Mather Homestead throws celebration for new education center

Photo of Sandra Diamond Fox

Addressing about 100 people Saturday evening, Richard Chilton, Jr. spoke about the “dream” of the Mather Center Foundation.

Chilton was standing in front of the newly built Elizabeth W. Chilton Education Center on the Mather Homestead, on Stephen Mather Road in Darien.

The sold-out event, called a Barn-raiser, was a fund-raiser in celebration of the new center.

It was socially distanced, picnic style, with gourmet boxed dinners of shrimp and steak, specialty cocktails, and live, bluegrass music from the band “Sweet Colleen and the Poor Excuses.”

Guests were each provided with a blanket to sit on while they ate. Many mingled in small groups.

Among those who attended were Darien First Selectman Jayme Stevenson, State Rep. Terrie Wood, and Darien developer David Genovese.

About the education center

The new 1,800-square-foot education center is built on the site of a barn from the 1930s.

Named after Chilton’s mother Elizabeth, it was part of Richard’s original idea.

“The Elizabeth W. Children Education Center is such an important addition to the Mather Homestead Foundation,” Chilton said.

He said he thought of the idea to build the education center because he wanted to document the history of what the Mather family means to Darien.

“I like to dream and this barn is the most pivotal beginning part of that dream,” he said.

He added that he always wanted a place where people can go to learn about what living in the 18th century was, including the role the property played in the Revolutionary War. The Mather Homestead was built in 1778 by Deacon Joseph Mather, a deacon in Middlesex Parish.

For more information about the Mather Homestead Foundation or to make a donation to the education center, visit

“Educational history”

In the Mather Homestead, there is furniture that was handmade in the 1700s “to fit a niche in that house. — That hasn’t moved since it was first built,” Chilton said.

With the education center, “We want to provide educational history of the 18th and 19th centuries,” he said.

He said history is so important “and I don’t think people are learning much about history as we certainly did — and it behooves us to bring that back, and to bring it back in an animated fashion.”

Chilton spoke about the role that the education center will play in the community.

“This Elizabeth Chilton Education Center will be the hub, the working organ, of the Mather Homestead Foundation, to be able to supply educational outreach,” he said.

School children who visit the education center will learn about Stephen Tyng Mather, who is the first director and founder of the National Park Service. They’ll also learn about the Declaration of Independence in 1776.

Additionally, there’s a lecture series, painting and sketching class, yoga, a music series, and a book club series held at the education center.

“It’s that living, breathing organ that’s part of what we’re trying to do to make this the vibrant part for history within the whole state,” he said.

“Over the next 10, 20 years, we will be recognized for that. We will bring a service to the state and to Darien and New Canaan — of learning and education, and we’ll all be very proud of that,” he added.

At the celebration, Lauren Swenson, executive director of the Mather Homestead Foundation, showed a short program about the history of the Mather and McPearson families.

The Mather Homestead has stayed in the same family for eight generations. The farmstead on the Mather property was about 100 acres, and that’s what it took to support an average size family back in those days. Eleven children were raised in that house, according to the program.

“Here we are, right on the edge of New Canaan and Darien and Norwalk, with this amazing piece of American history,” Swenson said. “This is really a community and volunteer organized and run operation, We are just getting started. We look forward to getting everyone involved.”

“The driving force”

Steven Mather McPherson, who was named for his grandfather, Steven Mather, told The Darien Times that Chilton was a driving force “in helping us turn this into the Mather Homestead Foundation.”

“To see the barn go up and to see his mother’s name on it, makes me very, very happy because his mother was an inspiration to him and all of the restoration work that he’s done, both in this country and in England. To see him involved in this, that was a major part of our family saying ‘let’s go ahead with this,’ because we were questioning what we wanted to do with this property,” he said.

Mather McPherson continued: “This really just solidified the whole thing and made it a wonderful, wonderful opportunity for the town and for all the residents to get us onto this property.”