Category Archives: Places

This Open Space Is Deadly

Every spring, Westporters marvel at the “Daffodil Mile” that marks the long entrance to Willowbrook Cemetery on Main Street.

And the Saugatuck Congregational Church had made a strong commitment to the upkeep of its historic — though no-longer-accepting-bodies — cemetery on Evergreen Avenue.

But what about Westport’s smaller, lesser-known graveyards? Who is in charge of mowing the grass, raking the leaves, straightening the headstones? 

Alert “06880” reader Scott Smith would like to know. He writes:

As I’ve been driving along Wilton Road to the Y, I’ve noticed an old cemetery behind a stone wall. It’s near #280. Recently I parked on Twin Falls Lane, and ducked across the road to explore.

A hidden cemetery off Wilton Road. (Photo/Scott Smith)

A hidden cemetery off Wilton Road. (Photo/Scott Smith)

It’s pretty cool, in the way that old cemeteries are. Many headstones are in disarray, and it seems that the most recent ones are from the early 1900s. Hard to say when the older graves first came to be. The family name Fillow appears on a few markers, though many etchings are worn away beyond recognition.

But as “06880”is filled with discussions about open space and other property issues, I wonder who owns and maintains the many small cemeteries around town. Are they private? Are they treated as open space? Is there an inventory of all these plots? And what’s the policy about walking among these memorials?

On a related note, I discovered a scenic (and pollen-covered) pond just beyond the cemetery, which is located on a bluff above the water. It’s a couple of acres in size. I never knew the pond was there, though I suspected it from the hole in the tree canopy you can just glimpse from the road.

The pond near the Partrick Wetlands. (Photo/Scott Smith)

The pond near the Partrick Wetlands. (Photo/Scott Smith)

How are these ponds treated on our property rolls? Are they all privately owned? Counted as open space as well? Are they taxed differently than land? And is there a census of the freshwater ponds within our borders?

The pond below the cemetery has a small dock at the far end. Judging from a Google map, this pond is close to the Partrick Wetlands, but separate fromt it.

Scott hopes that “06880” readers can answer his questions. Fire away!

I’ll add this: Westport is filled with tiny, forgotten cemeteries — from the Battle of Compo Hill-era plots on opposite side of Gray’s Creek (Compo Beach Road and Longshore) to the hidden-in-plain-view one on Post Road West, near the Norwalk line.

If you’ve got a story about any of our small old cemeteries, click “Comments.” This should be a lively (ho ho) discussion.   

This Old House #14

The main clue to last week’s mystery house was its former location: “on the present site of the Fine Arts Theater in State Street.” That identification, of course, dates from the 1930s, when WPA photographers took shots of a number of already-very-old Westport houses.

Dan Herman, Jill Turner Odice and Morley Boyd said that its current location is 23 Jesup Road. Westport Historical Society house historian Bob Weingarten confirms the site. (Click here to see a photo of the house, and read comments about it.)

It was not easy to do. Boyd says that a 2005 renovation — illegal, because the house sits in a historic district — “drained it of its historic integrity.”

Here is this week’s unidentified home:

This Old House - May 20, 2015

All we know is that it’s somewhere in Green’s Farms.

If you know its whereabouts, click “Comments” below. The WHS is seeking info on this and other “mystery houses,” in preparation for an upcoming exhibit on the changing face of Westport.

Bridge Work Alert!

No one likes having dental bridge work done.

But what’s ahead for Westport might make us wish we were having root canal — without Novocain — instead.

You may have noticed those “Construction Ahead” signs near North Avenue’s Cross Highway and Easton Road intersections. They refer to an upcoming project: repairs to the Merritt Parkway North Avenue bridge.

Construction ahead sign - North Avenue

As reported nearly 3 years ago, the state Department of Transportation needs to patch, waterproof and do other work on the 75-year-old Art Deco span.

That work begins soon.

The contract calls for a 210-day window. The anticipated completion date is October 30. There will be day and night work — and at some point, closure of North Avenue.

That’s a major thoroughfare in Westport. It carries 2300 vehicles a day — and is home to 4 schools (Staples High, Bedford and Coleytown Middle, and Coleytown Elementary).

The good news: Removal of mature trees will be kept to a minimum.

The Merritt Parkway North Avenue bridge -- before renovation begins.

The Merritt Parkway North Avenue bridge — before renovation begins.

This Old House #10

Tom Ryan and Dan Herman were the 1st readers to identify last week’s house as #5 Old Hill Road.

They’re right — sort of. The present structure at that site — opposite the old patriot “training ground” at the intersection of Kings Highway North and Old Hill — was built in 1944. The structure in the photo — part of a 1930s WPA project to document century-old homes — burned almost to the ground in 1943. It was rebuilt looking as much as possible like the original. Click here for the photo, then scroll down for comments.

Here is this week’s house. Like the others, this WPA image will be part of a Westport Historical Society exhibit on the changing face of Westport’s homes. But organizers need to find out where it is.

This Old House - May 6, 2015

The back of the photo gives no location. It says only: “Known as ‘William Lanier Washington House'; Squire  David Coley.”

Coley is a famous name in Westport. Washington is a famous name everywhere.

If you think you know where this house stands (or stood — it may have been torn down), click “Comments.” The more information you can provide, the better.

 

How Our Gardens Grow

You can see the Westport Garden Club‘s work all over town.

In the early 1970s, Ginny Sherwood asked fellow members to reclaim a 3-acre landfill on Imperial Avenue. Her vision of a refuge along the Saugatuck River came true. Today, Westporters love the hidden-in-plain-sight beauty of Grace Salmon Park.

It’s a delightful spot for a walk, picnic or simply a few moments of peace and quiet.

Over the years though, the land has flooded. Vegetation has been lost. It needs improvement.

The Garden Club will once again help. Members are recommending which plants to save, and which native species to add. They’ll provide volunteers to do the labor, and keep Grace Salmon Park looking great.

To accomplish this — and so much more — the club needs funds. They raise money the best way they know how. This year’s annual plant sale is set for Friday, May 8 (9:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m.) at the Saugatuck Congregational Church.

Among the Westport Garden Club's many activities: keeping the Compo Beach entrance looking gorgeous. Members were hard at work recently. (Photo/Ann Pawlick)

Among the Westport Garden Club’s many activities: keeping the Compo Beach entrance looking gorgeous. Members hard at work recently (from left): Roseanne Mihalick, Jane Eyes, Jenny Robson, Debbie Tiede, Lori Meinke, Sue McCabe. (Photo/Ann Pawlick)

The Garden Club is one of those organizations whose work Westporters constantly admire, even if we don’t know it’s theirs. They’re responsible for — among many other things — planting, weeding, pruning and mulching sites like the Compo Beach entry and marina; Adams Academy; the Earthplace entrance; the Library’s winter garden near Jesup Green; various cemeteries, and the Nevada Hitchcock Memorial Garden at the Cross Highway/Weston Road intersection.

We also owe the club thanks for what we don’t see.

In the 1930s — just a few years after its founding — the Westport Garden Club persuaded the town to ban billboards on all local roads.

The prohibition still stands.

So on Friday, buy a plant to support the Westport Garden Club. For nearly 100 years they’ve made our hometown look beautiful — just like home.

Westport Garden Club logo

 

Stacy Bass’ Gardens Of Delight

With spring in full bloom, Westporters have headed outside with a vengeance.

This is a town that loves gardens. But no matter how much time, effort and money we (or our hired help) spend on our plants, flowers and pathways, they seldom look the way we want them to.

Or the way Stacy Bass makes them look.

Phoebe Cole-Smith's garden in Weston. (Photo/Stacy Bass)

Phoebe Cole-Smith’s garden in Weston. (Photo/Stacy Bass)

The renowned Westport photographer — a Barnard, Columbia and NYU Law School graduate whose work has been featured in solo exhibitions, private and corporate collections, and magazines like House Beautiful — is about to publish Gardens at First Light.

Stacy chose 12 exceptional gardens in the Northeast. The book includes more than 200 photographs — all taken at daybreak. The light at that special time of day makes the gardens shimmer with hope and possibility (and create not a little envy in those of us whose gardens look nothing like these).

The backyard garden of Arlene Scanlan, in Westport. (Photo/Stacy Bass)

A page from Stacy Bass’ book, showing the backyard garden of Arlene Scanlan in Westport. (Photo/Stacy Bass)

Hand-drawn sketches offer a bird’s-eye view of each property. Additional photos provide even more perspective.

Two of the featured gardens are in Westport: her own, and Arlene Scanlan’s. Phoebe Cole-Smith’s is in Weston.

But enough about Stacy, and her beautiful gardens. Stop reading. Go outside. There’s work to be done!

(Gardens at First Light will be published May 5 by athome Books. The Connecticut launch party is Thursday, May 7, 5:30-7:30 pm at White Birch Studios in Sconset Square.)

Stacy Bass' own Westport garden. (Photo/Stacy Bass)

Stacy Bass’ own Westport garden. (Photo/Stacy Bass)

Baron’s South To Remain Open Space

In a vote that will resound for decades to come, the RTM affirmed the Planning & Zoning Commission’s designation of the Baron’s South property as open space.

The 22-acre, wooded and hilly property — bordered by South Compo Road, the Post Road and Imperial Avenue — is already home to the Senior Center, on its western edge. But further development — for instance, of a hotly debated senior housing complex — will not take place.

A majority of RTM members — 20 — actually voted to overturn last month’s P&Z decision (4-1, with 1 abstention) designating the entire area as open space.

But 14 members sided with the P&Z. Overruling the P&Z required 24 votes — 2/3 of all members.

A path in Baron's South. (Photo/Judy James)

A path in Baron’s South. (Photo/Judy James)

The roll was called after midnight. Debate was intense but civil throughout the long evening. Many issues were raised, ranging from the importance of open space and the inevitability of more development once construction began, to the speed and propriety of one commission deciding such a major issue for the town.

Some speakers declared that the vote should be about the “open space” decision alone — not the merits of one particular senior housing proposal. The need for senior housing, however, was noted by other speakers.

The baron’s property will now remain undeveloped — an “urban forest” just steps from downtown. Was today’s early morning vote comparable to previous decisions (for example, to purchase Longshore when a developer proposed building 180 houses there — or to allow construction of the Wright Street and Gorham Island office complexes), or a missed opportunity to build on town-owned land?

Check back in a decade or two.

There are already buildings on Baron's South. The baron's Golden Shadows house is shown in the distance.   A debate will begin soon on their fate.

There are some existing buildings on Baron’s South. The baron’s Golden Shadows house is shown in the distance. A debate will begin soon on their fate.

Symphony Workplaces: Singing A Different Office Tune

Remember “the office”?

Not the TV show — the actual place. People (usually men) came in at 9. They had assigned spots — size and location directly proportional to their status — along with a “secretary.” They did some work, had lunch, came back, and left at 5.

In 2015, nearly all that has changed. People (men and women) work in all kinds of locations, in all kinds of ways, at all kinds of hours.

Even the name has changed. “Offices” are now “workplaces.”

Which is why Symphony Workplaces is an idea whose time has come. And it’s come to Westport.

The setting is 55 Greens Farms Road. Symphony — which offers flexible workspace and meeting rooms by the hour, day, month or year — occupies 18,000 square feet of the 2nd floor in that odd, often overlooked 2-building complex next to a cemetery.

55 Greens Farms Road: hidden in plain sight, across from I-95 and next to a cemetery.

55 Greens Farms Road: hidden in plain sight, across from I-95 and next to a cemetery.

There, Symphony offers a handsome reception area; 35 offices, ranging in size from 1 person to 24; 7 meeting rooms; a conference/training center, and the “Hub” — a gathering spot to socialize, network, and eat.

Each office has furniture and a phone. One office features a standing desk. There’s a special “phone booth,” for private conversations.

High-speed bandwidth and natural light is everywhere. There’s a gym in the building. And a generator — with a 7-day supply of diesel. I know where I’ll go when the next blackout hits.

Like everything else at Symphony, this board room can be rented out by anyone.

Like everything else at Symphony, this board room can be rented out by anyone.

Symphony even offers a “virtual address” program. If a client or vendor plugs your address into Google Maps, the office complex pops up — not your house.

Symphony Workplaces is the brainchild of Nick Logothetis. He developed his 1st shared office space — for attorneys only, complete with a law library — 25 years ago in Morristown, New Jersey. Quickly, he realized the concept could move beyond specialized professions.

Nick Logothetis, in the reception area. He took every photo in the entire place.

Nick Logothetis, in the reception area. He took every photo in the entire place.

“Work has changed,” Logothetis explains. “People no longer need to be in a fixed place, at a certain time. But they still need offices. They still have to meet clients, get away from interruptions and interact with other people.”

Logothetis added a 2nd Symphony site in New Jersey, and is building one in Palm Beach. This is his 1st in Connecticut.

He searched for 10 years before finding the perfect Fairfield County spot. Since opening in October, Symphony has attracted a mix of users: branch offices, solo businesses, and an attorney. (There’s no law library, unfortunately.)

They’re impressed with the quality of the facility. “It’s a million-dollar look, for $700 to $800 a month,” Logothetis says proudly.

The "hub," for socializing, networking -- and eating.

The “hub,” for socializing, networking — and eating.

But why is it called “Symphony”?

The original name was “Symphony Suites,” Logothetis says. “The idea was to bring together groups of different instruments — businesses — all in harmony.”

Now — as business has evolved — “Suites” has given way to “Workplaces.”

Symphony’s Greens Farms Road site is music to many Westport workers’ ears.

An added attraction: visitors' names, opposite the elevator doors.

An added attraction: visitors’ names, opposite the elevator doors.

 

 

 

Missing Meeker Musket Ball

Yesterday’s commemoration of the 238th anniversary of the Battle of Compo Hill — with ceremonies honoring the Minute Men who battled the British on the way to and from their arsenal-burning in Danbury — got Mark Yurkiw thinking.

He lives in a very historic saltbox home on Cross Highway.* By the time the Redcoats marched past in 1777, the house — owned by Samuel Meeker — was already nearly half a century old.

The

The “Meeker house” in the 1930s, as photographed for a WPA project. After the Revolutionary War, Benjamin Meeker built the barn in back. It — and the house — still stand today.

As Samuel’s great-great-grandson Edward Franklin Meeker wrote in an application to the Sons of the American Revolution in 1895, the British expedition included a number of Tory guides.

They knew who along the way were Patriots. So en route to Danbury the Redcoats took Samuel Meeker’s son Benjamin and Daniel prisoner. They “sacked and gutted his house,” and butchered his cattle. The brothers were taken to New York, and held in the Sugar House Prison for 18 months.

The Meekers did not go easily. A musket ball was lodged in their front door.

There it stayed for nearly 2 centuries — silent witness to a historic past.

But sometime in the late 1940s or ’50s, the musket ball vanished. “Oral history tells us it disappeared after a local Boy Scout troop visited the house for a tour,” current owner Yurkiw says.

The door today. The hole left by the missing musket ball can be seen on the left side, underneath the knocker.

The door today. The hole left by the missing musket ball can be seen on the left side, near the bottom.

Yurkiw wants the musket ball back — or at least closure. If anyone knows where that small ball is, he’d like to know. He hopes to restore it for future tours, of what is the only known house in Westport still standing that the British passed on their way north.

Click “Comments” if you know. And don’t be shy. The statute of limitations is long gone.

Just like the Redcoats.

*BONUS FUN FACT:  Cross Highway gets its name from the fact that it “crossed” the “long lots” on what is now Bayberry Lane and Sturges Highway, near Long Lots Road.

Daniel Meeker died in 1784. His wife Abigail (Gorham) died 5 years later. They are buried in the cemetery bordered by Greens Farms Road and the Sherwood Island Connector. Daniel's brother Benjamin outlived him by 33 years. He married another Abigail (Burr). This photo -- and information about the Meekers, and the house -- comes from current owner Wendy Van Wie, Mark Yurkiw's wife. She is a law professor and historian.

Daniel Meeker died in 1784. His wife Abigail (Gorham) died 5 years later. They are buried in the cemetery bordered by Greens Farms Road and the Sherwood Island Connector. Daniel’s brother Benjamin outlived him by 33 years. He married another Abigail (Burr). This photo — and information about the Meekers, and the house — comes from current owner Wendy Van Wie, Mark Yurkiw’s wife. She is a law professor and historian.

Gone Fishin’

Fred Cantor captured this timeless scene yesterday, off Ford Road:

Ford Road - Fred Cantor