View of the outbuildings from the Weir House
National Park Service, Weir Farm National Historic Site
The outbuildings at the Weir Complex includes: the picket fence, tack house, chicken coop, garden tool shed, ice house (later a chicken coop), corn crib, well houses, and the wagon shed.
The original squat six or eight sided building, seen in J. Alden Weir's New England Barnyard (1904) and The Palace Car (ca. 1905), was replaced around 1911 with the existing tack house. The tack house was possibly built at the same time that renovations were being done to the Weir Barn. One thing to note is the interesting dimensions of the tackhouse, five walls measure the same width while the other three walls are much smaller. The resulting skewed shape and off-center roof peak has no written explanation for its existence. Dorothy Weir Young or Mahonri Young had the roof raised on the structure ca. 1925, but no additional work was done.
Prior to Julian Alden Weir buying the Branchville farm, the Beers family installed a wood picket fence with gates that opened on Pelham Lane and Nod Hill Road. A picket fence would have been in keeping with the Greek Revival Style that the Beers used on the farmhouse. However, Weir would start applying a more rustic flair to his Branchville home, beginning with the fence. Sometime between 1890 and 1900 a more rustic style fence, which you see today, replaced the wood picket fence. Weir probably had his caretaker Paul Remy construct the fence and the trellis that existed west of his studio. The trellis can be seen in Weir's painting, the Grey Trellis (1891). Dorothy Weir Young and Mahonri Young continued to maintain this style of fence during their residency, while the Andrews choose to let the fence naturally age.
Built around 1891, the ice house is located north of the Weir House and has served as a constant source of ice and artistic inspiration. Julian Alden Weir first mentioned the ice house in a letter to his brother, John Ferguson Weir, "The ice still holds out, but Paul says it's about the last of it...we have the road over which he draws the ice in good shape for next winter..." The original ice house, seen in J Alden Weir's The Ice House (ca. 1891) and in a ca. 1905 photograph of Cora Weir Burlingham, was built to minimize exposure to heat. The exterior walls were white to reflect the sun and it had a room attached to the southern side of the building to act as a temperature control that used shuttered windows as the only source of light in the building. Although there might have been some ventilation, the building did not have the raised cupola seen today. After the construction of Weir Pond in 1896, the caretakers would draw ice from there until the 1940s.
The cupola was built around 1934 and was documented by a copper plate attached to the building's lightning rod and in Mahonri Young's drawing The Garden Gate, Branchville (1936). A 1943 entry in Dorothy Weir Young's account book references "chicken house" for two large amounts as an indicator of the conversion of the ice house to the chicken house. Converting the ice house to the chicken coop included adding additional windows on the west face, moving the lean-to to the north face, and painting the building red with white trim. This conversion might have been due to Mahonri and Dorothy living at the Branchville farm fulltime in 1943 and 1944. The park stabilized the ice house in 2008 to prevent wood rot from destroying the building.
Located north of the ice house. Currently, building is a reconstruction of the original corn crib. Julian Alden Weir had the corn crib built in 1899 after losing a previous years corn crop to overheating. Corn was important in the running of the farm as it would have been used for animal feed. The raised floor and spacing in the vertical siding would have allowed for maximum air flow in the summer while allowing the corn to dry. To prevent creatures from gaining access to the corn through the open slats, heavy gauge screens were installed along the walls. The corn crib appears in Mahonri Young's Shingling the Corn Crib (1932) and depicts two men re-shingling the corn crib roof. The corn crib was in such poor conditions, the Institute for Preservation Training restored the structure in 1998.
Garden Tool Shed
Built around 1914, to house garden appropriate tools needed for the "Secret Garden" (see below); the shed has changed little over time. Blue paint covers the interior of the tool shed, while the exterior sports an unfinished shingle look. By 1936, when the shed appeared in an untitled sketch by Mahonri Young, it had been named Dorothy's Garden Shed. It also appeared in Mahonri's 1938 watercolor, Branchville Shed - Red Village.
The original chicken coop was located west of the Weir Studio. Julian Alden Weir chose to highlight this chicken coop in his pastel, Feeding the Chickens (early-1890s). It was also evident in a ca. 1905 photo. However, the original chicken coop was torn down in 1932 to make way for the Young Studio. The new chicken coup was constructed sometime after that point. Mahonri Young focused on the new coop in his 1943 drawing, Chicken Yard, B'ville. It was used as the chicken coop for until 1943, when the ice house was converted into a chicken coop. However, it might have functioned as a supplementary coop until the early 1950s. In 1998, the Institute for Preservation Training stabilized the chicken coop by salvaging the original material and replacing it in kind.
The capped well to the west of the house was the family's original source of water, using a hand drawn system. Circa 1905, the capped well was replaced with a granite, stone, and concrete base and capped with wood frame housing in the rustic Adirondack theme that Weir introduced to his farm between 1905 and 1915. The base is still in evidence today, but Sperry and Doris Andrews said the frame had been removed due to safety concerns.
Little is known about the wagon shed. It was located west of the corn crib and was possibly built sometime between 1910 and 1941. A 1920s inventory of buildings lists a shed in addition to the known structures on the site. Sperry Andrews depicted the wagon shed in circa-1978 paintings of the Weir outbuildings. The wagon shed collapsed around 1980. The material was salvaged and is in storage at Weir Farm National Historic Site.
Despite being used as an active farm during Julian Alden Weir's tenure, there are scant details of harvests and locations of his agricultural fields. Most of the farming probably took place east of Nod Hill Road because directly west of the Weir House was wetland area. However, a 1900 purchase of 32-acre lot west of the homestead might have expanded the agricultural fields to the west. When Julian Alden Weir bought the Webb Farm in 1907, he refers to using two farmers. Between 1901 and 1919, Julian Alden Weir developed and changed the landscape around his Branchville farm by enlarging the main house, purchasing additional plots of land, and developing the gardens around the property. At the time of Weir's death in 1919, the landscape of the property was defined by open rocky fields, stone-walls, glacial erratics, vistas, and maintained views.
During the Weir/Young Period the landscape was allowed to naturally change. No longer were the views manipulated, but instead transitioned into a more natural condition. Further, the gentleman farmer lifestyle that Julian Alden Weir enjoyed so much was reduced to maintaining the farm, but did not seek to make a profit. The Andrews would continue the tradition of allowing the natural characteristics of the landscape to propagate. Only the buildings, aside from the wagon shed, were maintained.
These historic apple trees were a source for apple cider and artistic inspiration for Julian Alden Weir, his friends, and his family. Captured by Albert Pinkham Ryder in his circa 1888 oil painting Weir's Orchard. Mahonri Young, Spery Andrews and other artists would be inspired to paint this area many times over the next 120 years. Restored in 1998, the Weir Orchard represents cloned varieties of the historic apple trees that once dotted the landscape.
Although Julian Alden Weir created a series of sketches that depicted a garden north of his studio, he was possibly sketching an earlier garden his first wife, Anna Baker Weir, created. Sometime around 1915, Cora Weir Burlingham, Caroline Weir Ely, Dorothy Weir Young, or Ella Baker Weir all might have had a hand in the creation of the formal garden. It is still unclear who created the garden area. However, a series of historic photographs in the garden show a wide range of activities were enjoyed here. After the hedgerows became overgrown during the ownership of Dorothy Weir Young and Mahonri Young the garden might have been classified as the "Secret Garden". The wooden gates and fences would vanish. The Ridgefield Garden Club worked with the National Park Service and the Olmstead Center to restore this area in the mid-1990s.