My recent post on the Battle of Compo Hill got alert “06880” reader June Eichbaum thinking — and writing. She says:
When I open the window and the air smells like onions, I know it’s spring.
Before there were houses, Minuteman Hill — where I live — was an onion farm. During the Civil War, Westport farmers harvested barrels of onions. Union troops ate as many onions as Westport could grow, as protection against scurvy.
In the late 1800s yields dropped after years of single-crop farming robbed the soil of nutrients. Demand from the Army declined, and the Irish potato famine fungus arrived in America, causing an onion blight.
Minuteman Hill is a drumlin — an inverted spoon — that rises 100 feet above the moraine and wetlands below. Thousands of years ago, melting glaciers relentlessly scraped, mixed and reworked minerals, decaying vegetation and loose particles. Glaciers literally tilled the ground to make the soil in my garden as they melted.
Our street’s namesake is the bronze statue created by Henry Daniel Webster of a life-sized Minuteman soldier, crouched at the ready with musket in hand. He gazes up to where patriot sharpshooters sacrificed their lives in 1777, after ambushing British troops marching back to their war ships after burning an arsenal in Danbury.
The Minuteman is cared for by the community. When it snows, people put a woolen cap on his head and a scarf around his neck. At Christmas, he dons a Santa costume. On July 4th the Minuteman dresses up as Uncle Sam, surrounded by flags. He oversees the fireworks at the same beach where invading British ships dropped anchor.
In 1855 a house was built on the site of that Revolutionary War battle, next door to where we live now. It was sold in 1878 to Signorney Burnham, who rebuilt it in an eclectic Victorian style.
Burnham bred prize cattle, imported from his farm on the Isle of Jersey. Their manure improved the soil, and their grazing gave the land respite from farming. Burnham Hill marks the cows’ path down to Old Mill Beach.
Before 1950, our neighbors’ great-aunt owned the entire hill (it was then part of Compo Hill). My neighbor tells how her great-aunt sold a piece of the hill every time her husband wanted to travel to Europe (apparently quite often).
In 1950 she submitted a proposal to the town to subdivide some of the land. She penciled in a path to access those parcels, writing by hand “Minute Man Hill.”
Today, Minuteman Hill is a dead-end street of 22 homes. More than half sit along one of the 5 spokes that radiate out on the flat land at top.
In the early 1950s Harry Suttenfield built a modest home for his growing family on land adjacent to the elaborate Victorian. His house has been our home for 20 years. The trees he planted create a sense of place so grounded and strong that living here feels like a reprieve from a world of soundbites and short attention spans.
For the 7 days each spring that 2 weeping cherry trees bloom, their ethereal beauty is breathtaking. As the petals gently descend, our entire front garden, driveway and road are covered in delicate white. From a distance, it looks like snow.
Directly in front of the house, Suttenfield planted what today is an enormous sycamore tree. He also planted an apple orchard. Five trees remain. From late August to early October, neighbors pick apples. We take turns using a bright red gadget that it is as fun as it is practical.
The apples from our tree taste better than any I have ever eaten. They also make great pies.
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