Compo House: The Amazing Back Story

On Monday I posted an old broadside advertising Westport’s fireworks, 1860-style.

They took place at Compo House, which I’d never heard of. Alert “06880” reader Wendy Crowther quickly pointed out that it was also known as the Winslow Mansion. It stood where Winslow Park is today, on the corner of Post Road East and Compo Road North.

Between 1855 and 1860, Wendy added, “Henry Richard Winslow and his 2nd wife, Mary Fitch Winslow, invited everyone in town to their extensive and lavish property to enjoy July 4th fireworks. Henry died in February 1861, so the 1860 fireworks extravaganza advertised in the poster was his last.

How extensive and lavish was his house?

A lot more than you probably imagine.

Unbelievably alert “06880” reader Paul Greenberg found 2 prints at the George Glazer Gallery website. Here’s the back story to what they show.

Winslow — a state representative and senator — built Compo House in 1853. Six years later, former president Millard Fillmore was a guest. The property also included guest houses, servants’ and gardeners’ quarters, and gorgeous gardens.

The mansion no longer exists. It was torn down in the 1970s, after serving for many years as a sanitarium (and, in its final incarnation, a vacant party house for Westport teenagers). The outbuildings were demolished too.

The iron gate — alongside unpaved North Compo — still stands.

The Winslows also owned the land across Post Road East (then called State Street) from the park. Both properties were bought in the 1950s by Baron Walter von Langendorff, an Austrian-born chemist who founded Evyan Perfumes.

The town now owns the two parcels. We call the 2nd one “Baron’s South.”

18 responses to “Compo House: The Amazing Back Story

  1. In “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz” F. Scott Fitzgerald has a Hollywood set designer locked up in a sanitarium in Westport, CT. It is to the second life of Compo House that he refers.

  2. I commented somewhere that I have a list in my mind of the worst things Westport has ever done.. knocking that house down was one of them. It was absolutely spectacular.

  3. A. David Wunsch

    Mary Gai is correct. That demolition was plain dumb, and ranks with the destruction of the original Staples building in its stupidity.
    A. David Wunsch
    Staples High 1956

  4. At one point I remember plans to turn that property into a big shopping mall, anchored by Bonwit Teller, I believe. Probably the late ’60s, before the house was torn down. The town fathers blocked it.

    • Bonwit Teller, or possibly Bergdorf Goodman. There was intense, serious discussion about the benefits a shopping mall would bring. Can you imagine Westport today with a large shopping mall (and the traffic it would bring) on that site?

  5. Fun childhood memory: watching some of the demolition with my father. He thought I’d be entertained by the bulldozers and wrecking ball. He was right!

  6. Maggie Feczko

    I think it was Altman’s that was slated for that corner. Wise decision to take it by eminent domain for town property, not so wise to demolish the house.

  7. Marc Sholes

    Amazing! Thank you

  8. Eric Buchroeder

    My late, lamented mother will turn over in her Willowbrook grave for my revealing this but one of my aunts developed a “drinking problem” and was “dried out” there for a week or so in the early sixties. Westport had at least two sanitariums, Hall-Brooke and Westport Sanitarium (the Baron’s property) I don’t remember any of my relatives making it into Hall-Brooke. For some reason, Westport Sanitarium was the venue of choice. Maybe they had the best happy hour.

  9. Chris Frey

    I recall as a teenager going into that building in the early 70’s and recoiling at the decay that had occured. Going up the steps to the second floor was so dangerous that even this kid decided that it wasn’t worth the risk and turned around.

    • I went in there too, in junior high in the late ’60s. It was scary as hell. We found old medicine balls in a gymnasium, strait jackets — and empty syringes. I always thought they were there as part of the sanitarium’s medical needs, but was told later that the vacant mansion had turned into a shooting gallery for heroin users.

      • Yup, I do recall seeing a syringe. And since I was sneaking in there to smoke pot, I wasn’t being overly judgmental, but the overall feel in the building was one of absolute decay. Hard to believe it looked so grand once. I can’t wait for someone to share some pictures of its earlier state.

  10. B. Altman. Of course!

  11. Westport Convert

    Dan,

    Do you know of any photos of the mansion/property prior to destruction? Moved here after the teardown but would love to see it. The prints do not do it justice.

    WC

  12. Wendy Crowther

    Just want to make a quick comment that I had a little dyslexia when typing Winslow’s name. Winslow’s name was actually RIchard Henry Winslow rather than Henry Richard Winslow. Sorry folks!

  13. Scott Rose

    In the 1960’s, Snoopy’s Red Baron was the only image of a Baron that I could imagine everyone was talking about. Thanks for clearing who the real Baron was!