Friday Flashback #303

It’s been 10 years since Mark Krosse sent me this broadside, and I wrote this story.

But with July 4th approaching — and last night’s fireworks already a memory — it’s time to celebrate a long-ago Westport Independence Day tale again.

The broadside Mark found (above) invites Westporters to an “Exhibition of Fireworks!” — on the “Evening of the 4th of July, 1860.”

The site was “Compo House,” and the “programme” was extensive.

Signal Rockets will be fired from sun-down to 9 o’clock, when a brilliant display will commence with the splendid GREEK BENGOLA LIGHTS, illuming the whole entire area of the Fireworks Ground. This brilliant reflecting light was invented by the celebrated Indian Chieftain, TIPPOO SAIB, and is the most powerful known to the present age, eclipsing the Drummond Light for its brilliancy, &c. After which the following beautiful pieces will be fired in the order of the Programme.

Reading habits 2022-style not being what they were in 1860, I’ll note a few highlights:

  • Splendid Vertical Wheel
  • Rockets
  • Chaplet of Flora
  • Torbillions
  • Fairies’ Frolic
  • Glories of Mexico

Casting aside the question of why we were celebrating the “Glories of Mexico,” I’ll close with this description of the final Bomb Shells:

Commencing with a splendid wheel of Chinese, Egyptian and radiant fires, forming all the variegated and beautiful mutations of the Kaleidoscope, changing  to the American Coat of Arms, displaying the shield with the Stars and Stripes on each side in the appropriate colors, Red, White and Blue.

A rare old photo of the July 4th, 1860 fireworks. Or not.

On an arc above will appear the motto, UNION.

The whole mutating to a grand Mosaic Battery, composed of Greek and Roman Candles, filling the air for several hundred feet with all the beautiful colors known in Pyrotechny.

Sounds like Fun!

In fact, the descriptions are so vivid I can just imagine the scene. Colors fill the air. The crowd applauds. Finally everyone heads home, creating a massive horse-and-carriage jam on the roads from Compo House.

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So what was “Compo House”? That’s worth a story in itself.

Also known as the Winslow Mansion, it stood where Winslow Park is today: the corner of Post Road East and Compo Road North.

Between 1855 and 1860, alert “06880” reader and super historian Wendy Crowther notes, “Henry Richard Winslow and his 2nd wife, Mary Fitch Winslow, invited everyone in town to their extensive and lavish property to enjoy July 4th fireworks. Henry died in February 1861, so the 1860 fireworks extravaganza advertised in the poster (above) was his last.”

How extensive and lavish was his house?

A lot more than you may imagine.

Unbelievably alert “06880” reader Paul Greenberg found 2 prints at the George Glazer Gallery website. Here’s the back story to what they show.

Winslow — a state representative and senator — built Compo House in 1853. Six years later, former president Millard Fillmore was a guest. The property also included guest houses, servants’ and gardeners’ quarters, and gorgeous gardens.

The mansion no longer exists. It was torn down in the 1970s, after serving for many years as a sanitarium (and, in its final incarnation, a vacant party house for Westport teenagers). The outbuildings were demolished too.

The iron gate — alongside unpaved North Compo — still stands.

The Winslows also owned the land across Post Road East (then called State Street) from the park. Both properties were bought in the 1950s by Baron Walter von Langendorff, an Austrian-born chemist who founded Evyan Perfumes.

The town now owns the 2 parcels: Winslow Park and Baron’s South.

And how they have remained undeveloped is a tale for a non-holiday weekend.

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