A Beloved Beach Bungalow

In 2001, Tom Feeley noticed a family gathered outside his beautiful Compo Beach bungalow. He introduced himself, and invited them in.

They were Jean McKernan and her family. Jean had lived there — 12 Fairfield Avenue — back in the day. Her father bought the house just before the 1929 crash.

The McKernans owned it for almost 50 years. Today it is owned by Tom and Sandy Feeley.

Now — after many years of living in and loving it — the Feeleys have placed the bungalow on the market.

Tom and Sandy Feeley’s house today.

The website about the property includes fascinating recollections by Bob McKernan — Jean’s brother. Here are a few.

Nelson McKernan — a rising young banker, and Bob and Jean’s father — bought the cottage in 1928, for $5,000. A bit of modernization made the summer of 1929 a fine one.

Fairfield Avenue was not paved. Every few days a spreader rolled through, putting calcium chloride on the dirt road to absorb water and keep dust down. Chemicals got into cuts Bob and his siblings suffered from shells on the rocky beach, and stung worse than acid. But his skin was tough, and he often walked barefoot into town.

That first year there were wooden bathhouses on Westport Avenue. But they burned that winter, and the land was turned into a parking lot. Buses arrived regularly at the corner, dropping off and picking up bathers.

Wooden bathhouses on the beach lasted much longer. Kids climbed to the rooftop porch, looking over the crowd.

The old Compo bathhouses, located between what is now the lifeguard shack and the white pavilion. Note the upper deck, where Bob and his friends scoped out the beach — and which now encircles the current pavilion.

There was always activity on the street. Many Irish families gathered together. At night adults played bridge, or sat on the porch and talked. From Bob’s bedroom he heard Florrie Carroll play the piano, as everyone sang.

The vegetable man came by with his truck. So did the ice man, with his 300-pound blocks.

Bob’s father was president of the Compo Beach Improvement Association. The group sponsored swimming races, and built 2 diving floats offshore. They were the site of huge King of the Hill fights, with plenty of fun (and a few injuries).

These 2 pages in “Westport…A Special Place” show Compo Beach in the 1930s. Note the boats, floats, canoes, men wearing suits — and rocks, where the sand is today.

After sending away for boxes of rockets and firecrackers, kids shot them off, shot them at each other, and blew up Mrs. Rae’s mailbox.

Neighbors vied for the best 4th of July displays. The Lanes — including sons Paul (future Staples football coach) and Chubby (future owner of the beach concession) — had the best, Bob says.

Before more houses were built, a wide, grassy backyard was the site of many croquet, badminton and softball games. Later, when the town tried to solve the problem of high tidal flows by installing pipes and a 1-way valve by the Minuteman statue marsh, water became polluted and tall grasses grew. The soil turned to muck, the yard to uselessness.

One corner of Fairfield and Soundview was owned by Sam Roodner, a Norwalk developer. His castle-like stone house represented money and power. His mailbox was never blown up.

The other corner, owned by the Toomeys, was wooded for years. Kids played war games there — and always got poison ivy.

Without winterization, few of the residents stayed year-round. But long-lasting friendships were common. Bob remembers many — including “the worshipped-from-afar, unapproachable, but so wonderfully named Sauncy Frost.”

Compo Beach, looking toward Schlaet’s Point

There was no jetty at Schlaet’s Point (Hillspoint Road); it came in the 1950s. A rocky spit there was filled with clams. Bob and his friends walked out at low tide with rakes and buckets, picking soft-shells to be steamed at home.

Crabs were a problem when swimming in anything but high tide.

In those days, with the beach varying in sand depth from year to year, tides varied dramatically. Sometimes, high tide reached the seawall. Low tide extended hundreds of yards.

For diversion, kids swam in the big pond at Old Mill. A longer walk was to Saugatuck, across the railroad bridge. It was the perfect height for diving into the river below.

Eventually, Bob’s childhood ended. War came. But 12 Fairfield Avenue, and the beach, united the family and their friends every summer.

“Post-war parties were wilder, romances were deeper,” Bob recalls.

A welcoming sign at 12 Fairfield Avenue.

He and his new wife moved back to the cottage, to await the arrival of Bob Jr. Bob Sr. insulated it, for the winter.

It was almost useless. A 2-burner kerosene heater in the living room provided the only real warmth. But the McKernans stayed.

“Then came more permanent roots, more marriages, more babies,” Bob says.

“Visits replaced living at Compo. From those overnights or longer stays came the memories our children have of their beach days in the ’50s and ’60s.”

Finally — 36 years ago — Bob’s mother put the beloved house up for sale. “It left our hands, but not our hearts,” Bob says.

For years, Tom and Sandy Feeley have loved the bungalow — and the neighborhood — just as the McKernans did.

Let’s hope the new owners continue that wonderful Compo tradition, for decades to come.

(Click here to view the listing — including Bob McKernan’s story about growing up in the house by the beach.)
 

The friendly porch at 12 Fairfield Avenue, today.

38 responses to “A Beloved Beach Bungalow

  1. Jamie Walsh

    Thanks Dan for the great story. One can only hope that the next buyer will appreciate the character of the home and will continue it’s legacy of creating wonderful experiences and memories for the next family who choose to live there.

    • Westport Convert

      Don’t worry. I doubt your worst nightmare of it being torn down and built up will occur.

      A great story but heaven forbid someone consider all of the options. It’s sad that you are already worrying about this.

      WC

      • Eric Buchroeder

        Water Closet,
        Just a friendly reminder to take your laxative and crawl back under your rock.

  2. Fabulous piece, Dan. Reading that was a wonderful way to start the day – and to enjoy summer! : – )

  3. Richard Webb

    Dan, once again great history. Just beautiful. If you did not getthis down it would be lost forever. Once gain, thanks for all you do.

  4. Tiffany Ennis

    Dan,

    My parents bought this house and sold it to The Feeley’s. I grew up in that house and went to school in Westport living in this wonderful home.

    Tiffany McClaskie Ennis

  5. What a lovely story. I enjoy these stories you tell about the many different ways residents have experienced life in Westport over the decades. Please keep them coming!

  6. Babette d'Yveine

    How Westport values have appreciated! The asking price for this 1263 SF two bedroom bungalow is $1,440,000.

    • Westport Convert

      That is actually a very reasonable asking price considering the location. It’s all about location!

      WC

  7. Tiffany Ennis

    Dan,
    It is because they are dear friends of my parents and it never went on the market. I hope someone purchases the home and leaves it with all it charm and character. All of my Staples friends spent many days, nights and parties in that home….:)
    The best house ever!
    Tiffany

  8. Dan, you did a fabulous job piecing together all the facts into a cohesive story. It’s truly a magical home on a great street. But all the friendly neighbors and kids growing up are the best part. It’s been a slice of heaven. Tears on my pillow. 🙂

  9. Sharon Ames Smith

    Truly a jewel….our little cottage by The Sound. Many memories created here from toddlers to teenagers….their young parents to now grandparents! We will all miss her.

  10. Westporter Since '03

    Westport: what a beautiful place we’ve chosen to make our lives in…
    I feel so fortunate.

    And, I love your coverage of Westport history, Dan…
    thank you for another great story !

  11. Tiffany Ennis

    Mom,
    What an amazing home we lived in. I am so fortunate that I got to enjoy it’s wonderful charm throughout my childhood. We have so many memories with The Feeley’s from when we lived there. What a great home to grow up in!
    Tiffany

    • Agree, Tiff! I will always remember the years spent at 12 Fairfield Avenue and Compo. I have mixed emotions but it’s time for the next chapter. We’ll have to get our “family” together again soon!

      Tom Feeley
      Staples Class of 1987

  12. Can you imagine what it was like at Compo Beach back when there were floats? And the guys had to wear tops to their bathing suits? And no bikinis? 🙁 Things have gotten better !

    • Hey, stick around for another 100 years, big fella… who knows, maybe by then, they’ll be goin’ topless at Compo 😉

      (Westport’s also known for being ‘wild n crazy’… ask Dan !)

  13. What memories looking at the way Compo looked before the hurricane in the early 50’s took down the double deck & the raised boardwalk. Those floats were still there but never put back after the storm. Thanks Dan for bringing me back when. Westport is still in my bones!

  14. No floats in 1965

  15. Thanks Westport Convert…you always have such positive things to say…NOT!

  16. Eric Buchroeder

    I remember the floats sitting in drydock over near the marina. Not sure if they were still in use or just were gathering dust. this was late 50’s. I also remember flotation devices, rafts, etc. being outlawed on the main beach. It was OK to use them on the South beach which was not guarded.

  17. Gary Singer

    What memories. I first swam at Compo the summer of 1932. Beach blankets had to be extra thick to prevent back ache from laying on rocks.
    The floats were there, about 25 yards from shore (don’t hold me to that), and a great place to meet people. Especially the city folk who arrived every May or June. My family had a wooden bathhouse, traded in years later for one of the new brick ones. The concession served hot dogs or hamburgers, take your choice.

  18. Dennis Jackson

    My girlfriend and I rented this now beautifully upgraded beach shack in the Spring 1974 for 225/month (plus I painted the bedroom floor) from the Bodkins – lovely people! – who had just bought it as an investment for 55K. I was doing the Morning Show on WMMM/WDJF while at UConn, so it fit our budget nicely. They rented it out for 5K/month in the Summer of ’74, but the tenants punched holes in the wall, so we got it back for the next year and a half for 325/month. We were married while living there. It was a halcyon era, and we coulda shoulda woulda bought it for the 59K at which they offered it to us in June 1976!

  19. Dan, I believe the floats were still there 1955-56. They were about 10′ by 10′ square with a diving board and ladder. They were supported by several empty 55 gallon drums. The rite of passage for daring young men was to swim underneath the floats and come up in the air pockets created by the round drums. It was quite a leap of faith the first time around but certainly a lot of fun at the time.

  20. HEY SHARON AND TIFFANY…I TOO HAVE MANY MEMORIES AT 12 FAIRFIELD AVE….WATCHING TIFFANY GROW UP, SPENDING WAY TO MUCH TIME AT COMPO, RUNNING FROM COMPO TO SOUTHPORT AND BACK WHEN I WAS IN SHAPE AND SKINNY…WATCHING SHARON MAKE IT A WONDERFUL PLACE TO LIVE AND RAISE OUR DAUGHTER…I WILL MISS IT DEARLY…TOM McCLASKIE

  21. Tiffany Ennis

    Dad,
    It was a great place to raise me. I am so blessed that you and Mom purchased this home and gave me such wonderful memories.

    Tiff

  22. Westporter4Ever

    Great house, great block, great location…………………….a screaming buy at the beach.

  23. i always recall the first composition class i ever had with Jim… he said “there are two types of music: popular, and UN-popular. WE are going to compose UN-popular music.” Later in the same class he was asking all of us what kind of music influenced each member of the class, and one fellow piped up “you ever hear of the band YES?” and Jim’s answer dry and hilarious was “NO”… memories… he will be missed.