Abraham Lincoln’s Westport Golf Course

Today is Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. (Happy 215th, Abe!)

Once upon a time, that was a legit holiday. Now it’s been folded into the generic “Presidents Day,” lowering Lincoln to the likes of John Tyler, Zachary Taylor and Woodrow Wilson’s wife.

But The Great Emancipator deserves an “06880” shout-out. With, of course, a Westport twist.

Abe LincolnLincoln supposedly stayed at Hockanum, Morris Ketchum’s 69 Cross Highway estate near Roseville Road, during his presidency.  (Woody Klein‘s history of Westport says only that Salmon P. Chase — Lincoln’s Secretary of the Treasury — was a frequent guest.)  Hockanum still stands; there is a “Lincoln bedroom” upstairs, and the deed states that no changes can be made to that room.

Like the great realtor she is, alert “06880” reader Mary Palmieri Gai has unearthed some fascinating new information about Hockanum. It doesn’t involve Lincoln directly, but it does provide a chance for me to use his name and the word “golf” in the same sentence — something that has perhaps never been done before, even though 15,000 books have been written about him. (True fact.)

Mary discovered a May 21, 1900 Norwalk Hour story that says:

Westport golfists are getting ready their clubhouse on the Morris Ketchum estate to repeat the splendid experience there of last summer.

Players from Westport, Saugatuck, the Norwalks, Greens Farms, Southport, Fairfield, Greenfield and even Bridgeport think highly of the quarters like that former old house as a place to see and to wait while others are playing. The club has completed an addition to the building. Play is indulged in every day.

Mary explains that Ketchum’s Hockanum property extended far north, long past where the Merritt Parkway is now — all the way to Lyons Plains Road. (It included homes that still stand, like the 1856 house at 499 Main Street.)

1900s golfRecently, Mary says, the owners of a house that backs up to the Unitarian Church found golf balls on their property. No one could figure out where they came from.

The answer: the Hockanum golf course.

It wasn’t there when President Lincoln (supposedly) visited. It isn’t there now.

But it sure provides a great way to look at Westport’s recreational — and presidential — past.

10 responses to “Abraham Lincoln’s Westport Golf Course

  1. Mary and Dan: when did Silverbrook Farm come into existence? As you both know, I grew up in that area and, to the best of my recollection, there was a large block of land there that was owned and operated by Silverbrook Farm for decades. Thanks. (PS if anyone finds wiffle golf balls–those could be mine and Alan Bravin’s. We used to practice with those in our backyards.)

  2. The story goes that Mr. Ketchum would open up the driveways on his grand Hockanum estate to the public on Sundays so the townspeople could drive through the grounds and appreciate the beautiful landscaping – some of which still exists (such as the azaleas on the southern portion of the property near Hockanum Road, which still bloom magnificently every spring.)

  3. I just wanted to mention Hockanum isn’t on the market. But It is such a prominent property that its history pops up occasionally when I am researching other old homes. Mr. Ketchum was a very prominent banker in NYC and Hockanum was his summer home. I owned and renovated that Antique at 499 Main Street (a very valuable education) and it was then that I learned about the vastness of Ketchum’s land holdings and saw that he gave 499 to one of his caretakers. Ketchum’s name was associated with a vast amount of Westport in the 1800s. He died in 1880 but his property remained as an estate for quite awhile. Fred, I am not sure when Hockanum was broken up the first time, probably to Silverbook Farm, but the property was comprised of Hockanum Woods where Pine, Hockanum, and Joanne Circle are all the way up to the Colony Road off Roseville. He owned both sides of Cross Highway past where Colony is now and to the north where all of where Gault Park and Cob Drive touching North Avenue and to Lyons Plains Road. it’s thrilling to find a newspaper story about a golf course that puts so many pieces together. That was one very early golf course! Happy Birthday Mr. Lincoln!! Your room is still at Hockanum. FORE!!

  4. I should have used the words “probably owned” when talking about the Colony Road area, but it’s a darn good bet since it was called Hockanum Woods.

  5. The Hockanum Estate tract was largely purchased by Westport Estates, Inc (Gault) in the 1920s (not sure when, but prior to 1931) and was thereafter developed – Punch Bowl and Gault Park Drive were created to service the subdivision.

  6. Sally Campbell Palmer

    From the shape of the property and its location it was probably one, or part of one of the original “long lots”. What fun, thanks Mary!

  7. When the estate was settling in 1904 (24 years after his death?!) the NYT was advertising a Gentleman’s Country Seat and Farm of 500 acres of fine with 3 sets of buildings in Westport, Conn, 8 miles from Station and 1/2 mile from Trolley and one hour and 20 minutes from Grand Central Depot.

  8. Isabelle Isafan

    I always admire that azalea garden. How nice to know it’s a part of history, rather than a more recent landscaping endeavour.

    • According to Tim Walsh, the current owner of the property, Morris Ketchum was a business partner of Frederick Law Olmsted, the landscape architect who also designed Central park.The trees and gardens are said to reflect Olmsted’s handiwork. Many of the trees have been lost, through the years, but a handful still remain — as does the original garden.

  9. I am a tiny bit obsessed with Olmsted’s work (growing up in the Nursery Biz on property that was once owned by Ketchum plus having listed a home with an Olmsted Garden a few years back) and I did not know the Ketchum/Olmsted connection. It surprised me to see how high profile Ketchum was, and yet how little esteem he has in our history. The fact that Lincoln came to Westport to ask for Ketchum’s help in funding the Civil War, shows how important he was. Maybe, were it not for the Ponzi Scheme that shook Wall Street that was perpetrated by his son, we’d still have Ketchum Golf Course. Or maybe if it weren’t for society types so obsessed with scandal back in the day, we’d have Ketchum Park or Ketchum School. There is a sweet little street in Saugatuck named after him, though. The Walshes are very lucky to be living in a piece of Westport History, Landscape History and US History!!