Tearing Down A Teardown Sign

The stretch of Hillspoint Road from Hales Road to Old Mill is not an official historic district. But plenty of older, handsome homes line both sides of the street, as it dips gently from I-95 and the railroad down to Elvira’s.

For a long time, a “demolition” sign seemed to doom 158 Hillspoint Road. But the other day, Fred Cantor — who in addition to being an alert “06880” reader is also a very alert neighbor — noticed the sign was gone.

He spotted contractors’ trucks on site. So on one of his walks he talked to a next door neighbor, and a worker. Both confirmed that the home was sold, and will stay.

Score one for preservation!

158 Hillspoint Road is no longer a teardown. (Photo/Fred Cantor)

158 Hillspoint Road — built in 1803 — is no longer a teardown. (Photo/Fred Cantor)

Fred is not content to just spread the good news. He also passes along the history he’s dug up.

According to tax assessor records, Fred says, the original portion of the home was built in 1803.

Fred found information from former owner Sue Braley on WestportNow in 2013, when it was first slated for demolition. Sue — who sold it in 1996 — said it was originally an outbuilding of the Sherwood House at 160 Hillspoint, then modified for human occupation in the early part of the 20th century, when artists and others began coming to Westport for the summer.

Sue writes:

Oral tradition claims that it was a tea room for the tourists, perhaps operated by Edith Very Sherwood, who lived at 160 and was the Westport librarian.  (A subsequent owner was) Richard Seyffert, a portrait and landscape painter who began construction of the studio toward the rear of the property.

Felice Holman Valen (the author of over 20 children’s books, including “Elisabeth and the Marsh Mystery” and others clearly inspired by the nearby mill pond) and Herbert Valen (who worked in advertising and later as a “gag” writer for the New Yorker) owned the property from 1955 to the late 1980s.

Westport’s old homes are disappearing at an alarming rate. How nice to read of at least one that escaped a very imminent wrecking ball.

Two doors away from 158 Hillspoint is #170. It bears a plaque, dating it from 1870. (Photo/Fred Cantor)

Two doors away from 158 Hillspoint, this house bears a plaque dating it from 1870. (Photo/Fred Cantor)


18 responses to “Tearing Down A Teardown Sign

  1. Good to hear this update –

  2. Nancy Powers Conklin

    A huge “thank you” to Fred Cantor for his attention to the happenings around his neighborhood! He is one heck of a guy! Keep it up, Fred!

  3. Nancy, thanks, but I really didn’t do much of anything. Thanks certainly goes to the new owner and to Sue Braley for digging up so much history on the house. I love the fact that it apparently was a tea room for tourists at one point.

  4. Peter Barlow

    I didn’t recognize this house at first but when you mentioned the owners I realized I’d been inside the house years ago. Felice and Herb Valen were friends of my parents. Herb occasionally came up with ideas for my father’s New Yorker cartoons. I’m glad when older houses like this are preserved. I think the Westport concept of “Teardown of the Day” is sick.
    We don’t do that in Stonington.

    • Felice Holman Valen (La Jolla, CA.)

      What a nice surprise to see your name and remember the beautiful Barlows — Perry and Dorothy (both wonderful artists) sitting right in that unique old living room, both wonderful artists. And we’re so delighted that the house will survive. Felice Holman Valen

    • hello Peter, every morning when i go into my office, i see your
      photo of the Neidlinger family clipping along on a broad reach
      in the Herreshoff 28 (that Nick hauled off the Norwalk Mudflats
      and rebuilt in the back yard on Clinton Ave.) with Cockenoe in the background.
      lets talk. 360 331 4399 9-9 West Coast Time

  5. Jill Turner Odice

    Nice to see one saved from the wrecking ball!

  6. Wanda Tedesco

    So happy the home is being saved. 99% don’t usually escape demolition.

  7. I love this house! And the other one you posted a picture of, a few doors down. So happy to hear it wil stay! Thank you new and old owners!

  8. Agree with Jill and Wanda. So glad this wonderful home is escaping the wrecking ball. Wish more were.

  9. Jerry Levinson

    Hello, Dan Woog!
    This is Jerry Levinson. I believe my folks Max and Eve were close buds with yours. Thanks for this really nice report about that house, 158 Hillspoint, because that was my wife’s family house. Nan Valen and I have been married for a long time, and as far back as the 60s I’ve spent a lot of time in that wonderful house myself. We passed by there last summer and were distressed by the rundown condition of the place and the news of its imminent demolition. So it’s great to know it’s been saved, and Nan, who had instigated a letter-writing campaign on behalf of the house among our Staples classmates, passed the news on to her mother Felice Valen, who is alive and reasonably well at 95+ in California.
    So thanks and warm regards,
    PS one minuscule correction to your thorough history: Herb Valen was the gag writer for the New Yorker cartoonists before he went into advertising, which really was about working with the same cartoonists.

  10. Sharon Paulsen

    This is such interesting stuff –
    Thanks Dan! A lovely piece to read about.

    And I really enjoy reading the commentor’s back stories too! Plus Fred Cantor’s observations that prompted the topic – very cool.

    That stretch along Hillspoint, and towards the beach, has always been so charming, and I’m glad to hear that at least some of the quirkiness (and architectural history) will remain.

  11. Loretta Santella Hallock

    I have walked by this house for many years on my way to the beach. . Very happy to hear it will stay. Too bad Positanos will be torn down !

  12. Nanine Valen

    Thanks everyone, including so many I haven’t heard from in so long from Staples Class of ’68, Laurie and many others, who took an interest in lending their voices in support of preserving this house and its old soul!

    I moved to the house at 158 Hillspoint Road when I was 5 years old and lived there with my family, played under the tall pines and the willow, hid with my friends in the tree house my dad made us, traced the old horse hoofprints in the wonderfully creaky and wide living room floor boards, and stuffed notes for future children to discover into what were formerly the walls of an old barn.

    It was there that my mother trained the wild and hungry winter chickadees to fly onto my hand to eat sunflower seeds, and later in Spring when food was more plentiful on the berry bushes around the yard, they still trusted me enough to feed their babies perched on my child hand. I remember where I was standing on the back patio when I first noticed the feeling of such lightness as little bird feet walking on my palm.

    Our family owned the home for 33 years and it is the only home I will ever love with the particular intensity of young child love. I grew up there. The house and yard was a haven and a refuge. I am so grateful to the current owner for saving it from demolition, and wish for her/him the joys of living within a space that carries the voices of generations of people and animals.

  13. Sharon Paulsen

    Wow, what a heartfelt narrative by Nanine! I was immediately drawn into my own childhood memories as I read this.
    Gosh, I can’t help but see a book taking flight here – in a Magic Garden-esque kind of way! A children’s story that also appeals to adults! (“Our Magic Beach House” perhaps??)

    What a great post Dan!

  14. Suzanne Braley

    Yes, Nanine – so glad to finally “meet” you – and to learn that your mother is still here as well – we left the house almost exactly as your parents did ( as you can probably see from the pictures, there have been two serious remodels since, both to the house as well as the willow and the rest of the landscape ). I did find a few of your notes ( I remember the drawing of a butterfly), and passed them along to our buyer as a part of the house history (Michelle, are you out there?)

  15. As soon as I learned that Nanine Valen’s historic childhood home was in danger of being torn down, I jumped in to do what I could to help keep this from happening. Too many charming places in Westport have disappeared in the years since I lived there, such as the Remarkable Book Store, Allen’s Clam House and many quaint homes. I called various people and emailed them, making my case for keeping Nanine’s chidhood home alive. I am so delighted at the wonderful outcome, for supporters of Westport’s preservation of Historic places and for Nanine!! This was a very wise decision. Nice going!!