On Wednesday, “06880” introduced a new feature: “This Old House.” Every Wednesday we’ll post a new photo of an old house. We hope to identify 12 of them prior to a Westport Historical Society exhibit on the preservation and change.
We started with a practice shot — one that exhibit curator Bob Weingarten had already identified:
“06880” readers placed it (literally) all over the map. Guesses included Kings Highway, Cross Highway, Long Lots Road, Baker Avenue, Hillspoint Road, South Compo Road, Avery Place, Canal Street, Riverside Avenue, Myrtle Avenue, Partrick Road, Woodside Avenue and Wilton Road.
All were wrong. As Morley Boyd, Maureen Aron, Wendy Crowther and Kevin Martin noted, it’s on Main Street. Today we know it as Tavern on Main.
According to the Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism’s Historic Resources Inventory, the building was constructed in 1813 for grocer Levi Downes. A former wing on the east elevation was occupied by the Downes School for Ladies, run by Levi’s daughter Esther.
The area lacks ownership documentation for the late 19th and early 20th centuries. However, it is shown on a famous 1878 map of Westport this way: “River Side Institute for Ladies, Sophia V. Downes, Principal.” And the WPA archives identify the 1930s owner as “C. Van Wyck.”
The Historic Resources Inventory says that by the early 1940s, the building contained several apartments. By 1948 they had been converted to offices. The 1954 town directory lists a gift shop, clothing store and 2 real estate offices at the address.
By 1965, part of the building became Chez Pierre. That famed restaurant remained in the space through the 1980s. Since 1996, it is the equally renowned Tavern on Main.
Morley Boyd adds this information: “In the 1920s and ’30s, buildings in the downtown area shuffled about with some regularity (Spotted Horse, Red Cross, Avery medical building, Christ & Holy Trinity parsonage [now up on Compo North, I think], the (lost) house on Gorham Island, the houses in back of Colonial Green, etc. What couldn’t be moved in whole was deconstructed and used in new construction (houses on Violet Lane).”
And, Dan Aron says, in the 1st half of the 20th century the building was the home of Robert and Marie Lawson. He was a noted author and illustrator of children’s classics like “Rabbit Hill” and “The Story of Ferdinand.”
There you have it: Everything you ever wanted to know about 146 Main Street.
Or whatever it was called then.