Mather Homestead to turn barn into education center
Change is in the air at The Mather Homestead in Darien.
The historic home is about to launch a huge project — one that would reflect its future, while still retaining a flavor of its past. The plan is to build an education center, to be called the Elizabeth W. Chilton Education Center.
The new 1,800-square-foot educational center would have a big, open space to host lectures, school groups, art exhibits, and more. It would seat 75 people and would enable the Mather Homestead to hold its events rain or shine.
The Mather Homestead
The Mather Homestead, which has been open to the public for two years, was built in 1778 by Deacon Joseph Mather and has played a large role in Darien’s history.
The home was raided by the Tories during the Revolutionary War and was later the summer home of Stephen Mather, founder of the National Parks Service.
The Mather Homestead is run by a nonprofit that receives funding from donations from the community. All funding goes to its educational programs and continued preservation and beautification of the property.
Currently, the center gives tours to both schoolchildren and adults, and hosts fall festivals and children’s activities, as well as dinners and historical author talks and lectures.
“The exterior of the barn will still resemble an 18th century barn,” said Lauren Swenson, the Mather Homestead Foundation’s executive director.
The Mather Homestead hopes to raise about $75,000 from the community to help fund the project.
“We hope to start mid- to late summer and we are working with the town on final approvals this month,” Swenson said.
The work is expected to take about six months.
Need for education center
With inadequate space at the homestead, all lectures, talks and school workshops have taken place in a barn on an adjacent property, or outdoors. This barn is about 1,300 square feet.
“What the Mather Homestead currently lacks is an indoor space where we can exhibit our collection of colonial items as well as Mather’s correspondence and photographs, establishing the National Park Service,” she said.
These items, which include spinning wheels, candle molds, lithographs, and revolutionary costumes, are currently stored in the main house’s attic.
To help preserve them, the Mather Homestead needs a climate controlled environment, Swenson said.
She added that some interior pieces of the existing barn would be salvaged and used in the new “barn.”
“We want it to blend with the historic nature of the property,” Swenson said.
According to Swenson, The Mather Homestead is unique because “we are the only historic home that was owned by the same family for seven generations.”
“The Mather home has so many touch points in American history — all the way from the American Revolution, through the transition of America from agriculture to industry in the 1800s, into the creation of the National Park Service in the 1900s,” Swenson said. “This is something we really love for our town to be proud of and adds history to the neighborhood.”
For more information on the Mather Homestead project or to make a donation, visit matherhomestead.org, then click Support and then barn raiser.
Glimpses of the Mathers: A history of the Mather Homestead, by Marian Castell, town historian.
The name of the Mather Homestead Museum reflects this family's importance, not only to Darien, but to New England as well as American history, as well as how fortunate we are to possibly have here in Darien the only original Mather home left in the world.
The Mather Homestead Museum, a Mather family home from 1778 and lovingly and perfectly preserved by a deep respect of their family and for its role in the Revolution, is now a permanent visual Darien reminder of Mather family that have shaped history from 17th century Boston, New England, as well as 18th century Darien, through to 20th century American history.
The 18th century Darien’s preacher Moses Mather, surviving raids on his homes, and twice captured and imprisoned by his Tory neighbors, was the fighting spirit and dominating force for freedom from England that resulted in saving the New England Congregational Church. This is currently reflected in our current Selectman structure. Moses’ 1778 role for this Homestead Museum (his son’s house) was his lighting the welcoming first hearth fire with a sun glass in the same hearth we see today.
Stephen Mather picked up the Mather mantle in the 20th century as Secretary of the Interior with his implementation of his courageous vision of a National Park system, and his doubling the existing National Parks. By establishing the first National Parks in America, his idea is now emulated all over the world.
This Darien Homestead Museum, preserving for the future the original Mather family home that has always been in one family, survived the Revolution raids and is now believed to be possibly the only original existing home in the world of the famous extensive Mather family. Long since a National Historic Landmark, and on the National Register of Historic Places, we protect with pride our Darien Protected Town Landmark.
More information on the Mathers and the Darien story are in the library section in the Darien Historical Society website.