
10 Titus Road
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Cost: Admission Free

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Cost: Free

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Contact Name: Jordan McCorison
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Cost: Free

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Byrde + the b
10 Titus Road
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Sponsor: Byrde + the b
Telephone: 212 255 6247
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Cost: $9.75

Where:
WCSU Midtown Campus
181 White St.
Danbury, CT  06810
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The Byrde + the b is pleased to announce the opening of Robert Deyber Master Artist from 4-7 pm on Saturday December 2, 2017 and runs through Jan 31, 2018. Robert Deyber is an American artist...

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10 Titus Road
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Contact Name: Steven Miller
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Cost: Free

Where:
Oliver Wolcott Library
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View map »


Sponsor: Oliver Wolcott Library
Telephone: 186-056-78030
Contact Name: Jordan McCorison
Website »

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Cost: $5

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Bank Street Theatre
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The Byrde + the b is pleased to announce the opening of Jivan Wolf master jeweler from 4-7 pm on Saturday December 2, 2017 and runs through Jan 31, 2018. Jivan Wolf hand fabricates jewelry...

Cost: Free

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Cost: Free

Where:
Byrde + the b
10 Titus Road
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Sponsor: Byrde + the b
Telephone: 212 255 6247
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Cost: Free

Where:
Oliver Wolcott Library
160 South St
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Sponsor: Oliver Wolcott Library
Telephone: 186-056-78030
Contact Name: Jordan McCorison
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Cost: FREE and open to the public.

Where:
Oliver Wolcott Library
160 South St
Litchfield, CT
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The Byrde + the b is pleased to announce the opening of Jivan Wolf master jeweler from 4-7 pm on Saturday December 2, 2017 and runs through Jan 31, 2018. Jivan Wolf hand fabricates jewelry...

Cost: Free

Where:
Byrde + the b
10 Titus Road
Washington Depot, CT  06793
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Sponsor: Byrde + the b
Telephone: 212 255 6247
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Cost: $7 members; $10 non-members

Where:
Litchfield History Museum
7 South Street
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Sponsor: Litchfield Historical Society
Telephone: 860-567-4501
Contact Name: Megan
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The Byrde + the b is pleased to announce the opening of Robert Deyber Master Artist from 4-7 pm on Saturday December 2, 2017 and runs through Jan 31, 2018. Robert Deyber is an American artist...

Cost: Free

Where:
Byrde + the b
10 Titus Road
Washington Depot, CT  06793
View map »


Sponsor: Byrde + the b
Telephone: 212 255 6247
Contact Name: Steven Miller
Website »

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In the summer of 1972 Jason rode a motorcycle from Connecticut to California, with stops in most of the Western States. The beauty he experienced on this trip ignited a lifelong passion for...

Cost: Free

Where:
Oliver Wolcott Library
160 South St
Litchfield, CT  06759
View map »


Sponsor: Oliver Wolcott Library
Telephone: 186-056-78030
Contact Name: Jordan McCorison
Website »

More information

The Byrde + the b is pleased to announce the opening of Jivan Wolf master jeweler from 4-7 pm on Saturday December 2, 2017 and runs through Jan 31, 2018. Jivan Wolf hand fabricates jewelry...

Cost: Free

Where:
Byrde + the b
10 Titus Road
Washington Depot, CT  06793
View map »


Sponsor: Byrde + the b
Telephone: 212 255 6247
Contact Name: Steven Miller
Website »

More information

December 1st - December 30th The show opens with a reception on Saturday, December 2nd from 11AM to 4PM.  The Fine Line Art Gallery’s Holiday Art Show 'Miniature...

Cost: Admission Free

Where:
Fine Line Art Gallery
319 Main Street South
Woodbury, CT  06798
View map »


Sponsor: Fine Line Art Gallery
Telephone: 203-266-0110
Contact Name: Mally DeSomma
Website »

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Join us the 3rd Friday of each month for a light lunch, music and dancing. Music this month: “Michael Ciulla Music made possible by the NW CT Community Foundation Litchfield Community...

Cost: $7.00 pp

Where:
Litchfield Community Center
421 Bantam Road
Litchfield, CT  06759
View map »


Website »

More information

The Byrde + the b is pleased to announce the opening of Robert Deyber Master Artist from 4-7 pm on Saturday December 2, 2017 and runs through Jan 31, 2018. Robert Deyber is an American artist...

Cost: Free

Where:
Byrde + the b
10 Titus Road
Washington Depot, CT  06793
View map »


Sponsor: Byrde + the b
Telephone: 212 255 6247
Contact Name: Steven Miller
Website »

More information

In the summer of 1972 Jason rode a motorcycle from Connecticut to California, with stops in most of the Western States. The beauty he experienced on this trip ignited a lifelong passion for...

Cost: Free

Where:
Oliver Wolcott Library
160 South St
Litchfield, CT  06759
View map »


Sponsor: Oliver Wolcott Library
Telephone: 186-056-78030
Contact Name: Jordan McCorison
Website »

More information

The Byrde + the b is pleased to announce the opening of Jivan Wolf master jeweler from 4-7 pm on Saturday December 2, 2017 and runs through Jan 31, 2018. Jivan Wolf hand fabricates jewelry...

Cost: Free

Where:
Byrde + the b
10 Titus Road
Washington Depot, CT  06793
View map »


Sponsor: Byrde + the b
Telephone: 212 255 6247
Contact Name: Steven Miller
Website »

More information

December 1st - December 30th The show opens with a reception on Saturday, December 2nd from 11AM to 4PM.  The Fine Line Art Gallery’s Holiday Art Show 'Miniature...

Cost: Admission Free

Where:
Fine Line Art Gallery
319 Main Street South
Woodbury, CT  06798
View map »


Sponsor: Fine Line Art Gallery
Telephone: 203-266-0110
Contact Name: Mally DeSomma
Website »

More information

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Paul Winter's Winter Solstice celebrates the spirit of the holidays with the extraordinary acoustic of NY's greatest Cathedral, St. John the Divine. This multi media event features...

Cost: $90.00 pp

Where:
Litchfield Community Center
421 Bantam Rd.
Litchfield, CT  06759
View map »


Website »

More information

The Byrde + the b is pleased to announce the opening of Robert Deyber Master Artist from 4-7 pm on Saturday December 2, 2017 and runs through Jan 31, 2018. Robert Deyber is an American artist...

Cost: Free

Where:
Byrde + the b
10 Titus Road
Washington Depot, CT  06793
View map »


Sponsor: Byrde + the b
Telephone: 212 255 6247
Contact Name: Steven Miller
Website »

More information

WCSU will host a 5 p.m. planetarium show Saturday, Dec. 16, followed by telescope viewing of the sky from 6 to 8 p.m., at the Westside Observatory and Planetarium on the university's...

Cost: Free

Where:
WCSU Westside Campus
43 Lake Ave Extension
Danbury, CT  06811
View map »

More information

In the summer of 1972 Jason rode a motorcycle from Connecticut to California, with stops in most of the Western States. The beauty he experienced on this trip ignited a lifelong passion for...

Cost: Free

Where:
Oliver Wolcott Library
160 South St
Litchfield, CT  06759
View map »


Sponsor: Oliver Wolcott Library
Telephone: 186-056-78030
Contact Name: Jordan McCorison
Website »

More information

As part of the Newtown Savings Bank Fine Arts & Family Series, Ives Concert Park will present the world-famous Harlem Gospel Choir at 7 p.m. in the Veronica Hagman Concert Hall in the Visual...

Cost: Advance tickets $25, at the door $30

Where:
Veronica Hagman Concert Hall
WCSU Visual & Performing Arts Center
43 Lake Avenue Ext., Danbury, CT 06811
Danbury, CT  06811
View map »


Telephone: 203-837-8732
Website »

More information

As part of the Newtown Savings Bank Fine Arts & Family Series, Ives Concert Park will present the world-famous Harlem Gospel Choir at 7 p.m. in the Veronica Hagman Concert Hall in the...

Cost: $25-30

Where:
WCSU Westside Campus
43 Lake Ave Extension
Danbury, CT  06811
View map »

More information

The Byrde + the b is pleased to announce the opening of Jivan Wolf master jeweler from 4-7 pm on Saturday December 2, 2017 and runs through Jan 31, 2018. Jivan Wolf hand fabricates jewelry...

Cost: Free

Where:
Byrde + the b
10 Titus Road
Washington Depot, CT  06793
View map »


Sponsor: Byrde + the b
Telephone: 212 255 6247
Contact Name: Steven Miller
Website »

More information

December 1st - December 30th The show opens with a reception on Saturday, December 2nd from 11AM to 4PM.  The Fine Line Art Gallery’s Holiday Art Show 'Miniature...

Cost: Admission Free

Where:
Fine Line Art Gallery
319 Main Street South
Woodbury, CT  06798
View map »


Sponsor: Fine Line Art Gallery
Telephone: 203-266-0110
Contact Name: Mally DeSomma
Website »

More information

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