Category Archives: Places

Good Service!

It’s easy to mock Metro-North for those “good service” messages — when, clearly, it’s not, even if the entire East Coast is reeling from one meteorological catastrophe or another.

Today was different.

Alert “06880” reader John Hartwell reports:

It’s just after 10 a.m. I’m taking the train to New Haven to avoid I-95. The platforms are clean and snow-free, and the trains are running on time. We all like to complain about Metro-North, but I’m glad it wasn’t my job to be up early this morning  shoveling snow!

(Photo/John Hartwell)

(Photo/John Hartwell)

 

The View From Canal Road

Sure, the weather has been cold and icy for weeks. But there’s a certain beauty in all that cold and ice — if you know where to look.

Gene Borio does. Here are 3 very cool views, from his perch on Saugatuck Shores.

The Saugatuck River, looking toward Westport.

The Saugatuck River, looking toward Westport.

Long Island Sound. In the distance: the ice-encrusted lighthouse, and Research Island.

Long Island Sound. In the distance: the ice-encrusted lighthouse.

"No Diving No Jumping." No kidding. (Photos/Gene Borio)

“No Diving No Jumping.” No kidding. (Photos/Gene Borio)

But Is It Art?

As she snowshoed through the Newman-Poses Preserve yesterday, alert “06880” reader Sandy Rothenberg spotted this sight:

Newman Preserve - Sandy Rothenberg

Uprooted tree? Natural art?

Or just another unexpected discovery in the woods of Westport?

And More Of Winter…

Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow on Monday, so we’ll have 6 more weeks of winter.

The good news: Lynn U. Miller will have more time to take spectacular shots like these.

We may not love everything about this time of year. But the very talented Westport photographer helps us appreciate all that we have.

The Longshore entrance road.

The Longshore entrance road.

The Saugatuck River and Riverside Avenue, as seen from Grace Salmon Park.

The Saugatuck River and Riverside Avenue, as seen from Grace Salmon Park.

Edmund Strait Marina, at Longshore. (Photos/Lynn U. Miller)

Edmund Strait Marina at Longshore. Saugatuck Shores is in the distance.  (Photos/Lynn U. Miller)

Not Currier And Ives …

… but even better: John Videler.

The talented photographer snapped this shot on South Compo Road:

John Videler - South Compo

A few minutes earlier, a jogger ran by.

It’s a good thing John missed her.

This photo is timeless.

 

Danish House Follow-Up: No, No, It Really Is The Philippines!

This morning’s “06880” post — about the 1964-65 World’s Fair Danish Pavilion that ended up in Westport — started out:

It’s an urban suburban myth: The Philippines (or Indonesian) (or Danish) pavilion from the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair ended up as a residence at the end of Compo Cove.

The piece described how the Danish pavilion actually became a Danish furniture store near the Sherwood Island connector. In the final paragraph, I wondered whether that was the same house everyone speculates is on Compo Cove.

I should have checked with Fred Cantor first.

The very alert “06880” reader/avid historical researcher sent along a document from 1991. The 11-page application to the National Park Service — signed by state historic preservation officer John Shannahan — requests that 22 buildings comprising the “Mill Cove Historic District” be placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Here’s the interesting part: One of the cottages at the south end of the district has “an unusual history. Originally, this building was a bamboo hut built for the Phillipine [sic] Exhibit at the St. Louis Exposition in the late nineteenth century [sic]; it was dismantled and re-erected on this site about 1900.”

(Well, a bit later. The Exposition was held in 1904.)

The houses that came from the Philippine Exhibit are at the far right in this Google Maps photo. Beyond them (to the right) is Sherwood Island State Park. To the left is the path leading to Old Mill Beach.

The houses that came from the Philippine Exposition are at the far right in this Google Maps photo. Beyond them (to the right) is Sherwood Island State Park. To the left is the path leading to Old Mill Beach.

But wait! There’s more! “A smaller cottage to the rear is also a re-built bamboo hut but it has retained its form and some exterior materials.”

UPDATEAlert reader SW Reid posted in a comment (below): “Brooks Jones built the guest house behind the ‘pavilion’ maybe 25 years ago. He wanted the unit to look like the original structure on the water.”

So there you have it. The house is Filipino, not Danish. But how and why it ended up in Westport remains a mystery.

Until, that is, Fred finds out.

BONUS FUN FACTSThe 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair — also called the Louisiana Purchase Exhibition — was built to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the purchase of the Louisiana Territory by the US from France.

The Philippine Exhibit was the largest (47 acres, 100 buildings), most expensive ($2 million) and most popular at the entire fair.

A bird's-eye view of the mammoth Philippine Exhibit.

A bird’s-eye view of the mammoth Philippine Exhibit.

There were about 1,100 Filipinos at the Philippine Exhibit. They were shown in various stages of cultures, from primitive to highly cultured.

The head-hunting, dog-eating Igorots were the greatest attraction at the Philippine Exhibit, not only because of their novelty, the scanty dressing of the males and their daily dancing to the tom-tom beats, but also because of their appetite for dog meat which is a normal part of their diet.

(Hat tip to Virgilio R. Pilapil — and Google — for the above information. Read much more from him about the Philippine Exhibit by clicking here.)

Philippine Exhibition

 

Has Anyone Seen The Danish Pavilion?

It’s an urban suburban myth: The Philippines (or Indonesian) (or Danish) pavilion from the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair ended up as a residence at the end of Compo Cove.

I’ve walked that path — from Old Mill Beach all the way to the edge of Sherwood Island — and I’ve seen that modern-looking, glass-and-wood house. It’s intriguing — but a former World’s Fair pavilion? C’mon!

Yet a recent email from alert “06880” reader/former Westporter/World’s Fair fanatic Doug Davidoff may shed some light on the legend. At the same time, it raises more than a few mysteries itself.

Doug sent along a clipping from the October 16, 1965 Bridgeport Post. It read:

The Denmark Pavilion at the 1964-65 New York World's Fair. (Photo/BrickFetish.com)

The Denmark Pavilion at the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair. (Photo/BrickFetish.com)

“The prize-winning Danish pavilion at the World’s Fair has been purchased by the Laerkesen Furniture company, 1400 East State street [Post Road East], and will be relocated here on a two-acre tract adjacent to the Sherwood Island connector.”

The Bridgeport Post story described the 130-by-80-foot pine-and-plate-glass building as designed to be disassembled, then reconstructed “like a giant erector set.”

A “World’s Fair Community” website story from 2001 provides further details. Citing a New York Times account of November 22, 1964, it said the structure was planned to be called Laerkesen’s Denmark House, and would display the company’s Danish furniture and household equipment. The “Tivoli Playground” and “Little Mermaid” reconstruction were also to be included. The pavilion — built for $1.2 million — had been bought for $40,000, and would cost $465,000 to move and rebuild.

A poster touting the Denmark Pavilion.

A poster touting the Denmark Pavilion.

The story added that Laerkesen’s owner Dominick DeCecco had outgrown his original store at 1460 Post Road East (now the Pier 1 shopping center). The new location would be “on the Boston Post Road at the juncture of Route 18 in Westport.”

Of course, there is no “Route 18.” This must have referred to the Sherwood Island connector, heading to the Connecticut Turnpike (now I-95) Exit 18.

The 2001 website story challenged readers to find “Laerkesen’s Denmark House.” (The name came from DeCecco’s wife, the former Dorthe Laerkesen.)

No one could.

Perhaps the “06880” community can crowd-source this. If you remember Laerkesen’s Denmark House — where it was, what it looked like, or anything else — click “Comments” below.

And if you can provide proof that it’s the same building that now sits as a handsome home at the end of Compo Cove — well, fantastisk.

Worlds Fair postcard

 

 

 

Winslow Park Is Not Going To The Dogs

Right now, it seems, every elementary school child in Westport is sledding or tubing on the snowy hills in the middle of downtown.

Winslow Park 2

So much for the myth that kids today never put down their electronic devices.

Winslow Park 1

Of course, 30 years from now, those now-grown parents will say to their own children, “Put down your intelliport! When I was your age, I played all day in this amazing blizzard….”

Winslow Park 4

Winslow Park 5

Winslow Park 3

All You Ever Wanted To Know About Coleytown, But Never Knew To Ask

Mary Gai is many things: an alert “06880” reader. A realtor. A lover of Westport history.

Those 3 elements come together in her fascinating story about the Coleytown neighborhood:

I couldn’t believe my eyes when I first saw 277 North Avenue in the early 1980s. But I immediately knew I was looking at history.

Standing hundreds of feet from any road, the dramatic lines of the 1740s saltbox — constructed to avoid taxes the King of England imposed on 2-story houses — had not changed since it was built.

Amazingly, it still exists today — along with a carriage house, barn and surrounding acreage. The fact that it does is due to a series of little miracles. The first was that James Earle Fraser and Laura Gardin Fraser bought sizable chunks of Coleytown starting in 1914, including this property.

James Earle Fraser, at work on a bust of Theodore Roosevelt in his Westport studio.

James Earle Fraser, at work on a bust of Theodore Roosevelt in his Westport studio.

Westport would not be Westport if not for the Frasers.  They were the most famous residents of Westport ever (according to his 1953 obituary). The 1st polo games ever in Westport were held on their property. A year later they founded The Fairfield County Hunt Club.

They were also among the founders of the Westport Beach Club (now known as Longshore), and Shorehaven Country Club.

These politically active, internationally famous sculptors attracted to Westport a dizzying array of internationally famous visitors, including both Roosevelt first ladies, Edsel Ford, the Harvey Firestones, the Mayos, Averell Harriman, the George Patton family, famous poets, architects, writers, activists and philanthropists. Three-time Pulitzer Prize winning poet Edwin Arlington Robinson lived with them in Westport for 15 years.

Public records reveal that the Frasers intentionally purchased property to keep their neighborhood quiet enough for their creativity. They then sold some land to other artists, effectively founding Westport’s famous artists colony.

Former Fraser student and famous sculptor Lila Wheelock Howard and her illustrator husband Oscar bought the old mill and barn on Coleytown Road in 1919. Kerr Eby, world-famous artist and pacifist, bought the Coley homestead from the Frasers in 1923, just a few hundred feet from the Fraser studios. The property that he named “Driftway” became the inspiration for many of his etchings (still sold today). He lived in his beloved old saltbox for the rest of this life.

Water was an important part of the property, for many reasons.

Water was an important part of the property, for many reasons.

Heir to the Montgomery Ward fortune Ward Thorne and his wife Judith bought Driftway from the Eby estate in 1949. They lived there for the rest of their lives as well. To insure that the property be taken seriously by historians, they donated it to the Antiquarian & Landmarks society.

The current sellers are true heroes of preservation. They stabilized and restored the magnificent saltbox, insuring that it will “live on” with its 5 working fireplaces, chestnut beams, floors and gorgeous woodwork. A family addition echoes the saltbox form, and adds functionality for today. They also purchased the old mill and barn to reunite the property and the main building components, which now includes 3 antique homes, 2 barns and 10.5 acres of the original farm homestead.

277 North Avenue today. The original lines of the 1740s saltbox still remain.

277 North Avenue today. The original lines of the 1740s saltbox still remain.

The area is called “Coleytown” because of the Coley family. They farmed their land for 200 years, and had quite a sophisticated operation. Fresh water from the Aspetuck River helped grow grapes, flax, corn, onions and other crops.

The Coley wharf was located on the Saugatuck River just south of Gorham Island. Produce — including grain processed at the Coley mill — was transported on the Coley’s sloop “Nancy” to New York and Boston on a regular basis.

The c.1760 gristmill — replaced by steam power — became a cotton mill by 1840. Batting produced from Southern cotton was sent to manufacturers to fill the need for textiles in Northeastern cities. A piece of cotton mill apparatus still hangs from the barn rafters, and an original millstone decorates the riverfront landscape. A footbridge and waterfall create a gorgeous, unspoiled landscape.

The original mill house.

The original mill house.

The Frasers and 4 other owners of this property not only preserved the antique buildings and land along the Aspetuck River. They also preserved the largely forgotten village center, first called “Coley Ville.”

The mill and converted barn on Coleytown Road were the center of the little village. It included a small green, schoolhouse, shoemaker, blacksmith, yarn manufacturer, horse stables, 5 Coley homesteads, and probably a couple of other shops.

The original Coley homestead.

The original Coley homestead. (All photos courtesy of Mary Gai)

Today, the former village gristmill, barn and the Coley homestead are looking for new stewards. Let’s hope they preserve the character of this special neighborhood — one that has endured even longer than our nation itself.

(For much more information on the property, click here; then follow the “Driftway” links on the left.)

Behind The Baron

The Baron is back in the news.

For years, Westporters have talked about “Baron’s South” — the hilly, wooded 30 acres of municipal land, once owned by “the Baron” between South Compo Road and Imperial Avenue. (“Baron’s South” differentiates it from the old “Baron’s property,” the 32 acres across the Post Road on North Compo, renamed Winslow Park after the town bought it nearly 3 decades ago.)

The Baron’s house — Golden Shadows — is in the news too, as Westport debates what to do with that perhaps historic, perhaps blah 1959 home on Baron’s South.

But who was this guy? Was he a real baron? Or was this just a high-falutin’, self-styled nickname, the way Elvis Presley called himself “The King”?

Golden Shadows perfume, by Evyan.

Golden Shadows perfume, by Evyan.

He’s legit. His real name was Walter Langer, aka Baron Walter Langer von Langendorff of Austria. But I guess barons also need day jobs, so he became a chemist (and a Ph.D. doctor).

He founded Evyan Perfumes in the mid-1930s, bought the South Compo estate in 1967, and lived there until his death in 1983. Evyan was meant to “challenge the French perfume industry.”

His wife — the baronness — was British-born Evelyn Diane Westall. She was also known as “Lady Evyan.”

I know this thanks in part to Wendy Crowther. She loves the Baron’s property, and wants to preserve his home. She sent along a couple of fascinating articles.

An ad for White Shoulders perfume.

An ad for White Shoulders perfume.

One — from the “Vintage Perfume Vault” blog (“Where the scent of yesterday’s vogue lives”) — says that Evyan’s famed White Shoulders perfume was launched in the 1940s. It’s remained very popular, through Evyan’s sale to Elizabeth Arden. It may even be “the iconic American fragrance.”

(Fun factIt was named, perhaps, for Lady Evyan’s beautiful white shoulders.)

Wendy also sent a link to a 1987 New York Times story. Back then, all eyes were focused on the baron’s North Compo Road land. A referendum — ultimately successful — was held on whether to acquire the property by condemnation.

The cost was $8.75 million, and the town wanted to act quickly. With the baron’s estate “tangled” thanks to 5 wills and many legatees, the cost was expected to rise in the future.

The baron had bought it in 1970 — 3 years after purchasing his South Compo estate. He was seen as a savior, since the previous owner — developer Albert Phelps — wanted to put a B. Altman shopping center there. (Click here for a fascinating story on the previous history of what is now Winslow Park, including a sanitarium and the most luxurious estate in Westport.)

The Golden Shadows house, looking southwest. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

The Golden Shadows house, looking southwest. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

But back to Baron’s South, and “Golden Shadows.” The estate — which at one point included not only his house but others on the land, plus magnificent gardens and arbors — got its name from another Evyan perfume.

Golden Shadows — the scent — was launched in 1950. The Baron created it himself. The New Yorker called it a “first cousin” to White Shoulders (with a “more nonchalant mien”).

Baron’s South will be a major topic of discussion in Westport, for months to come. We’ll talk too about the fate of Golden Shadows.

As we do, we should remember the man behind the land, the home, and the perfumes that provided the fortune that enabled him to buy — and preserve — such magnificent open space.