Category Archives: Places

Photo Challenge #205

Westport’s cemeteries are important places.

Like most boneyards, they feature row upon row of gravestones, markers and monuments. This being New England, many are old. Some are historic. All mean something.

But cemeteries can be beautiful too. Willowbrook — established in 1847 — is more than final resting place of generations of Coleys, Burrs, Nashes, Bedfords, Bradleys and Hurlbutts.

It’s a place of rolling hills, specimen trees, shrubs, a pond, the famed Daffodil Mile — and last week’s Photo Challenge.

Mark Jacobs’ image showed a lovely brook, running underneath a handsome viaduct. (Click here for the photo.)

Only one “06880” reader — Dan Herman — knew where that photo was taken: by Carriage Lane, just off Main Street.

Perhaps the end of the Thanksgiving holiday kept the number of correct guesses low.

Or maybe we all need to spend more time hanging out in Westport cemeteries.

This week’s Photo Challenge —

(Photo/Stan Skowronski)

— can be found in a hangout of a different type.

Hint to young “06880” readers: The object above is a “pay phone.” Once upon a time, you fed coins into the slot (upper right), dialed or punched in a phone number, and talked to them using the “handset” (middle, with cord).

Another hint to young readers: This phone is located in a place you’re very familiar with. Now you know what it is!

Readers of any age, who know where in Westport you’d find this: Click “Comments” below.

Winslow Park Warning

Alert — and upset — “06880” reader Fran Bresnan writes:

My car was broken into yesterday in the Winslow Park parking lot on Compo Road.

I arrived at 1 p.m. Twenty minutes later, when I returned to my car, the passengers window had been smashed. My purse and briefcase were taken from the car.

Apparently, others there at this time said, this happens frequently.

I’d like to warn everyone going there to leave valuables at home. This was not a crime of opportunity. Apparently the same thing happened last week, and others have said “frequently.” Someone knows the drill and is watching the parking lot.

Perhaps some video surveillance or an increased police presence might be a deterrent?

After the car break-in.

Friday Flashback #116

The other day, alert “06880” reader Alan Hamilton was checking out Westport’s Wikipedia page.

He noticed we have 3″sister cities”: Marigny-le-Lozon, France; St Petersburg, Russia, and Yangzhou, China.

I guess we’re one of those families where siblings don’t really communicate. It’s been ages since we’ve chatted with our French, Russian and Chinese sisters!

But Alan wanted a closer relationship. He took a virtual drive — aka Google Street View — through Marigny.

And there — smack in the center of town — he saw this:

“Pharmacie Westport”!

He wondered if there is a story to this.

Bien sûr!

Right after D-Day in 1944, Westporter Bob Loomis — a gun sergeant — ended up in Marigny. It’s just 25 miles from Utah Beach.

A couple of weeks later another Westporter — heavy machine gunner Clay Chalfant — moved through Marigny with his company on their way to Belgium.

Woody Klein’s history of Westport notes that after the war Charlotte MacLear — head of the French department at Staples High School — sparked a campaign to “officially adopt Marigny” and help its recovery.

Our town sent clothes, money and Christmas gifts, thanks to fundraising that included selling toys and buckets with designs painted by Westport artists.

In return, Marigny created the “Westport School Canteen,” and named the town’s largest square “Place Westport.”

In June 1994 — as part of the 50th anniversary of the invasion of Normandy — Marigny invited 3 Westport middle school students and 2 Westport veterans to stay in the homes of residents. They visited “Westport Gift Shop” and — of course — “Pharmacie Westport.”

The 2 veterans were, of course,  Loomis and Chalfant

Zut alors!

Marigny – c’est magnifique!

Storywalk: The Sequel

The wooden walkway behind the Riverside Avenue medical complex is beautiful any time of year. It’s especially lovely in October.

Village Pediatrics takes full advantage. They’ve created a story walk there. They  laminate pages of a popular children’s story, then mount them on pylons behind their office.

Children and parents love it. So do random walkers and joggers of all ages.

Unfortunately — as “06880” reported last month — someone stole a story walk. Hard to believe why anyone would want to do that — or even think of it — but it happened.

Fortunately, the pediatricians were not deterred. They found a great story — The Hallo-Wiener — that’s perfect for the upcoming Halloween holiday kids love. (And dentists hate.)

It’s fully laminated, mounted on pylons, and ready for everyone to enjoy.

Except, hopefully, the Grinch who stole the last one.

Coleytown Middle School 7th grader Sophia Lomnitz enjoys the new story walk.

Camilla’s Neighborhood

Camilla Moe Røisland spent more than 20 years as a news presenter, reporter and producer for TV and radio, in her native Norway. She worked in communications for the oil, gas and shipping industry, and for unions and organizations.

Camilla Moe Roisland

Last year, she, her husband and 3 children moved to Westport (he works in wind farms). Camilla found an outlet for her creativity: chronicling the ups, downs, ins and outs of life in her new country.

And her new town.

Camilla Blogg” describes the beauty many of us take for granted — the beach, for example, and Saugatuck Island. She also sees jarring sights many of us never think of — like the “Private Property” signs that keep so many others from enjoying much of our beautiful shoreline.

A recent entry explored her neighborhood. She saw it through fresh eyes. Now let’s look at our town through hers.

When we moved to Westport a year ago, an area known for its prosperity and many “stay-at-home wives,” several people wondered if our new neighborhood would be similar to the 1990s’ “Desperate Housewives” series. I was excited myself, and a little anxious about what I would experience.

Various factors made us choose to settle in this affluent city of Westport in Connecticut, a beautiful place on the eastern coast of the United States. The neighborhood we ended up in was more random.

Camilla’s neighborhood.

The only advice before we tried to find a place to live came from Aunt Tove. She is married to our American Uncle Pat. Her whole family lives in Minnesota. “Just keep away from the areas where the most wealthy people live. These people, in their huge houses and gardens, have usually enough with themselves,” she told us.

The other day, a Spanish friend and expat told me, “Many people in Westport do not have neighborhoods, at least no knowledge or ties to their immediate surroundings. They hardly know their closest neighbor. We only know one neighbor because we have children at the same age.”

I usually describe the big houses of Westport as “castles ” and “mansions.” Several of these homes are amazingly beautiful, but when some of them are hidden behind tall fences or hedges, or are far from the road, it is not easy to create the unpretentious, random and often good contact with neighbors. Many of these large homes are on busy roads without pedestrian areas too. It is difficult to meet neighbors while driving back and forth to your garage, which is part of your main house.

An English girlfriend knows only 2 of her closest neighbors. They had to introduce themselves because there were trees they wanted to chop between the gardens. “We have been invited to a party once,” she said. “That was nice. Despite that, we never see any of our neighbors.”

There are some close neighborhood in Westport: those living near the sea, places with little traffic and where the distance between the houses is not too big. It also means a lot if homes have a common meeting point, such as a beach, playground, etc. If you can walk along the road in the neighborhood, you are also more able to chat with others. I often talk to other dog owners when I go for a walk in our neighborhood. My English girlfriend, on the other hand, cannot walk in her neighborhood because there are no sidewalks. She must play with the dog in her own garden, or drive elsewhere.

Camilla’s friends and neighbors.

The neighborhood we ended up living in was picked by coincidence. The house seemed nice, the rental price was within our budget, it had enough room for a family of 5, and seemed to be in a quiet, beautiful area with hiking opportunities not far from the sea. The meeting with an older woman on a bike, originally from the Netherlands, also meant a lot.

This Dutch woman had lived in Westport for 20 years. When I explained that we had the choice of moving to Darien or Westport, she gave a very convincing answer: “Westport is the best place, no doubt about it. It is lovely with all kinds of people, from artists to people working in investment banks. It is a very diverse community with a lot of nice, open minded people.

Now, one year after moving to this little neighborhood on the coast of Long Island Sound, I admit we have been very lucky with both the choice of Westport and our neighborhood. Even if the houses and gardens are smaller here near the sea (much more expensive per square meter due to the location) and there are fewer pools and tennis courts (sounds wild and maybe a bit disgusting, but I am not complaining about it!), it is wonderfully cozy.

A cozy neighborhood.

Neighbors gather on the beaches or at each other’s house. There are barbecues, we share some wine, people invite you for coffee and we all enjoy a more relaxing life, especially during the summer. The kids cycle or run between the houses, play basketball in the driveways, kayak, paddle board, and go out boating. It all reminds me a little of the life we ​​lived back in Norway.

I like to chat with someone jogging or passing by, and with the mothers who each day follow their children to the school bus. Some nice neighbors invited us for lunch, and we`ve been drinking wine and coffee at someone else’s house. My husband has been taught how to play paddle tennis by one, and we have made some of our best American friends not far from here. We do not have family here, so these people are important for our well-being in our new country.

What I like about Westport in general, and our neighborhood in particular, is that people of all ages with different backgrounds live here. There is a stand-up comedian, a talented musician and producer, a wonderful lawyer couple, and many “stay-at-home moms” like myself. Even Olaf lives here. He is a charming Norwegian who started to work here several years ago, married a beautiful American woman and never returns to Norway except on holidays.

More friends.

For creating a good neighborhood and communities, you need engaged and enthusiastic people. We find them all over the world, including here. These are people who take initiative to create and maintain traditions to meet. They care about the community and their neighbors.

In our neighborhood people open their houses so all – old and young, veterans and newcomers – can meet for a Christmas party, etc. Everybody brings something. We also meet on our little local beach to greet the summer, and were recently at our very first clambake, with whole lobsters, corn and other delicious food. We also saw photo albums that showed how our little “Association” has developed over the years. Fun!

It was a real nice clambake.

Aunt Tove was right that it is easier if you move to an area where people live closer to each other, and not high fences between the gardens. Whether people are rich or not has nothing to do with their kindness as neighbors, unless they choose to hide in their own home and garden.

What makes a good neighborhood is the people. Here, the people are accommodating and kind. I have so far not found any intrigues like in “Desperate Housewives” (in Norway called “Frustrated Housewives”). I have not seen a handsome “pool guy” like the one in this series either. Unfortunately, some would say. But without a pool, how can you have a pool guy?

Of course, I have to admit I am often frustrated –- whether because of the political debate and governance of this country, or being a stay-at-home mum with all those duties, and what that life lacks at times.

It is natural to be frustrated sometimes – both for you back in Norway, and for us here in Westport and in the rest of the US. On the other hand, I do not think most of us are desperate, as the English title of the series indicates. At least not that I am aware of, and at least not for now.

(Click here to read and subscribe to CamillaBlogg.com) 

Beachside Actors Take Their Show On The Road

Beachside Common is one of Westport’s hidden gems.

The 18 homes — 33 adults, 24 children — nestle up against Burying Hill Beach and Sherwood Island, off Beachside Avenue. With no through traffic, it’s tight-knit and neighborly.

Shortly after Nico and Robin Eisenberger moved in 5 years ago, she had a minor operation that limited her mobility. The couple had not said a word — but they found warm dinners delivered by neighbors to their doorsteps, 11 days in a row.

Beachside Common also throws an annual block party. Kids play, everyone eats, adults drink, and someone brings out a guitar.

This year, the Eisenbergers decided to add something new. For years, Nico has wanted to act — for fun. As he learned of and seen Westport’s rich arts history, the urge grew.

He remembered his childhood in Bernardsville, New Jersey, when neighbors staged a yearly play. The lightbulb lit up: Let’s do it here!

The Beachside play …

The Eisenbergers’ next door neighbor, Alli DiVincenzo, is a popular logo, brand and website designer for businesses and organizations.

She’d also just written a short book, poking gentle fun at affluent communities. It’s funny, ironic, and ends with a splash of redemption. Why not turn her book into a play?

Laura Pendergast — a common friend, fellow Greens Farms Elementary School parent and owner of TheaterCamp 4 Kids (who also teaches adults to act) — quickly adapted Alli’s story. Then she offered to direct it.

Actors — young and old — were recruited from the neighborhood. After just a few rehearsals, Laura whipped everyone into shape. (A little wine helped.)

Last Saturday, Beachside Common held its annual block party. And its first-ever play.

… and the Beachside Players.

“There’s nothing particularly momentous about this story,” Nico says. “The cast were rank amateurs. The staging — in the middle of the street — was basic. The performance was barely passable.

“But it was memorable for both our small audience and the performers. We stepped out of the uber-busy, uber-online, world-in-turmoil, everyone-for-themselves environment. We did something in-person and creative together.

“It was super fun. And it was definitely inspired at every turn by the history and best traditions of Westport.”

Will the Beachside Players return?

We’ll drink to that.

Art From Big Pink

Arlene Skutch was an important part of Westport’s arts community.

A classically trained professional singer, she performed in Broadway musicals like “Finian’s Rainbow” and “Of Thee I Sing.”

She married, had 2 children, and bought an 1876 saltbox Colonial at 244 Wilton Road. On her honeymoon in Cuba she’d loved the bright, colorful houses. So she painted her new house pink.

Arlene Skutch’s former house, 244 Wilton Road.

The property had an artist’s studio in the back, designed by celebrated architect Eliot Noyes. When her children started school, Arlene took painting classes at Silvermine.

In 1972 she opened her Wilton Road studio to students. A 4-decade career as a professional artist, art teacher and mentor followed.

She developed a devoted following of students. They called themselves “The Pink House Painters.”

Arlene died in 2012. Her life lives on though, in Martin West’s documentary “Years in the Making: A Journey Into Late Life Creativity.” (Notice she’s wearing pink!)

Her pink house lives on too.

At least, it has until now.

Word on the street — Wilton Road — is that the pink house is being painted.

Will the well-known, historic color survive? Or will it suffer the same fates as Westport’s other famed pink structure, Remarkable Book Shop?

Stay tuned.

Saugatuck Island: A Bridge To Somewhere

Alert “06880” reader, native Westporter — and active Saugatuck Island resident — William Adler writes:

In recent days, the Saugatuck Island bridge project has been given the final touches. Traffic is once again busy to and from this neighborhood on Westport’s westerly shores.

The Saugatuck Island Special Taxing District arranged for whitewashing of the bridge railings, and has restored landscaping that had been disrupted by heavy construction equipment.

The new bridge replaces a quaint timber structure of wooden pilings and rustic railings originally built in the 1920s.

The old bridge …

The old bridge was well past its intended lifespan in 2012, when it suffered structural damage in Superstorm Sandy.

The total cost of $2.1 million includes a $1.3 million FEMA grant. The town and SISTD split the remainder 50-50. Construction began last year.

The new bridge retains the feel of its predecessor, while providing greater safety, practicality and rock-solid durability. The single span of concrete deck sits on steel girders, with an asphalt surface. It is secured on 50-foot deep sheet pile abutments clad in concrete.

96 feet long and 20 feet wide, the bridge can hold 20 tons – more than sufficient to accommodate heavy emergency equipment, unlike its wooden predecessor. The bridge’s anticipated life span is 75 years.

… and the new.

The bridge completion comes as Saugatuck Island has been experiencing a housing boom. During the past 5 years, about 1/3 of the approximately 100 properties on the island have changed hands. Prices range from $700,000 to $9.8 million.

Others have been expanded, elevated or otherwise enhanced. New construction has increased the number of larger, higher-end luxury residences.

In addition to 400 Westport residents, the island is home to Cedar Point Yacht Club, established in 1887, and the Saugatuck Shores Club (1946).

SISTD was established in 1984 to tax island property owners for local community costs — mainly road maintenance.

The Saugatuck Island bridge, as seen from Canal Road.

As for Saugatuck Island itself: Near the end of the 19th century, the Army Corps of Engineers cut a canal between what is now Canal Road and Spriteview Avenue, to provide a faster, safer route for onion farmers to transport their goods to Norwalk.

The newly formed island was called “Greater Marsh Shores at Saugatuck.”

P&Z Decision Likely On Medical Marijuana and Daybreak Property; No Public Testimony Tonight

Planning and Zoning director Mary Young wants “06880” readers to know: Decisions will likely be rendered by the Planning and Zoning Commission tonight at Town Hall, on applications to locate medical marijuana dispensary facilities in town.

Public hearings have been closed, so no more public testimony will be heard.

However, tonight’s meeting is public. It will be televised on Channel 79 (Cablevision) and Channel 6020 (Frontier). It will also be livestreamed at www.westportct.gov tomorrow, beginning at 7 p.m.

Five applicants have proposed medical marijuana dispensaries in Westport.  Zoning regulations adopted in 2017 authorize the P&Z to approve up to 2 locations. However, the Commission is not required to approve any.

A decision on 500 Main Street (former Daybreak Nurseries) is also anticipated at tonight’s meeting. Peter Greenberg of Able Construction returned this  spring with a new application for consideration by the P&Z to construct 9 housing units: 2 two-family dwellings and 4 one-family dwelling units, on the 2.18-acre site. All are age-restricted (55 and over).

The project was reduced in scale, compared to an application denied earlier this year by the Commission. That public hearing has also been closed, so no testimony may be received.

The former Daybreak Nurseries, at 500 Main Street.

Back To Bohemia On Hidden Garden Tour

Day by day, bit by bit, wrecking ball by wrecker ball, Westport’s artistic and “bohemian” past is disappearing.

Fortunately, pockets remain. You just have to know where to look.

This Sunday (June 10, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.), a secret gem takes the spotlight. The Blau Home and Gardens is one of 4 properties featured in the Westport Historical Society’s 27th annual Hidden Garden Tour.

One view of the Blau garden …

Designed by Broadway theater designer Ralph Alswang, the home is rustic and glamorous. From salvaged exposed heavy barn timber beams — uncommon in modern homes of the mid-20th century — to a Romeo and Juliet bedroom balcony window opening to the living room, and a dramatic main staircase, the house off Bayberry Lane was owned by advertising mogul Barry Blau.

Both he and Alswang journeyed from poor, urban roots to the then-freewheeling arts colony of Westport.

The garden — like its owner and designer — is informal and unconventional. It features massive rhododendron groves, towering oaks, antique sculptures, paths, benches, ornamental gates and stunning stone walls.

Blau’s widow is almost 90. The WHS says she and her family want to preserve the home and property. Welcoming Hidden Garden Tour visitors is one way to see it.

… and another.

The tour also includes an English rose garden with Italian fountain; a meticulously restored 1820s onion barn with post-and-beam construction, original stone foundations and antique farm equipment, surrounded by woodland gardens, and a 225-year-old colonial farmhouse in Weston, with 30 varieties of peonies and exotic specimen trees.

In addition to Sunday’s tour, unique items for gardeners and garden lovers from local artisans and businesses are available for sale on the Historical Society’s front lawn (25 Avery Place, 9 a.m.  to 4 p.m.).

That front lawn is well-known, and very visible. To see those 4 hidden gardens though, you need a ticket.

(Click here for tickets: $50 for Westport Historical Society members, $60 for non-members, $75 the day of the tour. Click here for more information.)