UPDATE: Friday Flashback #38

Westport has had its share of inns: The early ones, where George Washington stayed on his travels through town. The Pine Knoll and Hawthorne, which I think were more like rooming houses. The Inn at National Hall on the west bank of the Saugatuck River (whose bottom floor is soon to be the ‘Port restaurant).

Today of course, there’s the Westport Inn.

We’ve had actual hotels too, including the Westport Hotel (on the corner of the Post Road and Main Street, which in 1923 became the site of the Westport YMCA and is now Bedford Square).

But back in what appears to be the 1930s or ’40s — judging from the hard-to-see automobiles in this postcard from Jack Whittle’s collection — we also had Mathewson’s Motor Cabins.

Click on or hover over to enlarge.

According to the postcard, they were located on the Boston Post Road/Route 1.

Motor cabins — also called “motor courts” — sprouted in the 1920s and ’30s, when Americans took to the roads in cars. They were a step up from rudimentary “tourist camps.”

According to Wikipedia, the price of motor courts was higher. But the cabins had electricity, indoor bathrooms, and occasionally a private garage or carport. They were arranged in attractive clusters or a U-shape.

Does anyone remember Mathewson’s Motor Cabins? Where exactly were they? Who stopped there? Did they have any impact on Westport?

Click “Comments” below, to fill us in on this lost era of town history.

UPDATE: Thanks to alert reader Tom Leyden, we’ve got an aerial photo from 1951. It shows Mathewson’s Motor Cabins right where the Westport Inn is today (as noted in the “Comments”) section). Check it out:

Mathewson's Motor Court - aerial photo - 1951


14 responses to “UPDATE: Friday Flashback #38

  1. North side of Post Road in Greens Farms?

  2. Tom Leyden

    This was published somewhere…I’ve forgotten. I copied it for my Westport vintage trivia collection and thought I’d repost not for credit but for everyone’s info.

    Old Westport Hotels

    Beachside Inn: Described by Bill as “a large, impressive oceanfront Victorian building in Green’s Farms.”

    Compo Inn: Edward Nash bought the old Christ Church on what was then West Church Street (now Ludlow Road), up the hill from Post Road West — now condos — and turned it into a summer hotel.  He added a restaurant (Tony’s), which became a popular hangout.

    Golden Door: One of several motels located on the Westport-Norwalk stretch of the Post Road.  A few remain (in Norwalk), though from the looks of them I’m guessing you pay by the hour, not the day.

    Hawthorne Inn: Located at the southeast corner of the Post Road and Compo Road South (current site of Patriot Bank).

    Jassil’s Penguin Hotel and Shorehouse: Known familiarly as The Penguin, even after it became the Miramar and then the Sound View Hotel.  An Art Deco landmark on Hillspoint Road — just beyond the I-95 and railroad bridges — it was believed (by my young friends and I, long after its heyday) — to be a bawdy place that, remarkably, rhymed with “shorehouse.”

    Mathewson’s Tourist Cabins: A tourist guide listed it as “near the Greyhound Terminal and the Beaches.”  Well, the bus depot was in the building where (most recently) the Peppermill stood.  And “the beaches” haven’t moved.  So I’m not exactly sure where one would have found Mathewson’s Tourist Cabins.

    Open Door Inn: Later known as the General Putnam Inn, this was razed to make way for the current police station.

    Pine Knoll: Perhaps more of a boardinghouse than a hotel, this old Victorian mansion stood in what is now Playhouse Square (behind the old Derma Clinic).  It was owned by the Kemper family, who also owned the tannery that became the adjacent Westport Country Playhouse.

    Westport Inn (the original):  A guidebook called this, somewhat ungrammatically, “AAA’s only accredited inn at Westport, Conn. Center of Art Colony.”  It’s still standing — the white building at the rear of Colonial Green.  But it’s been moved twice from its original location, on the southeast corner of the Post Road and Imperial Avenue.  The 1st move was to the front of Colonial Green, where Webster Bank now sits.

  3. Jack Whittle

    1957 Westport Directory lists “Mathewson’s Cabins (Mrs. Stella Mathewson) State E GF” so it seems it was in the GF area, on the Post Road. Should be able to spot it in the aerial views.

  4. Morley Boyd

    I’m thinking these are just possibly the infamous hourly rental “hot sheet” cabins that once existed where the present day Westport Inn now stands on the Post Road. That would have placed them near the Greyhound bus terminal.

    The town resolved this embarrassment by greenlighting the construction of the inn – provided the hot sheet huts went away. One of the little cabins avoided extinction when it was moved over to the top of Treadwell where it went legit as a rental cottage. I think it was torn down around 2007.

    • Jack Whittle

      The 1951 aerial view of the area seems to confirm your idea

    • Diane Silfen

      Are you referring to Julia Bradleys little cottage?

      • Morley Boyd

        Not sure. It was the last house on the left if you were heading towards Norwalk. I seem to recall that maybe Leo Nevas owned it when it went to the great motor court in sky. If not, for sure he’s the one that told me about hottie’s special provenance. I think he said he had it towed over from Mathewson’s.

        • Diane Silfen

          Thanks last house on the left was Julia’s. I never knew where it came from

  5. Nancy Powers Conklin

    I remember the Mathewson’s Motor Court very clearly. It was on the site of the Westport Inn on the Post Road. The Mathewsons lived across the street from us on Maple Ave. They were very nice people and ran that Motor Court for most of the time that I was a little tyke. I also remember a greyhound farm right near there but, that is a much more faded memory for me.

    • Morley Boyd

      Well, there you have it. Confirmation from an eyewitness.

      This gives me a great idea: Pursuant to the interests of monetizing our recent past in the furtherance of “vitality”, I recommend that the Downtown Plan Implementation Committee immediately suspend its wildly successful efforts to disrupt and degrade quality of life for downtown residents (screwing up traffic flow, eliminating turn lanes, building sidewalks to nowhere, frittering away money on more sign clutter “studies”, etc.).

      Instead, the Committee should immediately begin construction of replica Mathewson Motor Court cabins on the town-owned Veterans Green. Just like the originals these could be rented by the week – or the hour.

      How’s that for night life?

      Think of the revenue. And, of course, the love.

      Just trying help.

    • Nancy Powers has it right. Mrs Mathewson lived at 29 Maple Ave South and her tourist cabins were on the site of what became the New Englander Motel which is now the Westport Inn. Several of her white cabins with green trim were salvaged by neighbors as tool & storage sheds. Saw them on Elizabeth drive and Old Road. There is a blow up of this post card in the lobby of the Webster Bank with the incorrect legend that Matthewson’s cabins were near or on the site of the Greyhound bus terminal. But that terminal was farther East and on the opposite side of the “Boston Post Road”. It became Peppermill until razed for the Goodwill building.
      Nancy, Mrs Matthewson’s house,right across the street from your parent’s house, was also razed & replaced last year.

  6. I believe Mathewson’s Motor Cabins were located about one thousand feet east of Maple Ave. N. on the Post Road across the street from what is now “Landsdowne”. In the 1950’s my cousins would come up from NYC to visit for their summer vacation and rent a cabin there.
    The Penguin was a bonafide speak-easy during Prohibition. There was a lookout “crow’s nest” on the rooftop with a telephone (in case of a raid by the authorities) line to the basement where the “cafe” was. Much of the decor and bar was still intact at that time. I was told the US Army commandeered the property during the second world war building two or three quonset huts on the property for military staff. Into the 1950’s the Penguin still maintained a miniature golf and eight hole golf course across the street. I lived in an apartment there in the early ’70’s.

  7. Becki Whittington

    Hi Dan:

    When we moved to Westport on 1960, the Westport Inn was called The New Englander

    Becki Whittington .

    Sent from my iPhone