Category Archives: Places

How Julie Beitman’s Garden Grows

Oldtimers knew the plot of land on the west side of North Avenue, just up from Long Lots, as Rippe’s Farm.

Those who have been here a while remember when a guy named Buster sold fruits and vegetables there, from a roadside stand.

To newcomers it’s a cul-de-sac with homes that — in a nod to its agricultural past — were designed to look in part like silos. Greystone Farm Lane is a nonsensical name created from thin air. It might as well be called Buckingham Palace Drive, or Stonehenge Way.

But it’s a nice, neighborly area. And at least one resident pays homage to the area’s previous life.

The Beitmans' house, and part of the old barn (right).

The Beitmans’ house, and part of the old barn (right).

For the past 12 years, Julie Beitman has lived in the 1st house on the left. An original Rippe barn still sits on her property (it’s transformed into a “man cave,” where her sons play music). She and her husband have unearthed foundations from other farm buildings too.

The nutrient-rich soil is gone — the builder skimmed it off, and sold it for profit — but Julie has coaxed amazing trees and plants out of what is now hard clay.

Julie Beitman, with just some of her plants.

Julie Beitman, with just some of her plants.

She planted 16 fruit trees.

She grows lettuce, tomatoes, 5 varieties of hot peppers, peas, eggplant, grapes, cucumbers, apples, cherries, 3 varieties of plums, and herbs. She and her son Andrew — a rising Staples senior – have cross-bred Bartlett and Bosc pears.

When her string beans grew 40 feet tall, she called in neighborhood kids to pick them.

I didn’t know you could grow cotton in Connecticut, but Julie does. (The seeds came from Israel.)

In the winter, Julie makes maple syrup. This summer, she’ll jar peaches.

Pears ripen in Julie's back yard.

Pears ripen in Julie’s back yard.

She’s a completely self-taught gardener. But she has learned well. Everywhere in her yard, something grows.

“It’s my therapy,” Julie — who also owns a jewelry business, and plans parties on the side — says. “It’s a labor of love.”

But beyond planting, pruning, picking and placing peppers on the ground to keep animals away, she does not do much. “It takes care of itself,” she notes.

She’s being too modest. 1 Greystone Farm Lane is a wonderful bounty.

Mr. Rippe would be very, very proud.

Buster too.

It's a very green summer at 1 Greystone Farm Lane.

It’s a very green summer at 1 Greystone Farm Lane.

 

 

54 North Avenue: The End Of The Mills Family Legacy

Though they may not know it, Westporters are very familiar with 54 North Avenue.The brown wooden house stands a few feet from the southern entrance to Staples High School. It’s more than a century old.

54 North Avenue

54 North Avenue

But that’s not why 54 North Avenue rates an “06880” story. More significant is that later this month its owner, William B. Mills, will sell his home. And that will end more than 200 years in which the Mills family has lived on North Avenue.

The oldest house on North Avenue between Long Lots and Cross Highway is #29. Built by Revolutionary War veteran John Mills (1760-1829) for his daughter Charity and her new husband Hezekiah Mills (a cousin), it was constructed in the right of way — without title to land. In fact, John seemed to have no claim to the spot whatsoever. Nevertheless, John set up a blacksmith shop for his daughter and son-in-law.

29 North Avenue

The saltbox at 29 North Avenue.

19 North Avenue was built by John’s grandson Charles Mills (1833-1909). Longtime Westporters know the property as “Rippe’s Farm” — now Greystone Farm Lane — but the Rippes bought it later.

Charles was a master mason who built the foundation for the original Staples High School (1884) on Riverside Avenue. When it was torn down in 1967, Charles’ great-grandson recycled the bricks to build his chimney. Charles — who represented Westport in the state legislature (1885-86) — sold off most of the Mills’ farmland on North Avenue. Legend has it he got $50 an acre — a good sum in those days. But he gave each of his 4 sons 4 acres of property up the road from the house: #54, 58, 62 and 66.

54 North Avenue — the one being sold this month — was built by Charles Mills (1857-1945) on land he got from his father. Charles planted the beautiful red maple in front that is now a local landmark. Williams Mills — Charles’ grandson — is only the 2nd owner.

A red maple frames 54 North Avenue.

A red maple frames 54 North Avenue.

48 North Avenue — built by Homer Mills (1898-1981) — was built in 1943. The road was still rural; there were no side streets, and few houses. Homer attended Adams Academy on nearby Morningside North, but left school after 8th grade. He never got to Staples — which his father helped build. As did many Westport boys, he went to work on a farm. He later became a mason, like his father and grandfather.

Other long-lived Westport families have schools or parks named for them. The Mills family does not.

But they truly built this town. Their monuments are the countless stone walls, sea walls and foundations that exist to this day.

What will happen to 54 North Avenue after it passes from the Mills family? Well, a demolition sign hangs prominently near the front steps.

(Hat tip to Jacques Voris – William Mills’ nephew — for much of this fascinating historical information and insight.)

Wall Street Journal Knows Where We Live

From the ultra-modern to the very old, today’s Wall Street Journal is all over Westport and Weston.

A feature story on homes with the latest high-end amenity — “freshly circulated, highly scrubed air” — highlights Doug Mcdonald’s “passive house.”

The paper reports:

In suburban areas, a handful of high-end developers of single-family homes are promoting their project’s indoor-air quality. In tony Westport, Conn., a 5,800-square-foot Colonial-style house that will soon list for $2.8 million was built using “passive house” building methods that minimize energy usage with a mathematically precise, airtight building technique, and the strategic placement of high-performance windows to take advantage of daylight and shade.

Doug Mcdonald's passive house, off Roseville Road. It was formerly owned by Oscar Levant. (Photo/Claudio Papapietro for Wall Street Journal)

Doug Mcdonald lives in this passive house, off Roseville Road. Before retrofitting, it was owned by Oscar Levant. Doug has built another passive house in Colonial style,  which is currently on the market. (Photo/Claudio Papapietro for Wall Street Journal)

Inside, the air will be filtered through a two air-exchangers, says Douglas Mcdonald, the founder of the Pure House, the company that built the home. Pollen-free fresh air will circulate into living and sleeping spaces; other air will be removed from kitchens and bathrooms, where odors tend to accumulate the most.

“The air quality is amazing,” says Mr. Mcdonald. Paint, flooring and cabinetry will be made from chemical-free materials to eliminate what Mr. Mcdonald describes as harmful off-gassing. He estimates that the speculatively built home, slated to be completed in September, is priced about 10% higher than a traditionally built house.

(I should note that the WSJ is 2 years too late to this passive house party. “06880” reported on it in March 2012.)

Meanwhile, a few pages away, the paper gives a shout-out to a very different home.

Jose Feliciano lives in — and loves — a 1730 Weston landmark. The internationally renowned, Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter.guitarist (“Feliz Navidad,” “Light My Fire”) is as passionate about his historic, lovely home — a former tavern –as Mcdonald is about his engineering marvel.

Jose Feliciano and his wife Susan in their very comfortable kitchen. (Photo/Dorothy Hong for Wall Street Journal)

Jose Feliciano and his wife Susan in their very comfortable kitchen. (Photo/Dorothy Hong for Wall Street Journal)

Feliciano describes his 5-acre property, including a gazebo and barn that’s now a recording studio:

People who don’t know me assume I move around our house gingerly. But being blind doesn’t mean I can’t see. I have a photographic memory and know exactly where everything is. The house is an old, soulful place that creaks and reminds me of my aunt’s home in the Bronx that I used to visit as a boy. It has character.

Our floors creak beautifully … because they’re made of different types of wood. The floors upstairs are pine while downstairs the dining-room floor is pear, the working kitchen is oak and the floor in the kitchen’s dining area is cherry.

Upstairs, the pine floorboards are original to the house, and many are as wide as 20 inches. Back in the 1700s, it was illegal for colonists to take down trees larger than 12 inches in diameter. They were considered property of the king, who needed large trees for ship masts since much of England’s forests were exhausted. Royal surveyors would mark large trees to keep them off-limits, but colonists took them down anyway in protest and used them for upstairs floors, where they’d be out of sight.

Jose Feliciano in his home recording studio. He has a new album out this summer. (Photo/Dorothy Hong for Wall Street Journal)

Jose Feliciano in his home recording studio. He has a new album out this summer. (Photo/Dorothy Hong for Wall Street Journal)

Our house has four working fireplace. My favorite is in the kitchen. When we make fires there in the cold months, I sit in the rocking chair Susan gave me when we were first dating and listen to the wood burning. I hear the sap sizzling and the logs snapping. It makes me imagine how hard life must have been hundreds of years ago. I also like playing guitar and composing in front of the fire, which warms my soul.

Last fall, we had to take down an old maple tree that was near the power lines, so now we have eight cords of wood. I love feeling the seasons change. In the spring, I smell the greenery and hear things coming alive, like the songbirds and sparrows. The Saugatuck River is just 50-feet wide here and cuts through our backyard, so I can hear the river’s motion and cascading waterfall from our bedroom. The water attracts river otters, deer and wild turkeys to our land. Summer has its own vibrant sounds.

I also love hearing my neighbors going about their lives. Our house is private and remote, but we’re not isolated. We wouldn’t want that. When you isolate yourself too much, you lose your compassion for others. I don’t ever want that to happen to us.

Westport and Weston are filled with intriguing homes. Some were built yesterday; others have stood for centuries. Unwittingly today, the Wall Street Journal has shown the world those 2 extremes.

(Hat tip to John Karrel)

Westport As You’ve Never Seen It Before

If you liked Melissa Beretta’s tribute to Westport this morning, you’ll love this next homage.

Taken from a drone a month ago, the video soars at just the right height. From Saugatuck Shores to Longshore and Compo, past Schlaet’s Point and over to Old Mill, before heading west back over the beach and Owenoke, it’s the best 6 minutes you’ll ever spend.

We all have a “mental map” of Westport in our heads. This gives you a totally new perspective on this amazingly beautiful town.

(Click the “YouTube” logo in the video above for a larger view. Try this link if your browser does not take you directly to YouTube. Hat tip to Jeff Reilly for spotting this video — which at the time of this posting had only 133 views.)

Meet The Most Important Person In Westport

Most over-entitled, self-absorbed and really obnoxious drivers take up 2 spaces with this type of parking maneuver:

Compo Shopping Center

This ass-hat took 3. No one could park in the spot behind him, either.

And no, it was not an empty lot. Alert “06880” reader Bart Shuldman took this photo in the middle of the day, when Compo Shopping Center was crowded with people.

People trying to find just 1 parking spot.

The Bridge Always Wins

It’s a toss-up where this happens more: Saugatuck Avenue or South Compo.

Both places are crossed by railroad bridges.

Both places have prominent “low bridge” signs, with heights prominently posted.

Both places are the scenes of frequent accidents, when truck drivers don’t see the signs. Or don’t believe them. Or think they can squeeze through anyway.

Alert “06880” reader Adam Stolpen captured this afternoon’s accident, by the train station. Check out the message on the side of the truck!

Low bridge accident - Route 136 Westport

Be careful out there.

Don’t Take Our Rock!

Alert “06880” reader (and nearby resident) Stephen Rubin writes:

Thanks to the continuing efforts of the Westport Housing Authority, the old trailer park on Post Road East will at long last be replaced with townhouse-style housing.

The long-anticipated new Sasco Creek Housing construction will be similar to the adjacent Hidden Brook homes. These plans will add affordable housing. and improve the entire neighborhood.

However, a price of this project is the loss of the big old rock that kids have played on, used for sunbathing, done homework on and decorated for holidays for decades.

Everyone realizes that the rock must go, but the kids posted a last fruitless plea to keep it. Sorry, but “King of the Mountain” will now be played elsewhere. That’s the cost of progress!

Rock

 

Red Light, Green Light

Alert “06880” reader Bart Shuldman sent this photo along:

Kings Highway light

At first glance, it looks like a normal traffic light.

Look closely though, and you’ll the arrow on the right faces the wrong way.

The light is at the foot of Kings Highway North, where it merges into Post Road West.

The arrow usually points right. Drivers can go right on red, heading west toward Stew Leonard’s.

But for some reason, the arrow was recently changed. Now it directs drivers to the left, toward Kings Highway School — and into oncoming traffic that already has a green.

It’s an accident waiting to happen. Be careful out there!

Check Out The Balloons: The Sequel

North Atlantic Towers floated 2 balloons this morning. They’re part of preparations for building a cell tower in the back yard of a Greens Farms Road home.

Here’s the view from the I-95 overpass on Hillspoint Road. The view looks north.

Cell protest

A couple dozen anti-tower protesters turned up. So — in an observational capacity — did First Selectman Jim Marpe, town attorney Ira Bloom, and state representatives Jonathan Steinberg, Gail Lavielle and Tony Hwang.

(Photos by Mary Ann West)

(Photos by Mary Ann West)

State regulations appear to allow the erection of a cell tower on private property.

But Westport seldom lets an issue like this happen quietly.

 

Check Out The Balloons!

When North Atlantic Towers floats 2 balloons tomorrow morning — as part of a test for the cell tower proposed for Greens Farms Road — they’ll be greeted by a crowd of Westporters.

First Selectman Jim Marpe plans to be there. So does town attorney Ira Bloom. And conservation director Alicia Mozian.

Plus anyone else who wants to see what’s “up.”

Balloon-watchers are invited to meet at the intersection of Greens Farms and Hillspoint Road by 10 a.m. Parking is available at #116, 114, 115, 109 and 106 Greens Farms Road, and along Hillspoint Road.

Just look for the balloons!

This is NOT what will happen to the house at Greens Farms Road during tomorrow's balloon test.

This is NOT what will happen to the house at Greens Farms Road during tomorrow’s balloon test.