Category Archives: Saugatuck

The 3rd Time’s The Charm

Actually, the 1st 2 are pretty charming as well.

Bill Taibe — owner of Le Farm and The Whelk — will open his 3rd Westport restaurant early this summer.

CT Bites reports that the site is the short-lived Bistro 88 space in Bridge Square — formerly Peter’s Bridge Market. It’s just a few steps away from The Whelk in Saugatuck Center.

Bill Taibe serves up octopus and squid at The Whelk.

Bill Taibe serves up octopus and squid at The Whelk.

Taibe — much beloved for his fierce dedication to locally sourced farms and distributors — told the food blog that the new spot will “take its culinary and design inspiration” from Japanese pubs. The emphasis is on small dishes, and great drinks.

He called it an Asian version of The Whelk — including a communal table — offering a mix of Japanese and Chinese dishes. You can also buy a bottle, write your name on it and store it for later.

Saugatuck has been on the culinary map for a couple of years now. In June, a new kitchen warms up — and the area will be even hotter.


Robert Lambdin’s Old Mural Gains New Life

Westport has a poor batting average for saving old homes.

But when it comes to preserving murals, it’s all grand slams.

Restored murals by John Steuart Curry and other noted artists hang in our public schools, fire station and Town Hall.

The Westport Art Rescue Committee — led by the late Mollie Donovan, her sister Eve Potts, Judy Gault Sterling and Ann Sheffer, among others — saved Robert Lambdin’s WPA-era “Pageant of Juvenile Literature” when Saugatuck Elementary School was converted to senior housing. It’s now on display at the Westport Library, admired by hundreds of people every day.

Lambdin also painted the grand “Saugatuck in the 19th Century” — actually 3 works. Two — dating to 1964-65 — were installed in the handsome main lobby of Westport Bank & Trust Company, which commissioned the work.

They remained there as the local bank was swallowed up in a series of takeovers by now-forgotten, bigger ones. The building — in the heart of downtown — is now Patagonia. The cool, functional clothing store has lovingly preserved Lambdin’s murals.

Robert Lambdin's old-time murals lend a touch of Westport history to modern-day Patagonia.

Robert Lambdin’s old-time murals lend a touch of Westport history to modern-day Patagonia.

The other “Saugatuck in the 19th Century” painting was hung at Westport Bank & Trust’s Charles Street branch — in the heart of Saugatuck. It was painted around 1969, when the branch opened.

That large mural depicts a lively Saugatuck. It shows agriculture, stables, the railroad and river trade; businesses like Elonzo Wheeler’s button factory; the Bridge Street bridge, and the Saugatuck Bank (Westport Bank & Trust’s forerunner), whose founding partners included Horace Staples.

Though the view was composed with artistic license, Lambdin conducted painstaking research. Town residents modeled for him, including (at the center) Captain Serano Allen.

Robert Lambdin's Saugatuck mural.

Robert Lambdin’s Saugatuck mural. Hover over or click to enlarge.

The Saugatuck mural was a point of pride in the neighborhood, even as the branch lost its local roots. Eventually it became a TD Bank.

When TD (whatever those initials stand for) closed the branch last November, the mural’s future was unknown.

The building is being sold. The mural is headed for storage.

But — thanks to town art curator Kathie Motes Bennewitz, and the Westport Arts Advisory Committee — “Saugatuck in the 19th Century” has a new life.

After touch-up work, it will hang in Town Hall. An exhibit is planned too.

The gift from TD Bank is valued at $25,000.

But you can’t put a price on preserving history.

Last Thursday, the mural was removed from the old bank building.

Last Thursday, the large mural was removed from the old bank building.

Big Switch In Saugatuck: Jr’s Hot Dog Stand Changes Hands

Jr’s Hot Dog Stand is a special Westport place — for 2 reasons.

Sitting on the banks of the Saugatuck, it offers the best view of any deli in town.

And for nearly 40 years, it’s provided a “Cheers”-like home for hundreds of regulars.

Jrs - sign

Junior Bieling and his wife — the former Carol Digisi — opened the breakfast-and-lunch spot in 1976. Their nephew Jeff Arciola took over 10 years ago. He added a few items to the menu, put “Deli & Grill” on the sign so people would know he served more than hot dogs, and added a mobile “Weeniemobile.”

But Jr’s has remained pretty much the same, since the Ford administration.

A while ago Jeff and his wife Kathi made a momentous decision. They and their kids will move to North Carolina. Kathi — herself a 4th-generation Westporter — is pursuing a nursing career. “It’s time for the 2nd part of our lives,” Jeff says.

Jeff Arciola, at his familiar spot behind Jr's counter.

Jeff Arciola, at his familiar spot behind Jr’s counter.

So — at the end of April — a non-family member will take over Jr’s. He’s Lou Promuto, a restaurateur who owns Sunset Grille and Valentino’s in Norwalk. Eric Johnson, the new manager will come in soon, to get to know the place, its people and their routines.

There’s no need to tinker with Jr’s winning formula. The plumbers, masons and electricians will still arrive at 6 a.m., before work. Workers from nearby Riverside Avenue office buildings will stop by from 8 to 10. A mixed crowd will be in at lunch, for burgers, chili and meatball parm.

John Brandt, in his familiar corner seat.

John Brandt, in his familiar corner seat.

Whoever is there will continue to talk, argue and — in the words of longtime regular (and self-professed token liberal) John Brandt — “solve world problems.”

Jeff is confident the traditional hangout is in good hands. “I think Junior and Carol would be happy,” he says of his uncle and aunt who died within weeks of each other 2 years ago.

About the only thing that will change is that Jeff’s 2 kids won’t stop by on their way to pre-school. “They’re the show,” John says, of the attention they get from the crowd.

Otherwise, Jr’s will remain the same.

The new owner bought the Weeniemobile, too.

That Sunken Vessel: A 2nd Opinion

Rindy Higgins read this morning’s post about the sunken vessel — visible at low tide just south of the Bridge Street bridge — and has a different story than Jean Paul Vellotti’s. She said:

According to G.P. Jennings’ Greens Farms, Connecticut and E.C. Birge’s Westport Connecticut, this is the remains of the Henry C. Remsen.  Her namesake was a well-known New Jersey coastal merchant who lost his life at sea, long before the ship was built in 1851 in Red Bank, New Jersey.

The American Lloyd’s Register of American and Foreign Shipping and the Connecticut Ship Database say the Remsen was registered in the name of Ebenezer Allen by 1868. The 2-masted schooner was 85 feet long, with a draft of 6 feet 2 inches.

The barely visible sunken vessel.

The barely visible sunken vessel.

Jennings wrote:

Captain Ebenezer Allen ran the schooner Remsen between Southport and New York in the market trade starting about 1883.  This old schooner finally was allowed to rot on the mudflats just below the Saugatuck carriage-bridge: its hulk can still be outlined in the mud at low tide.

Cargos included: onions, bound for the West Indies, and spices carried on the return, plus industrial garnets, mined in New Haven, bound for the Old Mill here. The Mill ground the garnets to sand, then shipped them out to be made into sandpaper.

After Ebenezer died, his brother, William H. Allen, took over at the helm.

Birge added: “She was finally grounded in the cove between the two bridges  at Saugatuck where she was ultimately broken up. At low water the imprint of her frame is still visible.”

Many of its wood beams were salvaged to build Allen’s Clam House — the restaurant, now demolished, on the edge of Sherwood Mill Pond.

Duck! The Hulk! The Sequel

Alert “06880″ reader Jean Paul Vellotti fills in the back story from yesterday’s post on the sunken vessel spotted in the mud at low tide, just south of the Bridge Street Bridge:

The hulk below the blue bridge is the Mary E., which was an onion schooner and the last ship built in Westport. You can tell it’s a ship and not a barge because the centerboard housing is visible. It would be possible to see who owned/built this vessel with some research; a fairly easy task since it would have been involved in the “coasting trade” and therefore taxed yearly on revenue. Point being, it would have been given a number and records would have been kept. Generally, a hulk is a floating ship that is unable to sail but still has some function. During the wars in the days of sail, captured vessels were often referred to as hulks and used for prison ships.

The best story I heard about how it came to rest in the mud is that an local old oyster pirate named Ford “40” Macheskie (might have that last name a little botched), brought it up-river and  tied it ashore. The owner of the property kept saying move it, move it, and Ford never would. Eventually, he threw three sticks of dynamite in the hold and it sank. Then he told the owner it’s stuck in the mud and walked away.

Ford is long gone, but that story was told by him to someone I know.

PS: Re the Black Duck, what irony to list it on Westport’s historic register. You know, if that happened, there could be no changes to the exterior without the Historic District Commission’s approval. Putting it on the register could actually preserve its un-preserved condition.

The Black Duck. (Photo by John Kantor)

The Black Duck. (Photo by John Kantor)


In the wake of our most recent snowstorm — for some reason, it had no name — alert “06880″ reader Howard Silver took this photo of one of Westport’s most beloved institutions:

Black Duck

And, he wondered, “how does the Black Duck stay on land?”

Coincidentally, Mary Palmieri Gai posted on Facebook’s “You Know You’re From Westport … If …” page yesterday. It’s from a 1910 Norwalk Hour story:

DESTROY THAT OLD HULK: There was talk sometime ago regarding the destroying of the old Hulk south of Saugatuck carriage bridge but yet nothing has been done about the matter by the selectmen. Since it was understood that the promise to do away with this unsightly blot on the third page of Westport’s beauty, many citizens are wondering why they have not made good on the promises.

The expense would not be great and there is no question but that the outlay that would be necessary to do away with this old hulk would be money well spent.

So the citizens of the town are hoping that the officials do something immediately toward improving the appearance of the scene south of the Saugatuck Bridge by destroying the old time boat that has rested on the mud flats at that point for a great many years.

A lively debate followed. Some folks thought the story referred to the Duck. But, owner Pete Aitken said, the restaurant — originally a barge — was not hauled there until 1961.

Perhaps the “old Hulk” is the vessel mired in mud immediately south of the Bridge Street bridge — visible only (but always) at low tide.

As for Howard Silver’s question of how the restaurant survives?

That’s just more proof that everyone loves the Duck.

Including God.

The Duck survived Hurricane Sandy too.

The Duck survived Hurricane Sandy too.


Just in time for Valentine’s Day — or our next snowstorm — Saugatuck Sweets is set to open.

The newest addition to Saugatuck Center — taking over from Craft Butchery, which moved across the street — is still under construction. But it will satisfy sweet teeth this Saturday (February 8, 12-4 p.m.), next Thursday (February 13, 2-8 p.m.) and the following day — Friday, February 14, aka Valentine’s Day, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

They sell a wide assortment of candy baskets, a full line of teddy bears, and other treats.

Saugatuck Sweets

Word on the sweet street is there’s a “Manny’s Special” on the menu too.

If you were at Staples High School during the Manny era, you know what that means.

If not — well, you have to order it to believe it.

Back To Saugatuck

In the early- and mid-1800s, Saugatuck was the commercial and financial center of town. Then Horace Staples opened a bank upriver, built a couple of wharves and National Hall, and the area around what is now called “downtown” flourished.

In the 1950s Saugatuck — by then an Italian-American community — was ripped apart (physically and emotionally) by the construction of I-95. Main Street got its mojo; Riverside Avenue became an afterthought.

Now — with a renovation project bringing new restaurants, retail, apartments and street life to the area — Saugatuck is hot. Downtown is firing back, with a renovated Church Lane and $500,000 Main Street initiative on tap.

So this seems as good a time as any to revisit the New York Times of December 2, 1923.

“Urge That Westport Be Saugatuck Again,” the headline read.

And the subhead: “Many Citizens of Connecticut Town Think the Old Indian Name More Distinctive.”

In the 1920s, Esposito's gas station stood on Charles Street. Today it's Tarry Lodge.

In the 1920s, Esposito’s gas station and taxi company stood on Charles Street. Today it’s Tarry Lodge…

The story described a drive by “leading citizens here in another attempt to restore to this village its original name.”

The major selling point: There were 18 other Westports in the US, and 4 more around the world. That led to “confusion of the mails and the long-distance telephone calls.”

There was only 1 other Saugatuck, however — a Michigan town that took its name from ours.

With Westport, Connecticut growing — the Times called the town of nearly 5,000 “the largest and most noted art colony” in the country, home to “a dozen different industrial plants” and a brand-new, $300,000 YMCA — there was “agitation for the restoration of the town’s old name of Saugatuck.” The drive was led by John Adams Thayer, with support from state legislator Harry M. Ayres and “many other prominent citizens.”

...while a couple of miles north, the Saugatuck River lapped up against the back of Main Street stores.

…while a couple of miles north, the Saugatuck River lapped up against the back of Main Street stores.

The Times reported that the name Saugatuck came from the Indian “Sauki-tuk,” meaning “outlet from a tidal river.” The town of Saugatuck was founded in 1640, and called itself that until the incorporation of “Westport” in 1835.

That was the Times’ 1st — and only — report of the proposed name change. There is no word on when, how or why the idea sank to the bottom of the river.

(Hat tip to Fred Cantor for unearthing this New York Times story.)

Steam Heats Up Saugatuck Station

When it comes to naming a new business, it doesn’t get better than “Steam.”

That’s the coffee shop that opened last Friday at the Saugatuck train station (eastbound side).

Steam conjures up images of frothing milk. Locomotives that chugged through decades ago.

And, says co-owner Briana Pennell, it’s got the word “tea” smack in the middle.

Steam co-owner Briana to pour a steaming hot coffee.

Steam co-owner Briana pours a steaming hot coffee.

The name came to her as soon as she saw the town’s Request For Proposal a few months ago. Westport officials needed someone to run the concession at one or both stations.

Briana — who worked at Great Cakes while a student at Weston High, graduated from the Culinary Institute of America (concentrating on baking and pastries), and went on to top restaurants like Rebeccas in Greenwich — had wanted her own place for years.

She and her step-brother, Chris Barrett, won the bid. Working in restaurants paid his way through the University of Connecticut (business major). He moved on to the Melting Pot in Darien, Commander’s Palace in New Orleans, and other noted spots.

“He’s great with people,” Briana says. At the Green’s Farms station — where Steam opened last July — “he remembers everyone’s name. It’s crazy from 5 a.m. to 9, but he’s on top of everything.”

The Green’s Farms Steam has earned a reputation for great coffee, and top customer service. If you’re running for the train — hey, pay us tomorrow!

Dkey Oster entertains commuters at Steam.

Dkey Oster entertains commuters at Steam.

Yesterday, Briana and her boyfriend — musician Dkey Oster — talked about their new venture. Briana loves the big kitchen, where she bakes sugar-free muffins, and other gluten-free and vegan “power foods.” She uses olive oil and grapeseed oil, and organic sugar.

She’s brought in local vendors like Doc’s Maple Syrup, Wave Hill Bread and Grassroots organic food.

She, Dkey and Chris are in the process of finding out what Westport commuters want. Sandwiches and soups are high on the list.

Right now, Steam is open from 5 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays. The hours might be extended — previous concessionaire Lili served dinners to go, a great idea. Briana also heard about Lili’s croissants, so she did a blind tasting to figure out which ones to serve. Wave Hill won, hands down.

The town — led by deputy police chief and head of railroad operations Foti Koskinas, and chief Dale Call — deserve a huge hand for their loving restoration of the 1890 building. Restorer Bill Dohme used as much original wood as possible. There’s a 19th century-style wood floor, while Chris himself restored the tables.

A handsome plaque fits perfectly with the restored interior. The plaque includes a reference to the "NYNH&HRR" -- the old New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad.

A handsome plaque fits perfectly with the restored interior. The 2nd line refers to the “NYNH&HRR” — the old New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad.

But this is the 21st century. Thanks to Steve Smith and Leo Cirnio, the entire building is solar-powered — from the coffee pots to the cell phone chargers — and parking spots outside are reserved for electric vehicles.  (Parking is an issue — welcome to Westport. Three spots are reserved for Steam customers, and parallel parking lines may be painted soon in front.)

Oh, yeah. A flat-screen TV shows the Green’s Farms station, so customers can know when a train is coming. And the Wi-Fi is free.

Briana, Chris and Dkey want to make the space available after hours, for art exhibits, music shows, whatever. The Electric Car Club has already held a meeting there.

Briana is excited about every part of Steam — even the grotty tunnel to the westbound platform. It’s going to be redone, she says, and the Westport Arts Center plans a cool exhibit of Westport now-and-then photos.

She says, proudly, that “since the day we opened, people keep coming in wishing us luck.”

In fact, Westport is lucky to have Briana, Chris, Dkey — and the superbly named Steam — now in 2 great locations.

Steam sign

Rollin’ On The River

Though downtown may have lost a bit of its Christmas mojo, Saugatuck has picked up the slack.

Christmas lights and trees abound. The Bridge Street (Cribari) Bridge is a sight to see (thanks, Al’s Angels!). There’s a lively spirit in the air. 

And — as alert “06880″ reader Chris Woods notes – for the past 4 years a mysterious boat has ghosted up and down the river on evenings leading up to Christmas. The boat spreads good cheer, which is returned with heartfelt honks and waves.

Christmas boat

Who owns the boat? And — more importantly — how did they get a 20-foot tree on it, and under the bridge?

That’s just one of the mysteries of Christmas.