Category Archives: Saugatuck

What’s Up With This Mansion?

Word on the street — Riverside Avenue — was that Mansion Clam House may have closed.

It was shut Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. There’s no activity today. The sign in front of the building is gone, and the exterior lights have been on for a few days. It looks deserted.

But folks in the know say Mansion will try to open on Friday.

Let’s hope it’s just a bump in the road — Riverside Avenue — for this long-lived, much-loved Westport institution.

Mansion Clam House

Mansion Clam House (file photo).

 

Hark! Shakespeare Didst Nearly Come To Stony Point

In many communities, no one wants to live next to the railroad station.

Westport is not “many communities.” Here, Stony Point is one of the most desirable spots in town.

Ann Sheffer — a longtime resident of that winding, riverfront peninsula whose entrance is directly off the train station parking lot — sent along a Westport News clipping that tells the fascinating back story of Stony Point.

Stony Point today (left of the river). The train station and tracks are at top.

Stony Point today (left of the river). The train station and tracks are at top.

Written in 1977 by Shirley Land — who knew everything about everything — it describes a New York banker, his wife and 2 daughters. They lived in a handsome Victorian mansion with “turrets and filigree curlicues.” The grounds included an enormous carriage house, gardener’s cottage, barn and hothouse.

It was the Cockeroft family’s country home, built around 1890. They traveled there by steam launch from New York City, tying up at a Stony Point boathouse.

The Cockerofts’ was one of “the 3 great showplaces” in Westport. The other 2 were the Hockanum mansion on Cross Highway, and the Meads’ estate on Hillspoint.

After the daughters inherited the home, the New York, New Haven & Hartford railroad inquired about purchasing some of the land for a new train station. (The original one was on the other side of the river.)

The sisters agreed, but only if the railroad built a solid brick wall, 1675 feet long, to provide privacy and quiet.

The Stony Point wall today. It separates the peninsula from the train station.

The Stony Point wall today. It separates the peninsula from the train station.

When the 2nd daughter died, she bequeathed the estate to the Hospital for the  Crippled and Ruptured (whose name was later changed, mercifully, to the New York Hospital for Special Surgery).

But the property fell into disuse. Eventually the hospital sold Stony Point to Birmingham and Asti, real estate developers.

Around 1950, Lawrence Langner of the Theatre Guild, Lincoln Kirstein of Lincoln Center and arts patron Joseph Verner Reed tried to build an American Shakespeare Theatre and Academy there. Proximity to the train station was a major piece of the plan.

The price for all 21 acres: $200,000.

But, Land wrote, “the hand of fate and the town fathers combined to defeat the efforts of the theatre people.” Many residents objected. There were also concerns that it would draw audiences away from the Westport Country Playhouse. (Others argued that a Shakespeare Theatre would enhance the town’s reputation as an arts community.)

The theater was never built in Westport. It opened in the aptly named town of Stratford, Connecticut in 1955, and was moderately successful until ceasing operations 30 years later.

In Westport, the Cockeroft estate remained empty.

The entrance to Stony Point.

The entrance to Stony Point.

In 1956 Westporters Leo Nevas and Nat Greenberg, along with Hartford’s Louis Fox, bought the property for residential development. Before they could start, however, vandals attacked the main house. They ripped out bathtubs, hacked up fireplaces, and smashed mirrors and statues. The developers asked the fire department to burn what remained to the ground.

All that remains of the original estate, Land wrote, is “the charming gate house, an immaculate gray and white Victorian structure just inside the gate; a pair of antique marble urns on the site of the old mansion where a newer home now stands; and the fine carriage house-garage, remodeled to be sure, but bearing the visible imprint of bygone grandeur.”

Oh, and a few small doors set into the long brick wall. Once upon a time, they must have provided an amazing view.

Slice Is Nice!

Hundreds of Westporters — and many more out-of-towners — poured into the narrow streets of Saugatuck today.

They ambled along Riverside Avenue, Railroad Place and Saugatuck Avenue, enjoying our 3rd annual Slice of Saugatuck festival.

Food and drink was the main attraction. Over 25 restaurants and merchanats — including Viva’s, Mansion, Rainbow Thai, Craft Butchery, Saugatuck Sweets, The Duck, Chinese Takeout, Cuatros Hermanos — even 99 Bottles and Dunkin’ Donuts — offered treats.

But there was music too, ranging from School of Rock and folk to steel drums, along with stuff from hair salons, galleries and a tae kwan do place.

The weather was perfect. The vibe was cool.

And — because most people stayed off the roads — even the traffic was fine.

It was a fantastic slice of life, on a wonderful Sunday afternoon. With proceeds benefiting the Gillespie Center food pantry too, what’s not to like?

Tutti's was 1 of many Saugatuck restaurants dishing out some of its most popular items. Lines formed instantly, and stayed long.

Tutti’s was one of many Saugatuck restaurants dishing out some of its most popular items. Lines formed instantly, and stayed long.

The plaza between Saugatuck Sweets and The Whelk rocked all afternoon long.

The plaza between Saugatuck Sweets and The Whelk rocked all afternoon long.

What's a street festival without a bounce house? This one was in the Rizzuto's parking lot.

What’s a street festival without a bounce house? This one was in the Rizzuto’s lot.

Mr. Sausage showed up too, to help promote Saugatuck Craft Butchery's carnivorous samples.

Mr. Sausage showed up too, to help promote Saugatuck Craft Butchery’s carnivorous samples.

Downunder was busy all day, offering kayak and paddleboard rides. Nearby, boat owners tied up at the dock.

Downunder was busy all day, offering kayak and paddleboard rides. Nearby, boat owners tied up at the dock.

 

Slice On Sunday

Westport’s newest tradition — Slice of Saugatuck — returns Sunday afternoon.

That’s right: Sunday. The first 2 Slices were held on Saturdays. But this one’s set for 1-4 p.m., this Sunday (September 14).

Slice of SaugatuckFor a mere $10 (just $5 for kids 6-12), you can wander up and down Riverside Avenue, Railroad Place and Saugatuck Avenue. More restaurants than you ever knew were down there will offer food. Other businesses will hand out coupons, gifts and anything else they dream up.

There are bands, street artists and a bouncy house. It’s the best street party since Saugatuck’s previous tradition, Festival Italiano.

See you at the Slice. On Sunday.

Mario’s Adds Something New To Menu

Much about Mario’s is timeless. For 47 years it’s served the same great steaks and prime ribs, in the same place, to — in many cases — the same customers.

But on Sunday, September 14, something changes. For the 1st time in nearly half a century, Mario’s will serve brunch.

Sunday morning will soon be hopping at Mario's.

Sunday morning will soon be hopping at Mario’s.

For years, owner Lori Kosut says, customers have asked for the meal. She herself loves it. But, she says, “it just wasn’t something my father wanted to do.”

Lori’s father was Frank “Tiger” DeMace. A Westport legend, he opened Mario’s in 1967. And he owned and operated it until the day he died, in 2012.

“I am very proud of what my father built,” Laurie says. “I am proud that 3 generations of my family work here. Mario’s has always been a family restaurant.

“But as a mother, I don’t want to be home making breakfast for my family on a Sunday. That’s one of the changes I’m most excited about. I’ll be here for brunch just as often as my customers.”

Marios logoAs noted though, some things about Mario’s never change. To honor her family, her restaurant and her Saugatuck location’s heritage, the brunch menu will include Italian specialties.

Italian “French” toast, prosciutto di Parma omelets, eggs Benedict and Italian pastries lead the offerings. Non-Italian items include steak and eggs, bottomless mimosas and bloody Mary’s — all for $19.95.

“My father always insisted on keeping Mario’s affordable for families,” Laurie notes. “That will not change. Sundays are a day for family — whether it be a family of friends, or a family with children.”

That’s our Mario’s!

Sand And Silt In The Saugatuck River: The Sequel

A recent “06880” post on the Saugatuck River sand and silt buildup drew many comments. Longtime Westporter Dick Fincher reached deep in his memory bank, and added these thoughts:

The river channel, from the bay to the Post Road bridge, was last dredged by the Corps of Engineers in 1969. That is a firm date, because we had just moved here. We were living in a rented house at 165 Riverside Avenue, right on the river.

In theory the Corps is supposed to keep the channel dredged on a regular basis. But in fact it has not, since the river is not considered an essential waterway for commerce and/or extensive pleasure boat traffic.

I believe the Saugatuck dredging had 2 forks, about 300 yards south of the Post Road bridge. One went straight up the channel. The other bore over to the quay more or less in front of the library, then alongside it to the bridge.

This no doubt was because in the old, old days the commercial channel actually went right up to the backs of the buildings on the east side of Parker Harding, before it became a parking lot.

Until the mid-1950s, the Saugatuck River lapped up against the back of Main Street stores. Construction of the Parker Harding parking lot changed the river's currents substantially.

Until the mid-1950s, the Saugatuck River lapped up against the back of Main Street stores. Construction of the Parker Harding parking lot changed the river’s currents substantially.

Despite not being dredged, for many years — probably into the early 1990s or thereabouts – the lower portion had a good channel (almost to the Bridge Street bridge) because Gault got regular barge deliveries to their dock. Barges with 8-foot draft scraped the channel clean every time they came in or went out.

I would venture that the shallowness your contributor saw in the upper river (unless he just happened to see it at extremely low tide) is exacerbated by the fact that the lower river is also silting. There are spots even in the lower channel that at low tide are barely passable in the middle of the channel, right by Stony Point.

I know the folks at Earthplace take regular readings on the river’s health. Perhaps they can shed some light on this.

Dick’s insights reminded me of a romanticized version of the Saugatuck River’s traffic. A number of years ago, when commercial brokers were trying to market the gruesome glass building on Gorham Island, they ran a big ad in the real estate section of the Sunday New York Times. It featured a drawing of the building — and right next to it, way upriver of the Post Road bridge, was an enormous schooner. As if.

(Photo/Scott Smith)

The Saugatuck River at low tide. (Photo/Scott Smith)

Any Way You Slice It…

Whatever goes around, comes around.

And on Sunday, September 14, a couple of thousand folks will go around and around in Saugatuck.

That’s the date for Slice of Saugatuck. All afternoon long, for just $10 ($5 for kids 6-12), people will wander up Riverside Avenue, along Railroad Place, and out Saugatuck Avenue. Every restaurant offers food; others businesses hand out coupons, gifts or anything else they want. There is bands, street artists and a bouncy house. It’s the best street party since, well, Festival Italiano.

The Slice of Saugatuck drew huge crowds in 2011 and 2012. (Photo by Terry Cosgrave)

The Slice of Saugatuck drew huge crowds in 2011 and 2012. (Photo by Terry Cosgrave)

It’s the 3rd “Slice” in 4 years, and that’s what the “goes around, comes around” line is all about.

RTM representative Matthew Mandell created the festival back in 2011. After 2 wildly successful years, he handed it off to the Chamber of Commerce. But the director did not see the benefit — for either the Chamber or the merchants — and last year the Slice was iced.

Now the Chamber of Commerce has a new executive director: Mandell. One of his 1st moves was to serve up the Slice.

Nice.

Saugatuck has always been about food. The Slice of Saugatuck festival is too.

Saugatuck has always been about food. The Slice of Saugatuck festival is too.

“It’s a quadruple win for the town,” Mandell explains.

“One, it brings people to Saugatuck, and promotes the merchants and the area.

“Two, it’s a fantastic community event. It’s great for people-watching, and it brings everyone together.”

“Three, it raises money for the homeless and hungry. The Homes With Hope Gillespie Food Pantry received $5,000 from the 2012 proceeds, and once again they’re our beneficiary.

“Four, we hire Homes with Hope residents to work at the festival.”

Slice of Saugatuck is not just about food. In 2012, free kayaks brought plenty of people to Downunder's riverside dock.

Slice of Saugatuck is not just about food. In 2012, free kayaks brought plenty of people to Downunder’s riverside dock.

Mandell seems to have thought of everything. Including — 4 years ago — the perfect name.

“Saugatuck is shaped like a slice of pizza,” he says. (It is, if you consider its boundaries to be the train station at one end, and the intersection of Riverside and Saugatuck Avenues the other.)

For many years, of course, Saugatuck was a thriving Italian neighborhood. There are still restaurants like Tutti’s and Julian’s, and quasi-Italian spots like
Tarry Lodge and Rizzuto’s. Mario’s and Tarantino’s are long-time classics. Dunville’s, Mansion, Viva and the Duck are not Italian, but they’ve outlasted even some of the oldtimers.

Newcomers like The Whelk, Rainbow Thai and Saugatuck Sweets — plus merchants like Downunder — have brought new life to the old area. So there will be plenty more free food than pizza available at the Slice.

Though I’m betting those slices will go real fast.

Sand And Silt In The Saugatuck River

Last week, alert — and environmentally conscious — “06880” reader Scott Smith stood at Parker Harding Plaza and looked at the Saugatuck River.

It was low tide. Very low tide.

(Photo/Scott Smith)

(Photo/Scott Smith)

He was amazed at how much gravel and fill has been deposited on the upstream side of the bridge, and how shallow this section of the tidal river has become. He knows the muck continues all the way further downstream.

Scott says:

I wonder what would happen if, instead of the 2-3 inches of rain we got a couple of days earlier, we received the 13 inches that fell on Long Island. I’m no marine engineer, but it seems we’re at risk of some serious wash-outs, starting with our Post Road bridge and no doubt possibly affecting our waterway through Saugatuck, out to the Sound. The river today is nothing like it was when barges and other vessels docked all the way to downtown.

I’ve heard that Norwalk is undertaking a dredging project for its river and harbor. Is this something to add to our already lengthy list of Westport capital improvement projects?

What do you think? Is the state of our river dire enough to spend money on it? What would we gain? Are there unintended consequences — positive or negative?

Click “Comments” below. And please use your full, real name.

Garelick & Herbs’ Saugatuck Saga

Over 20 years ago, Paula and Jason Garelick searched all around Westport for the right site. They had an idea — “Garelick & Herbs,” a spot for fresh, gourmet food, with takeout and catering — and they really liked Bridge Square, just across the river in Saugatuck.

Ultimately they decided on the Post Road, opposite Stop & Shop. It seemed more convenient for folks running around town. The Bridge Square property has become many things. Today it’s a Dunkin’ Donuts.

Next week, Saugatuck will finally have a Garelick & Herbs. The wildly popular store is opening a new location across the street from Bridge Square, at 580 Riverside Avenue. It’s the former site of CM Gourmet Market. (There are Garelick & Herbses in New Canaan and Greenwich, too.)

Garelick & Herbs: coming soon to Saugatuck Center.

Garelick & Herbs: coming soon to Saugatuck Center.

Meanwhile, the store is expanding its original location. It’s moving a few hundred yards east and across the Post Road in Southport, into a spot once occupied by the Double L Farm Stand.

Paula and Jason always wanted to be near the train station. People could stop in for an early coffee, and on their way home pick up a fresh-cooked meal. They’re now working on a special commuter menu: “The Saugatuck Express.”

It will join Garelick & Herbs’ well-loved seasonal menus, along with an organic salad and juice bar. They’ll continue catering everything from family events to elegant weddings.

Saugatuck Center is changing nearly every day. It’s a far different place than it was just a few years ago — let alone 1992, when Paula and Jason Garelick almost opened their 1st store there.

But I bet Garelick & Herbs will be a Riverside Avenue mainstay for decades to come.

Another place to get coffee in Saugatuck -- though 22 years ago it might have been the original Garelick & Herbs.

Another place to get coffee in Saugatuck — though 22 years ago it might have been the original Garelick & Herbs.

 

Remembering Buck Iannacone

Alphonse “Buck” Iannacone — the 2012 Memorial Day parade grand marshal, a 61-year PAL volunteer, and a Bronze Star and Purple Heart winner for his military service during the Battle of the Bulge — died Friday. He was 88.

In his 6 decades with PAL, he did just about everything. He was a coach, an organizer, a board member, a field maintenance guy, a fundraiser, and a good friend to thousands of young athletes.

A former US Postal Service worker and local union president, he was also a member of the Saugatuck Volunteer Fire Department, Laurel Athletic Club and a dedicated volunteer with both Special Olympics and Star.

Buck Iannacone (left), the 2012 Memorial Day parade grand marshal this year, with his son and granddaughter. One of Buck's 4 great-grandchild had been born 10 days earlier.

Buck Iannacone (left), the 2012 Memorial Day parade grand marshal that year, with his son and granddaughter. One of Buck’s 4 great-grandchildren had been born 10 days earlier.

Buck received plenty of honors, including a National PAL Award in 2008. He was cited by the Sportsmen of Westport, Norwalk Old Timers and the Connecticut Sports Writers Alliance. Three years before leading the Memorial Day parade, he served as grand marshal of Festival Italiano.

But of all the kudos Buck Iannacone got, one was extra special. In 2001 — dressed in caps and gowns, and marching across stage — he and 5 other World War II veterans from Norwalk received high school diplomas.

Like the others, Buck had left school to join the military. The shrapnel he took in the Battle of the Bulge put him in a British hospital for 8 months.

Buck Iannacone served his country well. And — for the last 61 years — he did the same for Westport.

(Services will be held on Wednesday, July 30, at 9:30 a.m. at Harding Funeral Home, 210 Post Road East, and 10 a.m. at Assumption Church, 98 Riverside Avenue. Internment, with full military honors, follows at Assumption Cemetery, Kings Highway North. Friends may visit the family on Tuesday, July 29, from 4-8 p.m. at the Harding Funeral Home. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in Buck Iannacone’s name to the Westport PAL Scholarship Fund, c/o Sam Arciola, 50 Jesup Road, Westport, CT 06880.)

Buck Iannacone and Roberta Troy at the 2009 Italian Festival. He served as grand marshal that year.

Buck Iannacone and Roberta Troy at the 2009 Italian Festival. He served as grand marshal that year.