Friday Flashback #219

Joey’s by the Shore has shifted to winter hours (Monday through Thursday, 7 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Friday through Sunday, 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.).

They’ve added soups and other seasonal items. There’s Elvira Mae’s great coffee bar too.

Customer traffic may be slower, but the Old Mill neighborhood relies on Joey’s. Just as they did for 20 years with Elvira’s. And — decades earlier — Kenny Montgomery’s store.

But even before that, there was a market at the foot of Compo Hill.

When Betsy and Hal Kravitz opened Elvira Mae’s, their across-the-street neighbor Robin Tauck gave them this:

Sheila Bergmann sent it along. She lives up the hill, and is fascinated by the photo.

So am I.

At the time this was taken, the Old Mill Market — featuring Park City Ice Cream — was also the temporary office of the Compo Hill Developing Co. They offered “Restricted Building Sites for Sale.”

“Restricted” as in “limited options for what can be built”? Or “restricted” as in “No Jews Allowed”?

It’s clear that Compo Hill was ripe for development. How lucky the neighbors are that the little store at the bottom survived the building boom that followed.

If you remember the Old Mill Market, or anything else about Compo Hill from those years — whenever they were — click “Comments” below.

27 responses to “Friday Flashback #219

  1. Elizabeth Thibault

    Love this pic, and seeing how undeveloped that area was. It reminds me of the areas with camps around the lakes in VT that still exist.

    Do we know how long ago this was taken?

  2. I remember from the late 60s/early 70’s, kids used to call it “Dirty Kenny’s” because of the unkempt elderly proprietor and premises. I also remember signs that were relics from a previous generation: “Oleomargarine Sold Here” and “Western Union Telegrams Can Be Sent from Here.” Very unlikely there’s anyone alive today from when the photo was taken — Hillspoint was a dirt road. 1920’s? Or even earlier?

  3. We called it Grubb’s, explanation above!

  4. Great old photo. I suppose you could match it against the various aerial photos over the years to place the date range.

    Note on the “restricted” building sites – IF that’s an untoward reference, it would be racial, rather than religious. Race-based restrictive covenants were not uncommon in the Hartford area in the 1940s, for instance: Note that any such race-based restrictions would show up the deeds at the time as covenants – this could be easily checked – or ruled out.

  5. Wendy (Kramer) Posner

    Ken Montgomery owned the store, which was relocated from its original location in front of the Hale Manson, just before the RR trestle at the corner of Bridge St and Compo Rd. The store and the large antebellum house were taken by eminent domain for the building of I 95 in the early ’50s. I do remember that the hygiene in the store would probably not pass muster today and sadly, that name did follow Ken when the store relocated. He was a gruff old man but occasionally graced us with candy from his stock. Does anyone know more about his background? I seem to remember that his mother was around when the store moved.

  6. Mary Schmerker

    I remember the anguish when the Hale Manson and Ken’s store were taken in eminent domain. The hygiene at Ken’s would never pass muster today but as a kid it was a fascinating place. A quick stop for a treat, I think they were called Devil Dogs, a chocolate cake like pastry filled with white frosting and maybe a soda in a glass bottle that was in a deep ice filled cooler. I did not know that the structure had been moved. I believe that the Hale Manson was moved to North Compo. Someone will correct my memory if necessary. During WWII Ken’s store may have operated as a convenience store does today. Simple items could be purchased. My Grandmother used to ride her bike to Ken’s from Owenoke to pick up a staple she had run out of.

  7. My former neighbor right across the street, retired teacher Dot Hall, could provide some information about the store starting in the years right after World War II. I think her parents bought a summer cottage at Old Mill around 1946. I recall Dot telling me about the owners and renters down there using the phone in the store because they didn’t have one in their homes. Linda H, if you see this, maybe you could add more to the backstory here. Thanks.

  8. Gloria Gouveia

    Jack Whittle is spot on. As I recall, there’s a 1929 deed to the property that includes a caveat which prohibits the leasing of the property to people of a particular race.

  9. We grew up on Compo Beach, in the Gault house on the corner and in several different houses along Norwalk Avenue. Our cousins lived in the Old Mill area and when we went down there to visit, we used to go into the deli. To say that conditions were a little less than sanitary is a bit of an understatement and, as kids, we were always afraid of the the owner who was indeed a bit gruff. But it was all part of the wonderful flavor, despite the polio scare and Hurricane Carol in ’55, of growing up by a wonderful beach at a wonderful time.

  10. We called the store The Dirty Meat Man, even though there was more to Ken Montgomery than that, I’ m sure.

  11. what a great photo! Grubbs, we all called it this because of the man behind the counter. He would have tons of coins on the counter and then slide you the coin that was to be your change. He was unforgettable.

  12. We always called it Grubbs!

  13. Barbara Wanamaker

    My recollection of the Old Mill store was that it was “Kenny’s Mother’s” store. before Kenny took it over. Anyone else?

  14. I remember it as “Grubs,” a derogatory nickname that apparently came about when Kenny got old and struggled to keep the store and himself clean. I also remember that — at a time some took advantage of and made fun of Kenny — my friend Terry Brannigan’s wonderful, caring mother Ann Brannigan went out of her way to help Kenny — volunteering to take care of him and the store. It’s one of the many lessons I learned from her many examples of kindness. She was a remarkable woman.

  15. Horrible that we called it Grubbs. More horrible yet that we ever went there (you did too Martha). We were under strict instructions to buy only items that were factory wrapped or canned – can’t remember there being any notion back then of expiration dates, so…………

  16. I found my notes from an interview three years ago with Dot Hall. There were actually two competing stores at the foot of Compo Hill. See below:

    Dot grew up in Georgetown and went to Danbury High School (because she lived in the Redding section of Gtown and that was part of the Danbury High district. A good friend of hers who lived nearby was in the Weston section of Georgetown and went to Staples).

    In the mid-1940s–the summer of ’44 or ’45, when Dot was 12 or 13–her parents bought a cottage at Old Mill Beach (which they later sold to Darrin McGavin–and more on that in a bit).

    The cottages at Old Mill Beach back then by and large were not winterized and were used during the summers.

    Dot’s family cottage did not have a telephone or a refrigerator (and she recalls that many were similar to hers in that respect). They did have an ice box for food storage and she remembers that, at some point, Frank Decker was the local iceman who delivered blocks of ice.

    There were two nearby grocery stores where they did shopping: Mrs. Montgomery’s (where Elvira’s is) and the Sullivans’ place (where Positano was). They patronized Sullivans’ more because they felt it had a better selection.

    Her father did a lot of clamming in the waters nearby; so Dot remembers frequently eating steamed clams, as well as fish her dad caught.

    While the perception some of us had back in the 1960s was that there were a lot of summer people from NYC–and Dot did have a neighbor from the city who was a judge and everyone referred to as “the Judge”–many of Dot’s neighbors at Old Mill Beach during her summers as a girl were from other towns in CT, e.g., Ridgefield, Bethel, Stratford. One of her neighbors was Ferris of Ferris Dairy, who lived in Westport but his family spent the summer in a cottage at the beach.

    There was a woman who gave swimming lessons at Old Mill Beach, but Dot never took them and so she wasn’t a good swimmer.

    Surprisingly–at least surprisingly to me–there was a guard going way back who watched to ensure that only the people who belonged at Old Mill Beach got to park there. (It wasn’t clear to me whether that meant the residents and their guests back then, or whether Westport residents could park there as well.)

    One of the kids’ pranks back then was cutting down people’s clothes lines. (Dot did not partake in that but she is pretty sure she remembers the kids who were suspected of doing that.)

    Darrin McGavin came to Westport in connection with a play at the Westport Country Playhouse. He was renting next door and really liked Dot’s parents’ cottage. He told them he wanted to buy it and ultimately made an offer to their liking–and proceeded to build the three-story structure that resulted in a battle with town planners.

  17. Carl Volckmann

    We moved to Westport in 1974, and my first recollection upon seeing the Old Mill Market at that time was seeing the aging WWII-era sign over the front door– “Oleomargarine Sold Here”. Probably not alot of Westporters who remember the white margarine you had to color yourself to look like butter– did they have dairy lobbyists in those days?

  18. Grant Monsarrat

    Miss Diamond was my swimming teacher at the Old Mill in the 50’s when I was just learning to swim.

  19. Peggy Monsarrat

    Miss Diamond was my husband’s swimming teacher in the Old Mill when he was just learning to swim in the 50s.

  20. Wonderful Dan! Yes, I have lots of historical info on area from my book: The Beautiful Pond. Research at Westport Museum. The lots in 1920s…from Compo Cove Development Co, sold for $200 each!

  21. Wendy Crowther

    When Ken Montgomery died, he listed the Westport YMCA as a beneficiary in his will. I worked at the Y for 13 years back in the 80s and 90s. I knew the names of almost everyone who used the Y frequently back then but I had never heard of Ken until the terms of his will were revealed. He left a significant amount of money to the YMCA, something in the vicinity of $500,000 as I recall. It was enough money that they decided to re-name the Y’s fitness center after him. Though I’d already left the YMCA by the time this happened, I’m fairly sure that the bequest came as a complete surprise to the board and staff at the Y. Though it seems that Ken’s reputation in Compo was not exactly stellar, in the end, his bequest to the Y benefited many.

  22. As kids growing up on Compo Hill and Old Mill Beach, Kenny’s was our source of candy, soda, and popsicle-fueled energy that led to many escapades including exploring the construction of each new house on the hill when the builders were off-site, climbing over the framing, and having dirtball fights from forts made from construction debris. Kenny also supplied lunch supplies (hot dogs, soda, devil dogs, Fritos, candy, Table Talk Pies, Hostess cupcakes) for treks over the bridges to Sherwood Island to cook out in secret places. Originally, as discussed above, Montgomery’s started for us with Kenny’s mom moving from her store near the train overpass where we would ask our parents to beep the horn for the loud echo. Kenny also had an old-timer sidekick, Harry, who was vulnerable to the nefarious among us who would filch stuff. Sullivan’s was across the street on the beach offering similar refreshments from a counter and also a restaurant later to be Cafe de la Plage and then Positano’s. Those of us who grew up in that neighborhood were fortunate to be part of the roaming generation, free to wander, run, bike, swim, sled, and play from dawn to dusk when our parents would blow their car horns or ring bells for us to come home.

  23. I grew up on Sherwood Drive, up the hill from Old Mill Beach, in the late 40’s and 50’s. At that time the store was know as Mrs. Montgomery’s. She was Kenny’s mother and ran the store herself. She was quite elderly at that point. Kenny had his own market near the RR overpass at the intersections of Bridge Street, South Compo and Greens Farms Road. When Kenny’s store was taken to build the Connecticut Thruway (now I-95) in the late 50’s, he came over to help his mother at the Old Mill store. At the time he really improved the store, quite a bit neater and more things to buy. When his mother was no longer able to, Kenny took over total operation. My younger bother Sandy knew more about Kenny’s operation of the store as noted in his comment above.

  24. My grandparents lived on South Compo Road and we rented a house around the corner on East Ferry Lane when the little market was where the thruway overpass is now located. I remember the “big” kids from Vani Court, East Ferry, Tar Rocks, and other nearby streets getting candy at the shop on their way home from the Saugatuck School (now the Saugatuck Apartments – “Geezer Gardens).

    Later we lived on the Mill Pond, near the new location of what grownups called “Kenny’s” or “Kenneth’s” and us kids referred to as “the grub shop.” Ken could be gruff and his appearance could be unsettling with three days of stubble and yellowed teeth – after buying me a creamsicle my mother once told me that if I didn’t brush my teeth would look like his.

    But Ken could be nice to kids who were polite and respectful. When fishing at the Old Mill bridges, we used to buy canned fish at the shop to lure bait into out drop nets. One time after paying I spotted a penny on the floor. I put it on the counter for Ken. He picked it up and looked at it. “Abe Lincoln, he was an honest man. They called him Honest Abe. You are a good boy, I will call you Abe Lincoln, too.” Other kids said he told them the same thing or something like it.

    Westport has grown and changed greatly since those days. We moved out over a year ago. It is still a nice town, and I still look back. However I especially miss the different pace and nature of life in the town as it once was. Kenny’s store, like many other long gone establishments, characterizes the “Old Westport.”

    Thanks for the memories.

  25. Bonnie Scott Connolly

    So much fun to see all these recollections. I remember Kenny’s at both places. I think we stopped there when walking home from Saugatuck Elementary School. I remember going there Halloween and we would get free Table Talk pies.

  26. According to the internet, Ken Montgomery left the Y half-a-million dollars and they named the fitness room after him.