Taking The Oyster Tour

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the Northrop family’s new venture.

Westport’s premier oystermen were planning tours of their admired-from-afar-but-seldom-seen-up-close operation on Sherwood Mill Pond. It was a chance to watch a very cool (and nationally known) business in operation — and to visit the mysterious house out on Hummock Island.

Last week, I took the tour.

I joined Jeff Northrop Jr. and his dad, Jeff Sr., plus a longtime Westport couple and a girl who just graduated from Staples.

It was high tide. On the Mill Pond that’s only 18 inches to 2 feet deep. But it was perfect for the boat. The weather was outstanding too.

Jeff Northrop Jr. readies his boat.

As we headed out, Jeff Jr. said that his father’s great-uncle had dragged the 1747 house — originally built as a cooper shed next to a grist mill — across the 83-acre Mill Pond by oxen, at low tide, around 1850.

A photo showing the grist mill and adjacent cooper shed — now the Hummock Island house — hangs on the wall inside.

The pond was originally a tidal stream. It was dammed up to provide power to turn the water wheel that ground grain.

Relics inside the Hummock Island house include timbers from the original Allen’s Clam house. They came from the schooner Remson, built by the Sherwood triplets. The abandoned vessel is still visible at low tide, in the Saugatuck River near the William Cribari/Bridge Street Bridge.

Jeff Sr. lived in the house during his high school years (he graduated from Staples in 1971).

The Hummock Island house (left). On the right is an equipment shed/boat, added a couple of years ago.

A caretaker then lived there for decades, until he was 83. The next year, Hurricane Sandy devastated the house.

The Northrops painstakingly restored it. They did so well, it’s earned a Fairfield County preservation award.

The Hummock Island house.

It sits now on a tiny spit of land. But the island was once much bigger. In fact, Jeff Sr. said, the town still insists he has 5 1/2 acres there.

The view to the back of Sherwood Mill Pond — toward I-95 and the train tracks — from the Hummock Island house.

Jeff Jr. pointed out 2 machines. One separates oysters into 3 sizes. The other cuts them down to uniform shapes. In 1 hour, it does what once took a week.

Oysters must be separated, because smaller ones won’t grow in the same cage with larger ones.

Hummock Island oysters.

The Northrops farm 4 million oysters at a time, below the surface and in floating bags. The Mill Pond is so nutrient-rich — and the water so pristine — that they take just 18 months to mature. Nearly everywhere else, it’s 3 years.

Jeff Northrop Jr. shucking oysters.

The Northrops supply wholesalers, including Pagano’s of Norwalk. From there they’re distributed all over the country. The 3-inch Hummock Island oysters are the highest grade — a delicacy prized by oyster lovers everywhere.

Next to the house is an equipment shed: the “Oysterplex.” Though it looks like another house, it’s actually a boat. (Jeff Jr. called it a “giant catamaran.”)

The Northrops hauled all the materials across the Mill Pond, and built it from scratch. When town officials questioned whether it was a structure or a boat, father and son rode it all around the island. It’s definitely a boat.

Jeff Northrop Jr., inside the Oysterplex equipment shed/boat.

The Northrops are well known for their oysters. But there’s 30 more acres behind the Hummock Island house. Just as they’ve done with oystering, they’re now revitalizing clamming in the Mill Pond.

A clam rake.

The tour over, Jeff Jr. and Sr. took us back across the Mill Pond. We passed a stick they’d found and planted. Instantly, Jeff Jr. said, ospreys and hawks found it.

The Northrops’ love for the Mill Pond is palpable. They know its history, its rhythms and its secrets.

Now the secret of Hummock Island is out.

And it — at least, its tour — is yours for the taking.

(The Northrops’ tours run through August. Times vary, depending on tides. For more information, click here.)

14 responses to “Taking The Oyster Tour

  1. I did the tour previously I think the first one and it was most interesting and I would recommend to everybody.
    Peter Swift
    Maritime Industry Foundation
    5 Clinton Avenue
    CT 06880-1206

  2. Great article, Dan! I just signed up!

  3. Morley Boyd

    Extremely cool. Except now I’m wanting oysters. Right now.

  4. The tour also includes a tasting, and shucking lessons!

  5. Bruce Courcier

    The pond was loaded with Blue crabs about 55 years ago. I spent many a summer day chasing them with a net. You needed quite a few for a meal.

  6. Craig Clark

    I grew up on The Cove and spent many, many hours in the Mill Pond. Last time I was there, it was apparent to me that too much sand has migrated in to the pond from both the cove and state park. Bruce, we crabbed with string and chicken bones and then sold them. I can also remember years the pond was posted due to pollution. Many don’t know this but if you go thru the tunnel under the Sherwood Island connector, you can go all the way to Burying Hill Beach. Fascinating wildlife are out there.

  7. My husband, Steve, and I took the tour last Sunday. It was wonderful!

  8. Mary Cookman Schmerker '58

    Wonderful article. The picture with the timbers from Allen’s Clam House / schooner Remson may have another Westport artifact. The table, and a expert might be able to verify this, is most likely known as a Tavern Table. It is very similar to one my grandparents purchased in the 1930’s . There was a Tavern on what was then called Sherwood Green that was being demolished. My grandparents bought the table and with it came the legend that George Washington had dined at the tavern. Legend yes but our table has been verified as old enough to possibly have been in Westport in the mid 1700’s There is a little more detailing on this table than ours but still… the Northrop might want to check it out…..

  9. Michael Don Sullivan

    Hello Dan! Great to see you yesterday! Read this story with great interest. Always enjoyed Jeff Sr. visits to Oscar’s to buy lunch for his fishing excursions.Didnt know about the oysters until more recently. Jeff is one of the good guys!

  10. Fred Cantor

    Great pic of the house with the wonderful cloud formation behind/above it. You should post that separately as the Pic of the Day.

  11. Thank you to Dan for writing this article and to everyone who has come on one of our tours so far! We’ve added some additional tour dates including two tours this Sunday July 2nd! If you’re looking for something to do this weekend I promise you will not be disappointed. Tickets can be found at http://www.oysterfarmtours.com. Tell a friend! Thank you so much.

  12. Sharon Paulsen

    Really enjoyed this article!

    Nice to read about how the pond has become healthy again for sustaining oyster farming.


  13. Hi Dan,

    We are long time subscribers and my wife, Carol Anderson graduated Staples in 1966. This past summer we deposited $400 with Hummock Island Oyster Company two months before the scheduled trip which was cancelled due to weather conditions. I was in touch with a Jeff Northrup Jr who promised to refund our money. For the last three weeks he has not responded nor refunded our deposit. I would not recommend this business to anyone. Regards, Art Lungo