Category Archives: Saugatuck

Sleeping With The Pope

As chairman of Westport’s Parks and Recreation Commission, Charlie Haberstroh takes his job seriously. So the other day he read a long Wall Street Journal story titled “The New Mattress Professionals.” Hey, beds are great spots for recreational activities, right?

Charlie plowed through tons of details about Eve and Casper, Leesa and Keetsa. These startups are apparently turning the mattress industry upside down, with new marketing techniques. One of those is “celebrity endorsements or associations.”

Near the end, this caught Charlie’s eye:

Pope Francis was expected to sleep on a memory foam relaxed firm queen-sized mattress by West Port, Conn.-based online luxury mattress startup Saatva’s Loom & Leaf division. The pontiff visited the Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary near Philadelphia last weekend, according to Stephen Dolan, the seminary’s chief financial officer. Mr. Dolan said the mattress was donated but declined to comment further and referred questions to the company.

Saatva chief executive Ron Rudzin says he is “simply honored and blessed” by the news.

I could not find a photo of the pope and his mattress. So this will have to do.

I could not find a photo of the pope and his mattress. So this will have to do.

Stuart Carlitz, chief executive of Bedding Industries of America, which manufactures Saatva mattresses, says he was approached by representatives from the World Meeting of Families, who asked if he could supply a bed for the Holy Father…. Mr. Carlitz says he donated the Saatva mattress, which retails for $999.

Today is Sunday. That’s a work day for the pope, so I couldn’t call the Vatican to ask how he slept.

Saatva Ron Rudzin, in a press photo. That's the Saugatuck River behind him.

Saatva Ron Rudzin, in a press photo. That’s the Saugatuck River behind him.

I had never heard of Saatva — let alone known that it’s headquartered right here in 06880.

I checked the company’s website to learn more about their Westport connection. I could not find much — beyond CEO Rudzin saying he likes to fish in the Saugatuck River — but I did find this:

Saatva is the fastest growing online mattress company in the country. Our honest passion for making each customer happy is the daily mantra. Our non commissioned, courteous and expert representatives give honest “no pressure” guidance. Our teams working in our 14 ‘partnering’ American factories are so proud to be building a luxury product that is healthy for the body and safe for the environment.

Additionally, we believe in building long term friendships with our delivery teams throughout our fulfillment centers. We love the culture that we’ve created as we are a wonderfully diverse and spirited group of employees who enjoy doing our part to keep America building.

So where is Saatva located?

There is no address on their website. BBB Business Review says they’re at 8 Wright Street. puts them at 25 Sylvan Lane South, Suite W.

I would have called headquarters to find out.

But it’s Sunday. Everyone is sleeping in.

In addition to sleeping on a Westport mattress, Pope Francis apparently made an unannounced visit to Landtech, the engineering consultant firm in Saugatuck.

In addition to sleeping on a Westport mattress, Pope Francis apparently made an unannounced visit to Landtech, the engineering consultant firm in Saugatuck.


Station Situation

An alert “06880” reader named Craig writes:

I wonder why the lower parking lot at the Saugatuck train station (Lot #1) is in such bad shape.

It has become a minefield of large potholes, loose asphalt, cracked pavement, etc.

Train station 3

It is in serious need of repaving/resurfacing, and it seems like an injury waiting to happen.

Train station 1

Given its current state and the potential liability of someone falling and suing, it seems to me that this would be a priority. It seems so hazardous, as well as out of step with the other lots, that I thought there may be some reason (political or otherwise) why it is this way.

Am I missing something?

Train station 2

Bridge Street Bridge: A Bit Of Background

The recent flurry of posts about the Bridge Street (William Cribari) Bridge prompted Kathie Motes Bennewitz to check in.

The town arts curator writes:

The recent Westport Historical Society exhibit, “Saugatuck@ Work,” addressed the Saugatuck bridge. This original drawing of the bridge (July, 1884) is from the WHS archives:

Bridge Street bridge - original drawing

The WHS exhibit included this information:

The Saugatuck River Bridge carries Route 136 over the Saugatuck River in Westport today. The bridge, built in 1884 and designed by the Union Bridge Company of Buffalo, is the oldest surviving movable bridge in Connecticut and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The movable bridge allows waterborne traffic to easily pass, which was crucial to the area’s maritime economy at the time it was built.

The bridge consists of a 144-foot-long fixed approach span on the eastern side, and a hand-cranked movable span. Both spans are pin-connected Pratt through truss designs made of wrought iron.

In the mid-1980s there was a successful 2-year battle to save and restore this Westport landmark. The battle began when Federal and state officials determined that the 100-year-old structure had rotting floor beams, and steel decking, trusses and girders had fallen into disrepair. Their plan was to build a new bridge, 3 lanes wide and with a higher vertical clearance, with no posted weight restrictions.

The Bridge Street Bridge. (Photo/Library of Congress)

The Bridge Street Bridge. (Photo/Library of Congress)

This bridge was never without political controversy. The bridge’s present location was the historic crossing point, as established in 1746 when the Disbrow ferry was established to carry traffic over the Saugatuck River.

However, local merchants and financiers, such as the Jesup family and Horace Staples, built a substantial infrastructure of maritime, financial and commercial facilities upriver at Westport center, and blocked this bridge’s realization for decades. They wanted to force the flow of traffic from Fairfield, Greens Farms and Compo uptown, crossing the river there to reach the depot and wharves to the west.

Yet in the early 1880s, when the needs of overland transport demanded a new bridge in Saugatuck Village, there was little question but that the bridge would have to be built to accommodate the passage of vessels destined not only for Saugatuck itself, but also for the larger port upstream at Westport center.

A detail of the Bridge Street Bridge, from Robert Lambdin's Saugatuck mural.

A detail of the Bridge Street Bridge, from Robert Lambdin’s Saugatuck mural.

Horace Staples admitted late in life that it was the mistake of his life in having the bridge built where it was now [downtown] instead of at Ferry Lane, where the road builders that proposed and where the ferry had been established.

Ironically, the onion trade declined drastically soon after the bridge was opened, rendering moot the reason for erecting the swing bridge rather than a cheaper and less troublesome fixed crossing.

(Kathie adds: The Library of Congress has Historic American Buildings Survey, Engineering Record, Landscapes Survey photographs online. Click here to view.)

Marpe: “Keep An Open Mind” On Bridge Street Bridge

Yesterday afternoon, First Selectman Jim Marpe issued a statement regarding the 131-year-old Bridge Street (William Cribari) Bridge project.

Describing a July 8 meeting involving his office; the Police, Public Works/Engineering Departments, and the state Department of Transportation, and a follow-up conference call the next month with town officials; the Westport Historic District Commission chairman and staff, the DOT, and the State Historic Preservation Office, Marpe said:

I emphasized the importance of retaining the iconic aspects of the bridge’s clearly defined superstructure along with its role in the history of the Saugatuck community. The superstructure also plays an important role in limiting the type and speed of traffic that can travel through the Saugatuck neighborhood, on Bridge Street and Greens Farms Road, and that it serves as a source of traditional holiday decoration for the entire area thanks to the efforts of Al’s Angels.

I was gratified to know that the state was aware of the bridge’s historic importance to the town and had included this important aspect at the onset of its planning efforts.

Bridge Street Bridge: icon or eyesore? (Photo/Michael Champagne)

Bridge Street Bridge: icon or eyesore? (Photo/Michael Champagne)

Marpe said he was also pleased that the DOT assigned Mark McMillian, an architectural historian and National Register specialist, to its project team.

Marpe said that the state is in preliminary stages of a Rehabilitation Study Report. It will take 6 months, and is being performed by a bridge consultant.  When complete, the report will detail the conditions, problems, issues, severity, costs and potential options for rehabilitation. There will be public hearings and presentations, as well as ample opportunity for public review and comment.

According to Marpe, discussions so far suggest that the bridge has major problems. These may include severe structural deficiencies; functional obsolescence; major traffic safety problems, and issues with abutments, the truss and the underside of the bridge.

An idyllic shot of the Bridge Street bridge. Usually, it's filled with traffic.

An idyllic shot of the Bridge Street bridge. Usually, it’s filled with traffic.

Marpe added:

As I informed a number of the town’s elected officials last week, the safety of the bridge and the people who use it as well as the related impact of bridge traffic on the safety of Westport neighborhoods are my primary concerns.

At the same time, I am very sensitive to the historic aspects of this iconic bridge and its significance to many Westporters. I am satisfied that the state understands and is seriously taking these concerns into consideration. I will continue to encourage the state to develop recommendations that balance long-term safety improvements with the need to preserve an important part of Westport’s history.

I urge all Westporters to keep an open mind on the future of the bridge and to wait until we receive the completed engineering findings and facts of the state’s report before reaching conclusions devoid of information.

At this time, no plans of any kind have been suggested by the DOT with regard to what the rehabilitation/replacement options might be. We have been assured by the DOT that a variety of rehabilitation options will be studied. Finally, it is important to note that in current discussions there have been no proposals for construction of a 4-lane bridge as some have mentioned.

A Bridge Too Narrow?

The Bridge Street (aka William Cribari) Bridge is getting ready for the big time.

This summer, surveyors were all over the 131-year-old, much-loved, unique, narrow, creaky and decaying structure. State authorities have marked it for improvements — though exactly what that entails, and when, is unclear.

At the same time, a move is underway to designate it as historic. Such a designation would limit the kinds of improvements that could be made.

Hand-cranking open the Bridge Street (William Cribari) Bridge.

Hand-cranking open the Bridge Street (William Cribari) Bridge.

The debate will continue — with, no doubt, more public attention and input than it’s received so far.

Whatever happens, this much is sure: It will cost more than the $26,700 the town spent to build it in 1884.

The bridge it replaced was just 13 years old. But it had already been eaten away by shipworms.

The Bridge Street bridge, open for Saugatuck River navigation.

The Bridge Street bridge, open for Saugatuck River navigation.

Slicing Through Saugatuck

You never realize how many restaurants are in Saugatuck — until they start giving away free* food.

Viva’s, Julian’s, Rizzuto’s, Tutti’s; the Whelk, the Duck, Rainbow Thai and Tarry Lodge — all those and more handed out their specialties at today’s Slice of Saugatuck.

Add in Saugatuck Sweets, Garelick & Herbs, Craft Butchery — plus Dunkin’ Donuts and the Mobil Mini-Mart — and it’s a good thing there was lots of walking.

Today’s Slice also featured musical bands of kids and kids-at-heart; a steel band and calypso band (different spots); a bouncy house, and much more.

The only party poopers were a couple of restaurants that opted not to participate. And the private parking lot across from Dunville’s was completely closed, even though most tenants have fled.

That’s okay. We can deal. And if you’re reading this before 3 p.m. Saturday, stop! You’ve still got time for the Slice. It runs until then.

PS: Bands play at Luciano Park until 5.

*With the purchase of a $10 ticket.

Tutti's went all out -- and had some of the longest lines.

Tutti’s went all out to offer great food.

The band Forester traveled from Bethany to play.

The band Forester traveled from Bethany to play on the plaza.

What kid doesn't like getting in a fire truck?

What kid doesn’t like getting in a fire truck?

Harvest does not take over the old Mario's spot until late October. But they were at the Slice of Saugatuck too.

Harvest does not take over the old Mario’s spot until late October. But they were at the Slice of Saugatuck too.

Downunder offers kayak rides. The boat cruising up the Saugatuck River may or may not have been part of the Slice.

Downunder offers kayak rides. The boat cruising up the Saugatuck River may or may not have been heading to the Slice.

Tarry Lodge was big on desserts.

Tarry Lodge was big on faro salad.

A young visitors checks off every restaurant she visited.

A young visitor checks off every restaurant she visited.

Nick Zeoli’s Saugatuck

Nick Zeoli was a longtime Westport resident. He was a star athlete at Staples High School in the early 1940s, and a legendary athletic director at Wilton High School.

Zeoli is now 92 years old, in excellent health, and living in Vermont with his wife. He wrote down some thoughts on his life, which his daughter Nikki thought would be of interest to “06880” readers. 

I was born July 1, 1923 on the kitchen table in our home on Saugatuck Avenue. I was the oldest of 5 kids.

Saugatuck was called Little Italy, Railroad Place, and a few other names I won’t repeat. Italians had replaced Irish immigrants. The Italians could afford land there, and got mortgages from the Westport Bank. People from the same area in Italy came, because they had paisans and felt secure.

Our neighborhood was clustered around Saugatuck Avenue, Franklin Street, Charles Street, Davenport Avenue, Ketchum Street and Indian Hill Road. Families were close knit, sharing the same background and so many immigration experiences (often in steerage).

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

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

These brave people brought so many traditions from their hometowns in the old country. Grandpa Valiante took a grapevine, which he planted in Saugatuck. He made wine from the fruit.

The Feast of St. Anthony honored the patron saint of these immigrants. Every June, Franklin Street was transformed with colored lights and tents. We ate sausage and peppers and pasta fagioli. We played all sorts of games over 4 days, while bands played Neapolitan songs and opera arias were sung.

Kids like me, dressed in blue knickers and white shirts, followed the band up Riverside, to Assumption Church. After mass we marched back to Franklin Street. Fireworks were viewed by crowds up to 20,000, who came from across Connecticut for the show.

The former St. Anthony Hall on Franklin Street. (Photos/Google Maps)

The former St. Anthony Hall on Franklin Street, seen today. (Photos/Google Maps)

In the fall, trucks came from Norwalk with crates of blue and white grapes. They were pressed into wine. Grandpa drew bottles for guests, but reused the bottle.

The wine cellar also served as a cool place to store bottles of fruits and vegetables, canned by my grandmother, mother and aunt. Each winter we enjoyed those treats.

Grandpa’s garden provided potatoes, corn, peppers, tomatoes, lettuce and cabbage. We ate family meals at a large oak table in my grandparents’ big cellar kitchen. After dinner, my grandfather gave each child a small glass of red wine with a peach slice. He said it was good for our blood. An old Victrola played arias and Italian folk songs.

Behind our house on Saugatuck Avenue, Grandpa Zeoli built a large storage barn. Inside was an oven for baking bread. Every Thursday morning neighbors brought their own dough. The large round loaves lasted each family for a week. The kids ate our slices with homemade jams and jellies.

Milazzo's Market, another Saugatuck mainstay.

A matchbook from Milazzo’s Market, another Saugatuck mainstay.

I passed Mrs. Benneti’s house on my way to and from the park on Franklin Street. If I forgot to say ciao, Grandma Valianate grabbed me by the ear and lectured me for not being neighborly.

Our neighbors held us accountable for our actions. We were part of a tight-knit group, and grew up to be better adults because of this.

Though we had little money and no cars, we felt like we had it all. We were surrounded by practical, loving people. We roamed the streets safely, and never locked our homes. If we were thirsty from our continual games, we walked into a neighbor’s house for water.

There were no buses, so we all walked to Saugatuck Elementary School on Bridge Street. It was a great school, with outstanding teachers ready to help at any time. Miss Dorothy Adams was the principal.

Dorothy Adams' alumni card.

Dorothy Adams was herself a Staples graduate. Here’s her alumni card.

When I returned from the Navy in 1946, I called my 4th grade teacher, Miss McNerney. We had dinner, and danced in the best restaurant in Stamford. She was a great influence on my life.

At Bedford Junior High, we had more wonderful teachers. Roland Wachob, my phys. ed. teacher and coach, inspired me to get my degree in physical education.

Many of my classmates did not go on to Staples High School, then located on Riverside Avenue, because they worked to support their families. I was fortunate to continue my education. I was an average student, and played football, basketball and baseball.

I graduated in 1942. Our class had 94 students.

I planned to go to college, but with America entering  World War II 6 months earlier, I joined the Navy. I was in 12 major battles, including Saipan, Iwo Jima, Eniwetok and the Philippines.

One day, on R&R at the Gilbert Islands, I heard someone say “Hey Zee!” It was John Vento, my best friend from home. We hugged, cried and reminisced about football games we’d played together.

Nick Zeoli, not long ago.

Nick Zeoli, not long ago.

After my discharge in 1946 I received my BA in physical education from Arnold College (now part of the University of Bridgeport). I got a master’s at Columbia University, where one of my professors was Margaret Mead. I got a 2nd master’s at Bridgeport.

In 1952 I married Jody Scott, also a Staples grad. We have 3 children and 3 grandchildren.

Besides having 40,000 students pass through during my 41 years in the Wilton school system, I am proud of my association with Special Olympics. In 1991 I went to Pakistan to teach teachers of handicapped teachers to coach soccer and track. I returned 2 years later, and also did the same work in Bangladesh.

Westport was my home all those years, until 1998 when Jody and I retired to our log home in Vermont. I taught a course on coaching at Castleton State College for several years.

I play over 100 rounds of golf a year. Twice I shot better than my age.

While I miss Westport very much, I don’t miss the traffic or the sprawling shopping malls. Our town in Vermont doesn’t even have any businesses.

Super Slice Of Saugatuck Set For Saturday

Bordered by a river, train tracks and I-95, Saugatuck can’t get much bigger.

But it keeps growing. New apartments, restaurants and businesses make Westport’s original center — and “2nd downtown” — livelier than ever.

Slice of Saugatuck grows each year too. The 4th annual edition — set for Saturday (September 12, noon-3 p.m.) — is the biggest yet.

Slice of SaugatuckMore merchants than ever — 44 — are participating. Over 2 dozen eateries will offer food and/or drinks; other shops will show off their wares. There’s a new mini-Maker Space, drones, obstacle courses and more, along with 7 musical groups (and the fire station’s traditional open house).

Plus — once the Slice ends — a free concert, with 2 “Sweet Sounds o’ Summer” bands playing in Luciano Park (3 and 5 p.m.).

It’s a triple win for Westport, says Chamber of Commerce executive director Matthew Mandell, who created the 1st Slice of Saugatuck in 2011.

It promotes Saugatuck merchants and the area. It gives the community a great event. And it raises money for the homeless and hungry.

The Homes With Hope Gillespie Food Pantry is again the beneficiary. They received $10,000 in proceeds from the past 2 festivals.

Slice of Saugatuck tickets are $10 per adult, $5 for children 6-12 (available on site). Any way you slice it, that’s a bargain!

From Bridge Square to Railroad Place -- and everywhere else -- Slice of Saugatuck is packed. (Photo/Terry Cosgrave)

From Bridge Square to Railroad Place — and everywhere else — Slice of Saugatuck is packed. (Photo/Terry Cosgrave)

Gigantic Gilbertie Family Gathers

In 1890, brothers Antonio and Alesandro Gilbertie immigrated with their families from Italy to Brooklyn.

Through friends and relatives they learned of a small Connecticut community called Saugatuck. Italians were moving in, displacing the Irish who had built the first 2 railroad tracks.

The Gilberties fell in love with the area, and found work building the railroad’s second 2 tracks.

Antonio and Alessandro wrote their 3 brothers — Samuel, Michael and Julius — back home in Salerno that they’d found the perfect place to live. Within the next few years, the remaining brothers and their families arrived in Saugatuck.

Over the years, the Original 5 — as they’re still called — started A. Gilbertie Florist (now Gilbertie’s Herb Gardens), Weston Gardens, and many small businesses.

They and their descendants became builders, excavators and plumbers. They served in both world wars, and in town government. Gradually they spread to neighboring towns, the tri-state region, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

A Gilbertie family photograph, circa 1910.

A Gilbertie family photograph, circa 1910.

Today, Ken Gilbertie has no idea how many 2nd and 3rd cousins he has.

But he, his cousin Ginny and others would like to find tout.

They’ve organized a Gilbertie family reunion. It’s set for this Saturday (September 12) at Sherwood Island.

They’ve created a Facebook group, and are trying to get the word out in other ways. But they know there are more Gilberties out there.

If you’re a member of one of Westport’s leading families — or know someone who is — check out the “Gilbertie Family Reunion 2015” page on Facebook. Or email

Normally, a family reunion would not be “06880”-worthy.

But — since 1890 — the Gilberties have been much more than a normal family.

Antonio and Marie Gilbertie with granddaughter Celeste, around 1940.

Antonio and Marie Gilbertie with granddaughter Celeste, around 1940.

Welcome To Saugatuck?

Saugatuck’s renaissance has breathed new life into an old neighborhood.

But to enjoy it — coming off I-95 Exit 17 — you first have to drive past this:

Joanne Romano 3

And this:

Joanne Romano 2

And this:

(Photos/Joanne Romano)

(Photos/Joanne Romano)

The abandoned buildings — Blu Parrot and TD Bank — hardly provide a great first impression of the area.

Westport has a blight ordinance — plus a blight prevention board and blight officer.

It applies to commercial property, as well as residences.

Enough said.