“06880” readers often email me with unusual questions. What was the name of that restaurant somewhere on the Post Road in the mid-1950s? Can you forward this email to my old English teacher? Will the Greens Farms firefighters have their annual Easter egg hunt this year?
But Peter Jennings Talbot’s recent request might be the most unusual of all:
In November of 1966, a person or persons set my great-grandparents’ (Erwin Morehouse and Mabel Sanford Jennings) home at 4 Beachside Avenue on fire. I believe that someone in Westport must know who did this. Would you be able to write a story about it and see if anyone would come forward with comments about it?
It’s simply out of curiosity. Certainly the statute of limitations for the crime has long passed, but I, my mother Ellen F. Jennings, and her Jennings cousins have always wondered about it. They spent great times at the house and on the property and have wonderful memories.
Helpfully, Peter sent along a front-page Westport News story from November 17, 1966. In it, Fire Chief Harold Shippey asked the Police Department for help investigating the possibility of arson, in the “spectacular fire Tuesday night which totally destroyed a vacant old house on the Jennings estate.”
It started at 8 p.m., and lasted over 4 hours. As firefighters left the station, they could already see the blaze.
The house — the oldest on the property, and called Red Oaks — contained 17 or 18 rooms. Built around 1890, and abandoned for several years, it had been the target of vandals. The news story said all the windows were broken, and the floors and walls defaced. There was no light or heat. Neighborhood children referred to it as “haunted.”
Although the building had a replacement value of around $100,000, its assessment at the time of the fire was only $3,700.
Peter says he could never understand why “such a wonderful and remarkable house was simply abandoned” — especially since the house owned by Erwin’s brother’s Henry was occupied next door.
That’s all I — and Peter — know.
He hopes at least one “06880” reader knows more. If you have any information on this long-ago, still-unsolved arson case, click “Comments.”
Or email me privately: firstname.lastname@example.org.