Category Archives: Places

Mind The Gap!

The William Cribari (aka Bridge Street) Bridge is not the only local span that occasionally opens, to accommodate Saugatuck River traffic.

This was the scene earlier today, at the Westport train station:


Alert “06880” reader Frederic Chiu — who captured the scene — notes, “I sometimes forget Westport is a functioning river town.”

(Though “functioning” is debatable. His train was delayed due to “drawbridge failure.”)

Westporters Renovate 2 Historic Structures. Now Neighbors Want Them Torn Down.

Most Westport preservation battles follow the same pattern.

A historic house is sold. The new owner wants to tear it down. Outraged residents object. Others point out that preservationists could have bought the home, but did not — and the people who did, can now do whatever they want.

In rare cases — like 93 Cross Highway108 Cross Highway, or the one across the street at #113 — the home is saved. It’s a handsome stretch on an important main road.

Further down Cross Highway though, something bizarre is happening.

Near the Fairfield border sits 188 Cross Highway. The gorgeous 2.9-acre property includes a saltbox built in 1728,  a barn circa 1790-1810, and 2 legal pre-1959 cottage apartments.

When the British marched past in 1777 en route to Danbury — taking brothers Benjamin and Daniel Meeker prisoner, and sacking the house — it was already half a century old.

The "Meeker house" in the 1930s, as photographed for a WPA project. After the Revolutionary War, Benjamin Meeker built the barn in back. It -- and the house -- still stand today.

The “Meeker house” in the 1930s, as photographed for a WPA project. After the Revolutionary War, Benjamin Meeker built the barn in back. They still stand.

The Schilthuis-Meeker house — Sally Schilthuis was influential in preventing construction of Merritt Parkway Exit 43 in the area, resulting in the current “No Man’s Land” between Exits 42 and 44 — is one of 5 remaining nationwide of original medieval structure Colonial revival construction.

In 2003, Mark Yurkiw and Wendy Van Wie purchased the property. It was in foreclosure. The houses were in distress, ready to be plowed under. But the couple saved the historic homes.

For 2 decades, they have poured time and energy into their renovation project. The result is gorgeous.

The exterior of 188 Cross Highway.

The exterior of 188 Cross Highway.

But it’s been costly.

And one couple can’t live in 2 houses. They live in the barn, and rented out the saltbox. The tenants wanted to buy. Mark and  Wendy would love to sell to them — as a practical matter, and to make sure the historic structure is loved, cared for and maintained as it deserves.

They’re even willing to add covenants to keep — in perpetuity — the historic house as a single-family dwelling; forever maintain the facade, and do whatever else is necessary to maintain the house where it is. In other words, no future owner could move — or demolish — the structure.

Right now though, they can’t sell. Planning and Zoning regulations don’t permit 2 homes to exist on 1 piece of property.

Sounds like a win-win: for Mark and Wendy, and the neighborhood.

But a small cadre of Cross Highway neighbors object.

At a Planning and Zoning Commission hearing on Thursday, they (and their lawyer) cited traffic, safety, density, the fact that the house is currently unoccupied, and the sight of dandelions on the lawn as reasons to reject the application.

A recent, sun-dappled fall day.

A recent, sun-dappled fall day.

After 2 hours of heated testimony — during which Wendy and her supporters countered most of the objections, then offered even more covenants and encumbrances to save the historic building and properties — the real issue came through.

Robert Yules and a few other neighbors opposed the subdivision because it would save the historic houses.

He said essentially that the state of the property did not reflect his McMansion, and others nearby. The grounds — period gardens and stone walls, with cobblestone walkways — did not match his extremely well-kept lawn.

One more view of 188 Cross Highway.

One more view of 188 Cross Highway.

“Trash” and “eyesore” are usually not associated with painstaking historic rehab projects. But they were Thursday night.

It’s astonishing. Yet in this through-the-looking-glass tale, there’s something even more eye-popping.

In 2006, Robert and Susan Yules wrote to the P&Z supporting the efforts of their “friends and neighbors,” Wendy and Mark, on the “renovating and improving of the main house and free standing cottage/barn.”

The Yuleses added, “Their efforts have transformed the buildings significantly. Please permit them to continue to remodel the buildings as they will enhance the beauty of the neighborhood.”

An interior view of the bright, high-ceilinged renovated barn.

An interior view of the bright, high-ceilinged renovated barn.

They were not the only neighbors to appreciate Mark and Wendy’s work.

Others described how Mark and Wendy had “lovingly restore(d) these irreplaceable architectural treasures” to their “deserved place” in Westport and American history.

Now the Yuleses and a few neighbors have changed their tune. They believe a new, large construction better fits the neighborhood than a plan that would save 2 structures — lovingly restored, and paying homage to the days when history quite literally marched past the front door.

“Houses are only kept alive by their owners,” Mark says.

“This is very discouraging. We’re not trying to ‘win.’ We’re trying to give the town something.

This could be one of the most topsy-turvy tales I’ve ever told.

But don’t take my word for it. Drive by 188 Cross Highway. (That’s the official number. The mailboxes have always said 178 and 180). See for yourself. Then — if you want to contact the Planning & Zoning Commission — click here.

Welcome To Westport!

The Weston Road/Easton Road/Main Street rotary — the first real bit of Westport people see as they get off Merritt Parkway exit 42 — has been spruced up nicely.

Thanks, Tony Palmer, Dan and Maureen Aron, and an anonymous helper!

But — as an alert “06880” reader points out — the view a few yards south is not exactly welcoming.


The reader asks:

Do you know when when the Daybreak Nursery lot will be improved? The buildings are falling down, the weeds are overgrown, there is garbage in the driveway. It’s been this way for almost 2 years. What an eyesore. Do the owners have to at least maintain it in any way?


Meanwhile, drivers who get past that sight — and want a pumpkin latte at Starbucks, quinoa salad at Freshii or a new outfit at one of our 27,284 Main Street women’s clothing stores — are grossed out by this view of the Parker Harding dumpster:


That’s been an eyesore a lot longer than the Daybreak property.

It’s time — the “06880” reader says — for Westport to clean up its act.

Who wants to take charge?

Christ Church, Revisited

Earlier today, I posted a 1914 view toward the Saugatuck River, from what is now Birchwood Country Club.

I pointed out various Riverside Avenue sites, like the old Staples High School and Assumption Church. But I had no clue about the church on the far left of the photo:

Click on or hover over to enlarge. (Photo/courtesy of Seth Schachter)

Click on or hover over to enlarge. (Photo/courtesy of Seth Schachter)

Thanks to alert “06880” readers Bob Grant, Ann Romsky, Tom Leyden and Peter Barlow, the mystery has been solved.

The spire at the far left belongs to Christ Church, consecrated first in 1835 on the northeast corner of Ludlow Street and the Post Road. In 1885 the congregation moved a short way to a new building Burr Street, on land owned by the Nash brothers.

In 1944, Christ Church merged with another Episcopal church — Holy Trinity — which had been on Myrtle Avenue since 1863. That downtown church was — and still is — called Christ and Holy Trinity.

The abandoned Burr Street church was demolished in the late 1940s or early ’50s. Peter Barlow was there — and took a photograph. This afternoon, he sent the image to “06880”:

(Photo/Peter Barlow)

(Photo/Peter Barlow)

Christ Church no longer stands — but God is still there.

After demolition, Assumption Church built a parochial school on the site. It has since closed, but Assumption continues to use the building for various functions.

Friday Flashback #8

Back in the day — 1914, to be exact — Birchwood Country Club looked a bit different than today.

So, in fact, does the view from there — off South Sylvan — of Riverside Avenue.

Click on or hover over to enlarge. (Photo/courtesy of Seth Schachter)

(Photo/courtesy of Seth Schachter)

This photo — labeled simply “Bird’s Eye View From Country Club” — is best viewed much bigger. Click on or hover over to enlarge.

In the center, we see the back of what was then Staples High School. (Today, it’s the site of Saugatuck Elementary School). To its left is Assumption Church, built in 1900. In the far, far distance we see the white spire of Saugatuck Congregational Church (in its original location, further east on the Post Road).

But what’s that church on the far left?

Enjoy the view. And think about what passed for a “country club” 102 years ago.

GiGi New’s Caboose Muse

Every writer needs a favorite place.

For some it’s a home office — a converted bedroom perhaps, or the attic. For others it’s Starbucks.

For GiGi New, it’s a caboose.

Since the early 1970s, the red, real train car has sat in the woods off Newtown Turnpike, between the Country Store and Bette Davis’ old house. For anyone driving, biking or walking by, it’s an object of wonder and awe.

GiGi New's caboose.

GiGi New’s caboose.

For GiGi, it’s a special, creative sanctuary.

She and her husband — actor/director Nicholas Sadler (“Scent of a Woman,” “Disclosure,” “Twister”) — moved to Westport in April, with their young son Cooper. They fell in love with the house and caboose, and sent a heartfelt letter to the owner promising to honor and take care of both.

GiGi New

GiGi New

GiGi was already a well-established TV and film writer. In Minneapolis, where she lived during the 2007-08 Writers Guild of America strike, she began teaching her craft. Garrison Keillor became an avid pupil.

She continued to teach after arriving here — first with the Westport Writers’ Workshop and through area libraries, now on her own.

Which  brings us to the funky, not-quite-level caboose, where Gigi works with individuals and groups, and continues writing for TV and movies. (Her current project is in development with Killer Films.)

The caboose is said to have been some sort of “payment” to Alan Abel, a well-known prankster who 40 years ago owned GiGi’s 1847 house. (One hoax: Following the Watergate scandal, he hired an actor to pose as Deep Throat. The press conference drew 150 reporters.)

The caboose was delivered via 3 flatbed trucks, and a crane. It sits on actual tracks, though those were brought in too. Someone had a permit for it — and it’s been grandfathered in ever since.

The interior, from the back of the caboose.

The interior, from the back of the caboose.

GiGi says the caboose belonged to the Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Railroad. One wall is filled with actual P&LE tickets. (They were placed there by HGTV, which gutted the interior, and re-decorated it for one of their shows — click here for the fascinating video.)

However, “DWP” is emblazoned on the side. The letters stand for the Duluth, Winnipeg and Pacific Railway.

That’s just one of the many mysteries surrounding the caboose.

What’s not in dispute is what GiGi has done with it, and what it means to her.

She’s brought in a conference table and desks — including the one she writes at. It faces woods, and a pond. She watches her son at play, along with ducks and deer.

GiGi's view, out the caboose window.

GiGi’s view, out the caboose window.

“If I can’t create here, I can’t do it anywhere,” she says. “This my safe, nurturing little haven. When I sit here, I tap into a quiet place. That’s essential for my writing.”

Like a child’s treehouse, the caboose allows her imagination to run wild.

Her students find the caboose to be a “healing, inspiring, creative” place too.

GiGi New’s writing and teaching careers are going place.

Fortunately, her little red caboose is not.

GiGii New, peacefully at work.

GiGii New, peacefully at work. Railroad memorabilia are on the rear walls.

Click here for “06880+”: The easy way to publicize upcoming events, sell items, find or advertise your service, ask questions, etc. It’s the “06880” community bulletin board!

Most Confusing Intersection In Westport Just Got Worse

As if the Main Street/Weston Road/Easton Road clusterf–k is not bad enough, consider this:

Earlier today, state Department of Transportation workers replaced stop signs noting “4-way” with different ones.


(Photo/Larry Perlstein)

Let’s hope that drivers — after reading ads for the Emmanuel Country Fair and St. Paul Christian School, among others — won’t spend too much time figuring out that “All Way” is simply DOT-speak for the much simpler (and more commonly used) “4-way.”

On the upside, the new signs are larger. With reflectors up and down the posts.

Sherwood Island Shines Today

You could say that Sherwood Island made lemons lemonade out of lemonade lemons.

A better analogy would be: The state park’s admirers and friends made foie gras out of goose poop.

Less than 2 weeks ago, “06880” published alert reader Ellen Bowen’s complaint that the 9/11 Living Memorial there — Connecticut’s tribute to state residents lost on that tragic day 15 years ago — was an unkempt disgrace.

Very quickly, several things happened.

Tony Palmer — owner of T. Palmer Landscaping and Anthony’s Nursery and Garden Center, both in Westport — donated a 3-man crew. Working gratis for 2 days, they weeded, pruned rose bushes, cleaned and helped the overworked, under-budgeted park staff get the memorial in tip-top shape.

Tony returned this week, with a mission. He made sure that everything was perfect for today’s 5:30 p.m. ceremony.

Other volunteers turned out yesterday, to weed, clear and prune a large garden bed that visitors pass on their way to the memorial.

The garden bed on the way to the Sherwood Island 9/11 memorial.

The garden bed on the way to the Sherwood Island 9/11 memorial.

Bowen’s story also brought attention to Friends of Sherwood Island. The non-profit does important, seldom-noticed work everywhere in the park. Its annual fundraiser — ShoreFest — is set for 6 p.m. tomorrow.

Local businesses and individuals rushed to offer goods and services for the silent auction.

In addition, a major donation — for ongoing plantings — was made to the Friends’ tree committee.

It’s easy for Westporters to overlook Sherwood Island. Residents may not realize Connecticut’s oldest state park is also home to our 9/11 memorial — and a robust organization that serves the entire 220-acre property.

Thanks to Ellen Bowen’s alert, more Westporters now do.

And many are doing whatever they can to help make Sherwood Island sparkle.

Robinson Strong: “63 Turkey Hill South Enriched Me”

Last month, “06880” examined the fate of 63 Turkey Hill Road South. The Mediterranean-style home — said to be one of only 4 in town — may soon fall to the wrecking ball.

Alert “06880” reader Robinson Strong feels a special attachment to the house. From 1916 to 1978, it belonged to her family. She writes:

The new owners want a new home, and to redesign the landscaping. Despite the unique and beautiful Italian design, they have applied for a demolition permit.

63 Turkey Hill Road South today...

63 Turkey Hill Road South.

Many neighbors are up in arms. I’m feeling a range of emotions. It was given a 180-day “stay of execution” by the Westport Historic District Commission, hoping that would allow a change of heart by the new owners.

Many who read this will wonder why, with so much going on in the world, I am expending so much energy and emotion on a house.

It is because it is important on many levels. It’s important to the town of Westport, the neighborhood of Greens Farms and to Turkey Hill neighbors.

The original 9 acres was subdivided and sold in 1978, after my grandmother died. The most recent owner lived in the house, on 3 acres, for over 30 years, but found it overwhelming as a senior citizen.

Part of the Turkey Hill garden.

Part of the Turkey Hill garden.

It was recently sold privately to a Westport couple. The house never went on the open market to find a potential buyer who was not intent on knocking it down, bulldozing the property and building a large new home. What a lost opportunity for a family!

My great-grandfather purchased the property in 1916. It had been an onion farm at the turn of the century.

Taking structural elements from the barn and keeping the original farmhouse, he built the elegant Italianate Tuscan-style house with the red clay roof. It’s nestled behind a stone wall and large wrought iron gate (which has been removed and sold).

The front yard is a courtyard with a fountain and landscaped terrace. Originally there were formal Japanese gardens with man-made streams and waterfalls, an English garden set in the barn’s foundation, a formal rose garden with a large arbor, an apple orchard, a grape “vineyard,” horse barn and open fields.

I was so blessed to live on this property, at 61 Clapboard Hill — the sister house — with my mother and brother. Our family treasured the Turkey Hill house. Everything surrounding it enriched my education.

My grandmother regaled me with stories about how the gardens were created by a master Japanese gardener, and why the Japanese so revere their serene space. My mother told me how during the Depression, she would have to kill a chicken on Sunday for dinner. One of the rooms in the basement held canned vegetables from the garden. My grandfather insisted on feeding any needy person who came to the door.

I learned how the property’s original status as an onion farm played a significant role in the Greens Farms and Southport economies.

My grandmother entertained often. I was expected to help. I learned manners, how to set a table and how to interact with adults. I also learned about flowers and landscaping.

Steps leading to the front courtyard at 63 Turkey Hill Road South. (Photo/Robinson Strong)

Steps leading to the front courtyard at 63 Turkey Hill Road South. (Photos/Robinson Strong)

I was proud of the uniqueness of my family’s home and property. Despite the grandeur of the exterior, the interior was painted as infrequently as possible. Re-decorating was considered frivolous. But my friends loved it, not because it was large (just under 4800 square feet) with 5 bedrooms and 4 full baths, but because it was different.

There does not seem to be any appreciation for historical architecture or history in general in Westport anymore. More and more houses are being demolished for large-scale popular designs. Such a shame.

It’s too late now for the Japanese gardens. They are “6 feet under.” But the house still has a chance to remain standing, and enrich a family and its children just like it did for me.

Over 100 Greens Farms residents who love the house and its architecture are wrestling with this impending loss, and the irreparable changes that will accompany it.

They do not want Turkey Hill to lose this house. They are avidly watching as its status moves through the various town bodies, hoping for clemency for 63 Turkey Hill South.

School’s Open. Be Careful Out There!

It took exactly one day from the opening of school for the first drivers to race by, totally ignoring a stopped bus and causing an accident.

A Greens Farms Elementary school bus pulled up to the Regents Park curb around 3:40 p.m. this afternoon. The stop sign was extended, yet cars in the opposite (westbound) direction roared past.

The driver honked. One car hit its brakes. But the 2 cars behind were going so fast, they could not stop. The result: a 3-car rear-end collision that sent one person to the hospital.

Police and fire trucks responded quickly. Still, it was quite an experience for at least one kindergartner, whose parents described the scene.

Two of the vehicles in this afternoon's Post Road East crash.

Two of the vehicles in this afternoon’s Post Road East crash.

There are 2 issues here. One is the law: When a school bus is stopped, all drivers must stop too. That’s a no-brainer. The safety of our kids trumps your need to get wherever you are late going.

The second issue is that this section of the Post Road — Regents Park, Balducci’s, and nearby areas — has become increasingly hazardous. Condo residents believe it’s just a matter of time before a tragedy occurs.

There are no stop signs, lights or crosswalks. But there are 2 active driveways and parking lots on opposite sides of the highly trafficked 4-lane street, with cars often exceeding 40 miles an hour.

Interestingly, a police car was parked this morning in the Zaniac parking lot, monitoring this situation during the school bus pickup.

Residents of Regents Park (right) worry constantly about this dangerous stretch of the Post Road. (Photo courtesy of Google Maps)

Residents of Regents Park (right) worry constantly about this dangerous stretch of the Post Road. (Photo courtesy of Google Maps)

Traffic will not get better. Last night, the Planning and Zoning Commission approved plans for a 4-story, 94-unit rental property not far away: on Post Road East, opposite Crate & Barrel.

On the other hand, the proposal includes affordable housing units that will help the town earn a 4-year moratorium on complying with the state’s 8-30g statute.