Category Archives: Places

Day On Bald Mountain

Jono Walker’s family — the Bennetts — settled in Westport in the 1700s. They lived on South Compo Road through the early 21st century.

Jono is in Pennsylvania now, but his roots here remain strong. The other day, Googling for background info on a piece he’s writing, he found a few “06880” posts about Bald Mountain. He sent along this excerpt from his longer story.

Skonk!

My snowball splattered the middle of another Redcoat’s roof. Not a bad shot.

Snow-packed Imperial Avenue was directly below the steep hill I perched on top of. It was harder than you’d think for this wily Minuteman, on his home terrain, to hit the hapless British soldiers. I’d been at it for half an hour, and hadn’t made a perfect shot — the driver’s side windshield — but the accuracy of my sniper fire on that blustery February morning was steadily improving.

The site of this ambuscade was Bald Mountain, a 90-foot promontory overlooking the Saugatuck River. The name always confused me. The rounded top of the bean-shaped hill was covered in towering hemlocks, looking nothing close to bald.

blog - Bald Mountain

From its summit I peered over the brow, at the Gault Field Little League diamond covered in snow. Directly across the river, red-bricked Bedford Junior High and gold-bricked Assumption Church gleamed in the morning sun.

Upriver, I saw the stand of trees surrounding the Woman’s Club and police station. Further away, just over the roof of the Fairfield Furniture Store on the far side of the river, was Old Hill. 200 years earlier 1,000 Minutemen dug in, lying in ambush hoping to wreak havoc on an advancing column of Redcoats.

The Gaults were just starting to gouge out the eastern perimeter of Bald Mountain in those days, felling trees and mining the moraine for sand and gravel. It would take 20 years to flatten the place, at which point they paved a road and built a dozen McMansions on the level ground that had been a rolling hill ever since the last Ice Age.

For thousands of years the Paugussett Indians maintained a fishing and trading post in the “faire fields” and salt marshes around Bald Mountain. They called the place Machamux (“the beautiful land”).

In 1661 the Paugussetts were hoodwinked into selling a portion of their lands east of Bald Mountain (today’s Green’s Farms) to the newly established town of Fairfield for 13 woolen coats, plus a little wampum.

A member of the Paugussett tribe.

A member of the Paugussett tribe.

It only took another decade or so for the rest of Machamux — from today’s Sherwood Island west to the Saugatuck River, and north to the Aspetuck River — to be appropriated by colonists. By the early 1680s all of modern-day Westport was settled by dozens of industrious freemen and their burgeoning families.

Among them were my ancestors Thomas, James and John Bennett. They were granted nearly 1200 acres. The land they “improved” ran on either side of today’s South Compo Road, from roughly the Post Road south to what was once called Bennett’s Rocks (the jagged granite outcropping now bisected by Narrow Rocks Road).

Within their property was a steep-sided hill rising from the marshy banks of the Saugatuck River. They eventually cleared it for pasture, and it became known as Bald Mountain.

At 10 years old I knew nothing about this history, beyond a vague awareness of that patriotic military action atop Old Hill. So there I was, armed and ready — a brave patriot using his insider’s knowledge of the local landscape to defend his homeland from the foreign invader.

Bald Mountain.

Bald Mountain.

The enemy approached: a bright red Studebaker negotiating the wide turn around the base of Bald Mountain. My snowball landed with a splatter more spectacular than I could have dreamed, right on the driver’s side of the windshield.

The car skidded along the snow bank. Out sprang the driver, scanning the hillside. He was a surprisingly young soldier — and mad. When he spotted me high above him he shook his fist, swore, dashed across the road and up the hill.

But — like his hapless forebears — this man’s entire military strategy (and his attire) were ill-suited to the wilds of the new world. The enemy was angered and dangerous, fully capable of rendering me to shreds, yet dressed in slippery business shoes, he was completely outfoxed.

I watched his 3 vain attempts to scale the formidable redoubt. Then I calmly turned, melting into the deep and shadowy woods, unbowed and ready to fight another day.

 

Jono Walker, back in his soldiering days.

Jono Walker, back in his soldiering days.

Westport At The Crossroads

Fred Cantor is an alert “06880” reader — and a talented researcher with an eye for intriguing stories about Westport’s past.

The other day, he sent 4 clippings from the New York Times. All were from 50 years ago. Westport was in the midst of a historic transformation, Fred said, as the town’s population rocketed skyward.

On February 2, 1964, 1st Selectman Herb Baldwin announced the formation of a Development Commission. The aim was to attract light industry, thus broadening the tax base.

“The move grew out of a recent fiscal seminar where concern was voiced over the town’s high bonded indebtedness, principally due to school construction,” the Times reported. The debt was approximately $12 million.

On June 26, the Planning and Zoning Commission tightened restrictions against new apartment buildings — despite acknowledging the need for apartments serving “older people and young married couples.” The previous day, the Zoning Board of Appeals denied an application for construction of a 48-unit apartment on the site of the Tennex factory on Riverside Avenue.

Many of today's familiar Riverside Avenue buildings were once factories.

Many of today’s familiar Riverside Avenue buildings were once factories.

On October 4, 1964, the Times said that a group of Greens Farms property owners were  “aroused by a proposal to build a department store, a supermarket and a parking lot for 617 cars in their midst, two miles east of the town’s center.” The centerpiece would be an Arnold Constable store.

Opponents cited a traffic hazard for students at nearby Green’s Farms Elementary School, and destruction of the “rustic charm” of the area. One person said, “We don’t want to turn Westport into another Rye or New Rochelle.”

Proponents countered it would add “sorely needed town revenue. They say the chief reason the town has sunk into debt over the last 20 years is that it has resisted business growth.”

The 7 1/2-acre property — bounded by South Morningside Drive and Church Street — would add between $40,000 and $52,430 a year in taxes.

Years after it was proposed, a shopping center was built near Greens Farms Elementary School.

Years after it was proposed, a shopping center was built near Greens Farms Elementary School.

Two months later, the P&Z proposed action to reverse the “hodgepodge” and “visual mayhem” — town officials’ words — of the Post Road. Fifteen properties along busy Route 1 would need special permits for development. New zones would be limited by “natural boundaries, such as topography, existing streets or similar barriers.”

Included was the Greens Farms tract. It took a number of years, but the shopping center — anchored today by Barnes & Noble — eventually was built.

Half a century later, some things haven’t changed. Westporters still debate property taxes and affordable housing.

But we no longer argue about shopping centers. They’re here, they’re there, they’re everywhere.

There’s nowhere left to put a new one.

Hail, Yes: In The Wake Of Today’s Storm

From Green’s Farms to Saugatuck Shores, today’s quick but very intense storm produced some amazing images.

Plus plenty of downed wires.

As of 7:15 p.m., over 400 Westport CL&P customers were without power.

This was the scene on Hyde Lane, between Long Lots and Maple Avenue. With the downed transformer, outages were reported throughout the Hunt Club area:

(Photo/Nick Blaikie)

(Photo/Nick Blaikie)

Nearby, this tree on Long Lots road near Peabody Lane blocked traffic — though a neighbor tried to help:

(Photo/Randall Hammond)

(Photo/Randall Hammond)

Several miles away, a tree on Great Marsh Road — across from the Saugatuck Harbor Yacht Club — was split by lightning:

September 6 2014 storm - tree hit lightning Great Marsh Road

A car was struck by a falling tree near Southport. Fortunately, no one was hurt:

September 6 2014 storm - Dale Najarian car

John Kantor, owner of Longshore Sailing School, reports: “No hail on the immediate coast, but big time rain and some strong gusts. We chain down our boats for weather like this so they don’t leave our zip code, but it didn’t prevent a capsize or two. No damage. Just a pulse raiser. After Irene and Sandy this was a relatively minor inconvenience.”

(Photo/John Kantor)

(Photo/John Kantor)

Bart Shuldman took this photo, as rain and hail pelted down:

(Photo/Bart Shuldman)

(Photo/Bart Shuldman)

Meanwhile, the Sasco construction site near Super Stop & Shop was awash:

(Photo/Steve Rubin)

(Photo/Steve Rubin)

More thunderstorms are possible tonight. Be careful out there.

Patrick Overton Preserves A Preserve

Last spring, alert “06880” reader Katherine Ross was walking along Imperial Avenue, near Harborview Road. She noticed what she called “a forgotten park on the river.” Small trails, a few benches were hidden and a plaque identifying “William P. Teuscher Wetlands Preserve” were hidden, she says, by overgrown weeds and poison ivy.

This summer, Katherine noted substantial changes. Trails had been cleared. Wood chips were down. New plants had taken root.

The William P. Teuscher Wetlands Preserve -- before and after.

The William P. Teuscher Wetlands Preserve — before and after.

Katherine was impressed. But she did not know who was responsible.

Recently, she learned the answer. Staples student Patrick Overton took on the task, for his Troop 39 Eagle Scout project. He had help from his brother James.

A newly cleared path in the Philip Teuscher Wetlands Preserve. It just into the Saugatuck River off Imperial Avenue, near Harbor View Road. (Photo/Katherine Ross)

A newly cleared path in the William P. Teuscher Wetlands Preserve. It juts into the Saugatuck River off Imperial Avenue, near Harborview Road. (Photo/Katherine Ross)

What a great idea. And how nice to do something so important, so well — and so quietly.

Patrick Overton, with the Teuscher plaque.

Patrick Overton, with the Teuscher plaque.

PS: Here’s a closeup of the plaque. Very interesting and educational (except for the misspelled “whose.”)

Teuscher preserve

It’s A Dog Life: The Sequel

Coincidentally, around the same time I was writing this morning’s post — celebrating the man-and-dog Friday get-togethers at Winslow Park — alert “06880” reader John Karrel sent this photo. It shows the other side of (hopefully a very few) dog owners at Westport’s favorite gathering spot:

Winslow Park poop

John notes that the plastic poop was plopped just a few steps away from 2 garbage bins, near the Westport Country Playhouse parking lot.

He saw many more blue bags in the wooded areas nearby.

John promises to head over today, with gloves and a big bag.

Which he will most certainly not leave lying lazily, grossly — and entitledly — on the ground.

It’s A Dog’s Life

Every day at 4:30 p.m. — winter and summer — the same group of dogs and their owners meets at Winslow Park.

On summer Fridays they share doggie treats (and adult refreshments).

Winslow Park dogs

It’s unclear who has more fun — man, or his best friend. For all of them, it looks like a good way to roll.

(Hat tip to Alan Schur)

Left Hanging — Update

UPDATE:  Early this morning, Diane Lowman wrote:

Had windows open last night because it was so cool. Serenaded by chainsaws from about 1-3 a.m.! Not much sleep, but that’s ok. I haven’t been out to check yet but assume road is clear! 

We haven’t had a major storm in a while.

But, alert “06880” reader Diane Lowman reports, this downed tree has been hanging on power lines across Partrick Road since yesterday (Wednesday) morning.

Partrick Road tree

Several reports have been made, she says. Westport Police “babysat” it all day today (Thursday), so no one would hit it and bring the power lines down.

“I appreciate it,” Diane said at 8 p.m. “They’re still out there blocking the road. But I’m sure their time could have been better spent.”

CL&P came at 5 p.m., Diane says. They looked at the situation.

Then they left.

 

 

Timing Is Everything: Part 2 [Update]

[At 9 p.m., Bart Shuldman reports: "The lines are live, and creating quite an issue. CL&P cannot get to us to turn them off. Police are blocking the road as the power lines can snap while live, and create a real issue."]

Jeb Backus wasn’t the only Westporter with a close call in today’s sudden thunderstorm.

Here’s the scene on Broadview Road, captured by Bart Shuldman:

Broadview

Once again, those trees look great, until…

 

Philip Perlah Says Goodbye To Westport

Last Sunday’s “06880” post on Christie’s Country Store — aka Vermont — brought this response from Philip Perlah:

After 38 years, it is time to say goodbye to Westport. About 6 years ago we bought a 2nd home in a small town in Vermont. We have now moved in.

Our new town has a population of about 3,000, compared to the 25,000 or so in Westport.

Traffic lights are not merely suggestions.  Actually, we don’t have any traffic lights.

Philip Perlah's new downtown.

Philip Perlah’s new downtown.

There are very few Bimmers and Benzes; more Subarus and pickups (really, really big pickups). Having fewer Bimmers seems to reduce the problems of the entitled self-important. For example, parking is a breeze at the Starbucks parking lot. Actually, we do not have a Starbucks parking lot.

Well, we don’t even have a Starbucks.  But we do have a coffee shop on the green, and an old-fashioned, aluminum diner with Formica tables (narrow — only 1 row of booths and a counter).

But there is a McDonald’s in the next town. And a Shaw’s.

We all remember the Westport Shaw’s –- narrow aisles, dingy, useless clerks. The Vermont Shaw’s has wide aisles and really, really helpful, friendly staff. Like all grocery stores in Vermont, it has an entire aisle devoted to wine.

Our home is on a dirt road (plowed by the town), and a river runs through the back yard. When the wind is right, we are reminded there is a dairy farm a mile down the road.

Philip Perlah's Vermont home.

Philip Perlah’s Vermont home.

We can walk to the town green, which has eclectic shops and restaurants — all locally owned — and a cute library.

The scenery is lovely, and the “vibe” is really mellow and relaxing.

We still have our season tickets to the Westport Country Playhouse, so we were back to see “Nora.” We didn’t miss it one bit.

Next year we’ll subscribe to the Weston Playhouse. As in Weston, Vermont.

A river runs through Philip Perlah's back yard.

A river runs through Philip Perlah’s back yard.

Christie’s Cross Highway Vermont Vibe

I’m away from “06880” for a few days — literally, though not cyberhoodically.

I’m in 05676. That’s Vermont. The Staples boys soccer team is on its annual summer trip. A ropes course, running up and down mountains, paintball — you know, the usual stuff.

I love Westport. I also love Vermont. They’re very different, of course. But, a couple of days before I left, I realized that there’s a little bit of Vermont in one tiny corner of Westport.

It’s Christie’s Country Store.

Everything about it — including the name, which it’s kept since 1926 — oozes a simpler way of life. (Though the food — in a nod to modern-day tastes — is not stuck in the Jazz Age.) And there’s a great ice cream stand next door. (Right next to a great auto repair shop.)

All day long, real people wander in. Local kids ride bikes. Neighbors meet neighbors. Contractors, lawn maintenance guys, repairmen, delivery folks — all stop by.

The view of Christie's porch...

The view of Christie’s porch…

Most customers are regulars. They banter with the staff.

They hang out at large tables inside. Or eat on the porch.

And there — watching what passes for the world going by on Cross Highway — is the real Vermont vibe.

It’s quiet. It’s green. It’s serene.

Occasionally, cars go past. A guy on a bike, or a woman walking a dog. But they’re all at the right speed.

...and the view from it.

…and the view from it.

I eat in peace. I’ll soon have Westport places to go, Westport things to do.

But for a while, at least, I have Vermont.