Wilton's Weir Farm could become historic national park

WILTON — American Impressionist Julian Alden Weir’s “great good place,” as he called his home that sits on the Wilton-Ridgefield border, is on the cusp of becoming a historic national park.

All that remains is for President Donald Trump to affix his signature to legislation that turns Weir Farm from a national historic site to a historic national park.

U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., authored a bill that would change the designation. This was followed by Senate passage of a companion bill, put forth by Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy.

The change will better represent Weir Farm’s complex cultural, natural and recreational offerings to the public, Himes’ office said. It will also reflect the greater number of visitors, collaboration with partners, and public programming since the park’s original designation.

“Walking through Weir Farm in any season is a quintessentially Connecticut experience,” Himes said. “It’s a beautiful, extensive site that gives visitors perspective into an important period in American art, as well as a much-needed space to reconnect with our natural world.”

The farm became home to Weir in 1882 when he traded a still life painting he bought for $560 for what was then a 153-acre farm. Saved from being lost in totality to development by local, grassroots efforts, some 70 acres were preserved through the The Weir Farm National Historical Site Establishment Act of 1990.

The farm is now home to more than 250 historic painting sites as well as 15 historic buildings, a vast collection of American art, orchards, landscapes, trails, gardens, miles of stone walls and Weir Pond. Along with Weir, the property has inspired generations of artists, most notably Mahonri Young and Doris and Charles Sperry Andrews. Along with adjacent Weir Preserve, the property offers a 110-acre network of hiking trails.

“While we work on large government funding bills and coronavirus relief efforts in Congress, we must never forget to sustain the arts, protect our natural spaces, and plan for a brighter future,” Himes said. “Americans will soon once again travel the country and explore its national parks. Elevating Weir Farm to the status it deserves will help draw visitors and share the unique beauty and history of southwest Connecticut.”

Murphy also welcomed the news and said, “Since its restoration in 2014, we’ve witnessed an uptick in visitors and more public programming underscoring the importance of preserving art and culture.”

Weir Farm promotes its legacy through a number of programs, including Art in the Park, encouraging visitors to take up a brush or pencil and paint or sketch in the park, and an annual Art in the Park festival. The Weir Farm Art Alliance brings an artist-in residence each month. There have also been sculpture exhibitions throughout the park and the park represents Connecticut on a quarter in the U.S. Mint’s America the Beautiful series.

“Weir Farm is a special place enjoyed by many residents. This designation should further ensure that it will be enjoyed for generations to come,” Wilton First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice said.

“We also hope the designation will raise the profile of the park and bring visitors to Wilton who will not only enjoy the park, but also our local restaurants and shops.”

Of the designation, Ridgefield First Selectman Rudy Marconi said, “Weir Farm has been a destination for many visitors over the last several years and now hopefully many more will recognize this important destination in Ridgefield and Wilton as a destination rich in culture and history of Connecticut.”

Last year, former artist-in-residence Xiomaro wrote “Weir Farm National Historic Site,” published by Arcadia Publishing as part of its Images of Modern America series. It tells the story of the farm through historic photos and those he has taken over the last several years.

“The Friends of Weir Farm are proud to be part of the initiative, along with the Weir Farm Art Alliance, and Congressman Himes, to propose the redesignation in the House of Representatives to Weir Farm National Historical Park,” said Liz Castagna, vice president of Friends of Weir Farm. “We believe that the passage of the bill for this new name truly represents the wide range of cultural, historical and recreational resources that the park offers to the public.”

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect Weir Farm could be designated a historic national park.