Category Archives: Looking back

The Rich History Of Westport’s Poorhouse

Did every old structure in Westport start somewhere else?

Saugatuck Congregational Church, the Birchwood Country Club clubhouse and Bedford Hall at the Westport Woman’s Club are 3 examples.

This coming Monday (May 1, 3 p.m.), Project Return takes the spotlight.

The North Compo Road home — a converted 8-bed farmhouse that since 1983 has housed scores of girls and young women from Westport and surrounding towns — will receive a historic significance plaque.

Project Return, on North Compo Road.

Turns out the building — sitting handsomely but unobtrusively between Little League fields and the Town Farm tennis courts — has quite a history.

It started out in what is now Playhouse Square, nearly 200 years ago.

In 1901 it became the town “poor house.”

More than a century later, it still serves folks in need.

Bob Weingarten — WHS house history chair — says the structure was built in 1824. A decade after that, it became part of the Kemper tannery. In 1930, that land became the Westport Country Playhouse.

In 1864, Charles Kemper Sr. moved it to property he bought from Samuel Gorham on North Compo.

The town of Westport purchased it in 1901, for use as an almshouse. At that point, by renting space in individual homes, we were spending more money on indigents than surrounding towns. Buying the entire farm, including the house of 13 rooms, for $2,750 could save us at least $1,000 a year.

“Town Poor House,” circled on a 1911 map.

In 1927, a man named Alfred Violet — the same person who gave his name to the road off Myrtle Avenue? — found sanitary conditions there “absolutely unbelievable.” Chimneys were crumbling; windows furnished “practically no protection at all against the weather … and the grounds have been used for the past years as a garbage dump.” Approximately 15 children lived there.

It’s uncertain how long the “town farm” operated as a poorhouse. The site was considered for a town garage. From 1975-83 it was rented to James Drought, a noted writer.

After he died, the house deteriorated. Kate McGraw — assistant superintendent of special education for the Westport school system — had the idea to use it as a residence for girls whose parents could not keep them at home.

Renovation $100,000. Many local organizations and individuals contributed funds, labor, materials and furniture.

1st Selectman Bill Seiden championed Project Return. 2nd Selectman Barbara Butler — later named town human services director — helped negotiate a $1-a-year lease.

That contract is still in effect. Project Return pays for all interior and exterior maintenance, and utilities. The town pays for tuition of each girl, while parents pay residential costs.

The safe, nurturing home has helped over 160 girls rebuild their lives. Project Return has evolved with the times — most recently last year, when the state stopped funding group homes for youth. Homes With Hope merged with the organization, ensuring a seamless transition.

Monday’s plaque presentation will include representatives of the town of Westport, Project Return and Homes With Hope, plus Kate McGraw’s daughter Sarah and 2 of James Drought’s children, Hank and Sarah.

It will be a fitting tribute to an important town structure — one that, like so many others, has ended up in a very different place than it began.

Literally.

“Save Cockenoe Now”: Still Relevant, 50 Years On

2017 marks the 50th anniversary of some significant events.

1967 was the Summer of Love. Martin Luther King spoke out against the Vietnam War. “Race riots” consumed Detroit, Newark and other cities.

Meanwhile, here in Westport, we debated whether building a 14-story nuclear power plant a mile off Compo Beach was a good idea.

The story is remembered by many — and unknown to many more. It starts with United Illuminating, the statewide utility that in 1965 secretly bought Cockenoe Island, a popular spot for boaters and fishermen.

Cockenoe Island, off Compo Beach. In 1967, it almost became the site of a nuclear power plant.

Another key player was Jo Fox Brosious, editor of the fledgling Westport News. She crusaded tirelessly against the idea.

It was not easy. Although plenty of Westporters opposed the plan, the more established Town Crier was all-in. What a boon for the tax base, the paper said.

Brosious helped rally a coalition of common citizens, conservationists, fishermen, attorneys, Senators Abraham Ribicoff and Lowell Weicker, and Congressman Stewart McKinney.

Local artists Walter and Naiad Einsel created a memorable (and very 1967-ish) poster with the group’s rallying cry:

Under pressure — with national coverage in the New York Times and Sports Illustrated, and thanks to the threat of a bill in the Connecticut legislature that would curb eminent domain requests of power companies — UI agreed to sell Cockenoe.

To the town of Westport.

The deal was struck in 1967. The purchase price was $200,000. When the contract finally closed 2 years later, the Westport News headline read: “Cockenoe Island Safe in Sound.”

Memorabilia saved by Jo Fox includes news clippings, a bumper sticker, a photo of Jo on Cockenoe, and another shot of her speaking in Hartford, as sunlight streams directly on her.

That’s the bare-bones, SparkNotes version. You can read more by clicking here.

Or — this being 2017 (not 1967) — you can watch a YouTube video about it.

The 9-minute mini-documentary comes courtesy of Julianna Shmaruk. A Staples High School sophomore, she created it for a National History Day competition.

The contest theme was “Taking a Stand” — which is exactly what Westporters did.

Julianna tracked down old newspaper clippings. She interviewed 91-year-old Joe Schachter (a boater involved in the battle), and got vintage home movie footage from Ed Stalling (a then 11-year-old who wrote a postcard decrying the sale).

Julianna’s video offers vivid evidence that — as Stalling says — “the people can win.” And that newspapers can rally public opinion.

Those lessons are just as important today as they were half a century ago.

To see Julianna’s video, click below:

End Of An Old Mill Era

Emma Morano died on Saturday, in Italy. The world’s oldest woman — and the last person on earth known to have lived in the 1800s — she was 117 years old.

Here in Westport, a demolition permit has been issued for 233 Hillspoint Road. The notice affixed to the side of the building puts its age at 117 years.

(Photo/Matt Murray)

It too has a link to Italy: Most recently, it was the site of Positano. That restaurant closed at the end of 2014. It reopened several months later at its present location, next to the Westport Country Playhouse.

Positano restaurant.

Positano was the last in a storied line of restaurants at 233 Hillspoint. Perhaps its most popular predecessor was Cafe de la Plage.

In between, it was (briefly) the Beach House:

“Beach House,” by Tony Marino.

In the mid-1900s, Westporters knew it as Leo Williams’ Old Mill Restaurant:

Leo Williams’ Old Mill Restaurant, in 1954. (Photo/Bridgeport Post)

Before that, it was both the Beach Food Mart, and Joe’s:

In its 117 years, #233 Hillspoint has seen a lot. The neighborhood has changed — many times. Old Mill Beach has thrived, eroded, and come back to life.

Of course, there were floods, like Hurricane Carol in 1954 …

… and SuperStorm Sandy 59 years later:

(Photo/Matt Murray)

From these photos, it’s likely the property started out as a private home.

Once demolition as complete, that’s probably what it will become again.

But this is 2017. Not 1899.

Odds are good it will not look the same.

“Main Street To Madison Avenue” Opens Tomorrow On Riverside

When the Westport Arts Center announced its next exhibition — “Main Street to Madison Avenue,” honoring Westporters’ involvement in advertising and art over the last 70 years — folks flocked to offer items.

Children, grandchildren and surviving spouses scoured studios, attics and basements to find sketches, paintings and storyboards. WAC officials had expected some interesting submissions. But they were stunned at how much had lain around, unnoticed and untouched for years.

One of the people was Miggs Burroughs. A noted artist and photographer himself, he hauled in his father’s portfolio. In the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, Bernie Burroughs was one of those Westporters whose drawings helped influence consumer habits around the country — and eventually the world.

Miggs had not looked at some of his father’s work for decades. The Arts Center staff was fascinated by it.

After a couple of hours, Miggs casually mentioned Bernie’s van Heusen ad campaign — which Andy Warhol later appropriated.

That fit in perfectly with the “Main Street to Madison Avenue theme.” In addition to paying homage to Westporters, the show examines nationally known artists who were influenced by the iconic design and aesthetic of that era.

And when Warhol used Bernie Burroughs’ work, his model was Ronald Reagan.

“That’s the whole point of this show: making those connections,” WAC executive director Amanda Innes says.

“Van Heusen 356,” by Andy Warhol — based on work by Bernie Burroughs.

Miggs had another surprise for the WAC curators. He said that as a child, he’d go to the Westport station with his dad. When the train pulled in, Bernie would hand his portfolio to the conductor — along with some cash.

The conductor delivered it to Bernie’s New York ad agency. That was common practice, Miggs said.

“Conductor,” by Bernie Burroughs, is part of the Westport Arts Center show.

“That’s a great story about trust,” Innes says.

“But it also shows the anonymity of these artists. They created the work, but they didn’t sign them. They weren’t invited to ad meetings. They didn’t even own the art — the agencies did.”

Part of the reason for this show, she says, is to “honor the men who created so much of this iconic imaging and branding.” (And yes, everyone in this show — like nearly all of Madison Avenue then — is male.)

The Arts Center show opens tomorrow (Friday, April 21, reception from 6 to 8 p.m.). On display is original art and advertisements from illustrators like Bernie Burroughs, Al Parker and Bernie Fuchs. Hung alongside are works by artists like Andy Warhol, Walter Robinson and Richard Prince, who appropriated so much of that material.

Westport artist Bernie Fuchs painted this for Pepsi. He also created art for Coke. Both are displayed in the WAC show.

Innes has had a great time — and an excellent education — mounting the exhibit. For example, hearing it was in the works, Harold Levine headed over. He spent 2 hours regaling Innes about his career.

He had a lot to talk about. In addition to co-founding (with Chet Huntley) a legendary ad agency, he knew Warhol when the struggling young artist asked him for work.

Sadly, Levine will not be there tomorrow. He died in February, at 95.

But that gives you an idea of the kind of show it will be.

Part of Jonathan Horowitz’s “Coke/Pepsi,” on display at the Westport Arts Center. He draws upon the work of Andy Warhol — who in turn appropriated advertisements drawn by Westport artists.

Simultaneously, the WAC will showcase 30 works by high school students. The show is juried by treasured Westport artists Ann Chernow and Leonard Everett Fisher.

Tomorrow evening, a Westport student will receive the Tracy Sugarman Award — named for another of our most famous artists.

That award — and the entire show — is a great way to tie our artistic/advertising past in with our consumer culture present. It’s also a chance to highlight the next generation of local artists.

Some day, some may gain fame for their paintings. Some may toil anonymously, but have their works seen by millions.

And — like the professionals featured in the new Westport Arts Center show — some may do both.

(During tomorrow’s opening reception for “Main Street to Madison Avenue,” the video room will run a loop of advertisements — including some from Harold Levine’s agency. The show runs through June 22.)

High Point Road, One Brick At A Time

My parents moved to Westport in March of 1956. A blizzard prevented the truck from going up the driveway. The movers hauled just one bed inside, so my parents spent their first night in a barren bedroom.

My mother died in that same room almost a year ago.

This winter, my sisters and I sold her house. That ended 60 years of the Woog family on High Point Road.

It was quite a run.

I guess that qualified me for an email the other day from current High Point residents. The Westport Historical Society is building a Brickwalk, and my old street is going all in.

A special stone will say “High Point — The Best Road in Town,” with residents adding their own bricks engraved with the year they moved in.

I was honored to be asked. When she died, my mother had lived on High Point longer than anyone else.

The Woog brick will say “1956-2016.” But there’s no way that small rectangle can encompass 6 decades of life there.

High Point is the longest cul-de-sac road in town. Call me biased, but it’s also the best.

I was so fortunate to have grown up where and when I did. My parents — both in their early 30s — had no idea what High Point would become when they moved out of my grandparents’ house in New Rochelle, and up to this much smaller town.

Rod Serling and his family celebrating Christmas, at their High Point Road home.

They had a few friends here — including my father’s Antioch College pal, an already famous writer named Rod Serling. He and his wife Carol had just moved to High Point. There were plenty of building lots available, so my parents bought one.

The price — for an acre of land, and a new house — was $27,000.

As I grew up, so did High Point. My parents were among the first dozen or so families. Today there are 70.

I watched woods and fields turn into homes. Nearly each was unique, with its own design.

And nearly each had a kid my age.

My childhood — at least, my memory of it — was filled with endless days of bike riding, “hacking around,” and kickball at the cul-de-sac (we called it “the turnaround”).

At dinnertime in spring and summer, we’d wander into someone’s house. Someone’s mother would feed us. Then it was back outside, for more games.

When my parents chose High Point, they were only vaguely aware that the new high school being built on North Avenue was, basically, in the back yard of our neighbors across the street.

Having Staples so near was a formative experience. My friends and I played baseball, touch football and other sports on the high school fields. We watched as many football, basketball and baseball games as we could, in awe of the guys just a few years older. Once, we snuck into a dance in the cafeteria. (We did not last long.)

This aerial view from 1965 shows the separate buildings of Staples High School. Behind the athletic fields is High Point Road. My parents’ house is shown with an arrow.

There were enough kids on High Point to have an entire bus to ourselves (with, it should be noted, only 3 or 4 bus stops on the entire road).

But by 5th grade, my friends and I were independent enough to walk through Staples, across North Avenue and past Rippe’s farm, on our way to Burr Farms Elementary School.

We talked about nothing, and everything, on our way there and back. It was a suburban version of “Stand By Me,” and to this day I cherish those times.

The young families on our street grew up together. There were block parties every fall, carol sings at Christmas.

Every summer Saturday, Ray the Good Humor man made his rounds. High Point Road probably put his kids through college.

Spring and summer were also when — every Monday — one family opened their pool to the entire street. With 40 boys cannonballing, racing around the slippery deck and throwing balls at 40 girls’ heads, I’m amazed we all lived to tell the tale. I can’t imagine any family doing that today.

From the front, it was an average home on a wonderful road …

But that was High Point Road, back in the day. It was not all perfect, of course. Some of the older kids were a bit “Lord of the Flies”-ish (and the amount of misinformation they taught us about sex was staggering).

Behind closed doors, there was the same bad stuff that goes on anywhere (and everywhere).

But I would not have traded growing up on High Point Road for any place. As much as any street could, it formed me and made me who I am today.

… but the back yard was beautiful.

High Point Road has changed, of course. Many original houses are gone, replaced by much larger ones that could be on any Westport street. There are plenty of kids there now, but each has his or her personal bus stop. And I don’t think I’ve seen any gang of kids riding bikes since, well, we did it.

Still, it’s a wonderful road. The “new” residents have kept that neighborhood feel. There are social events. And they always welcomed — and looked out for — my mother.

Of course, you can’t put any of that on a brick.

So ours will just proudly say: “The Woog Family. Jim, Jo, Dan, Sue, Laurie. 1956-2016.”

And that says it all.

(Westport Historical Society bricks are available in sizes 4×8 and 8×8. They can include a custom logo, with a family row of 5 bricks for the price of 4. For more information, click here.)

Mitch & Lisa 4Ever

For decades, an odd-shaped building on Hillspoint Road has been home to early childhood programs.

It’s called the Parent Child Center. But back in the day, it was Hillspoint Elementary School.

The kids were bigger than the ones there now. They could write cursive.

And — because Hillspoint went all the way to 6th grade — there were some budding romances.

Which is why one day — back in the 1960s or ’70s — Mitch F. and Lisa R. grabbed a pencil, snuck into an art room closet, and scrawled their love on a metal plate.

It’s stood there — untouched and unnoticed — all these years.

Until — the other day — Children’s Community Development Center director Eileen Ward found it.

“06880” readers are intrepid. You’ve got long memories.

So, Eileen and I want to know:

  • Who were Mitch F. and Lisa R.?
  • And did their love really endure 4ever?

Jim Hammond, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Famous Writers And The Westport History Rabbit Hole

Jim Hammond grew up in Westport. He graduated from Staples High School in 1979, but has not been back for a long time.

Jim Hammond

A few weeks ago, he heard about the controversy surrounding TEAM Westport’s “white privilege” essay contest.

That led him down the “06880” rabbit hole — and a story on fellow Staples alum Deej Webb’s documentary about F. Scott Fitzgerald’s time in town.

That spurred him to write and post an essay on his philosophy-and-literature website — 2 of his passions, since he was a teenager.

And THAT led him to send these thoughts to “06880”:

Fitzgerald lived on South Compo Road, near what is now Longshore, in the summer of 1920. J. D. Salinger also lived on South Compo, from about 1950 to 1952.

I read a Salinger short story, and asked my mother, Nancy Hammond, about old Westport. She lived there from 1957 to 1997, and was involved in local politics.

When she arrived, Westport was home to the Famous Artists School, which purported to turn people into artists. Prominent artists like Norman Rockwell lent their names to the scam.

Norman Rockwell (center, bow tie), with some of the Famous Artists School’s faculty.

You would send in a sample of your work. They would write back, saying you had great potential, and should enroll in their school. Salesmen combed the country, recruiting gullible students. Ads filled the newspapers, Money rolled in.

It was so profitable that a Famous Writers School was also established in Westport, using the same template. Bennett Cerf of Random House was a founder. Prominent writers like Clifton Fadiman, Bruce Catton and Mignon Eberhart lent their names. By 1969 the stock price had risen from $5 to $40.

The next year, Jessica Mitford published an exposé, called “Let Us Now Appraise Famous Writers,” in the Atlantic Monthly. An investigation was launched, the stock price fell, and in 1972 the Famous Writers School went bankrupt.

JD Salinger

When J.D. Salinger moved to Westport, Famous Artists School had been going for 2 years. It’s likely that he heard about the school. In 1952 he published a short story about an art correspondence school, called “De Daumier-Smith’s Blue Period.”

When I was growing up in Westport, the phrase “Famous Artists” rang in my ears. The school rented space from Eddie Nash on Riverside Avenue. Since money was rolling in, they decided to build a new headquarters.

They chose my neighborhood as the site. Specifically, they selected an area we called the Gravel Pit. Now known as Partrick Wetlands, it’s between Partrick Road, Wilton Road, the Merritt Parkway and Newtown Turnpike.

According to rumor — spread by my mother, in countless phone conversations — Famous Artists School planned to build a large office, with a parking lot for 1,000 cars.

My mother banded together with other neighbors, and formed a group called Families for a Residential Westport.

A pond near the Partrick Wetlands. (Photo/Scott Smith)

They referred to their opponents as the Boyd Group (or The Boyds). John Boyd was a prominent Westport lawyer, who favored business and development. One of his allies, Lu Villalon, ran the local newspaper, the Town Crier.

My parents were Republicans. So were the Boyds. The battle over Famous Artists wasn’t a Republican-Democratic battle, or a conservative-liberal one. It was a development battle, similar to those fought in thousands of American towns.

My mother’s group won the battle. Famous Artists never moved to my neighborhood. They built their new headquarters on Wilton Road, along the river.

Cockenoe Island, off Compo Beach. In 1967, it almost became the site of a nuclear power plant.

The next development battle in Westport was over Cockenoe Island, where Northeast Utilities proposed building a power plant. Anti-development forces used the fledgling newspaper, the Westport News, to help rally support. The anti-development forces won, and the paper became the dominant one in town.

A third battle was fought over a dairy farm, Nyala, where Stauffer Chemical proposed building their headquarters. They won that fight.

Fortunately, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s house is still standing. I plan to take a look on my next visit to Westport.

And maybe I’ll visit Partrick Wetlands too.

Uncovering 300 Years Of Church History

In 2011, Green’s Farms Congregational Church celebrated its 300th anniversary.

The other day, operations director Claire England sent me a copy of a souvenir brochure, produced for that occasion.

I’m amazed I didn’t see it earlier. It’s filled with astonishing stories, intriguing sidelights, and tons of fun facts.

I’m sorry it’s taken me 6 years to get around to reporting on this. But after 3 centuries, that’s not so bad.

Here are a few things I learned:

† In colonial days, communities were led by their churches. The term “1st selectman” — for our town’s leader — dates back to the days when the secular leader of the church was “selected first.” Even after Westport was incorporated in 1835, Green’s Farms Congregational members served as 1st selectmen. In 1997, Diane Goss Farrell — a Green’s Farms congregant — was elected 1st Selectwoman.

Before services were announced by a drum or bell, early settlers were called to worship by the beating of 2 thin strips of board, from a high hill.

So, the brochure asked, was Clapboard Hill named for the excellent quality of building wood that was harvested there, or for its great location that allowed worshipers to hear the clapping of the boards?

An early map of Green’s Farms. Turkey Hill and Clapboard Hill are in the center. The 1st church site (now marked by Machamux boulder) is just below that. The 2nd site is marked “Colonial Church” (center left). “Third and Fourth” Churches are also noted at the top. Green’s Farms’ founding Bankside Farmers properties can be seen along Long Island Sound. Click on or hover over to enlarge.

 In 1742, Reverend Daniel Chapman — who had served as minister since the church’s founding 31 years earlier — was dismissed. The reason: He “hath led for several years an Eregular [sic] life …in being sundry times overtaken in drinking to excess.”

150 years later, then-Reverend Benjamin Relyea noted: “In those times, when it was an act of discourtesy in making pastoral calls to refuse to partake of something from the array of decanters which always stood upon the sideboard, the only wonder is that any minister ever went home sober.”

After the British burned the 2nd Green’s Farms Church (located near the current commuter parking lot, at the corner of what’s now the Sherwood Island Connector and Greens Farms Road), services were held in private homes for 10 years.

Meanwhile, the new American government compensated our local church for its losses during the war with land in the Ohio wilderness, known as the “Western Reserve.” The church later sold its Ohio lands, to raise money for the new meeting house (on Hillandale Road, site of the current building).

Lucy Rowe’s headstone.

The original Bankside Farmers — founders of Green’s Farms parish — owned slaves. A century later, many freed slaves lived in Green’s Farms as respected residents. When slavery was finally abolished in Connecticut in 1848, the “last of the slaves” — Charles Rowe — was church sexton. He lived on Hyde Lane, near where Long Lots School is now. He and his wife Lucy are buried in the Green’s Farms Upper Cemetery (adjacent to the current church.)

The church’s original burial ground still stands, on the corner of Green’s Farms Road and the Sherwood Island Connector. The oldest gravestone belongs to Andros Couch, who died in 1730 at 57. Also buried there are the church’s 1st 3 ministers, who served for a total of 110 years; several sea captains, including Franklin Sherwood, and Dr. Ebenezer Jesup — a surgeon in George Washington’s army — along with his 3 wives.

In 1911, the church celebrated its 200th anniversary by commissioning a bas-relief plaque honoring past ministers. The artist was Gutzon Borglum — the same man who carved Mt. Rushmore. He seldom did small commissions — but friends in the congregation asked him for this one.

On November 25, 1950, the 100-year-old steeple crashed down during a hurricane. The weight of the bell carried it through the roof of the meeting house, into the Sunday School.

At the time, declining membership had already created doubts about the church’s future. Services attracted as few as 27 people, with the collection seldom reaching $5.

Insurance covered part of the steeple damage, and a subscription campaign raised the rest. Many non-members — calling the steeple a “landmark” and a “beacon” for sailors — contributed. That drive helped save the church. By 1957, membership had grown so large that 2 Sunday services were needed.

Part of the 1951 fundraising appeal.

There is much more of interest in the Green’s Farms Church’s 300-year historical brochure.

Here’s to its next 294 years!

Re-opening A Cold Arson Case

“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.

O-kay!

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.”

A Westport News photo with the story, from November 17, 1966.

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.

The home at 4 Beachside Avenue, before the fire.

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: dwoog@optonline.net.

Fire away.

Nash’s Pond: The (Way) Back Story

Like most Westporters, you’ve probably admired the blue house set back from Kings Highway North, near the busy Post Road intersection.

You may know that behind it is Nash’s Pond.

You may or may not know that the pond — probably big enough to be a lake — was named for the Nash family. In 1835 Daniel Nash was one of the men who helped incorporate Westport, as a town separate from Norwalk, Fairfield and Weston.

You probably do not know that a Nash descendant — also named Daniel — still resides in Westport. In fact, he and his family live in that blue house.

The former Nash ice house -- now Daniel Nash's home. (Photo/Frank Rosen)

The former Nash ice house — now Daniel Nash’s home. (Photo/Frank Rosen)

You almost surely do not know that it was originally an ice house. Or that Daniel and his wife Nicole have spent the past decade restoring it, so that future generations of Nashes can remain there too.

The next generation — his 7-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son — will be the 14th in Westport. The Nashes arrived around 1650, from southern colonies — more than 2 centuries before the ice house was built.

“We’re trying to spruce it up,” Nash says modestly. (He’s doing the same for several other buildings nearby, called “the compound.”)

He’s cleaned the foundation, brought the inside up to code, redone the vents, reshingled the roof and added molding. It now looks like a home, not a business.

But what a history it had.

The Nash family erected a dam in 1879, and built 3 identical ice houses the following year. Workers harvested the ice from the pond, and stored it through the summer. After being sawed into blocks, the ice was sent to New York City for sale.

“It was a booming business, until electrical refrigeration came along,” Nash says.

Nash’s Pond is magical in every season. (Photo/Peter Tulupman)

The family has had a number of different occupations. Nashes have worked as farmers, hat makers, cider makers, and of course ice merchants.

Daniel’s great-grandfather was the last Nash businessman. Daniel’s grandfather and father managed the property. He’s spent much of his time doing the same.

Growing up, he loved the area — the big rock outcropping, stone foundation and waterfall. Every winter, he skated on the pond named for his family.

He and Nicole were married on the pond.They moved into the ice house, fulfilling his childhood dream. As the couple had children, they “carved out” rooms inside for them.

“It’s a work in progress,” Nash says. “We want to make it look fresh for the town. It’s on a major corner, and everyone sees it.”

Daniel Nash is taking his time. He wants to make sure the renovation of the ice house into a home for future generations is done right.

After more than 360 years here, the Nash family continues to care about their town.

And take care of it.

(Hat tip: Frank Rosen)