When Rondi Charleston and her husband Steve Ruchefsky moved to Westport from Manhattan, they thought they’d landed in the friendliest place on earth.
Every time they worked in their garden, sat outside — or simply opened their doors — people waved.
Eventually, the couple realized, it wasn’t them.
They lived at 3 Evergreen Avenue. Their property — smack on the northern corner of Myrtle Avenue — is one of the most visible spots in town.
It’s long been one of the prettiest. Now — following years of renovation, planting and tender loving care — it’s one of the most stunning.
It’s also one of Westport’s most historic homes.
Built in 1845 by James W. Jauncey for his brother, Dr. Joseph Jauncey Jr., it was sold a decade later to Jonas H. Phelps, a manufacturer of astronomical instruments. His shop on Richmondville Avenue made the largest telescopes used by the US government. Phelps also built the “town clock” in the steeple of Christ & Holy Trinity Church, across the street.
The house passed on to the Coley family (of Coleytown fame). It remained in their hands for 99 years.
Now Rondi and Steve own it. And — unlike many new owners of older homes — they relish its quirks, and revere its history.
They opened the walkway, relocated the driveway and modernized the breezeway. But they retained all its bones. And some may actually be buried in the basement.
When the couple bought the home, that basement had a dirt floor. “It was original, 1845 dust,” Rondi says. They suspected it had been a stop on the Underground Railroad. (The house next door, owned by Estelle Margolis, almost certainly was.)
In a coal bin, Rondi and Steve found old newspaper clippings. A rusty spoon. Other artifacts too. “It was like an archaeological dig,” she says.
In a corner of the low basement — behind a nondescript door — Rondi and Steve created a modern amenity: a wine cellar. But it pays homage to the past: Everything was built from leftovers. The racks are made of old wine cases. The bench is an original from the Westport Country Playhouse. The ancient fireplace mantel holds a horseshoe and farm tools found by the couple.
The rest of the home is equally cool. A beautiful piano fills a music room where Rondi — a renowned jazz singer who recently returned from a West Coast tour, and who wrote “Signs of Life” inspired, in part, by her cellar — creates music. A shelf holds her Emmy and Peabody Awards, earned as a TV producer/journalist with Diane Sawyer.
Every corner of the house holds surprises. Pocket doors disappear, opening up a breezeway that leads to a garden with a spectacular view of downtown. That garden is what Westporters watched grow — and caused them to wave — in the years it took Rondi and Steve to bring it to fruition.
“This is paradise,” Rondi says. “I don’t know how we got so lucky.”
Countless Westporters — who walk or drive by and admire the ageless, but now handsomely renovated, home — don’t know either.
But we’re very, very happy they did.
(Click here if your browser does not take you directly to Rondi Charleston’s “Signs of Life.”)