From Brooklyn To Westport, With Love

Last spring, Nico Eisenberger’s 3-year-old daughter announced during breakfast, “I’m going outside.” She got up from the table, and strolled outside to play. Neither he nor his wife, Robin Bates, worried.

Much as they loved Brooklyn — where they lived until last December — that could never have happened there, he says.

Nico, Robin and their 3 young daughters have been Westporters less than a year. But they leaped into local life. He’s become active in the Greens Farms Congregational Church. They’ve marched in the Memorial Day parade, and hosted neighborhood parties.

And — as a tour of their lovingly restored 1903 home shows — they hope to keep Westport’s heritage alive.

Nico Eisenberger (3rd from left) and his wife Robin Bates (holding child) accept a Westport Historical Society plaque designating their house as dating to 1903 from Bob Weingarten. At the ceremony were the couple's 3 children, and Peter Jennings (far left), an 11th-generation Westporter and descendant of original owner Henry Jennings. (Photo/Dave Matlow, courtesy of WestportNow)

Nico Eisenberger (3rd from left) and his wife Robin Bates (holding child) accept a Westport Historical Society plaque designating their house as dating to 1903 from Bob Weingarten. At the ceremony were the couple’s 3 children, and Peter Jennings (far left), an 11th-generation Westporter and descendant of original owner Henry Jennings. (Photo/Dave Matlow, courtesy of WestportNow)

Nico — who works in the clean energy field — grew up in Somerset County, New Jersey. Robin — a digital marketer — is from Toronto. They rented in Park Slope for 2 years, then bought a beautiful brownstone with a hot tub on the roof.

But as their girls grew — they’re now 8, 7 and 4 — the family needed more room. Nico and Robin searched all around the tri-state area. They were ready to buy a great 6-acre place in Bedford, New York, but realized they would miss not being near water.

A Brooklyn neighbor suggested Westport. They saw a number of houses here, but none stood out. As they were ready to leave, their realtor Janet Anderson suggested a house on the corner of Beachside Avenue and Beachside Commons.

It was love at first sight.

The open floor plan, light, and proximity to Burying Hill Beach and the Green’s Farms train station appealed to them. “Everything just felt right,” Nico says.

The wide veranda offers fantastic views.

The wide veranda offers fantastic views.

The house originally stood on 20 acres. It was built by Henry A. Jennings, and passed through only 2 other owners. There was horror fiction writer Peter Straub, then Roy and Laurie Witkin. That couple “saw in us an echo of who they were when they moved in 25 years ago,” Nico says.

The  Witkins — who have remained friendly with the new owners — introduced Nico and Robin to neighbors on tight-knit Beachside Commons.

Children wander in and out of each other’s homes, and chatter together at the communal bus stop. The parents have a “proverbial ‘borrowing butter’ relationship,” Nico says.

The 1st year has been all Nico and Robin expected — and more. He’s coached his girls in soccer and softball. They’ve rowed, sailed and kayaked on nearby New Creek. They look forward to watching their oldest perform in “The Nutcracker” at the Westport Country Playhouse.

Nico Eisenberger stands in the open, airy front of the house.

Nico Eisenberger stands in the open, airy front of the house.

“Westport is close enough to the city that people’s expectations of culture are rooted there,” Nico says.

“But it’s far enough away that it’s not just a bedroom community. People have a strong sense of self. They want to make this place great.”

One way is through environmental awareness. Soon after they moved here, Earthplace hosted an informational event about solar panels and thermal imaging.

“It was a Wednesday night in mid-winter, and 25 people were there!” Nico remembers. “There were energy efficiency vendors, and wine and food. That really said something about Westport.”

Socially, Nico says, he and Robin have found friends through their children’s schools, coaching, and by attending events. They’ve made it their mission to go places: the Westport Arts Center, Historical Society, anything that piques their interest.

On the 4th of July they wandered over to a Cedar Point Yacht Club party. They felt very welcomed — and were immediately offered a spot on a race crew.

The rear of the house, off Beachside Avenue.

The rear of the house, off Beachside Avenue.

“We love the creative, eclectic, open spirit” of Westport, Nico says. “There are parks, restaurants, excellent schools — and a river runs through it.”

One downside: downtown. “On the surface it’s charming and compact,” he says. “But I haven’t figured out what to do there.” He and Robin have gone to meetings, providing input about the future of downtown.

Closer to home, they’ve spent a year on their historic home. The Jennings family has spent 11 generations in Westport, and they are treating Henry Jennings’ home with the love it deserves.

Nico Eisenberger and Robin Bates have retained many of the original fixtures.

Nico Eisenberger and Robin Bates have retained many of the original fixtures.

They’ve restored parts of the house — the sweeping veranda and old-fashioned basement — while retaining many aspects that give it so much charm. “We are just stewards of this house,” Nico says. “It is our job to pass it on.”

Many longtime Westporters — including yours truly — regularly rail at the teardown mentality of our town.

Nico and Robin are new Westporters. But they have a different view.

“Westport has done a better job than other communities of not succumbing to McMansions everywhere,” Nico says.

“There’s good housing stock here. People care about this place.”

And — with newcomers like Nico Eisenberger and Robin Bates — it seems our future is in very good, loving hands.



13 responses to “From Brooklyn To Westport, With Love

  1. What a tremendous and loving restoration! It is wonderful that you both view the ownership of your house as stewardship. You are surrounded by many like minded people who live in and lovingly care for these older homes. Many of these older homes, like yours, defines the character of our town. Congratulations and welcome to Westport!

  2. The wide wrap-around verandas are the best. I’ve got one on my farmhouse.

  3. In 1953, when I was 13, my family made the move from Brooklyn to Westport. It wasn’t all for the best. In my old neighborhood in Flatbush you could walk out on the street and get up a game of stick ball in minutes. I could walk to the local candy store in 10 minutes and choose from a rich assortment of comics, e.g., Superman, Mad, Archie. And for 10 cents I could take the subway into Manhattan. In my largely Jewish neighborhood the boys were very interested in science and engineering and we would encourage each other. We could bike to a local park and fly model planes. There were two hobby shops in walking distance. It was a rich culture, albeit middle class. My parents got along with one car and I rarely needed a ride anywhere.

    Of course in Westport I could look forward to driving at 16 (it was 18 in Brooklyn) and I could buy a Daisy air rifle for 8 dollars. I only accidentally shot one person, but she wasn’t hurt.

    Both cultures had much to offer and I would hesitate to say which was better.

    A. David Wunsch
    Staples HIgh School 1956

  4. Peter Jennings Talbot

    Great story and so pleased to hear about this family becoming stewards of my great-great uncle’s house. My great grandfather’s ( Erwin Morehouse Jennings) house originally stood next door, until it fell victim to an arsonist. With great caretakers such as Nico and Robin, this great Jennings family home will remain for generations to come.

  5. Michael Jennings Glynn

    Henry Jennings and his brother, Erwin Morehouse Jennings lived on this property, which was handed down to them by their parents. The property
    was called “Red Oaks”. Erwin’s house stood further back on the site and overlooked Burial Hill and Long Island Sound. Erwin is my grandfather.
    As a young kid, Henry’s widow, Aunt Anna still resided in the house. My mother, Mabel Jennings Glynn was a friend of the Straubs, the second family to reside in the house. Mom passed along some family tales, some of which, I believe, ended up as fodder for Straub’s scary fiction.

    My grandfather’s house, which he had built in 1904, was advanced stylistically: Shingle Style morphing into pure Midwestern Prairie Style. It was designed by the Bridgeport firm of Longstaff and Hurd. The family used it as their summer house (their principal house was a big Victorian pile on Washington Avenue in Bridgeport). But in the 1920’s they enlarged and converted the Green’s Farms house to serve as their year-round home; the Bridgeport house was demolished. Erwin was a manufacturer, merchant and banker.

    The Red Oaks property and much of the land along Beachside,
    belonged to the Jennings clan; they grew onions which they transported by boats, out of Southport, to the Manhattan and Boston markets. I believe that they might have supplied the Union Army with scurvy-preventing onions during the Civil War. They started selling off Beachside lots in the 1880’s after onion growing turned unprofitable due to a blight, always the risk with mono-culture. The onion houses in Southport were converted to serve as the Pequot Yacht Club; Erwin was the first Commodore and had both sailboats and motor yachts.

    Morley Boyd told me about the article and encouraged me to write and
    attach photos of Erwin’s house. The point of my writing is to share photos. But how the hell do I attach photos here?

    Mr Woog: shall I send the photos to you?

  6. I have the honor of living next to this amazing family! They are truly a special addition to Westport. Great post Dan! Happy Holidays

  7. Thanks for filling the blanks, Michael. I’ve heard that your collection of historic Green Farms images requires a deep water port.

  8. Peter and Michael – Thanks for adding all that historical context and color! You’re both welcome to come by any time to visit. We would enjoy that very much. Thanks Dan for giving us all the chance to connect!

  9. Nicholas. I have boxes of family photos, many taken at Red Oaks and
    sailing on the Sound, and the goings on of a big family. A vanished world. A world similar to Thomas Mann’s Buddenbrooks.

    You will be amazed by the main house, it was very beautiful. I suspect that your house was also designed by Longstaff and Hurd, but in a Colonial Revival/Shingle mode – interesting how a few years can lead to a very different vision. The house done for Erwin was clearly influenced by F.L. Wright’s and other architects contemporary work circa 1900 in the Chicago area.

    I would love to visit your house, thank you for the invitation. The last time I was there was with my mother visiting the Straubs; that was in the late 1980’s. It seems that Henry’s house attracts good people, the Straubs were great. They bought a townhouse on the Upper West Side after they sold your house, I don’t know if they’re still in it.

    Sincerely, Michael

  10. Michael – I can be reached at off list. Let’s make a plan to get together! I would love to show you the house and see your pictures. I know my wife and daughters would enjoy that as well!