This lovely family has restored and reinvigorated this 1780 Whipstick Farm, continuing its warm and welcoming tradition
“You feel like you’re a blip on the farm’s radar,” says Leslie Partington. “It’s a privilege to live here right now.” Leslie, husband Michael, their two children, and, on some weekends, his two children from a first marriage, have lived at Whipstick Farm for the past three years. The farm has been there since 1780.
Partington was drawn to Ridgefield from Boston by her college friend Mimi van Wees, when Michael took a job in Westport. “When we went to look at the house, every room had more light than the next.” Since their dating days, she and Michael have dreamed of owning a farm—but for different reasons. Leslie was a professional event planner, and saw a barn as the perfect backdrop for entertaining friends and family. Michael, raised in England, was drawn to the idea of land.
At Whipstick, their visions of parties and land ownership have come together. The Partingtons’ legacy for Whipstick will be the couple’s warmth and legendary parties. Last winter, guests donned kilts, wrote speeches, and enjoyed appetizing catering by The Cutting Board and unappetizing haggis at a Robert Byrnes Dinner. This year, they enjoyed massages at The Partingtons’ version of a Chinese New Years Party. Barn bashes at Halloween have their friends scrambling to put together worthy costumes. In fact, they entertain so much that their many new friends from Ridgefield have become friends with their old Boston pals. This spring, Leslie, and local artist and stylist Donna von Holdt paired up to create a Potluck Dinner. Styled with burlap and featuring the van Wees orange VW Beetle, the party was vintage Leslie. “I love to listen to people, and help them give a party that is about them,” says von Holdt, delighted that Leslie’s friends had commented to her that the party was “so you.” Von Holdt’s artwork decorated the large dairy barn. “We displayed our friend Allison Meyler’s paintings, at a Halloween party a couple of years ago,” says Leslie, “so having Donna’s paintings was very much in keeping with the way we do things.” The magnificent potluck table was cleared away for the band and post-dinner dancing.
Von Holdt was impressed with Leslie’s ability to juggle a Ridgefield Magazine photographer, greeting old friends pulling in from Boston, and party preparation in her characteristically unflappable way. Leslie’s motto to “keep it fun and warm” was reflected in every aspect of the event and throughout her house. Baskets of slippers outside the guest rooms and appetizers on hand for an impromptu gathering are just two examples of Leslie’s thoughtful hospitality.
Only five owners have inhabited Whipstick. The Partingtons purchased the land from David and Valerie Lee, who relocated here from Texas in 1993. The Lees had always wanted an antique house, but quickly realized that the low ceilings in the 1790s tenant house were going to be problem for David’s six-foot-three-inch frame. The Lees embarked on a massive restoration and addition to the 1780 original cottage the Partingtons now live in.
From the two-room house, Valerie, once a decorator with a shop on Bailey Avenue, created a six-bedroom showcase for her good taste. “The house took on a life of its own,” comments David Lee, “as we conquered project after project.” David describes ripping up seven layers of flooring, and finding shots from old muskets around the gracious stone fireplace. David built a sunroom, and added a pool and a playhouse. They filled the party barn with antiques, and had weekend sales, earning Whipstick the nickname The Tag Sale Farm.
Valerie Lee passed away in 2008 after a ten-year battle with cancer. David said she cried with relief to see that Whipstick Farm had passed on to the Partington family rather than be subdivided. Donna von Holdt knew Valerie well, and said that she would have liked the Partingtons’ contemporary updates to the home.
The Collins family owned Whipstick from 1932 until Mrs. Collins’ death. Mr. Collins owned the Ridgefield Water Supply Company. Although they did not keep cows or chickens, the Collins started a Christmas-tree farm on the property, and were rumored to serve spiked punch to locals. Mrs. Collins old home, now referred to as The Guest House is often full of Leslie and Michael’s family on holidays and friends on the barn-party weekends.
In the 1800s, A. Barton Hepburn, who made a fortune in finance, becoming President of Chase Manhattan Bank, bought the farm from the Benedict family, the original owner. An official State of Connecticut document has Barton Hepburn as the uncle of the actress Katharine Hepburn, but further research does not corroborate the familial connection. Hepburn with his wife owned a mansion on High Ridge, which later became the Altnacraig Nursing home. He built the 1915 dairy barn and turned the property into a gentleman’s farm to provide fresh milk and eggs. Hepburn named the property Whipstick Farm because it is in the Whipstick area of Ridgefield—which includes Wilton Road East and Nod Road. Also uncorroborated is the notion that the name Whipstick comes from the area’s proximity to the Colonial whipping post. Newsman Jack Sanders in a 1983 Ridgefield Press article calls this story “quaint” but “far-fetched,” and argues that the name is more likely to come from the area’s swampy vegetation, ideal for cutting sticks for whipping horses and oxen.
While right now the only animal in residence is the Partingtons’ dog, a Goldendoodle named Fergie, there are many vestiges of the livestock that once lived there. The gracious chicken coop at one time held more than 350 chickens. The 1790s guest house still has a pasteurization room from the farm’s dairy days. Milking stations in the barn and a silo tell the layers of Whipstick’s history, and have become more funky than functional. The potting shed could be in an Anthropologie catalog shoot.
Like Ridgefield itself, Whipstick Farm is a living history—a colonial property with a vibrant present. “The perfect place,” says Leslie, “to raise a family.” n