Daybreak’s Last Day

Easter and Passover are coming. Alert “06880” reader — and Staples High School Class of 1973 grad — Chip Stephens is thinking about those holidays, and the flowers associated with them:

Back in the 1960s there were many greenhouses — Fillow (on Clinton Avenue), Daybreak (on East Main Street), Parsell’s (now the new “Geiger” retail and residential complex), and the Flower Farm (South Turkey Hill, now Flower Farm Road).

Daybreak Nurseries, back in the day.

They all grew their own flowers. And they all had big annual flower displays.

The community event — combining art, nature, retail and people of all ages — was a much-anticipated treat for my family. I remember walking through those hot, humid greenhouses, viewing the previews of spring flowers and the summer that would follow.

After church — usually Palm Sunday — we drove to every florist. Each greenhouse was filled with geraniums (soon to be handed out at churches to kids), Easter lilies, hyacinths and many other fragrant flowers.

Families wandered through the greenhouse labyrinths, enjoying coffee, donuts and treats provided by the owners. It was a wonder walk, heightened by displays like Daybreak’s waterfalls.

Today the last of those great greenhouses — Daybreak — is being carted away to the dump.

The last of Daybreak Nursery gets carted away, earlier today.

With the arrival of spring, I’m considering the loss of all those greenhouses, and their replacement by McMansions. How do we balance that, keeping the character of Westport that many enjoyed growing up, and many others move here for?

Let’s welcome both spring and the new, while incorporating and saving the treasures and memories of Westport that remain.

38 responses to “Daybreak’s Last Day

  1. Vivianne Pommier

    very sad.

  2. I used to work summers for Evan Harding at Daybreak Nurseries during the mid 1940’s. I live 1 1/2 miles away at # 1 Charcoal Hill Road and rode my bike to work. It was my first real job and I enjoyed being able to wait on customers, under Evan’s guiding hand. Nice man; nice memories.

  3. Mary (Cookman) Schmerker Staples 1958

    First, every time I see a comment by Viviannne Pommier I want to ask, are you related to Dr. Pommier who made all our teeth so beautiful in the mid 1950’s? On the subject: Coming off the Merritt at exit 41 will never be quite the same. The last few years it has saddened me to see Daybreak looking neglected . In it’s day, I did not even mind the quirky triangle intersection as you could pause and enjoy the beauty of Daybreak. Fillow Florists were my hide out as a kid. I would go and watch the florists, including Mrs. Mills, make corsages and floral arrangements. Their greenhouses were wonderful. I’ve mentioned before being there the day Marilyn Monroe came in for flowers in jeans, high heels and a full length fur coat. I was star struck! It is really sad to see the old family establishments disappear.

  4. there will probably never be be another Evan Harding, who always
    landscaped my mom’s restorations of homes of the 1730-80 vintage
    around Westport and Weston. always a tasteful choice of plants,
    great scaping and planting, and a reasonable cost. thanks for
    the memories, and thanks for letting me leave my bike leaning on
    the side of your greenhouse when i took the bus to Camp Bedford.
    Godspeed, Daybreak !!

  5. Jalna Jaeger

    hi Dan,
    My father had a greenhouse on Hyde lane, the site of the community garden now. He grew roses, and they were so beautiful, not like the south american ones you can buy today!
    You forgot an important greenhouse!
    I still miss those roses, and no longer buy them
    Jalna Jaeger

  6. Evan had an incredible reputation. Sad to see all the nurseries going out of business ( Young’s ). They can’t compete with Home Depot, Stew’s and the other bigger stores. With the builder’s buying direct from the growers, the smaller nurseries can’t survive. The downturn in the economy was the nail in the coffin.

  7. Nancy Hunter

    As a kid, I loved walking or biking past Daybreak, so close to home, and helping my mom choose summer annuals. Happily, we have our memories of the good, simple and unhurried times — to stop, and smell the roses. C’est la vie.

  8. Bobbie Herman

    “Let’s welcome both spring and the new, while incorporating and saving the treasures and memories of Westport that remain.” Chip Stephens — as a member of the P&Z, you have the power to do something about it.

  9. I left Westport (technically, Weston) many years ago but still get there almost every weekend to shop, reminisce and visit the library. It won’t be quite the same, though, without seeing Daybreak after getting off the Parkway. Another casualty of the big box stores, just like they killed the hardware stores and other mom and pop stores that used to be in downtowns across the country. More space for another McMansion. Sad.

  10. Evan Harding would always bring his Flower Show exhibit that he entered in New York City back to his greenhouse in Westport every year. There was a traffic jam for the week of his beautiful Westport “Flower Show”. Since I lived next door, I would go there by myself to take a quick look. They were very kind to me. Does anyone else remember the teeny church that was on the property? Omg! I just had a revelation that it must have been built as part of his NYC exhibit!!! Thanks for the memory, Dan!

    • All praise goes to Chip Stephens!

      • Dan, James Harding, Evan’s father, was a resident since 1911 and he died in the late 50s. He began the business and raised Dahlias that won many prizes. He and his boys entered Daybreak Exhibits into the International Flower Show in NYC for many years. I love thinking about that tiny church. Can’t find anything about it, but I remember it well. It was very well built and was a scaled miniature. It was small enough for me to fit inside and the steeple was about 6-8 feet high. There’s a story there.

  11. Daybreak was close to where I grew up and I passed by it every time I went into town as a kid. It was just one of those places you assumed would be there forever (although of course, as an adult, I realize you can’t really make an assumption about a business/structure such as that). In any case, my mom in particular was very much into gardening and I know Evan Harding was extremely knowledgable and helpful.

  12. Again, everyone wants to hold on to memories from 30yrs ago. The bottom line is this nursery has been neglected for years and has been an eye sore for us Westporters who currently live here.

  13. Just another memory of one more thing that the “New Westport” doesn’t have, that the “Old Westport” did…I am so glad I got to experience growing up in the “Old Westport”…

  14. I miss all of those places. Buying flowers in Stop & Shop seems cheap, but too convenient. I do it …

  15. I drove by this evening. The land looks magnificent. The neighborhood is better already.

  16. I liked seeing Daybreak there but if I recall correctly they were kind of a famously inconsiderate neighbor. Several lawsuits were put forth by at least one adjacent homeowner. They had deliveries at all hours of the night which was disruptive to the adjacent homes and they had rodent issues on and off for years. I agree with you that Westport is not enhanced my more mansions but I’m not sure we are not better off without Daybreak nursery.

    • Yes Warren, let’s get rid of the nurseries because of deliveries and mice. And in their stead erect mansions with landscaping trucks coming and going with fossil-fuel burning lawnmowers and loud leaf blowers and pesticides and herbicides. It won’t bother the neighbors who are all doing the same to stick it to the environment and make noise. So much better than the old days with that nuisance local small business growing silly flowers and leaving Westporters with all those fond memories!

  17. Kimberly Englander Leonard

    I,too,loved the little church.All of the wonderful greenhouses in Westport are remembered fondly.Daybreak did my wedding.Glad to hear it’s being taken care of.

  18. Jalna Jaeger

    Hi Dan
    My dad’s greenhouse was called Greens farms cut flowers, it was a wholesale business and sold roses and cut flowers to local florists.
    I was sure you would remember it, not too far from your house!
    I appreciate the 06880 post, reminded me of when I would go to flower farm on turkey hill and buy primroses!
    Good memories!
    Jalna

  19. Louise W Demakis

    Izzo’s is still in Westport and soon should be burgeoning wih tulips, irises and hydrangas for Easter. And Oliver’s in Fairfield is worth a visit for its tasteful Spring garden and plantings.

  20. Linda Whitney

    I remember those greenhouses and spring. I actually saw Paul Newman’s beautiful blue eyes in person at Day Break one very colorful spring.

    I actually think that this is how we got to Trump. Disregard for the beauty of history and of the land. The need for McMansions and $50,000 cars!!
    It certainly did not come from the artists who joined the farmers in Westport in the late forties and throughout the fifties.
    I believe it came from the Madmen, who actually were mad/crazy with greed and ego!! Unfortunately they took over Westport and then the world with the worst value system known to man!!!!
    I guess it’s Karma on a clear path of what goes around comes around.
    What a shame. So MANY LOSSES to become surrounded by McMansions and minimalls full of the same big store chains in town after town.
    How many Dunkin Donuts and Gaps does one need????

  21. Sylvia Robinson Corrigan

    Yes, Daybreak was once a beacon and a landmark for many of us, as we exited the Merritt, and drove in to Westport from Weston and other points: I fondly remember Santa and his sleigh on the roof during the winter holidays, the spring flowers, plants and gifts inside, trees and shrubs for landscaping, a walk through the greenhouses in cold weather, or around the property to browse in warmer weather! It was a welcome home sign, or a sign of renewal as spring came along – and I have been missing it for a long time! Thankful for what is past, what is now – and hopefully, for things to come in our town!
    Don’t forget Gilberties, among the other greenhouses, nurseries, and florists still here – and the new kind, like Terrain!

  22. Kim Reale Johnson

    I will miss this place terribly. Having grown up in Redding my family started going to Westport in the 50s, and A family friend Steve Lesnick went and eventually taught at famous artist schools and we continued to go to Westport do all her shoppingall the way through 1987 when we left because of the changes happening and rising . Daybreak Farm was Such a special treat for me especially as a small child of the 1960s. I remember during the Christmas of 1964 my mom took me there and I was allowed to pick out two decorations for our Christmas tree which I did and have until this day. The place always made me smile when we drove by on our way to town. It just had a good happy feeling about it. As all of that area had and still has to some point. I’ve been away from the East Coast for so long but visit periodically, each time I see so many devastating changes of “progress” which is in evitable since the area so close to the city. Now with Daybreak gone I doubt I’ll be back again but live with the memories of a fantastic Westport and Fairfield County, of individual people from farmers to artists to actors to business people and it’s one of a kind shops, is now a bunch of high end box stores and a place I don’t even recognize anyone. New people living here I love it because it still has a lot of charm, but those of us that lived you’re back in the day it really is hard to take. I love your column and though I’ve never posted, I read what you have to say about it faithfully Because my heart will always be there. thank you

  23. Marilyn Harding

    -Daybreak Nurseries was the stuff that dreams are made of–my father, Evan Harding was an award winning Landscape Architect, an artist and visionary who loved Westport,its people and Daybreak with all his heart.
    Santa on his Sleigh at Christmas, the little white church on the corner of the property (said to have been purchased from the estate of Buffalo Bill), and his master class knowledge of all growing things were but small gifts he gave to his community.
    -The larger ones changed the face of Westport. He was an activist sitting on the P&Z for 20 years, the RTM and every other town committee one can think of. Throughout his life he never stopped–he designed the first plan for Compo Beach, saved and enhanced Westport’s main street business center with his plan for Parker-Harding Plaza, the first public space to open up the Saugatuck River for all to enjoy. He designed and developed the downtown shopping area known as Village Square, as well as the first all year round, boat harbor on the east coast which was part of the Great Marsh estate located in Saugatuck, CT. And if it weren’t for Evan Harding, and a few other good Westport people there would not be a Longshore. It would have been sold off long ago to the highest bidder!
    -Evan Harding was one of Westport’s most noted preservationist and certainly a foremost conservationist.
    They can haul Daybreak’s building parts off to the dump, they can even squeeze those things they call “mansions” in its place, and the naysayers can complain, but they can never take the visionary spirit, the creativity that inspired my father’s generosity, and the genius of the man out of the town! Westport, Connecticut will forever be his home, and the hometown of many wonderful people who lived as he did with a deep appreciation for the past and a respectful, but innovative approach to the future.
    -For those of you who miss Daybreak and my Dad–please know he loved you all so much that he made sure Santa was at Daybreak every Christmas and the Conservatory packed with flowers every spring–he’d like nothing more for you to come home to the Westport you so loved. Thank you. Marilyn Harding

    • Marilyn, Thank you so much for the historical info on the tiny church! I have the deepest respect for what your dad did. I remember Santa, the tiny Church and the gorgeous Christmas displays. And I remember how beautiful the place was always kept. I read about the awards he won.. as well as those of his father, James, who raised Dahlias and began the flower business. I remember how kind your father and the workers at Daybreak were toward me for my entire childhood. I used to cut through the property every day as a small child to get the bus at Weston Road and Hockanum. Your family has a very cool and prominent Westport History. Parker Harding plaza will have his name forever. Westport owes your family a debt of gratitude. Thanks from me personally, Mary

    • Caryl Beatus

      MARILYN – I WAS SO GLAD TO READ YOUR REMEMBRANCE OF DAD AND HIS GENIUS. HE WAS A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS . . .I LOVED HIM DEARLY AND THE WONDERFUL WORK HE DID AT MY LITTLE QUARTER-ACRE HOME AS THO’ IT WAS AS IMPORTANT TO HIM AS WORK HE DID ON THE “BIG” ESTATES AND TOWN PROPERTIES. HE LOVED MY BORDER COLLIE RACHEL. YOU MAY REMEMBER HE KEPT A PICTURE OF HER AND MY HOUSE OVER HIS DESK. DEAR EVAN, I MISS YOU, THE TOWN MISSES YOU. YOU SHALL NEVER BE FORGOTTEN . . .

  24. Linda Pomerantz Novis

    These historical posts of Daybreak Nursery-all so fascinating!
    Growing up in Weston,off Lyons Plains Rd. in the 1960’s-1970’s, I often rode my bike into Westport,and I always loved riding past Daybreak,there.

  25. That must have been a wonderful sight to behold!

  26. Can we discuss the evolution of this site where Daybreak used to be? It looks like the scene from the Lorax after the trees were all cut down. Is there a plan for any trees or landscaping to be done any time soon on this site? It’s an eyesore and there doesn’t appear to be any activity there when I drove by.